James 5:13-20 Pray, Praise, And Speak The Truth.
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray” (v. 13 Cf. Ps. 50:15). Sweet words to live by. James just lays out matter-of-factly that if we are suffering we can pray with the faith to believe that God will help us. Perhaps some may think that this is the only time to direct our thoughts to God. But James also writes that if anyone is cheerful, “let him sing psalms” (v. 13b). Of course, we know that the words ‘psalms’ was also used to refer to “hymns, and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). When two or three agree on a matter, such as the church’s elders praying and anointing the sick with with oil, “the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up” (vv. 14-15a). James does not say that all sickness is as a result of some sin, but he does say “if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (v. 15b).
“Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (v. 16a). Roman Catholics take these words for support for the confessional. Still other evangelicals take this to mean barring all before one’s fellow believers. It is likely that it refers to neither. Rather, it would appear to be James telling the saints to go to a brother or sister who has wronged us or who we have wronged, and as Jesus instructed jus, first attempt to resolve the matter one on one, with forgiveness (Cf. Mt. 18:15-20). This is one example of where “the effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (v. 16). James notes the example of Elijah, “a man with a nature like ours,” that is, frail and sinful in need of the Saviour. So a righteous man like Elijah does not imply sinless, but one redeemed (v. 17 Cf. I Kgs. 17:1; 18:1, 42; Acts 14:15).
We ought to be engaged in turning anyone we know in the faith back to the truth if they should wander off (v. 19 Cf. Gal. 6:1). In fact, James makes the point that we should encourage those who do so, letting them know that in doing so they are “saving a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (v. 20 Cf. Ps. 32:1; 85:2). Of course, it is never man who saves, but God uses people to speak the word to others that they might be saved (Cf. Rom. 11:14). The word declares that there is forgiveness of sins in the Lord Jesus Christ, and when one walks with Him there continues to be forgiveness, and ultimately less sins to be forgiven, as the Spirit enables us to be doers of the word and not hearers only (Cf. I Pet. 4:8). “The care of the souls of the community is a matter of concern for every member” (NGSB. P. 1966).
James 5:7-12 Be Patient And Persevere.
James wrote, “therefore be patient,” because he just finished writing that the actions of some rich who were denying the wages of their labourers, had “reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth” (or hosts) (5:4). In other words, using anthropomorphic language, speaking of the ears of the Lord, his readers could be patient because there will come a moment when judgment will fall from the Lord of hosts. This patience is like that of a farmer who waits for the early and latter rain, that they might obtain a bountiful harvest (v. 7). This knowledge should be ample grounds for his readers to establish their hearts, that is, establish them to their core (v. 8a). What is also interesting about these verses is the fact that James qualifies what he meant by “the last days,” indicating that the coming of the Lord he is writing about “is at hand,” or “has drawn near” (v. 8b and NGSB p. 1965).
Given that this coming of the Lord in judgment is at hand, James warns his readers to “not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned.” Again he makes the point of it being at hand. “Behold, the Judge is standing at the door” (v. 9). Therefore it is clear that “the last days” must refer to the last days of the old covenant era. Peter was convinced this was the case, because he saw those days, and in particular the phenomena of the outpouring of the Spirit and speaking in other languages, as being fulfilled with the activity at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-21). The writer to the Hebrews also placed the emphasis of the final revelation in Christ as the time of the “last days” (Heb. 1:1-4). In addition to admonishing his readers to be patient, he also adds that they also should not “grumble against one another,” again for fear of condemnation because “the Judge is standing at the door” (v. 9).
James notes a couple of examples that we all can follow with respect to “suffering and patience,” where we are being wrongly treated and where we need to know that the Lord will one day judge all (v. 10b). One example is the prophets, “who spoke in the name of the Lord” (v. 10a). So they suffered because they were ambassadors for the Lord, declaring His word. James is able to write that, “indeed we count them blessed who endure,” because Jesus Himself taught this (Cf. Mt. 5:10-12). Those who do the will of God live life in the promise of vengeance and life eternal in the Lord (Cf. 1:12). This leads James to refer to the example of Job, who persevered because he understood that “the Lord is very compassionate and merciful” (v. 11 Cf. Job 1:21-22; 2:10; 42:10). But James, again repeating what was taught by the Lord Himself, wrote that above all we must let our ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ be ‘no’ (v. 12 Cf. Mt. 5:34-37).
James 5:1-6 Pay Workers Fairly And Use Riches Wisely.
James once again issues a warning to the rich of this world, yet it is not a blanket condemnation of all who are rich. The warning here is to those who heap up treasure, as though they are hording it well beyond their needs. Furthermore, the rich that James is referring to are rich, in part, because they have neglected to pay their labourers (v. 4). In so doing they were breaking God’s law (Lev. 19:13; Dt. 24:15). At the same time they have lived in Pleasure and luxury. James states that by behaving in this manner they have simply fattened themselves for a day of slaughter, like a senseless animal, heaping up sin for the eventual judgment (v. 5). In treating their workers in this manner, they were condemning the just (v. 6). These just ones in crying out to the Lord of Sabaoth (or hosts) are heard. This speaks to the Lord coming in judgment, and these rich will be judged. Their vary riches will witness against them, and they will weep and howl in their miseries (vv. 1-3a Cf. Mt. 6:19-21; Lk. 6:24-25). Their judgment will be all the more severe, since they did this in the last days, that time when God poured out His Spirit and made known the new covenant revelation in Christ (v. 3b Cf. Rom. 2:5).
James 4:13-17 Deus Volent
It was a common practice among reformed churches, and still is for some, to end a message with ‘Deus Volent’, latin for ‘Lord willing’, especially if it involved any plans made for the future. James may have entered upon this subject at this juncture simply because it was an question raised by the church, or just something which James observed. On the other hand, James may have also dealt with it at this point because of a connection with what he has just said-that it is the Lawgiver alone “who is able to save and to destroy,” therefore we should not judge each other, but leave that to the Lord (v. 12). It is easy for us to think of traveling, especially if it involves our work and commerce, as a thing neutral, or something of no concern to the Lord. Even worse are those who believe that God isn’t sovereign over all, and therefore he doesn’t oversee all things. However, James rightly points out that no man can know the future apart from God, and the reason God knows the future, besides the reality that He is omniscient or all-knowing, is because he plans all things.
Humans, on the other hand, are but a vapour, we had a beginning and God alone will judge our end. So, knowing this basic knowledge about God and ourselves, can only lead to one appropriate and logical response. We ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that” (v. 15). To think and say otherwise James declares to be arrogant boasting, and “all such boasting is evil” (v. 16). Therefore any theology that denies this absolute sovereignty of the Lord God Almighty is also arrogant boasting, and evil. “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (v. 17). So to talk or teach that God is not absolutely sovereign, knowing this passage, and other equally clear passages of scripture, is a sin. It is time that we begin to again view such thinking, like Arminianism, as the sinful theology that it is. For those of us who do know this precious truth, we need to be reminded again that nothing, including our work or business dealings, is in any way outside His providential control, and make our plans accordingly.
James 4:11-12 Speak According To The Law.
James, as much as any other author in the bible, spent an extensive amount of time and words addressing what should and should not characterize our speech. Here he again issues a warning, given specifically to believers concerning their fellow believers. “Do not speak evil of one another, brethren (v. 11a). Peter gives us some examples of evil speaking. “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (I Pet. 2:1-2). He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law” (vv. I Pet. 2:1-2). Just as Peter pivots away from “evil speaking,” to its opposite, “the pure milk of the word,” in the same way James pivots to the law.
“He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law” (v. 11b). The reason this is the case, is because it is the law which forbids speaking evil of a brother, as James has already made abundantly clear (Ch. 3). To speak evil of a brother is to bear false witness against him (Ex. 20:16; Dt. 5:20). It is also a failure to “fulfill the royal law” (2:8; Lev. 19:18). Anyone who thus judges and speaks evil against a brother, is saying that they are above the law, and in fact sitting in judgment of it and God Himself. It also means one is obviously not a doer of the word either (v. 11c). What James is referring to is the kind of judging that is evil speaking, and therefore contrary to the law (Cf. Mt. 7:1-5). Ultimately all people will be judged by God (v. 12).
James 4:7-10 Pray With A Humble Heart.
James concluded what was a tough section to receive, with grace. We were not left hopeless, given our sinful condition. If we truly humble ourselves, we can always be assured of receiving grace. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (v. 6 Cf. Pr. 3:34). It is in light of those words that he now writes, “Therefore submit to God” (v. 7a). As he also wrote, sinful pride ultimately places one in league with the devil (Cf. 3:6, 15). Therefore, in submitting to God one must also resist the devil (v. 7b). If we do so we have this promise that he will flee from us (v. 7c). Likewise, if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us (v. 8a). However, in drawing near to God we must first seek grace (v. 6), because as sinners we must cleanse our hands, and purify our hearts, which is to say our inner most thoughts which show themselves in our deeds, must be cleansed and purified (v. 8b). We cannot be double minded about this (v. 8c). This means that we must come in humble repentance with faith in His mercy and grace (v. 9). If we humble ourselves before Him, He will lift us up (v. 10).
James 4:1-6 Praying Right-Start And End With Grace.
Wars or battles, and fights stem from sinful desires, a lust for power, prestige, and possessions. The sinful pursuit of mere pleasure shows itself in covetousness, envy, murder, and strife. When we covet what we cannot obtain we are consumed with envy. If what is not ours cannot be obtained this also issues in wars and fights (v. 1-2ab; 5 Cf. Gen. 6:5; Rom. 7:23). James firmly believed that this kind of thinking and behaviour was unnecessary, since God has promised to answer our prayers for what we need, and even more (v. 2c Cf. Eph. 3:20). However, James also warns that it is not enough to simply ask for things, this avails nothing if we are simply asking to fulfill our sinful desires or pleasures (v. 3 Cf. Job 27:8-10; Ps. 66:18). So upset is James about the condition of his readers/hearers, that he calls them “adulterers and adulteresses,” because with such sinful desires one shows their friendship with the world, which is to sin against one’s covenant LORD, “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (v. 4 Cf. I Jn. 2:15). On this point there can be no neutrality. However, there is hope, because we can always ask for more grace, and if we do so humbly, He is ever willing to give it (v. 6 Cf. Ps. 66:16-19; Pr. 3:34; Rom. 7:24).
James 3:13-18 “The Meekness Of Wisdom.”
The truly wise are also meek. It follows from the biblical truth that, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps. 111:10a Cf. Dt. 4:6; Job 28:28; Pr. 1:7; 9:10; 15:33). The meek are those who humbly submit to the word and wisdom of God. As James has been stressing throughout this letter, those who are wise and have understanding will also show it in their “good conduct” (v. 13). The chief characteristic of the wise is this meekness. On the other hand, those whose hearts are consumed with “bitter envy and self-seeking…boast and lie against the truth” (v. 14). Envy grows from the seed of covetousness. It wants what another has, knows it can’t get it, and therefore simply tries to deprive it’s rightful owner of it. Sinful so-called wisdom, stems from selfish ambition, it “is earthly, sensual, demonic” (v. 15). The fruit of envy and self-seeking is “confusion and every evil thing” (v. 16 Cf. I Cor. 3:3). By ‘confusion’ James means disorder, and God is not the author of disorder or instability (Cf. Rom. 13:13; I Cor. 14:33).
True self-esteem or self-worth takes pride in one’s own work without comparisons with others, stemming from the gifts which God gives (Cf. Gal. 6:4). Wisdom is both theological and moral. Coupled with the fear of God is all that which is pure, a reflection of the purity of God Himself. Furthermore, just as confusion follows upon that which is evil, even so that which is peaceable follows upon that which is pure. The meekness of wisdom further shows itself in a gentle spirit which submits to that which is pure and peaceable. Such wisdom is “full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (v. 17 Cf. Rom. 12:9). James already gave extensive treatment on the need to not show partiality, which is showing special favour upon some because of outward appearances (Cf. 2:1-13). To show such partiality is to be hypocritical, since we claim to follow the Lord who forbids such behaviour. As James also said, “mercy triumphs over judgment” (3:13). “Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (v. 18).
James 3:1-12 Taming The Tongue.
One should not presume to be a teacher in the church, given that teachers will receive a stricter judgment (v. 1). Teachers have the potential to influence people for good or ill. “For we all stumble in many things” (v. 2a Cf. I Kgs. 8:46). Given this reality, a teacher who stumbles in their teaching can also cause others to stumble. A worse case scenario are the blind leading the blind (Cf. Mt. 15:14; Lk. 6:39). A pupil or disciple who is perfectly trained will be like their teacher (Lk. 6:40). If a teacher stumbles it is very likely that the student will also. This is one of the reasons that “the early church gave high esteem to the office of the teacher (Matt. 5:19; 18:6; cf. Rom. 14:10-12)” (NGSB p. 1962). “If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body” (v. 2bc). The word ‘perfect’ here carries the idea of maturity. In drawing upon the example of a horse controlled by bit and bridle, James teaches us that the person who is mature in the use of their tongue is able to control their behaviour and the course of their lives (v. 3).
James also uses the example of ships, “although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires” (v. 4). So we must ask ourselves-how well we are piloting the words that come out of our mouths or are put out to be read? Our tongues are only small members of our bodies which take their lead from what is in our hearts. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mt. 12:34). As Jesus said, a tree is known by the fruit it bears (Cf. Lk. 6:43-45). If the tongue “boasts great things” (v. 5a), it is because this is what dwells in the core of a person’s heart. James then turns to the example of a forest fire and how quickly it spreads, to the damage that the tongue is able to inflict if not controlled (v. 5b). In the extreme, the tongue can be like a fire set by hell itself (v. 6). James thus marvels that human beings are able to tame many creatures but we still struggle to tame our tongues (vv. 7-8). Like poison, it is often the after effects which kill with a painful death.
James sees a tragic contradiction in our speech when we curse people made in God’s image, while we also bless our God and Father (v. 9). This “ought not to be” (v. 10). The fact that he refers to the reality of the image bearing, speaks to the fact that he is referring to all humanity, and not just fellow believers. Others may indeed be cursed, but we need to learn the truth that vengeance is the Lord’s and he is the One to repay (Cf. Dt. 32:35; Rom. 12:19). Like the Lord’s example of fruit on a tree, James uses the example of a spring, which if it is truly a spring of water it cannot and will not bring forth both sweet and bitter water, or salt water and fresh (vv. 11-12). A dying man who needs water is only made worse by salt water. In the same way a tree cannot bring forth both good and bad fruit (v. 11). A fruit tree cannot even bring forth two different kinds of fruit (v. 12). In the same way, if we are truly children of God, we must bridle our tongue and discipline our speech. In all our sanctification, we must not forget our speech, and continually examine our hearts.
James 2:14-26 Faith Without Works Is Dead.
We don’t need to go to Paul or any other portion of scripture to prove that salvation is by grace through faith. James himself has already made it abundantly clear that people are saved based on God’s sovereign will and determination to show mercy on whom He would show mercy (Cf. 1:18, 21; 2:5, 13). James has also made clear that true saving faith will evidence itself in what a person says and does (1:22-27; 2:8-12). So the example he now raises is not about a person who has this kind of faith, but only someone who says they have faith, but their words and actions don’t give evidence of this reality (Cf. I Jn. 3:17-18). This kind of so-called faith does not profit anyone (v. 14 Cf. Mt. 7:21-23). This is what he means when he says that this kind of faith is dead, or not real faith at all (vv. 15-17). This is also why he is careful to also refute the person who might say that it is their works alone that saves them, this is also false. Rather, true saving faith is seen in words spoken and deeds done (v. 18 Cf. 3:13; Heb. 6:10).
It is possible to believe in the one true God and be no better off than the demons (v. 19). James then turns to the example of Abraham who gave evidence of having saving faith by what he said and did (vv. 20-21). This is what he means when he says that Abraham’s faith was shown to be perfect or genuine, and why he was called a friend of God (vv. 22-24 Cf. Gen. 15:6; II Chron. 20:7; Jn. 8:39; Heb. 11:17). James also appeals to Rahab, who showed her faith by receiving the spies, and in lying to her countrymen. In lying to her countrymen she bore true witness. So in word, this deception, and in deed, hiding the spies and sending them out secretly, she gave evidence of true saving faith (Cf. Heb. 11:31). He also uses the analogy of the body and the spirit. James affirmed that human nature is made up of the body and the spirit, and just as we regard a person as dead whose spirit has left them, even so a faith without works is also dead (v. 26).