journey through James (17): twenty questions on James 4:13-5:6

This coming Sunday morning (Nov. 20) at MoSt Church, most of our adult classes will study James 4:13-5:6. We’ll use this phrase to focus our mind on the meaning of this passage: successfully navigating the intersection of plans, pride, prosperity, and poverty. To help you get ready for this encounter with God’s word and our discussion of it, here is the text and twenty exercises and questions.


Pay attention, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such-and-such a town. We will stay there a year, buying and selling, and making a profit.” (14) You don’t really know about tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for only a short while before it vanishes. (15) Here’s what you ought to say: “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (16) But now you boast and brag, and all such boasting is evil. (17) It is a sin when someone knows the right thing to do and doesn’t do it.

(5:1) Pay attention, you wealthy people! Weep and moan over the miseries coming upon you. (2) Your riches have rotted. Moths have destroyed your clothes. (3) Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you. It will eat your flesh like fire. Consider the treasure you have hoarded in the last days. (4) Listen! Hear the cries of the wages of your field hands. These are the wages you stole from those who harvested your fields. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of heavenly forces. (5) You have lived a self-satisfying life on this earth, a life of luxury. You have stuffed your hearts in preparation for the day of slaughter. (6) You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who doesn’t oppose you. (James 4:13-5:6 CEB)

Exercises & questions

1. What words or stories told by Jesus come to mind you read this text?

2. This section urges us to pay attention not to ourselves so much as to others, namely God (4:13-17) and people (5:1-6). Why is it so easy for us to forget God and others and become self-centered?

3. Is James saying it’s a sin to plan for the future (4:13-17)? Why or why not?

4. Who would you say James has in view in 4:13-17, Christians or non-Christians? Why? Would you say the audience changes or remains the same in 5:1-6? Explain.

5. Verse 14 speaks to the brevity of life with vivid imagery: we’re like a mist that quickly disappears. What other Scriptures come to mind that illustrate life’s brevity?

6. Though cemeteries surround us and we know no one gets out of this world alive (unless the Lord first returns), why are we seemingly always shocked and surprised by death? Do the subjects discussed in 4:13-17 help answer that question?

7. What is the chief sin James sets his sights on in 4:13-17? Sum up the teaching of 4:13-17, in your own words, in a single sentence.

8. How does 4:17 fit with the context that precedes it, or does it fit at all?

9. Sins of omission are in view in 4:17. Which would you say is most common among Christians, sins of commission (willfully doing wrong things) or sins of omission (willfully leaving good things undone). Explain.

10. What other passages in James’ letter do the words of 5:1b remind you?

11. A number of our senses are touched by the various images in 5:1-6. List the word pictures you find in that section along with the physical senses they affect.

12. It would be difficult to find stronger words in the NT against oppression than the words of 5:1-6. Name some modern day situations where these words are clearly applicable.

13. You’re a Christian and you run a business. You have a number of employees. Looking for guidance as to how to be a truly Christ-like businessperson, you read 5:1-6. What sort of principles and business practices might you adopt in light of reflection on this passage?

14. You’re a Christian. You work for a selfish, difficult boss who makes your life miserable. What help or hope, advice or advantage, does 5:1-6 extend to you?

15. What sin does James zero in on in 5:1-6? Sum up the teaching of 5:1-6, in your own words, in a single sentence.

16. In light of 5:1-6, would you say it’s a sin to be wealthy or a sin to use wealth wickedly? Explain.

17. What two specific abilities of God are referenced in this text? Hint: focus on 4:15 and 5:4. What do these two qualities have to do with how we humans should act?

18. What is “the day of slaughter” James has in mind in 5:5b?

19. Would you say 5:6b (“… the righteous one, who doesn’t oppose you”) upholds non-resistance as a virtue to be imitated? Explain.

20. Is prayer alluded to anywhere in 4:13-5:6 (directly or indirectly)? Explain.