This passage outlines two different groups of people; the oppressors and the oppressed. In James context, the oppressors were the rich people but that obviously need not always be the case. They’re accused of four sins in the passage; hoarding wealth, failing to pay wages, living in luxury and self-indulgence and murdering the innocent. The second group is the oppressed. James encourages the oppressed by telling them to be patient, to stand firm and persevere. Why? Because one day Christ will return and right the wrongs. The oppressed need not fight back, God will do that for them.
I used to read passages like this assuming I was a neutral party, neither oppressing nor oppressed. I grew up blue collar just outside of Detroit so I was hardly raised by socialites. On the other hand, I haven’t really experienced a whole lot of oppression. A few years ago I learned something, my American context isn’t normative. In our economy, no one could accuse me of hoarding wealth or living in self-indulgence. But around the world, where 1/3 of people live on less than $2 a day, my warm town house probably looks pretty self-indulgent. A checking account with some extra funds might look like hoarding wealth to someone who just lost one of the 1.5 million people who die of starvation every year.
If we look at self-indulgence or hoarding as a number or an income level then we’ll just have created another form of legalism; another way to stand in judgement of each other. I would rather we examine our motives and attitudes. Is my attitude toward money focused on my own desires or is my primary to desire to help my fellow man? Do I hurt for the starving and abused in the same way I would hurt if these things effected my immediate family? Am I willing to make real sacrifices in my lifestyle so others can live? Fortunately, as some of the most wealthy people on planet earth, there’s a lot we can do to make a difference.
This is one of my favorite organizations, take a look at their website.
For the second day in a row, you get a video as well: