Until Then - Living Until the Lord Comes
Until Then: Living Until the Lord Comes (James 5:7-20)
Runners would confess that the most grueling race is the 400 meter run. Longer races are run, but the 400 meter is the longest sprint. No runner can sprint indefinitely. As runners reach 390 meters, their hearts pound and their lungs feel as if they will explode. Were the runners not sure that the 401st meter promises rest, they could not endure.
James 5:4, 6 describe the tribulations that materially poor believers faced in the race of faith. Crushed by the unrighteous rich, they could not resist. Yet, James assured them that they would not have to sprint forever. God would intervene, but they had to learn how to live until the Lord comes. James gave three basic exhortations on how to live until then.
Believers must live with long-suffering, steadfast endurance (5:7-12). Christians should live with appropriate, effective prayer in all circumstances (5:13-18). Christ's followers should spend the time until Jesus comes rescuing those who lose patience and wander from the way (5:19-20).
Until Then: Live with Patience (5:7-12)
A single expression casts its shadow over the remainder of James's letter: "be patient." The conjunction "therefore" looks back to the trials that the poor believers experienced at the hands of the unjust rich (5:1-6). In essence, James wrote: In this age, believers can do little about their enemies. Do not resist, much Jess avenge yourselves. Therefore, develop the spiritual discipline of patience. Let that virtue ripen until the Lord comes. Don't get even; get patient.
The English word patient weakly translates James's original word. "Long-tempered" would be a better translation. English has the corresponding phrase "short-tempered." James combined the Greek word makro (long) with the word thumia (anger). Makrothumia means to be long-tempered. It reflects self-restraint that does not retaliate easily or quickly. With people, it means never to lose patience or hope. With events, it means never to admit defeat. The term could be defined as long, careful thought before one acts or responds emotionally.
Makrothumia contains another shade of meaning. It indicates someone who has the power to crush by retaliation but refuses to do so. How often do we tell ourselves: I've got him where I want him now? For people to be long-tempered indicates a refusal to retaliate, even when it would be easy. Sometimes, little puppies play around an old hound. They may nip his ears or scratch his nose. With one swipe of his paw or snap of his teeth, he could kill or maim the pups, but he does not. He has the power to retaliate, but he refuses to use it.
Repeatedly, the Bible attributes the attitude of long-suffering to God in His relationship to persons (Ex. 34:6; Neh. 9:17). When people act with patience toward others, they only are imitating God's attitude toward them. The patient attitude is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). It is the uniform of the Christian life that one should put on daily (Col. 3:12).
No one can sprint forever. James set a limit to endurance: "until the coming of the Lord." The phrase indicates Jesus' second coming. James used the word that Jesus used three times in Matthew 24 to describe His return. The word indicated a ruler's state visit. Our King is coming! That is the reason for patience now and the reward of patience then. Not even Christianity tells one to be longsuffering forever. An end is in sight when faith will be vindicated.
Patience is a Christian virtue. James gave three concrete examples to help us until then.
The Patient Farmer: Wait for the Harvest (5:7b-9)
"Behold, the farmer" (v. 7b). James called on his readers to ponder and reflect on the life of the Palestinian peasant farmer. The small farmer planted scarce seed and hoped for the best. During the last weeks before harvest, his whole family could suffer hunger. Year by year, the family's entire life depended on the harvest. A bad year could result in the loss of the land, hunger, or death. In patience, he recognized that the harvest was "the precious fruit of the earth" (v. 7b). That phrase suggests that the whole process rested outside his power. After he had planted the seed, nothing he could do hastened the harvest. As he watched with affection, emotion, and constant expectancy, he only could be patient.
The whole process led to nothing unless the crop received "the early and the late rain" (v. 7b). That phrase magnified the human helplessness and the farmer's absolute patience. In Palestine, the early rain started in October or November. It softened the brick-hard soil that had baked under the relentless sun. Unless that rain came, the farmer could not plow; and the seed would not germinate. The latter rain that matured and ripened the crop fell in March and April. Unless that rain came, the crop would be stunted or nonexistent. Expanded Jewish law contained regulations for prayer about the two rainfalls.
Imagine the careworn face of the Hebrew farmer whose concerned gaze moved from the bone-dry soil to the faces of his hungry children. Only patient prayer to God could provide hope.
The 1980's might be called the Now generation. We want physical fitness, financial success, and peer group approval now. Many people demand happy homes, fulfilling careers, and rewarding leisure time immediately. Yet, on every hand, signs point out that this attitude toward life is not working. Drug abuse and stress-related illnesses indicate that life without patient waiting on God does not work. Recently, a cardiologist entitled his book Is It Worth Dying For? He argued that "hot reactors" respond to every frustrating situation with angry stress which constricts their coronary arteries. He counseled people to be "cool reactors," which is only another way to say, "Be patient." Twentieth-century medicine demonstrates the practicality of first-century Christianity.
In contrast to the life of patience, James prohibited an attitude of irritation: "Do not grumble, brethren, against one another" (v. 9). Constant pressure of oppression from the outside can cause believers to murmur against those closest to them—fellow Christians. The word grumble suggests a moan, groan, complaint, or surpressed feeling of ill will. Bickering and fault-finding undermine the community that waits for the Lord's coming. James warned against believers' mutual recrimination against one another. Such carping, criticizing Christians should realize that "the Judge is standing at the doors" (5:9). That refers to the certainty, suddenness, and nearness of the Lord's return.
The day will come when an angelic messenger will cry, "All arise." The Judge of the universe will enter His judgment hall. How ashamed will be Christians who are caught indulging in petty criticism! Many Christians do not grasp how seriously God takes their grumbling criticism against other Christians. Patient living demands a radical refusal to complain about other believers. In fact, Christians are to pray for one another instead of grumbling against one another. When believers actually pray for other Christians, they seldom criticize their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Prescription for Patience: Consider the Prophets (5:10)
James advised: "Take the prophets" (5:10). They present striking examples of patience under long-term hardships. "Suffering" emphasized the passive nature of their misfortunes. Like great rocks by the sea, they simply had to take the pounding of waves of opposition. "Patience" highlights the active quality of persistent, godly living in the face of tribulation. Suffering did not come because of sin in their lives but because they "spoke in the name of the Lord." James established a parallel between the prophets and Christian leaders. Both are on God's side against evil.
James's word example repays careful study. It literally referred to beautifully formed letters in a copy book. Students used such books with tracing paper to learn how to form correct letters. James challenged his readers to trace their lives over the prophets' lives.
Jeremiah's life presents an arresting example of such persistent patience. God called him as a teenager who was living in a tiny village. After Jeremiah preached his first message of radical repentance, his own family tried to kill him. What a way to start in the ministry! Undaunted, the young preacher stood in the gate of the Temple on a great feast day. He told the assembled people that their worship was worthless because they had no intention of obeying God (Jer. 7). The religious establishment tried to kill him after his first public sermon (Jer. 26:11). The religious leaders beat him and stretched his limbs painfully in stocks (Jer. 20). After he wrote his prophetic book, a godless king cut it into pieces and burned it (Jer. 36). Finally, all of this got to Jeremiah. In a fit of depression, he blamed God and lamented his birth (Jer. 20:7-18). Yet, God would not allow Jeremiah to resign.
Through all that happened to him, Jeremiah endured. Decade after decade, the lonely, single prophet cried out God's Word. At the end of his life, the Jewish refugees carried him to Egypt with them. They could not live with him, and they could not live without him. Obedient living stretched Jeremiah to the breaking point, but he endured hardship.
How pale contemporary Christian complaints look alongside Jeremiah's life! One quits a Sunday School class because of a personal slight. Another quits giving because he does not like the color of new carpet in the sanctuary. Another stops attending worship because the pastor preaches five minutes past noon and infringes on the football game on television. How pathetically shallow such excuses look compared to Jeremiah's life! Baptists often stress the gospel of a good start. We also need to emphasize equally the gospel of a good finish. What Paul told Timothy remains true today: "Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 2:3).
American Christians would do well to reflect on modern-day Jeremiahs who live with steadfast endurance. Some Russian Baptists have endured harrassment, intimidation, persecution, torture, and death for their faith. Do you suppose that they missed church on Sunday night because their favorite television program was on? Do you think they missed prayer meeting because of a spring shower? Today, Southern Baptists could learn from those who are paying an awesome price for their faith.
The Superbowl of Endurance: Job (5:11)
If steadfast endurance had an Olympics, Job would win the gold medal. Job made his only New Testament appearance in the book of James. Just as James used Abraham as the great example of faith, he used Job as the highest example of endurance. Whereas people attacked Jeremiah, circumstances attacked Job. Job lost his health, his wealth, and his family. Even his wife told him to commit suicide (Job 2:9). His friends accused him of some terrible, hidden sin. Even God seemed to be silent through thirty-seven chapters of the book.
Yet, James insisted: "You have seen the purpose of the Lord" (v. 11). At the end, God revealed His purpose. The text has a play on words. The Greek word telos can mean both "end" and "purpose." One translator rendered this phrase: "You have seen how the Lord treated him in the end" (5:11, NEB). You cannot understand the purpose until you come to the end. In the surprising conclusion, God restored Job's friends, family, and fortune. Job lived another hundred and forty years and saw four generations of his family (Job 42:10-17). Just when Job thought life was over, it all really began. At the end of Job's trials, God appeared; then, all of Job's life became different. James wanted every believer to know that at the end of the Christian's trials, Christ will appear.
Job learned two things about God that he would not have known apart from his endurance. "The Lord is compassionate and merciful" (5:11). The word for compassion could be rendered "big-heartedness." Job learned God's heart while enduring trial. At the end, he also knew God's mercy.
In the midst of trying circumstances, James warned Christians not to swear but rather to tell the simple truth (5:12). When the heat is on and days are difficult, for some people swearing replaces praying. In trying circumstances, Christians should use simple, true, transparent speech. The Lord will not hold the person guiltless who takes His name in vain (Ex. 20:7). We live in a society that seems to find telling a lie far easier when the heat is on. The only hope for integrity in business or in government is those who obey James's words: "Let your yes be yes and your no be no, that you may not fall under condemnation" (5:12).
Spiritual Endurance in a Physical Generation
The patient farmer, the persistent prophets, and the patriarch Job—all argue simply but eloquently for the value of spiritual endurance. Today, many in our generation place overwhelming value on physical endurance. Consider the Ironman Triathalon World Championships. This race of 2.4 miles swimming in the ocean, 112 miles of biking, and 26.2 miles of running is held in Hawaii. The world record is nine hours, five minutes, and fifty-seven seconds. If one survives the start of the race, which consists of hundreds of swimmers jockeying for position, in spite of being kicked and trampled by fellow-swimmers, the participants only have to look forward to a grueling 112-mile bicycle ride. That famous ride extends along the Kona Coast and offers no mercy. The course slices through the 180-year-old lava flows. The bleakness defies description. But when that is finished, a marathon race awaits the participants. Network television transmits this race to millions. The winner is hailed as a triumphant example of endurance.
Does our generation ever place a similar value on spiritual endurance? Physical feats prove the body's ability to endure and to win a perishing prize. "Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable" (1 Cor. 9:25). Contemporary churches desperately need an "Ironman Triathalon" of spiritual endurance. The age cries for men and women who possess a whatever-it-takes kind of faith. The hour calls for a Christian commitment that endures regardless of physical inconveniences, social ostracisms, financial sacrifices, or vocational jeopardies. "When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply: The flame shall not hurt thee: I only design Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine." Ringing sermons or flaming deeds are not the final requirement. Endure, and you will know God's reward.
Until Then: Live with Praise and Prayer (5:13)
In every circumstance of life, the believer relates first to God. In bad days, one prays. In good days, one praises God. In days of illness, one calls the church to prayer. In two earlier sections, James dealt with prayer. The object of a believer's prayer should be for wisdom to face life's testing times (1:5-8). One's motive for prayer never should be one's own passions; it should be for God's will to be done. In verses 13-18, James summarized and expanded his earlier teaching on prayer.
In Bad Days, Pray (5:13a)
In 5:13, James referred to misfortunes other than illness, which he addressed at length. The word "suffering" particularly emphasizes the internal distress caused by outward circumstances. James may have had in mind the persecution just described. Rich landowners had bilked from the poor believers their just wages. James certainly intended to contrast the difference between swearing (5:12) and praying in life's difficult days. How many people greet difficulty with a curse, an oath, or an obscenity?
Christians should turn to God in prayer (5:13). Believers should not grumble, seek to retaliate against those who do wrong to them, or even simply "grin and bear it" like a Stoic. Rather, Christians should turn to God for relief and deliverance. Testimony of the power of prayer in difficult days fills the Psalms:
"Call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify
me" (Ps. 50:15).
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will rescue him and honor him (Ps. 91:15).
In Good Days, Praise (5:13b)
The Christians' earliest recorded impressions on pagans highlighted the believers' joyful praise. Pliny, the governor of Roman Bithynia, wrote to Emperor Trajan in AD 111. His letter is regarded widely as the earliest outside reference to believers by a Roman ruler. Pliny wrote: "'They are in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it is light, when they sing in alternate verses a hymn to Christ as God.'"
How should believers react when they are "cheerful" (5:13b)? We often turn to God in life's dark, difficult days. Many turn to God less often in life's bright, prosperous days. To walk with a full cup is more difficult than with a half-empty cup. James urged the believers to turn to God in praise when everything was going well, as much as they turned to Him in prayer when things were going badly.
The word translated "praise" first referred to plucking an instrument such as David's harp. James may have had in mind singing David's psalms, but more than that was involved. James's word indicated both public and private expressions of praise (1 Cor. 14:15; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Such praise to God actually intensified the joy of positive experiences.
Have you ever noticed your first impulse when something gives you great joy? It is the desire to praise it to another person. The act of praising the thing intensifies and enlarges your own pleasure in it. When you sit mute, your enjoyment of a good thing diminishes. By the same principle, when you ascribe praise to God for any experience, you enrich, round out, and intensify that experience.
The great reformer, Martin Luther, stressed the positive power of praise in music: "'The devil is a sad spirit and makes folks sad, hence he cannot bear cheerfulness; and therefore gets as far off from music as possible, and never stays where men are singing, especially spiritual songs.'" The Lord inhabits the praise of His people.
Special Prayer for the Sick (5:14-18)
No section of James touches on the raw edge of human need as does the section on prayer for the sick. Because of that, it deserves detailed treatment. An understanding of this passage can bring great joy. To misunderstand it may bring unnecessary heartache to the ill and their families. In 5:13-14, James wrote to the suffering, the cheerful, and the sick. The advice to the third group—the sick—differs considerably from the advice he gave to the first two groups.
In the first two instances, prayer and praise did not necessarily involve anyone else. However, the sick man was to call on the church elders. Another significant change rests in the tenses of the verbs that describe the actions. The first two groups are to keep praying and keep on praising as a normal habit of daily life. However, in the case of the sick the verb tense indicates an immediate action to be done on only one type of occasion: sickness. The third significant difference is that James gave the sick persons more details than the former two groups. Those details demand a careful examination.
The Ill Christian (5:14-15a)
James asked if anyone among the readers were sick. He took for granted that believers would suffer illness. He used two words for illness in this passage. Both words specify the physical impact of illness rather than the nature of the illness. In verse 14, the word astheneō emphasizes any kind of weakness and is the most frequently used word for sickness in the New Testament. The English word asthenio, which means weak, came directly from the Greek verb. In verse 15, the verb form kamno stresses the weariness and fatigue that come from illness. In the biblical world, the word was used specifically but not exclusively for gout and diseases of the eye. Taken together, the two words stress the weakness and weariness that come to the sick person as a result of a disease.
Note that the two words for illness never refer to demon possession in the New Testament. The word in verse 14 always applies to physical disease when indicating illness. It never applies to demon possession. In three cases, the condition it describes is distinguished carefully from demon possession (Luke 4:40-41; 8:2; Acts 5:16). Nothing in this section addresses exorcism of demons that cause illness. In James 5 or elsewhere, the New Testament gives no support for some contemporary teaching that all illness relates to demonic activity.
The Call for the Elders (5:14)
James gave the sick man advice: "Let him call for the elders of the church." The sick person was to take a particular initiative. He was to call on a body of men (the noun is masculine, plural) from the church to come to him. This implies a serious illness. The implication is that calling for the elders should not be done lightly. Curtis Vaughan quotes Thomas Manton: "'The elders must not be sent for upon every light occasion, as soon as the head or foot acheth,... but in such grievous diseases wherein there is danger and great pain.'"
Who are the "elders of the church?" Southern Baptists generally do not recognize a separate group of church officials called "elders," James may be the earliest writer who mentioned elders in the New Testament. The elders are not mentioned in the Gospels, but they appear suddenly in Acts and in the Epistles. The word certainly refers to a definite church office in James 5:14, not merely to the older men in the church. Presumably one, many, or all of the elders might respond to the sick person's call. Also, the "church" is the local assembly of believers.
The office of elder probably was modeled after the Jewish synagogue. In a Jewish town, the custom was for the holiest rabbis to go to a sick neighbor's house in order to pray for him. That James's first Jewish Christian leaders would take some of their organization for the church from their own synagogue background seems obvious.
The passage implies that the elders were to go to the sick person as church representatives, not because their office carried a special healing function. Elsewhere, Paul wrote of a definite charismatic gift of healing. That gift was given to some believers by the solemn act of the Spirit, but it was not associated specifically with the church elders (1 Cor. 12:9,28,30). Interestingly, James did not ask the person to send for a faith healer. James told the person to send for a body of men from the local church.
Today, if a sick Southern Baptist wished to send for "the elders," who should be invited? Certainly, today "the elders" would include the ordained ministers of the gospel in the local church. I also would include the ordained deacons among those who may be called "elders." In the New Testament, the Greek words for elders, bishops (overseers), and pastors (shepherds) were used interchangeably for those with pastoral duties. (See Acts 20:17,28; Titus 1:5, 7; 1 Pet. 5:1-2.) However, no biblical reason exists as to why both groups could not be included in a general call to the elders.
The Elders' Prayer (5:14)
When the elders assembled, James commanded: "Let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord." Three elements comprised their prayer: the prayer itself, the anointing with oil, and the invocation of the name of the Lord (Jesus). Unfortunately, curiosity about the anointing with oil has overshadowed the dominant element: believing prayer. The major theme of this section is prayer. The word "prayer" or "pray" occurs in every verse (5:13-18).
James specifically designated the elders to pray "over" the sick person. This obviously describes a situation in which the sick person was bedfast and lying down. Origen of Alexandria, a third-century Christian commentator, understood James to mean: stretching their hands over him. James may have meant that, or stretching their hands toward him, or even placing their hands on him, although that is not mentioned. James could have meant simply standing over the person in bed.
Related to the prayer over the sick person was anointing him with oil. The verb tense would allow this anointing to take place before the prayer or along with the prayer, but not after. The passage does not specify where the oil should be placed. The oil specified is olive oil, for that is the specific Greek word used. No evidence exists that the oil was "consecrated" or "holy" oil. Mark 6:13 states that Jesus' disciples "anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them." According to the Gospels, Jesus never commanded of practiced anointing with oil. Scholars debate whether the oil was medicinal, symbolic of prayer, or an actual vehicle for God's power.
In the ancient world, both Jews and Gentiles used oil for healing. The Jews were permitted to prepare such a solution even on the sabbath. The Old Testament refers to oil's healing qualities (Isa. 1:6). In the, biblical world, oil could soothe and cleanse wounds (Luke 10:34). Josephus related that Herod the Great's chilled, aching body was warmed in oil. Other ancient sources recommended oil for toning the muscles, seasickness, paralysis, and toothache. According to this view, one might translate James 5:14b: Giving him his medicine in the name of the Lord. The verb translated "anointing" that James used never appears in the Gospels as anointing for religious or spiritual purposes. It always referred to anointing for cosmetic or medicinal purposes. Thus, some respected scholars have viewed the oil as totally medicinal. They understand that James joined together "taking your medicine" with prayer.
That James referred exclusively to a "medical" use of oil apart from "spiritual" symbolism is unlikely. Such a distinction would have been foreign to the wholistic understanding of healing in 5:13-15. W. A. Criswell noted: "One thing that is certain is the psychological implication. It is good to do something to help people believe they can be well." When Jesus healed the blind man, He made clay out of the spittle. No one would say that the clay alone had a medicinal effect. It was a helping symbol of God's healing power in Christ. The warm, soothing oil was a visible sign of the power of prayer.
Should Baptist believers anoint a sick person with oil when such a person calls for the elders? John Wilkinson observed that "Jesus did not command or advise it." James attributed the healing power to God through prayer, not through oil. Some respected believers understand that the use of oil does not form an essential part of the church's healing ministry. Because of the potential for misunderstanding or for abuse, the use of oil by Baptists should call for cautious consideration. Certainly oil should not be used lightly, indiscriminately, or casually. For example, James 5:13-15 offers no basis for the use of oil in public services or indiscriminately by a pastor in hospitals. If a group of Baptist deacons (or elders) use oil, it only should be in the exact circumstances that James outlined. The sick person should call them to his bed; they should pray over him in the name of Jesus; and quietly, they should use a modest amount of oil. Perhaps the decision to use oil or not to use it should be left to the sick person who calls the leaders. If the ill individual feels the need for such anointing, let it be done. If he does not, remember that the use of oil is permitted but not commanded. Above everything else, that no power resides in the oil must be made clear. All power belongs to God; that power is appropriated through believing prayer.
The Healing Act of God (5:15)
The elders pray a "prayer of faith." The prayer that may result in healing must be prayed in trust in and commitment to God. James 1:5-8 requires that every prayer be offered in that attitude if it results in God's action. As the result of such praying, James stated that God may do three things.
First, "The prayer of faith will save the sick man" (v. 15). This raises an interesting question of interpretation. The Greek word for save and heal is the same. Did James mean that such praying would save the man from sin eternally in the spiritual sense of salvation? The New Testament never states that one person may be saved by another's prayer. It often refers to one being healed physically by another's prayer. In James 5:15, the promises refer to the individual's physical healing. He will be made whole physically by believing prayer.
Next, James promised that "the Lord will raise him up." Once again, an interesting problem of interpretation appears. The Greek word translated "raise" is the usual word for Jesus' resurrection. However, it also refers to the physical standing up of someone who has been sick. For instance, when Jesus healed the lame man, the man arose and took his pallet to walk away (Mark 2:9-12). In James 5:15, the word raise means, He puts him on his feet again with new strength and vitality.
Finally, the healing has a spiritual dimension: "if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven." The Jewish rabbis taught that a direct connection existed between sickness and sin. One said: "No sick person is cured of his disease until all sins are forgiven." In contrast to this view, Jesus stated that a direct correspondence between sickness and sin does not exist in every instance (John 9:2-3). Yet in other instances, Jesus seemed to identify a relationship between sickness and sin (Mark 2:5; John 5:14). Paul insisted that the sins of some sick and deceased Corinthian believers had caused their illnesses and deaths. Their sin related to abuse of the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:30). In the Old Testament, David stated that his sin had caused him physical illness (Ps. 32).
James 5:15 suggests that sin may be the cause of illness, but not necessarily. As Sophie Laws carefully stated: "James thinks of a possible, but not inevitable, association rather than a direct cause and effect relationship." James chose a word which implies that a relationship between sin and the believer's illness might exist. If the brother has sinned, as part of the total act of healing his sins will be forgiven. Verse 15 reflects the Christian understanding of good health and wholeness. Our generation virtually idolizes physical fitness. Yet no one is truly fit unless the whole person has been healed, physically and spiritually.
James 5:15 presents a difficulty because of the unqualified nature of James's promises. Without any qualification, he stated that God would heal the person. Yet the prayers of thousands of godly people have not been answered positively in the matter of healing. Many commentators agree that such praying must be subject to God's will. "If God so wills it" must be implied in all such praying.
The healings that Christ performed while He was on earth had a special significance. "Besides being works of mercy, they were signs of his messianic identity.... Supernatural healings in equal abundance to those worked in the days of Jesus' flesh may not be his will today. The question concerns not his power but his purpose. We cannot guarantee that, because he was pleased to heal all the sick brought to him then, he will act in the same way now." Paul was left with his "thorn in the flesh" (2 Cor. 12:7-9). He wrote the Philippian Christians concerning their messenger Epaphroditus and his illness. Even though Epaphroditus had brought the offering from Philippi to Paul in the Roman prison, he almost died (Phil. 2:25-30). Paul claimed no special power to heal him. Only by an act of God's mercy did Epaphroditus survive.
Often, human weakness deepens human dependence on Christ. The weaker we know ourselves to be, the more prone we are to lean on Christ. Many who have passed through times of illness would confess a new dimension to spiritual life after the sickness. Today, some individuals insist that healing is provided in Christ's atonement. Spiritual healing is provided, but perfect physical health is promised only in heaven.
The Prayer of a Righteous Man (5:16-18)
In the context of mutual confession, the prayer of a righteous man explodes with potency (5:16). The emphasis is on the righteousness of the one praying and the specific nature of his request. The word translated "great power" relates directly to the English word energy. Elijah is an example of such praying. In James's day, Elijah stood tallest among the Hebrew prophets. He was able to start and stop the rains of heaven when he prayed. Yet, he was a man of human frailties just like us. He was an eruptive man filled with human passions. On the one hand, he could stand boldly before the prophets of Baal. On the other hand, he would run away from Jezebel in a fit of melancholy and depression. Yet, his praying moved God's might to change the elements. James suggested that such praying does not belong only to "super saints." Men and women with common frailties have moved the power of God.
Spiritual Restoration a Healing Opportunity for All (5:19-20)
Spiritual sickness results when a believer wanders from the truth. The word "wander" comes from the Greek word for planet. The ancients watched the skies and detected that the planets wandered among the fixed stars in the heavens. In 5:19, James referred to a believer who wandered in the midst of other believers who remained fixed in their devotion to Christ. Whoever turns such a brother from error "will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins" (5:20). This does not mean that the soul-winner covers his own sins by his exercise in evangelism. The sins covered are those of the restored believer. Sometimes, the word "cover" is translated atonement. When a sinner is saved, God covers the sinner with Christ's righteousness. Freely, fully, finally, and forever one's sins are covered. James, Jesus' brother, had denied the lordship of his own half brother. Jesus had restored him. James's remarkable, inspired letter resulted from the restoration.
Lessons for Life from James 5:7-20
Identify the areas in your life where you most lack the patient ability to persevere steadfastly.—You may lack the ability to persevere at home with the family, at work with a task, or at church with a ministry assignment. Keep a calendar of your progress with such commitments and go on in steadfast endurance through days of difficulty.
Determine not to take part or to stop taking part in the "grumblers club" at your church.—Trivia is traumatizing many Baptist churches. Trivia really is not trivial. Determine that you will speak a positive word and leave the negative to those who always are ready to speak it.
Take James's advice and carefully study the life of a prophet.—Compare and contrast his reactions to life's trials with your reactions.
Inventory how you face life's suffering.—Does it make you bitter or better? Do you meet it with prayer?
Experience a resurgence of interest in praising God.—Commit a time in your daily devotion this week totally to praising God. Use the Bible's praise psalms, praise hymns, and good religious poetry to express your praise to God.
Consider your role in your church's ministry to the sick.—Is prayer for the sick a regular part of your life?
Personal Learning Activities
1. In James 5:7, the word translated "patience" means (choose the correct answers from the list):
□ (1) Tolerance.
□ (2) Endurance.
□ (3) Long-tempered.
□ (4) Passive waiting.
2. James used _______, ___________, and ____________ as examples of patience. (Select the proper responses from the list.)
□ (1) An athlete
□ (2) A farmer
□ (3) The prophets
□ (4) Job
3. James advised his readers to ________ in bad days and to _________ in good days. (Choose the correct answers from the list.)
□ (1) Try harder
□ (2) Quit
□ (3) Pray
□ (4) Relax
□ (5) Indulge
□ (6) Praise
4. James used __________ as an example of the power of a righteous person's prayer. (Select the correct response from the list.)
□ (1) Abraham
□ (2) Paul
□ (3) Elijah
□ (4) Moses
1. (2),(3); 2. (2),(3),(4); 3. (3),(6); 4. (3).
James: Faith Works!.