James’s readers were enduring financial difficulty. They had been dispersed from their homeland and were socially and economically disadvantaged (Jas 1:1). In the midst of this difficulty, interpersonal relationships were strained. Having such conflict from without, the church in view could hardly endure if they did not have peace within—and this was James’s primary concern in chs. 3-5. From the storyline of Scripture, James understood God’s jealousy for His people and God’s ability to intervene in their difficulty at just the right time.
(1) In Jas 4:6, James quoted Prov 3:34 as a basis for commanding his readers to humble themselves before the Lord. James saw in Prov 3:34, “He mocks those who mock, but gives grace to the humble,” both warning and promise. If his readers walked in pride, God would oppose them; if they humbled themselves before the Lord, they would find Divine aid. James stated that the mature course of action was to submit to God’s providential care and resist the satanic temptation to be selfish (Jas 4:7-10). From this humble posture, one would be much more hesitant to judge a brother—which, according to James, was the same as judging the law (Jas 4:11-12).
(2) In Jas 5:11, James called his readers to consider God’s faithfulness to Job and endure their trials just as Job endured his trials. In Job 1-2, Job suffered the loss of property, family, and friends. After cycles of dialogue with Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu, in which Job complained and lamented God’s justice, the Lord revealed Himself to Job. Job was speechless before the Lord and had no further complaint (Job 42:1-6). The Lord told Job to pray for his friends, the ones who had abused him. When Job did, the Lord restored Job’s fortunes and the latter portion of Job’s life was blessed more than his days that preceded his trials (Job 42:10-15). James wanted his readers to recall Job 42:10-15 and endure in hope that God would do for them what He did for Job. “The Lord is very compassionate and merciful,” James said (Jas 5:11b).
(3) In Jas 5:17-18, James reminded his audience that that though Elijah was a man like them, his prayers were effective to cause drought and rain. During the administration of wicked King Ahab of Israel, the Lord raised up Elijah as a prophet. Elijah pronounced that no rain would fall in Israel except at his word (1 Kgs 17:1). Elijah’s prophecy reflected Moses’ statement that God would withhold rain from the land if Israel persisted in idolatry (Deut 11:16-17). During the drought, Elijah and the prophets of Baal met on Mount Carmel. There the Lord showed His supremacy over the prophets of Baal by sending fire upon the altar that Elijah had built, consuming the sacrifice and the water that Elijah poured on it (1 Kgs 17:38). Elijah immediately prophesied to Ahab that rain was on the way (1 Kgs 18:41). James wanted his readers to know that they too could pray boldly, reminding them, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours” (Jas 2:17). The congregation needed to gather and pray in faith that the Lord would heal the sick both physically and spiritually.