James 5:1-6 is the third frontal attack on the rich in the book, and this one the most brutal. Here the oppressive rich are the wealthy landowners who abuse their workers. In short, they have kept back the wages of their workers (5:4).
The attacks against the rich represent different groups within society. In 3:6 the offending ones are the bankers who drag the poor into court; in 4:13-17 the offenders are the traveling merchants; in 5:1-6 the offenders are the wealthy landowners.
Questions for Discussion:
1. Are there any righteous rich? James roundly condemns the oppressive rich, and to the point where he seems to leave no room for the righteous rich. Where would one go in Scripture to show that there are wealthy righteous people? Abraham, Job, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Zacchaeus? What justifies James for giving such a one-sided perspective?
2. The charge against the rich. Of the three categories of evil rich people – financiers, merchants, landowners – James 5:1-6 seems to direct James’ strongest critique against the wealthy landowners. The charges are sobering: Withholding the wages of their workers (5:4), condemning and murdering the righteous (5:6). Why are these charges the most serious of all? Where in Scripture does one find wealthy people who do care for their workers and do not defraud?
3. Wealthy wicked, envious righteous. The official study guides cites Psalm 73 as an example of the envy of the righteous toward the arrogant, cruel, and wealthy wicked: “My feet had nearly slipped,” admits the Psalmist (73:2) 3. What is the proper attitude of God’s people toward those who prosper in their wickedness? Does James help us answer that question?