Now, before we talk about the passage, some things should be clear… Within the direct context of this portion of James, I think we have the best warrant to say that James transitions into primarily addressing people in the Church. He’s not talking to people ignorant about Christ or the ways of God.
James’ letter was written to Christians, but sometimes the groups or types of people he is talking about are not people in the Church. Thus, my conclusion about this specific passage is that these are a group of people in the Church who know the good they should do, but James has heard that they are doing something else.
Specifically, James refers to a group of merchants that will go from town to town and set up camp to make their living. Now obviously James had heard them say something in the past and is using what they said to get his point across. We read it in the first verse of this passage.
In Christ and In Defense of the Faith,