Afflicting the Comfortable
Rubel Shelly   -  

Text for This Study: James 5:1-6

1. “Good preaching comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.” How close to the truth do you think this old saying about preaching is? How does it apply to this section of James?

2. How does James characterize wealth and power in this text? What do you know about the socioeconomic climate of the Roman Empire in his day?

3. Although a very few early Christians were wealthy and/or held positions of prominence (cf. Rom 16:23), from what classes and social setting did most early believers come? (Note: Read Paul’s comment from 1 Cor 1:26-31).

4. How would the sort of exploitation and abuse described in these six verses have played out in the lives of James’ first readers? What parallels can you see between this text and what happens in our own time? What do you know of human trafficking, for example, in the world? In Atlanta? In Nashville?

5. What temptations most directly threaten Christians who live in settings of injustice and exploitation? What is the responsibility of the modern church to such people?

The greed of the ultra-rich horrified James in his day. Harvard Business School undertook a unique study in 2018 by asking over 4,000 millionaires in the United States about how much money it would take to make them happy. The respondents were asked to report (a) their current worth, (b) how happy they were on a scale of 1 to 10, and (c) how much money they thought they would need to get a “10” on the happiness scale. The highest single response – given by 26% of respondents – was “10x more.” (By the way, “10x more” was the highest possible option supplied in the survey.) Twenty-four percent chose “5x more,” followed by 23% at “2x more.” Only 13% said they “currently have enough to be happy.”

The lead researcher for the survey, Dr. Michael Norton, suggested in an interview with The Atlantic (Joe Pinsker, “The Reason Many Ultrarich People Aren’t Satisfied With Their Wealth, Dec 4, 2018) that the problem for so many of these ultra-rich people is comparison. For them, happiness is not so much “How much do I have?” or even “Do I have enough?” as it is “Do I have more than those around me?”