James is a book that wants to make sure our faith is not merely words.
Not merely a head thing.
But that our faith has fruit.
Particularly that our faith transforms our relationships with others.
James 1 - James starts off by making sure we get our primary relationship right.
Our relationship with God.
He wants us to be students of God’s word who allow that word to transform us.
Who do what God says.
James 2 - James wants to make sure that our faith impacts the way we treat others.
He calls us not to show favourtism, but to treat all people equally.
Because God’s grace works equally in all of our lives.
He then outlines how our faith must produce fruit.
Faith without works is dead he says.
James 3 - James encourages us to watch our words.
To tame our tongues.
And he exhorts us to live wisely, not causing arguments and bitterness, but being peacemakers.
James 4 - Last week.
James talks about conflict in the church.
Instead of fighting, as Christians we ought to humble ourselves and ask for God’s grace to transform us so that we won’t be bitter selfish street fighters, but gracious, compassionate givers.
Today James gives us:
A warning about wealth
An encouragement in suffering
A point on prayer and care
A warning about wealth (5:1-6)
At the end of Chapter 4, James spoke about prayerful planning.
James 4:13, 15
James was encouraging us to be obedient to God and trust in his power when it came to our use of our time.
Now he says the same about our money.
The people James describes in verses 1-6 are using their money selfishly.
Not paying their workers (v4).
Living in self-indulgence (v5).
Ultimately it seems in v 6 that they have used their money to gain influence and to kill those who oppose them.
Money has totally corrupted these people.
And James encouragement to them is in verse 1:
Weep and wail for the misery that is coming on you.
In other words it’s time to repent before you are judged.
Just as when Jonah bought his prophecy to Nineveh - 40 days and Nineveh will be overthrown (Jonah 3:4) - and the Ninevites were spared because of their repentance, even though it was not present in the message they heard.
So too can people who’ve allowed money to become their God and have acted in the ways James described also find salvation if they repent.
An encouragement in suffering (5:7-12)
James then moves on to give an encouragement in suffering (5:7-12).
Likely it was the Christians who were suffering at the hands of the wealthy James talked about in verse 1-6.
You can imagine can’t you that as you face persecution and suffering that it can test your patience.
That’s why James says:
But James reminds them that they need to keep patiently trusting God until he returns.
And as they wait patiently they stand in a long line of God’s people who have patiently endured suffering waiting for God to save them.
God eventually brings about restoration and relief for his people.
Whether in this life or the next.
A story about rich oppressors and patient suffering
This whole section about rich oppressors and patient suffering by God’s people reminds me of my friend Abraham and his ministry in Cambodia.
Abraham felt called by God to bring the gospel to a poor community on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
They were kicked out of their homes and moved to a field because a rich person wanted to turn their homes into high-rise.
So they were moved and given a tarpaulin for shelter.
Abraham moved his family with them and began to work with them to provide them shelter and education.
He fought for their rights.
He stood up to the rich oppressors.
He share the gospel with them.
One of Abraham’s decisions was that in a place like Cambodia who would not pay kick backs or bribes to the city officials.
The local governor in the area where Abraham works did not like this as he could not make money.
So the he got the police to try and arrest Abraham.
He used his wealth to oppress Abraham and his team.
The police came to arrest Abraham and 1000 villagers surrounded him so the police could not arrest him.
God protected him.
But the persecution by the rich continued.
This governor next hired a hit man to kill Abraham and two other men who were causing him grief.
The hitman carried out the first two hits for the governor before having a change of heart and confessing to police what he’d done and who he’d done it for.
The police then arrested the governor and he was put in jail for a long time.
Abraham was vindicated and saved from this persecution but in the midst of it all it required the kind of patient endurance that James is encouraging us to have here.
A point on prayer and care (5:13-20)
James finishes his book with a note on prayer.
If we’re in trouble (v13) pray
If we’re happy (v13) sing praise (musical prayer)
If we’re ill (get the leaders to pray for you and anoint you with oil (v14).
We are to be people of prayer.
Then in verses 15-16 we get what sounds like a pretty sure promise for our prayers don’t we:
Then in verse 17-18 he illustrates his point with the story of Elijah who had his prayers for no rain answered.
So what are we to make of this teaching on prayer:
A few points
God is present in everything, not just the unexplainable:
Motyer: The Message of James Setting the Scene
There is no such thing as (so to speak) ‘non-spiritual’ healing.
When the aspirin works, it is the Lord who has made it work; when the surgeon sets the broken limb and the bone knits, it is the Lord who has made it knit.
Every good gift is from above!
It is this aspect of things which James isolates when he tells the sick to summon the elders.
He does not tell us whether he is offering a ‘supplement’ to the doctor, or an alternative, and we must not assume that he disapproves of what he simply does not mention.
There is always a spiritual dimension in healing, and here it is in all its glory.
On no occasion should a Christian approach the doctor without also approaching God, but there are those times when a notable and special approach to God will seem right and it is for this that James here makes a lovely provision.
2. Elders and oil (v14)
It is fair to say that the practice of the church of ‘Holy Unction’ or the ‘Sacrament of the Sick’ finds no basis in this verse of James.
What rather finds a basis here is the gathering of local church leaders with regular oil to pray with someone who has a serious sickness.
3. Physical and Spiritual Healing
Both are in mind in v15.
Not that individual sin causes individual sickness, though it may.
But that sickness causes time for reflection that might bring to light some sin in the time we have to reflect.
But also in the face of sickness our desire to be fully reconciled with God and to have our lives put right becomes something we are very concerned about.
4. Prayer’s effectiveness
v15 - prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well.
v16 - the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Is prayer gaurunteed to work?