The epistle was addressed “to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad,” that is, to the Jewish Christians of the twelve tribes of Israel who had a foreign residence. James felt an obligation to fortify fellow Jews who had accepted Christ but who were scattered abroad. In the first century, prior to the Diaspora of AD 69-70, so many Jews were living in foreign nations that there was a synagogue in almost every major city in Asia Minor and in Rome.
Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter” (James 5:1-5). James was prejudiced against the rich as a class, but not as regards individuals. As a class, the Lord favors the poor, but individuals are judged as individuals.
Even though these verses are directed primarily to those who are in a position of influence, they also apply to all of the consecrated in every situation (at work, in the family, in the church, in public). Because of the dangers, James cautions that not many should be teachers, bishops, elders. Although the desire to be an elder is a legitimate one, a brother should think twice before accepting such a position. And another point: The same caution applies not only to elders in the church but also to employers, masters of slaves, etc.
If one could completely master his tongue, he would be a perfect man, but that is impossible. Some use this Scripture as an excuse for making mistakes, but verse 1 says that greater condemnation can be incurred. Thus James did not pursue this subject from the standpoint of the liberty of forgiveness. A little bit in the horse’s mouth enables a person to control and turn the large animal. What a powerful influence!
Verses 1 and 2 describe the general condition and way of conduct that existed among the Jewish brethren in dispersion (James 1:1). The King James margin contains some strong thoughts: brawlings, pleasures, and envy (instead of “kill”). Briers, thorns, and thistles all cause discomfort.
When the thoughts in verses 2 and 3 are combined, the Jewish brethren either failed to ask in prayer, or if they asked, they asked amiss. They consumed their prayers on their own lusts, or desires. In other words, they uttered “give me” prayers rather then trying to honor and please the Lord.
That is why this type of subject should be discussed and why a soul sickness due to conditions other than sin should not be ruled out. It is harder for those in present truth to humble themselves today because brethren generally think of verse 15 as applying only to those who do something wrong. They think one’s estrangement from the Lord is because of disobedience and sin. Because that is the only view usually entertained, a person suffering soul sickness becomes even more reluctant to humble himself lest the action put him in an unfavorable light. Meanwhile, the individual does not know what is causing the condition. The trial is especially difficult if the group the individual meets with on a regular basis is cold and not given to commiseration for this type of condition. Consequently, verse 15 is not practiced much in the Truth movement.