I am not one to bury the lead, so I want to actually start with James 5:16 and the power of prayer and talk about wealth at the end. This chapter was very important to my family when we first found out that Mom was sick. The doctors had told us that Mom had brain tumors that required brain surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. I found out some time later that the doctors thought Mom had about six months. Prayer had always been important to my family, but it took on a whole new role at this point. Based on James 5, my parents asked the elders at church to come and lay hands on Mom and pray for her healing. It was a powerful experience to have that group of men pray for my Mom and my family. (However, nobody said anything about anointing with oil until Mom afterwards said she wanted to do things exactly as James 5 instructed so the elders actually did it again the next Sunday at church, that time with oil.) My parents also wrote a note to the church asking that everybody take a moment and confess their sins to God, because James 5 says that Christians should confess their sins to one another so that they could powerfully pray for healing. I don’t pretend to know exactly how God did or didn’t answer those prayers, but Mom ended up having multiple sclerosis (and not brain cancer) and lived for six more years. I have a lot of great memories from those years. I tell you this story because of the heritage of faith and belief in God’s Word that was given to me by my family. Anytime I read James 5 I am reminded of those important moments in my family’s life when we really did depend on our faith. I will never forget that my family also called on others to join us in our prayers. And if you were one of those people who prayed for us then thank you. You will never know what a blessing to us you were.
The beginning of James 5 is the second half of a conversation James is having about wealth. At the end of James 4, he writes to merchants who travel from city to city, making their own plans and relying on themselves. Their confidence and faith is in their own ability to determine the future, which is foolish when only God knows the future. In chapter 5, it transitions to talking to rich people, which is different from merchants. This is the nobility, the people who own land and have servants who work the soil. They have mistreated those who work for them and a guilty of valuing their wealth and possessions over people. James focuses on how people handle possessions and wealth on several occasions, but this section makes it clear that when wealth causes people to trust in their own ability to determine their future they are in trouble. When people put their confidence in money, insurance, jobs, retirement funds and don’t put their trust in God, they are in trouble. When people take advantage of others for personal gain they are in trouble.
On the other hand, Christians should in every area of their lives seek to bring their thoughts, values, and actions into alignment with God’s thoughts, values, and actions. This includes what we do with our money and our possessions. It doesn’t mean that you have to be poor or give away everything you have. What it does mean is that your priorities need to be brought into alignment with God’s priorities and how we handle our money needs to reflect that and be rooted in that.