This Chapter will bring us to the conclusion of the book of James. I have attempted to walk through this chapter by breaking it down into a number of sections. Let’s get out our Bibles and walk through this together.
This scripture follows the section in chapter 4, vs. 4-10. There, James reminds us that, “friendship with the world is to be an enemy of God.” When we seek to gain our joy, life, identity, and success from the world we are at odds with God and what He desires to give us. The struggles that life bring us and that we bring on ourselves all become trials of faith. When we are struggling with something in our lives or something in the lives of those we love, the deepest issue is always about God: “Is God here? Does He care? Is He able to work even at this painful time in my life?” I believe that the main reason it becomes difficult to trust God is that we have deep expectations about how God should handle our broken lives and we want to tell Him that we will trust Him in exchange for Him taking care of things the way we want Him to. These expectations make it very hard to trust God and in many cases they get in the way of our turning our lives over to Him for Him to work as He sees fit. I think I am often willing to endure unpleasant situations with the hope that they will be over very soon. I almost hold my breath, waiting for life to return to “normal.” I am not then living through the trial by faith, by counting on God to give me His life, love, and comfort in the midst of the time. I am simply trying to will my way through it. We want so much to be secure and to be free from hard times that we often make plans to try and fix whatever we can for ourselves rather than run to him to give us what we need to press in through what He could be developing in us.
When we attempt to be our own strength we find ourselves beginning to trust in ourselves and trusting in a temporal security. James challenges us and exposes the folly of thinking we can make plans for the next year of our lives when we don’t know about tomorrow and are nothing more than “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” James challenges us to reassess the need of building our fortress of security out of our wealth. Notice the graphic word pictures James draws for us! He begins by encouraging these wealthy ones in the congregation who are trusting in their wealth to repent, to turn from counting on their money to give them life, to get them out of their struggles, to give them security. He wants them to “weep and howl” because there are miseries coming on them. These miseries are the consequences of foolishly placing their confidence in their wealth, of hoarding it out of fear. Are these things eternal? Will they last? Are they worthy of this confidence? Can they truly make one secure and well? James is very adamant with his “no” to all these questions. All these things that you stack up and keep as your security will rot and rust away and the rust will be evidence against you. Evidence of what? Evidence of where you were placing your trust and life. Evidence of what you have come to worship.
We can know a lot about God and believe or assent to truths about Him, but it becomes more obvious where our true faith lies when we look at how we are living, especially what we are anxious about. What treasure are we really laying up?(v.3)
James 5:7-12 “7 Be patient, therefore, brethren, …………… 12 But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but let your yes be yes and your no be no, that you my not fall under condemnation.”
What are you to do when you are pressed and discouraged in the midst of ongoing or difficult trials? You are to be patient “until the coming of the Lord.” What does it mean to be patient? Well, James fills this out as he continues through the passage. James uses the illustration of the farmer to indicate that patience is connected to waiting. The farmer waits for “the precious fruit of the earth” and in this waiting, he is patient “over it until it receives the early and the late rain.” The farmer is waiting for the fruit. This is what he has his mind set upon when he is planting, when he is waiting. Knowing that it is coming, he is able to be patient through not only the early but the late rain. It may seem, if he only looks at the time passing or considers the dreariness of more rain, that this fruit may never come at all. But the farmer doesn’t focus on these things. He is not waiting for the rain, but for the fruit. We are waiting for the Lord. Focusing on, remembering this truth can allow us to be patient through the “early” struggles and those still to come. There will be a harvest! The Lord guarantees it.
Being patient, James goes on to say, involves establishing our hearts. Being patient is an action of faith. It is something we take up, something we actively choose. Patience, then, is not just an absence of anxiety, something we can be when there is nothing to be anxious about. We choose to trust that God is a generous giver and the source of all good gifts. We choose to count on the fact that God is not tempting us in the midst of our trials. So, we establish our hearts in the fact that He is indeed near.
James also reminds us that we “have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” What is God up to? Why are we going through these things? What will be the end result of them? James returns our focus to the heart of God. Who is He? He is the compassionate and merciful One. This is what He is up to. Whatever we are dealing with, we can count on the fact that God’s purposes for us come from His great compassion and mercy. We turn our eyes to this One and away from our circumstances to feed on and grow in this wonderful truth.
James 5:13-15 “13 Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. …….15 and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”
So how do we grow in our ability to be patient, to know and count on the nearness of God? We pray to Him, whatever our current circumstances are. “Is any one among you suffering?” James asks. “Let him pray.” We are to turn our situation and all of our anxieties, questions, doubts, and struggles over to the good God James has been pointing us to throughout this letter. He is the God who desires our perfection and completion (1:4), who gives generously without reproach (1:5), the source of all good gifts (1:17), who gives grace to the humble (4:6), and who is always at hand (5:8), nearer than the very trials we are going through.
What James is doing here is assuring us that it is God’s very character to be intimately concerned with our sufferings. When we suffer we wonder and are even tempted to think that God is absent or indifferent. James has been assuring us and continues to assure us that this is not the case. When we are suffering the most immediate, practical, and effective thing we can do is to pray because our suffering does not mean God has turned against us and abandoned us. Prayer reminds us of God’s character and nearness. Prayer enables us to hand over again to God what only He can redeem and transform. Prayer puts us where we can receive His peace and comfort.
Now James turns to physical illness. “Is any among you sick?” This illness may or may not have a direct connection to personal sin. But James does consider this possibility as well. So, it seems to me that here James is dealing with a lack of wholeness or health, both physically and spiritually. He deals first and foremost with physical disease possibly because we may be tempted to believe God is less concerned with that than He is with spiritual disease. James spends more time dealing with this concern than the previous two and I think this is because he wants to emphasize to his readers that God is indeed present, active, and loving when we are physically broken and in pain. It is not a sign of God’s rejection.
James is drawing out what God is doing with “the prayer of faith.” God is going to save, raise up, and forgive. Is God concerned with brokenness, weakness, pain, sin? Absolutely! God is Savior this is Who He is. His will is to bring about complete restoration, wholeness, healing. We can count on Him for our complete redemption and healing, for His raising us up, because this is His heart.
James 5:16-20 “16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another,……………. 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
The trials we go through essentially tempt us to be double-minded about God. We know He is loving and good so when we find ourselves in difficulties, we get confused. It is not always clear to us why we are having these struggles and so we begin to wonder if God has abandoned us. Or, we may question whether He really is all that loving and good after all, or whether it is just that he doesn’t care about us in particular. James turns our focus away from our trials to face our heavenly Father who is at work in the midst of our trials to give us more of His life, peace, and joy. Focusing on our present circumstances cannot tell us who God is or assist us in counting on Him more. He wants to enable us to turn our eyes toward God and to allow Him to draw out our faith.
So why is it that the prayers of the righteous person are powerful? Because this person knows that it is God they are completely dependent on and not themselves. They are trusting God to be their Savior, the One who gives generously and seeks our perfection. So their prayers are going to be seeking God’s great intentions instead of their own.
James wants to make sure we understand this statement about the prayers of a righteous person so he illustrates it with a story of Elijah. First he tells them that Elijah “was a man of like nature with ourselves…” Elijah was not righteous “in himself,” his nature was like ours. Any righteousness he exhibited was in his confidence in the God he prayed to. And look what his prayers brought about. First there was no rain for three and a half years, and then he prayed again that there was rain! His prayers were not his ability to put pressure on God to do something God did not really want to do. No, rather through his prayers he was caught up and given the privilege to participate in God’s work, in what God was doing. God graciously has us participate in His wonderful work.
Life here is a life full of evidence that we do not fully live in the good life our generous Father intends. Sometimes our trials are the constant frustrations of everyday life and at other times they are so big, they threaten to overcome us. Our longing for the day when we will be beyond all these struggles grows as we realize that in this life, trials will continue to be a part of our experience. It is so very easy to lose sight of God’s character and purposes when life is not going the way we believe it should. It is tempting to draw conclusions about God based on our current difficulties. But this is what James writes his letter to prevent. Our trust in God can only grow as we look again at who He truly is and find Him able to be present and active in the midst of the struggles we are facing.