Good evening my friends.
This is Cathy Merritt your host of “Simple Faith” – I apologize but I was out the last couple of weeks due to a death in the family and illness.
I hope it is ok – but I am going to pick up where we left off in James – Chapter 5.
We are called to love one another, to share his love with others, to serve Him by serving others in a way that advances His purpose… in short, His will is that we each do our part to make disciples for Jesus Christ. Since we know this is what He wants of us, what does James call it when we know but don’t do? He calls it sin
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
As we begin the fifth chapter, it’s easy to forget how the fourth chapter ended and think these verses are standing on their own as so many of these paragraphs have in this book, particularly if we have a modern translation with subheadings added, such as the NIV, where this paragraph has a subheading, and then verses 7 ff. have a different subheading. If we continue in that way, and many commentators approach this as a “stand alone” section, these verses won’t make much sense unless we resort to a political understanding. I rather doubt that the politics of class envy are what James had in mind… if hadn’t been invented yet!
In the previous section, covered several weeks ago, James is teaching people about priorities and keeping our priorities on God’s purpose and will, and avoiding the arrogant view that we are in charge and not God. Here, he is pronouncing God’s coming judgment on those who oppress the poor for their own personal gain, and in the next section he urges us to be patient for the Lord’s coming is near at hand, and further urging people not to judge one another… which was his point in 4:1-12. Taking this larger passage into account and remembering that James has mentioned the rich twice before in his letter while teaching us first, not to show favoritism and then not to love this world and its attractions, can you see how context is really important here? This isn’t “bag on the rich guy” as much as it is watch out for what’s going on in our own minds…
So my dear friends, are you rich?
No, of course not and neither am I. By the way, are you on your own computer streaming me right now, or listening on a radio or Pandora Do you realize that compared to most of the world’s population you are rich? How lucky we are to live in a country where even our poor are richer than most countries.
I can’t think of a passage anywhere in the Word that says that material wealth is evil or bad, but there are a lot of passages that warn us about being caught up in wealth, or lording it over others, and certainly there are passages about being tight-fisted and failing to help to meet the needs of others.
If it can be said that this letter has an over-riding theme, it would have to do with putting our love into action, you know, that “love your neighbor” thing… well Jesus was serious about that! We don’t need to be millionaires or super-rich to be tempted to love money and things, in fact if I were to be entirely honest, I would have to confess that I have met considerably more people of modest means who are lovers of money than I have rich people who are lovers of money. No, I’m not kidding… think about it! How about old uncle Joe who is always so ticked off at those who have more than he does… Doesn’t he complain just a little too much?
Do you see it , do you get the point…?
It doesn’t matter how much you have, if we love the things of this world whether it’s money, possessions, power, position… whatever it may be, those things will be our undoing! There’s a great line in one of the old prayers in the Book of Common Prayer that says, “In our time of prosperity, good Lord deliver us.”
Yes, Lord, deliver us!
Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. 9 Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
12 Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.
Verse 5:7 is where this is tied together in context, and atypically, it sets context backwards in the text by demonstrating that James is now summing up the prior lessons he has taught.
So, in light of all of this, James is telling us to be patient. In light of his discussion of favoritism, not loving the world, etc., we need to be patient until the Lord returns for this life here on earth isn’t always easy and can lure us off the path of our faith. See it?
He uses an example of a farmer patiently waiting for his crops to grow before he can bring in the harvest (5:7) He urges us not to grumble against one another, and equating “grumbling” with “judging” he warns that we will be judged if we do, for the Judge is near at hand. (5:9) In verse 10 he cites the prophets as an example of patient endurance, urging us to do likewise and in the next verse reminds his readers that they count those who have persevered as blessed, pointing that the Lord used these people for great things, and reminding them of His mercy. Finally, in verse 12 he tells his readers that they must not swear:
Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.
“Above all” why “above all”?
“Above all” is used by other New Testament writers to introduce their final point, and it would appear that James is doing the same here, where he is referring to taking oaths.
James is mirroring what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:33-37, where Jesus said almost the same thing James is saying here. Jesus was tracing the Law of Moses which also prohibited oaths that were sworn by God that what a person was saying was true. This is taking the name of the Lord in vain and profanes God. No swearing. As a consequence of this, US law allows one to “affirm” rather than “swear” a legal oath. In fact, Harry Truman “affirmed” rather than having sworn for his oath of office, the only president to do so to date.
The next and concluding section of the letter is a prayer
In concluding his letter, James speaks on prayer in the only passage in his letter that doesn’t have a direct parallel in the Sermon on the Mount. Actually, this is one of the strongest statements concerning the power of prayer in the entire New Testament, and if you are like me, it’s also one of the most challenging. Oh yes, it’s all well and good to read about the power of prayer, but we live in a “sophisticated” time of knowledge and science, and we are likely to find some of James’ comments quaint and folksy, but hardly 21st century! Yet, there it is, what are we going to do with it?
Verses 13-15 deal with trouble, happiness and sickness, and with trouble and sickness we are urged to pray, while in happiness we are told to praise. Verse 15 is challenging for us: “And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.” As we have studies 1, 2 & 3 John and other scripture readings – told us clearly to change our focus away from earthly understanding and put it onto a heavenly understanding of things. Sickness is a physical affliction, and while that can be a very rough thing to deal with (persevere is a word that comes to mind) it is not the end game.
So often we have looked at things like this, and when the outcome, at least in physical terms, wasn’t the one we expected or hoped for, we let someone convince us that we didn’t have enough faith. Did it ever occur to anyone that our prayer wasn’t within God’s will for the person? I know this can be hard, yes I’ve been there too, but maybe God had a better plan for the sick person than leaving them here in this vale of tears.
Do we really believe that what we believe is really real?
If so, prayer isn’t about getting what we want from God, it’s about getting what God wants for others. Yes, that is a thought worth reflecting upon…
Notice that verse 16 begins with “therefore”
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
In verse 15, we saw that prayer would make the sick person “well”. The word translated “well” is also the word that is used for salvation. Even more interesting, the verse ends by saying their sins will be forgiven: Therefore… verse 16. This should be a familiar pattern for setting context by now, what is James actually teaching? It would appear that the higher priority is on being healed from our sin, and oh yes, if the Lord wills it, from sickness too.
James 5:17-18 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
Verses 17 and 18 give us the example of Elijah as a great man of prayer, and then we come to 19-20:
My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
Have you ever wandered off the path, maybe not even realizing it, and then you found yourself rather far away from where you should have been in your faith? Well, I have! Whoever helps someone back from one of these wandering periods saves them from death and covers a multitude of sins. I hope you will take special note of two things:
Does James really stress works over faith? Now be careful before you say that he does, remember the parallel with the Sermon on the Mount! If you’ve been following me, you have seen that James teaches that salvation comes by faith, and that as Christians we put that faith into action, which is exactly what Jesus taught. It is true that James hasn’t used the “magic words” of certain teachers who came along centuries later, but the essence is the same, for there is no conflict between faith and works, unless you manufacture one yourself.
Here’s What I Think…
Maybe you’ve noticed that all of the books we’ve gone through so far are persuasive in nature. James has an interesting convincing structure, one that I haven’t found commentators discussing; he sets context backwards.
James gives us a Full bunch of moral teachings and then places priority on our relationship with Christ through intercessory prayer for one another: Love in action. Jesus said that the whole Law and prophets were fulfilled in the command to love your neighbor as yourself; James demonstrated this principle in action.
Some commentators have claimed that James is a legalistic book, are they right?
Personally, I don’t think so, but I can see why they say it. There seems to be an impulse in some traditions to assert rules and even condemnation of others at every opportunity, and James gives these good folks a great deal of highly quotable material, as long as context isn’t an issue for them… and context in James isn’t as easy to identify as it is in other places. My real question relates not so much to James as it does to the impulse to make rules to hold others accountable to.
Here’s another way of saying this: Why is it that some Christians read the Scriptures and see faith in terms of ordinances and violations while others see love and our response to love?
Obviously I’m not the first to ask this sort of question, and just as obviously I won’t be the last to have a stab at it, if nothing else I hope to encourage you to give this a thought or two.
Old Testament Israel lived under the Law of Moses, very much a transactional system of law, violations, punishment and atonement. The great priority of that system was found in avoiding violations to curry God’s favor. Sacrifices were carried out continually to atone for these violations, but there was no permanent forgiveness, only the putting off of punishment; the concept of eternal life was not present in the Law. Then Jesus comes along and changes everything, so much so that the Jewish leaders refused to recognize Him as the Messiah and had Him put to death… and lo and behold, by doing so, He brought a superior sacrifice and established a superior covenant putting the cycle of law and violations to an end. If this is a new idea for you, I would suggest you study the book of Hebrews, which is where I will pick up next week.. Hebrews Chapter 1. With this, a new era was ushered in with that superior covenant in which sin could be taken away entirely and the gift of eternal life became effective.
Yet even in the early days of the church, there were those who attempted to bring the old system back into the picture, and Paul wrote the whole book of Galatians to combat them; a cutting rebuke is really what Galatians is, against the re-introduction of the Law into Christianity. A few centuries later when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Empire, it became a political necessity to force the Old Covenant into the church in order for Christianity to be a state religion, since the Law was the code of a theocracy and Christianity was not… and the battle began in earnest and is with us to this day between law and violation, and love and our response to it. Several of our Christian traditions are grounded in this legal approach to faith that should never have been there, and they see most things in terms of law and violation, resulting in what we would call today “legalism.”
Do you define your identity in Christ in terms of Law or in terms of love and grace?
OK, perfect! Every one of you said love and grace… go ahead and admit it, I’m right.
That being the case, consider this one: Is the will of God for your life a list of do’s or a list of don’ts?
The Ways of this World
In the world we live in today, almost every time something happens, somebody proposes a new law. If you turn back the clock 150 years, states were passing laws banning sodomy, now they pass laws to ban opposition to sodomy. Back in the day, they banned abortion, now they ban protesting abortion. They passed laws against civil rights for some people, and then passed laws to help those people. Somebody commits a mass killing and we pass another law that bans murder, as if the 20 already on the books were one short. And each time, somewhere, some one backed one of these stupid laws and claimed they got it from the Bible!
Did Jesus say any of this “legal stuff?”
Not exactly. Here is Jesus teaching:
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
As Christians, we live to a much higher standard than those living under the Law, for with us, it isn’t simply a matter of avoiding violations, for we respond to His love by loving our neighbor. If we really love our neighbor, nobody needs to tell us not to steal from them; it would be unthinkable! Nobody needs to tell me not to covet my neighbor’s wife, for that would be unthinkable. This is a vastly greater deterrent to ungodly behavior than another law!
James gives us some practical examples of problem areas that we might easily fall into and sends us back to the Master’s feet in prayer, both for ourselves and for one another. He tells us to be patient, to hang in there and take our problems, once identified to our Lord. This isn’t a list of “don’ts” it is the rule of love. If I harm my brother, I harm myself, and even worse I damage my relationship with my Lord whom I love above all else. Who needs a rule book?
My friends – thank you for joining me on the study of James. I hope if anything you got a great deal of insight into how we should live our lives as Christ lived.
I want you to know a few things this week:
Since I was last with you – my sister-in-law Jeanne was called home to be with the Lord and a good friend loss her battle with ALS – Deb Broderick. I also have a young family very close to my heart – they are the Greers and they recently lost their infant son, Abraham. Abraham was only with them a few short weeks, but he was a source of Joy and love to his family and friends.
I ask that you pray for all of these families and continue to work in their lives.
God does have a purpose that is beyond our human thought. I believe that my faith in Jesus Christ will continue for me to work on sharing the Gospel until I am called home to be with the Lord.
This is Simple Faith
I am your host Cathy Merritt
Next time we will begin a study on Hebrews.
My email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
C a t h y r o c k s 58@ g m a il . c o m
Good night and see you next Sunday