Thursday, February 29, 2024

2024.02.29 Hopewell @Home ▫ James 5:7–20

Read James 5:7–20

Questions from the Scripture text: How does the beginning of James 5:7 connect it to what comes before? What does the prophet call his readers? What is his command to them? For what are they to be patient? Who is an earthly example of this? For what sort of fruit is he waiting? Upon whose rain-work is he waiting? What are believers to establish in their patience (James 5:8)? What are they waiting for, that is at hand? What should they watch against, since it is near (James 5:9)? What is something that the Lord is doing when He comes? Whom does James 5:10 set forth as an example? Whose judgment was kept on their minds, by speaking in His Name? Whom do we count blessed from their days (James 5:11)? Who, especially, was an example of that? What was his perseverance designed to bring? What does this remind us about the Lord? To what sort of speech does patience not resort (James 5:12)? Into what does the perpetual oath-swearer fall? With what two types of experiences is this waiting-life filled (James 5:13)? What are we to do in each case? What else happens in this life (James 5:14)? Whom are they to call? How do they model godward orientation? With what physical action do they reinforce it? With what are they to pray (James 5:15)? What does this always do? What is sometimes the specific cause for a sickness? What are we to do with our sins (James 5:16)? In order to do what for one another? What does this praying do? Who was like us (James 5:17)? What did he do? With what effect? Then what did he do (James 5:18)? What can happen during this age of waiting (James 5:19)? And what can a brother seek to do at that point? In what two things does this brother participate, if he is successful (James 5:20)? 

If we are not living for wealth, how should we live? James 5:7–20 prepares us for the second serial reading in public worship on the Lord’s Day. In these fourteen verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that we should live before the face of the Lord, in anticipation of His return and judgment.

James 4:13–5:6 had critiqued living for earthly riches—for this world rather than for the Lord. Now the word “therefore” at the beginning of James 5:7 indicates that this is teaching us how properly to live in this world as those who are waiting for the Lord and for the next world. The language of patient, praying waiting for fruit ties the passage together from James 5:7-18. And James 5:19-20 continue that theme. 

Waiting for the precious fruit from heavenJames 5:7-8. The prophet compares waiting for the coming of the Lord with the farmer waiting for the “precious” fruit of the earth. He’s patient because he has to wait upon the Lord to send the right rains at the right times. We can’t bring the Lord’s return or accelerate the precious fruit of heaven. Instead, we are instructed to establish (strengthen) our hearts. 

Remembering the judgmentJames 5:9. Waiting doesn’t mean living as if the Lord is not returning, but rather continuously living in light of His return. In particular, it means remembering that we are always before our Judge. And He is returning to judge. All our deeds will be exposed (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10). If we really lived mindfully of this, we wouldn’t even grumble against a brother. 

Perseverance encouraged by compassionJames 5:10-11. Patience also means enduring suffering (James 5:10). In the midst of it, we may falsely conclude that the sovereign Lord expects us just to grin and bear misery. But this is not the case at all. The prophets spoke in the Name of the Lord. They were keenly aware of His reality and His nearness. Job could not perceive that nearness, but persisted in righteousness anyway, convinced of what he could not see. And he was right. The Lord intended to bring him into doubly rich earthly blessings (cf. Job 42:12–17) and an even greater blessing, richer knowledge of God (cf. Job 42:5). So James 5:11 reminds us that the story of Job’s suffering was one of an exceedingly compassionate and merciful Lord. We are enabled to endure by knowing, from His Word, that the Lord is being exceedingly compassionate with us. Do you know that, dear reader, in your own case? 

Patience producing steadiness of speechJames 5:12. In God’s providence, we have just recently been through Matthew 5:34–37 together, so James 5:12 sounds familiar. But now we gain insight from the local context. The man who lives in light of eternity has a steadiness and steadfastness to him. He is not the sort of unstable fellow who is always taking oaths to try to make his words weighty with men. Rather, he lives in an awareness that he is before the face of God, and his words are measured and forthright accordingly.

Godward orientation and response of the heartJames 5:13-14. Living before the Lord means that our first reflex/recourse in every situation is unto Him. The first response to suffering is prayer. The first response to joy in the heart is to sing psalms. In the case of sickness, the elders of the church are called, since they have been called to a particular ministry of prayer (cf. Acts 6:4). The elders, in turn, anoint the believer—reminding him that he is not his own but has been set apart by God to the particular life and roles assigned to him. The suffering is assigned by the Lord, and if there is a recovery, the health and strength also belong to the Lord.

Praying for what the Word saysJames 5:15-16a. The “prayer of faith” is not a prayer of someone who has great strength of believing. Rather, it is prayer that is in submission to the Word and to the Lord of the Word. As those who teach the Word (cf. Ephesians 4:11), elders are especially appointed to such praying, and believers learn also to pray with this Scripture-informed faith. All who believe in Christ will, indeed, be forgiven, saved, and raised! And if the specific illness was chastening for specific sin, being brought to confession and prayer will have fulfilled the purpose of that illness. In that case, the repenting, praying believer will be healed.

Praying for what God promisesJames 5:16-18. If we did not see this connection of the Word and prayer in the phrase “prayer of faith,” we might be confused (as many have been) by James 5:17. 1Kings records Elijah prophesying that it would not rain, but it does not record his praying. So, many have theorized that James is “relying upon rabbinic tradition” for this. But that is not necessary, for this righteous man must have been expected to add praying to his prophesying. That is certainly what happened in the occasion referenced in James 5:18. The Lord told Elijah what would happen (cf. 1 Kings 18:1), and Elijah prayed for it (cf. 1 Kings 18:42). It is part of righteous character and conduct that we pray for what the Lord has promised. And it is part of the Lord’s great generosity to us that He gives us to participate in His work by this “effective praying.” 

Patience with one another and the urgency of perseveranceJames 5:19-20. Finally, the fact of the Lord’s soon return reminds us that it necessary to continue in the grace of God (cf. Acts 13:43). The one who wanders from the truth and is not restored is exposed as not having made a true beginning in grace. His soul will die, and his sins will be punished. The reality of the Lord’s return and judgment presses upon us just how urgent it is that we persevere in the truth! 

But just as God appoints prayer as a means by which He works, so also He appoints the fellowship of believers as a means by which He works. A genuine believer who wanders from the truth will be turned back. His soul will be saved from death, and the multitude of his sins will be covered. And it is a great privilege to be used to turn a brother from the error of his way. 

Why is it so easy for you to be forgetful of the sure return of the Lord and the judgment to come? By what means has He appointed to keep you mindful of Him? In which of the areas touched upon in this passage, are you most forgetful? How will you employ His means to address this?

Sample prayer:  Lord, forgive us for not living as those who eagerly await Your appearing. Grant that we would endure patiently. Forgive us for how we have grumbled against our brothers before Your face. Forgive us for being forgetful of Your compassion and mercy, so that our hearts have been slow to pray in suffering and slow to sing psalms in cheerfulness. Forgive us also for not availing ourselves of the ministry of the elders and of the body. Grant unto us to grow in all of these areas, and keep us in the way of truth. Thus, save our souls from death, we pray, and cover the multitude of our sins, we ask, through Christ, AMEN!

 Suggested songs: ARP112 “O Praise the LORD” or TPH538 “Take My Life, and Let It Be”

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