Today, we are closing our series of recaps on the Book of James. It’s the last really, really long one for a while, I promise! Maybe
Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.
The Howling Rich
This would be a good place for a WOW. James takes quite a turn here, seemingly taking his writing in a whole new direction. This is one of the harshest, most accusatory passages in The Bible. Here, James pulls no punches in his harsh tone towards those he is addressing in this section.
So, who is James addressing here? Well, on the surface it seems he is lashing out against the wealthy; there is, however, more to the story than meets the eye. Is James talking to saved church members or ungodly people outside the church here? I don’t know, and it may or may not matter. Apparently some feel that James’ harsh tone shows he is suddenly writing to unsaved rich people outside the church. Others say the tense of the verbs he uses indicate he is continuing to write to saved believers within the churches he is addressing in this Epistle. Get a good Greek dictionary and some commentaries and read them; because no matter who James is talking to, the lessons are the same.
Before we really dissect this passage in some detail, we will just quickly cover what is NOT going on in the passage.
James is not condemning wealth, per se. Money in and of itself is neutral, being neither good or bad. The Bible is full of those whom God has blessed with great wealth: Job, Abraham and Solomon all come to mind almost instantly. Many of the blessings promised to Old Testament believers were financial in nature. So, wealth in and of itself is not being condemned.
James is not a communist. He is not teaching these rich men that they should immediately redistribute their wealth so that all would be equally provided for. This passage, among others, has occasionally been used to promote this particular economic system.
So, what is the problem? Well, there is a Scripture which is often misquoted. People say often: Money is the root of all evil. Well, that is not actually what was said. What was said was the the LOVE of money is the root of all evil.
What we have here is a problem of the heart and a problem of motivation. The issue is with what is driving these rich men, and the actions which result from the outflow of their hearts. Selfish desire once again rears its ugly head and produces corrupt behavior.
Doesn’t that seem to keep coming up over and over, and yet over again? Could it be that selfish desire and self interest might the driving force behind the entire sinful condition of mankind?
Who Do You Love?
I have read several commentators who have made the valid point that, in many ways, the manner in which a person considers money in their lives is one of the most accurate reflections of what is in their heart. How we view money and material possessions is truly a barometer of the heart.
We will get more specific on thoughts about particular verses in this passage over the next few days, but today will be one more general overview of the general situation here.
We already discussed that devotion to self and selfish needs was the basic issue these men were facing. In a more specific sense, the very way they were putting their selfishness into action was in the ways they obtained and used their financial resources.
These men loved their money more than anything else. Jesus taught that the greatest commandment was to love God with one’s all, followed by loving one’s neighbor as oneself. The Bible has many things to say about what our relationship with money versus our relationship with God should be.
Luke 16:13 No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
Matthew 6:19-21 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Clearly, we can not be loyal to both our earthly treasure and to God. If we put our money first, then the first and greatest commandment has already been cleanly disposed of.
As we move on through the first part of Chapter 5, we will also see that the overflow of the hearts of these men was causing them to treat believers in the churches, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable ones, in very bad ways. Now, the second greatest commandment has been cleanly disposed of as well.
The Old Testament Prophets had much to say about the rich abusing the poor. Let’s take a look at what Isaiah had to say as an example.
Isaiah 10:1-4 Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed; To turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless! And what will ye do in the day of visitation, and in the desolation which shall come from far? to whom will ye flee for help? and where will ye leave your glory? Without me they shall bow down under the prisoners, and they shall fall under the slain. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
Amos also had the following to say.
Amos 4:1-3 Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say to their masters, Bring, and let us drink. The Lord GOD hath sworn by his holiness, that, lo, the days shall come upon you, that he will take you away with hooks, and your posterity with fishhooks. And ye shall go out at the breaches, every cow at that which is before her; and ye shall cast them into the palace, saith the LORD.
So, to recap here, we have two issues. Issue one is we are to not love our wealth more than we love God. Issue two is we are to not love our wealth more than we love our fellow humans.
Who, or what, do you love?
The Judgment of the Sinful Rich
Let’s just get right to the point here. God does not like those who have stuff to mistreat those who do not have stuff. The truth of the matter is that even among Christians, there is sometimes a tendency to consider those with less than we have as somehow being less than we are.
We talked at length way back in James Chapter 2 concerning the way the poor were being treated by the more well to do in the church. We learned early on that God is not a respecter of persons in regard to material wealth. Here, we have more than just casual mistreatment of the less fortunate. Here, James is describing the exploitation and abuse of the less fortunate in order to gain more.
Before launching in to some descriptions of what the wealthy were doing, James gets right to the point. He describes clearly and graphically the punishment that is going to come upon these people for their maltreatment of the poor.
He starts out with a real attention getter, “Now go to.” Really this could be rendered something like, “Hey listen close, this is very important!” In other words, the words following are going to be worth listening to.
“Weep and howl.” Weep in this instance is a word that is used often to describe the weeping or crying that accompanies the shame we might feel regarding our sinful behavior. But to reinforce the idea that in this case, there was no weeping of repentance, as these people were not actually remorseful over their actions. James adds an additional word, “howl” here, and this is the only place we see it in the New Testament. It simply means literally screaming or shrieking. Put the two words together, and we get a picture of what is about to happen. This really paints a picture of almost overwhelming grief and despair. Why?
“For the miseries that shall come upon you.” That’s why. James is pointing out to the wealthy people that some day they will be held to account and judged for the way they have treated those less fortunate than them. As usual, Jesus had something to say about this topic:
Luke 6:24,25 But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep.
Interested in further reading? Go to Luke Chapter 16 and read the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man.
Yes, God will judge us for the ways in which we deal with those less fortunate than us. He will hold us to account for how we looked at our wealth, what we did with it, and how we acquired it.
The Useless Hoarding of Wealth
Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. That statement, found at the very end of the passage we are looking at today, describes clearly what the problem is here that James is addressing. The main point is the hoarding of wealth. Once again, the issue is NOT the fact that wealth exists, but the useless and selfish hoarding of it. “Wait,” readers may say; “are you trying to tell me that saving money is wrong?”
No, not at all. If fact, God’s Word is clear that the setting aside money for a rainy day and the future is a good thing to do. Never is making provision for ourselves, our families, and our future condemned in God’s Word. Let’s look at that.
Proverbs 21:20 There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spendeth it up.
Proverbs 13:11 Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathereth by labour shall increase.
Luke 14:28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it]
1 Timothy 5:8 But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.
Clearly, saving for the future is not a bad thing. What then is the problem?
In the days and times this was written in, wealth was measured on some key ways. Apparel was one of them. Simply put, the wealthy could afford nicer clothing than the poor. Wealth was often measured by the quality and richness of the clothing a person wore. Additionally, money at the time was gold and silver, metals that were tender able in and of themselves.They were not paper representations of precious metals like we use today for money.
But what was happening to these representations of wealth? Well their garments were “motheaten,” and their gold and silver were “cankered,” or rusted. First the term cankered in relation to gold and silver seems odd, since pure gold and silver neither rust or canker. When might clothes become moth eaten or gold and silver become rusted? The answer is, when they are stored, amassed, and uselessly hoarded.
If saving money is clearly ok, yet the useless hoarding of it is not, then where are we going here? What are we to be doing with our wealth once we have sufficient for ourselves? Our passage states one thing clearly when it establishes the thought that hoarding is wrong. The motheaten clothes and cankered metals will be “a witness against you.”
Who Our Wealth Belongs To
Today will be the last day we linger on money and wealth, at least for now. It only seems fair, since God puts some emphasis on the subject, that we do as well. What have we covered so far?
God does not oppose wealth; in fact, He often blesses individuals with it.
God does not oppose planning wisely for the future.
God does not expect us to socialistically redistribute our wealth to the segments of society who don’t have as much as we do.
God does oppose the useless and selfish hoarding our wealth.
It might seem confusing, then, what God expects us to do with our wealth and riches. The answer is actually quite simple, and it has two parts.
Part one. It’s actually NOT ours; it is His. If we have it, it is only because He gave it to us and allowed us to have it.
Part two. Like our lives in general, God want us to do one simple thing with any wealth we might have: His wishes and for His honor and glory.
God’s plan for our money is the same as His plan for our lives in general. There is no one answer, as His plan for each life is different. They key is that we simply remember that it is His, and His will concerning it is what counts.
1 Chronicles 29:3 Moreover, because I have set my affection to the house of my God, I have of mine own proper good, of gold and silver, which I have given to the house of my God, over and above all that I have prepared for the holy house,
Mark 12:42-44 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.
Luke 6:38 Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.
Galatians 2:10 Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.
2 Corinthians 9:4-14 Have we not power to eat and to drink? Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working? Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ. Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
Let’s recap. It’s God’s money, not ours; we are only His stewards for it. Even though He may bless us with it for our enjoyment, it is primarily for His use: Furthering His work, winning the lost, caring for those who need caring for, and supporting the ministry of Our Lord. In short, whatever God calls you to do with it.
Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.
Ill Gotten Gain
We have been discussing what God wants from us in regard to the wealth He may have blessed us with. Our theme previously was the idea that God does not simply want us to to hoard and amass wealth for it’s own sake. God blesses us with riches for specific uses. If God has blessed us this way, it is because He has something He wants us to be doing with that money.
Not only does God care what we do with our money, God cares how we GET our money. Specifically here James is speaking to those who are amassing riches by exploiting and taking advantage of those less fortunate than them. Even more specifically, he is talking about building wealth by not paying people who had done and honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.
Day labor was a very common thing during the days when James was writing this Epistle. During the busy days of farming, such as the sowing or harvesting season, it was very common for land owners to hire laborers to do the work they could not do themselves. It was also, unfortunately, common for these laborers to be cheated out of their fair wages. Here we see the reference is to the reaping, or harvesting season. The point there is that this was not an issue of a landowner merely not having the cash flow to pay his workers. The funds to pay were available, as the income producing product was right there being harvested. This was not a delay in payment, or a lack of cash flow. This was a deliberate, intentional default on payment. As the text says, this payment was “kept back by fraud.”
Furthermore, God was, and is not, pleased by this type of economic gain. God has heard the cry of those who have been cheated, and judgment is coming. Their cries have been heard by “The Lord of sabaoth.” This would be the Lord of hosts, or the Lord of the armies of Heaven. In our terms, these cries would have been heard by the Supreme Commander, or Commander in Chief. In other words, they have been heard by He who has the power to do something about it. This description of supreme power is given to reinforce the thought that judgment for this activity is forthcoming, perhaps even imminent.
The lesson here could be directed towards the exploitation of the poor. This is not all God has revealed to us on this topic.
Leviticus 19:13 Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning.
Deuteronomy 24:14,15 Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates: At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee.
Jeremiah 22:13 Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour’s service without wages, and giveth him not for his work;
This lesson could be on God’s general displeasure with ill gotten gain.
Proverbs 1:19 So are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain; which taketh away the life of the owners thereof.
Proverbs 10:2 Treasures of wickedness profit nothing: but righteousness delivereth from death.
There is vast relevance of this lesson to today. How often to we actually consider whether or not the ways we earn our money are ways which would be pleasing to God?
Race to Judgment
Here James continues his condemnation of how the rich have amassed their riches and how they have also mistreated their fellow man in the process. His language here takes a real leap in terms of its descriptiveness of what is happening.
This description of living in wanton pleasure is more than simply men enjoying a lavish, pleasurable lifestyle. What we see here is a description of men diving head first into a driven pursuit of pleasure. Not only does this describe a wanton pursuit of pleasure, but it describes the wanton pursuit of pleasure derived at the expense of others. This is serious business.
Ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Anyone who has any experience or knowledge of animal husbandry should easily see the connection which is being made here. What is done with animals destined to be slaughtered? They are always fed well and fattened up prior to that slaughter. Only in this case, the ones headed to slaughter are fattening themselves for their own slaughter!
Again, this speaks of the impending judgment coming to those to misuse their wealth. This seems to make the seriousness of this clear, as this is not a divine slap on the wrist which is coming; it is a slaughter in fact. God’s Word compares the slaughter of animals with the judgment of man on other places in His Word.
Isaiah 34:5-8 For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment. The sword of the LORD is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, and with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams: for the LORD hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea. And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness. For it is the day of the LORD’S vengeance, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion.
Jeremiah 50:26,27 Come against her from the utmost border, open her storehouses: cast her up as heaps, and destroy her utterly: let nothing of her be left. Slay all her bullocks; let them go down to the slaughter: woe unto them! for their day is come, the time of their visitation.
Ezekiel 39:17-19 And, thou son of man, thus saith the Lord GOD; Speak unto every feathered fowl, and to every beast of the field, Assemble yourselves, and come; gather yourselves on every side to my sacrifice that I do sacrifice for you, even a great sacrifice upon the mountains of Israel, that ye may eat flesh, and drink blood. Ye shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth, of rams, of lambs, and of goats, of bullocks, all of them fatlings of Bashan. And ye shall eat fat till ye be full, and drink blood till ye be drunken, of my sacrifice which I have sacrificed for you.
As in past lessons. we could be looking at two different scenarios here. There is substantial discussion as to who exactly the wicked rich are James is addressing. Are they Godless non believers or are they believers seriously in rebellion against their God? It seems that the above language might strongly indicate these are non believers doing these things. They have been warned, admonished, and warned yet more again. Despite these warning, they continue their lifestyle choices and judgment is imminent and will be harsh.
What about us? If we are believers, do we listen to God’s Word? Do we listen to the chastisement He may deliver for our transgressions? Are we listening to God’s fair and repeated warnings to turn from these things and return to Him?
If non believers the same question applies. Are we heeding God’s repeated and earnest warnings to us concerning our lives? Are we answering God’s call to repent and believe, or face the judgement?
Killing the Poor?
We won’t tarry long with today’s devotional, as we seem to be wrapping up James’ description of the wicked rich he has been addressing.
It does seem, somewhat, to be a final nail in the coffin of the description of the downward spiral of these men James is speaking to.
Were these folks literally killing the righteous poor? It doesn’t seem to be necessarily a literal description of murder being committed here. But in light of what we have studied so far it seems to indicate a heart condition for sure. Let us recap some. These folks have been hoarding their money uselessly: they have exploited believers for their own gain; now we see a sense that, if necessary, they would even kill to maintain what they have.
Finally in this verse, we see a closing note that, despite all of this, the believers in question seem to not be resisting or striking back against their oppressors. In light of the direction James takes next, this seems important.
Let’s end with this thought. Of course, God knows all things; this is purely a hypothetical question. If Jesus walked in our home or office and asked to see our financial books, what would we feel? Would we just open them up for view or would we feel a need to hide them?
Waiting for the Lord
James seems to be getting back on track here after what some consider to be a temporary diversion from counseling believers on Christian behavior. Clearly, now, he is back to talking to believers in the churches he wrote this letter to.
It is possible that his guidance over the next few verses was written in response to the things which had apparently happened to these believers in the previous ones. Guidance to those facing trials and hardships, and the ways we deal with them, is a recurring theme in the writing of James. We first saw James addressing patience in the face of adversity way back in James 1:4.
The way writers like James put things into language which his readers would instantly understand is very fascinating. In this case, James uses another agricultural reference to teach just how patient his readers should be. He also teaches in this description about the importance of both patience and proper timing. Of course, God’s timing is the actual reference, but proper timing is key.
In the agricultural season in the land at that time, two periods of rain were essential to a successful growing season. The early rains came in October or November around the beginning of the Fall planting season to help ensure the ground was ready for planting. The late rains would come in the March and April time frame, to provide a last dose of moisture prior to the harvesting season.
Just like the farmer knows that if he is patient, his crops will come, James is encouraging these believers to stand firm in the promises of God to come one day. Paul wrote similar encouraging words to the believers in the church at Galatia.
Galatians 6:9 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.
What else can we learn from this passage? We can learn that not everything happens on our timing. In this case we can learn that, as the crops come according to biological timing, God’s plans come according to God’s timing.
Another thing we can learn here is that we are not in control of everything. The farmer certainly cannot make his crops do anything. They will do what they do, as long as the Farmer has done his part. That is very much the same as God, who will do His part as long as we do our part.
Establish Your Hearts
James here continues his teaching to the scattered believers to be patient in the face of trials and adversity, and to be patient and understanding that God has things under control.
He instructs them to stablish their hearts. Some translations use the word strengthen here. This word translated means to “make fast,””to establish,”or “to confirm.” What is it they are to establish their hearts in? They are to establish them in the hope and promise of The Lord’s return. The same word was used in Luke 9:51 as Jesus set his face steadfastly to return to Jerusalem, the entire time knowing that his death would result.
The believers James was writing to were facing intense persecution, trials, and troubles. We have seen quite a bit of discussion of that in the previous chapters. James is simply attempting to teach them to remember the basic fact that God has these trials, and all other things, firmly under his control. He wants them to understand that what they face in this life pales in comparison with the glory they will experience in God’s Kingdom in the future.
The gist of this lesson seems obvious, as James uses terms such as patience, endurance, and perseverance over and over in this section of his writing.
James 5:7 Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.
James 5:8 Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.
James 5:10 Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.
James 5:11 Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.
Imagine, if you can, the patience and suffering Job endured as he watched his life shatter before his very eyes, yet he never lost his faith or love for God. Imagine, if you can, the patience of the Old Testament prophets as they preached to deaf ears and endured hate and persecution, yet they never lost their faith or love for God.
This lesson certainly applies to us. Perhaps it is more applicable to us, in the sense that compared to the believers of James’ time, Job, or the Old Testament prophets we really endure so little? How do we endure so little, yet as a church seem to have so little faith and love for God?
Don’t Hold a Grudge
It may seem that, as we head towards the finishing section of The Epistle of James, that James is bouncing around some from subject to subject. He introduces a new topic or two, but also seems to be recapping some of the territory he covered in the first four chapters.
In this verse, James seems to be reviewing some of the thoughts he had and points he made earlier in his writing, as again he is teaching about the ways in which we treat one another. He also seems to be tying in this thought with some of the thoughts earlier on impending judgment. It almost seems James is saying, “Ok, now remember just a minute ago I was telling you that you will be judged for how you treat your money? Well do you remember how we talked about being mean and holding grudges? Well, guess what? We will be judged for that too!”
The word here, grudge, is used in an interesting way. Apparently, in other places in The New Testament, it is translated to sigh and groan, and really just means the outward expression of a person who is troubled. When we see it combined in reference to how we engage with another person, it translates somewhat in the sense of murmuring and grumbling. Here, I will repeat something I have said before. I am NOT a Greek linguist; however, sometimes just digging a little in the original language pays really big dividends.
Conflict is inevitable. In any situation where more than one person is gathered, there will be differences. God made us different. People disagree and James is not teaching that to disagree is inherently bad. What, then, is he teaching?
It’ simple really. We are not to murmur, gripe and hold grudges against our brothers and sisters in Christ over our disagreements. Is this a serious matter? Well, The Holy Spirit inspired James to write clearly about the judgment in this matter. The judge is standing at the door, and condemnation for our attitude is looming.
This seems a good place to insert a comment made on another post by my Brother, ColorStorm
“Kinda hard to ‘draw nigh’ if I’m carrying a backpack of slander eh?”
Be Patient Again
James is speaking here again of patience. Remember earlier, way back in Chapter 1, James began the text of his letter by talking about patience and how it matures us in our walk with The Lord. James may have begun touching on this revisit to patience in verse 7 while he was discussing not holding grudges. Some of his teaching there may have been to show that we should not allow the trials we face to cause us to act out towards our brethren, but to be patient in The Lord. As, we continue, he is obviously talking to us about being patient.
Once again, let’s take a quick look at a linguistic issue. The word translated patience commonly in the New Testament, and here as well has meaning other than what we might think. It combines a couple of words, long and temper to convey the one thought of patience. We are to be long-tempered; we are to be long suffering. The emphasis is on the idea of patience evidenced by an attitude of non retaliation. This means that, when faced with difficulties we are not to strike back in the direction we think they may be coming from. If we think other people are causing them, we should not strike back at them; if we think God is allowing or causing them, we should not strike back at Him. We should be long tempered, long suffering, and patient.
But that’s very difficult! Yes, indeed it is. It is also how God reacts to us. The following is from Vine’s Expository Dictionary regarding this word patient.
MAKROTHUMIA ( makros= long, thumos = temper) is usually rendered “long-suffering.” Long-suffering is that quality of self-restraint in the face of provocation which does not hastily retaliate or promptly punish; it is the opposite of anger, and is associated with mercy, and is used of God. Exodus 34:6(Sept.); Romans 2:4; 1 Peter 3:20
Let’s think about this topic of long suffering and patience for a few moments. We are told to constantly look to the example of our Savior to guide our behavior. We are also to be long suffering and patient both in the face of difficulties and never use them as an excuse to strike out against others. Sometimes we think it is no big deal when we fail in this area.
But what if God was not long suffering and patient with us over history even in the face of our repeated rebellions against HIm and rejection of Him? What if Jesus had not been patient and long suffering in the face of the trials and suffering He endured on the Cross as He died to pay our penalty? Where would we all be now?
The Prophets Were Patient
Previously we discussed the idea of enduring trials and even persecutions at the hands of others patiently as a way to follow the example of our God regarding how He has treated us. James has kindly provided us more examples of men who endured suffering yet endured it patiently.
Here we see the thought of enduring suffering, or evil, with great patience and long suffering. This is the same word for patience we have seen over and over, so specifically it refers to patience with and toward people. So, even more specifically we see a reference here to the Old Testament Prophets in the face of discouragement and even persecution.
Here it might be a good idea to look at just what the prophets were really doing. Sometimes we think they just sat around foretelling the future. While that was a part of the ministries of some of them, it was not the primary thing any of them did. I have heard the ministry of a prophet being sometimes two fold; foretelling and forth telling. Fore telling, or course, would be the revelations of future events. Forth telling would be simply the preaching and proclamation of God’s Word. That was, in fact, the primary mission of all of the Old Testament Prophets, much more so then telling of future events.
Take a few months and read through the Major and Minor Prophets. It is easy to discern a pattern of response to their preaching. The pattern was, that in most cases there was no response. Imagine, if one can, preaching for years and years to multitudes with no one listening. That is just what most of the Old Testament Prophets faced.
The other pattern we see is that they never gave up, they never stopped, and notably they never stopped loving the people they preached to. How were they able to do this? James has told us, and the answer is patience. They were patient in The Lord. They knew who they were working for and who’s message they were spreading. They understood the rewards to come were far greater than the trials here.
So, what is our problem? Time after time we see men enduring great hardship and carrying on. Most were universally ignored, mocked and even threatened with death. None ever accumulated great wealth or riches. Yet they carried on. They were patient in The Lord. So, the question is: What’s our problem?
The Patience of Job
During the last few days we have covered a lot territory concerning patience and endurance. We have seen James provide us with many good reasons why we should live a lifestyle of patience and endurance. We do it because God is patient with us; we do it because it is the example Jesus Christ set for us; we do it because we can see the example set by believers throughout history.
Now, we see yet another reason and motivation to exercise patience in our lives, even in the face of trials and adversity. God blesses those who endure these things patiently. We have seen the end of the Lord; in other words, God has a good outcome planned for those who endure patiently.
There is probably no greater story in all of Scripture about patient endurance than the story of Job in the Old Testament.
Job was tested more than any man we see in The Bible. Reading the history, we can see some of the reasons why God tested Job, and they line up quite well with some of the things James is teaching us in his Epistle.
To test Job’s faith and prove the reality of it.
To divert Satan’s evil plans.
To make Job’s faith stronger.
To bless Job.
We can see this now, but poor Job had no idea of God’s plan.He just simply endured. Job lost his family, his possessions, and his health. Job lost everything. Job may have questioned God and asked why, but he never lost his faith or love for God. What happened in the end?
Job 42:10-17 And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then came there unto him all his brethren, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him: every man also gave him a piece of money, and every one an earring of gold. So the LORD blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning: for he had fourteen thousand sheep, and six thousand camels, and a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she asses. He had also seven sons and three daughters. And he called the name of the first, Jemima; and the name of the second, Kezia; and the name of the third, Kerenhappuch. And in all the land were no women found so fair as the daughters of Job: and their father gave them inheritance among their brethren. After this lived Job an hundred and forty years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, even four generations. So Job died, being old and full of days.
Paul also recognized that those who endure patiently are the recipients of God’s favor, Anyone recall the thorn in Paul’s side? God did not remove that thorn; Paul merely endured it, using strength provided by God to do so.
2 Corinthians 12: 7-10 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
In our above examples, we see a couple of different outcomes coming as a result of patience. Job, as we see, was physically and materially blessed for demonstrating patience in The Lord. It’s very important to note, however, that there is no promise of material blessings as a result of patience. God is not a cosmic candy machine who will give us stuff if we jut put in the coin marked patience.
Note that Paul didn’t get anything material as a result of his patience and waiting for God. Paul got grace; Paul simply received the strength through the Holy Spirit to endure and live with his particular affliction.
The point is, God’s promises are good and they are guaranteed. If we do His work, in His way, in His time, we will be blessed. It may be now, it may be later; but He guarantees it. Are we resting in that guarantee?
Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.
Ups and Downs
During most of James Chapter 5 we have been dealing with some issues involving how we deal with and react in particular situations. We have discussed how we react to being rich and how we react to being poor. We have discussed reaction in terms of patience when confronted with the various trials and tribulations we may face to include interpersonal conflicts.
Even though there is some discussion about illness, faith, anointing and prayer in the section that follows I have, after substantial study and reflection, come to the opinion that this section is probably not about healing per se, but guidance on practical ways to deal with the issues of life. I am not saying healing does not occur, just that I don’t think that is what is being covered here as the main point. Overall, I think this fits with the practical nature of James’ Epistle.
Actually, the word affliction as used here has nothing to do with physical sickness at all, but more along the lines of. “suffering in difficult circumstances, ” or “in trouble.” This ties our verse in quite nicely with the passages before and in my thoughts, ties it in with the ones to follow as well.
This seems to be a clear lesson. God wants to communicate with us; specifically, He wants us to communicate with Him! Life will have its ups and downs; sometimes things will go our way, and sometimes we will be troubled, or afflicted. When we are in trouble God wants us to turn to Him in prayer. When life is great, God wants us to thank Him for it.
Do we do that? Is God our first resort when things head in a direction we don’t like or is He our last resort after we have exhausted all or our human resources? When life is great, who gets the credit? Do we pat ourselves in the back for a job well done or do we thank the true source of our many blessings?
David Jeremiah captures the essence of this well by saying, “We have a God for all seasons “(from What To Do When You Don’t Know What to Do) He then goes on to quote the following from his own readings (from Alec Motyer, The Message of James.)
“Both in periods of suffering and trouble, and in times of joy, prayer and praise alike acknowledge that He is sufficient. To pray to Him is to acknowledge His sovereign power in appointing our circumstances. Whether as the source of supply in need, or the source of gladness or our joy, God is our sufficiency.”
And finally, the chorus from a favorite song of mine really captures the essence very well. From the song, God On the Mountain.
For the God on the mountain, is the God in the valley.
When things go wrong, He’ll make them right.
And the God of the good times
is still God in the bad times.
The God of the day is still God in the night.
Happy? Then Sing Praises!
This is pretty simple. If we are afflicted, under fire, and set upon, we should pray. If we are not suffering any of these things, we should rejoice! We can’t really minimize the importance of these two directives standing side by side. The fact that they are side by side tells us one thing; to sing praises when things are good is just as important as prayer when things are bad.
There are several ideas we could toss around here regarding to these thought being place together. No matter now we might see these statements, the lesson remains the same. Prayer matters and praise matters. Prayer and joyful praise are both vital and important parts of the life of a believer, and the life of the church.
James may be using this as an example to us that our lives will be a mixture of ups and downs, and valleys and mountaintops. Even as likely is the idea, based on the earlier discourse on patience during trials, that there is a completely different idea being taught here. Perhaps James is not illustrating the idea that these are two separate events, the affliction and the merriness. Wait, is it possible the two can coexist together?
Perhaps what is being taught here is that, even through the affliction we may be under, that we are to maintain our joy, even in the face of it. What could we possibly find to praise God for during the tough times?
How about we praise Him for the grace to make it through the trial? How about we praise Him for the comfort He will provide through the trial? How about we praise Him for the fact that He will resolve the issue, in the way that most honors Him and is ultimately best for us?
Don’t Swear, Pray
It seems like there is a pretty clear linkage here between this verse and the section before. James had been talking about patience through trials; then he covered how not to react to these trials. His injunction to us was to not react to our trials and adversities by saying things we do not really mean. As God has a tendency to do, he immediately offers a solution to the problem. Cool huh? What we have here amounts to this basically: “When life gets tough, don’t say things you don’t mean and can’t back up, pray instead!”
It’s time for another language lesson very quickly, especially in light of the fact that shortly we will be talking about physical illnesses. This is important because, in the verse we are talking about, the word afflicted is not a reference to sick; it is not related to the sickness we see described later on in this passage. This is simply another reference to being afflicted with trials, mistreatment, and persecutions. This is the main reason this verse seems so connected to the discussion before. When we face trial, we should pray; when we face persecution, we should pray.
We pray for a solution; we pray for God’s will; sometimes we simply pray for comfort during these times. The answer to what we face is there, we just have to reach for it, and we reach for it by prayer. One writer used this Hymn to illustrate what we give away when we fail to pray, and instead act inappropriately.
What a Friend We Have in Jesus
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Ev’rything to God in prayer
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Are we weak and heavy laden?
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit. Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.
Prayers for the Sick
Wow. Here we have what might be considered a pretty complicated passage of scripture and also one that is considered controversial by some. My hope and my desire is to nail down some clear lessons, while not getting bogged down in the controversy. Just some quick thoughts and questions to start with. Comments and thoughts are welcome, fighting and arguing is not!
Is God still God and can He, at any time, do anything He wants to do? Yes
Can God, through His sovereign power do anything he desires, even alter the “natural” course of events. Yes
Does God answer prayer the way we want? Yes
Does God sometimes not answer prayer in the way we want? Yes
Does God promise special healing based on the amount of faith we have or the special relationship the person praying might have with Him? Probably not.
Can sin make us sick? Does our sin sometimes result in real physical maladies? Without a doubt.
Is illness always caused by sin in our lives or lack of faith? Absolutely not.
So, you see there are many questions raised by this particular passage, and I hope all will take the time to study for themselves and reach their own conclusions. Do that, and let’s talk again in a few decades when we all have it figured out. In the meantime, some things do seem fairly clear as we read through this passage in God’s Word.
One thing that is somewhat unclear and debated is whether this particular passage actually refers to physical illness in the first place. Some writers would say it does, while others would say it does not. Some think it means one thing in on usage and another thing in yet another usage. I’ll leave the linguistic debates for the experts.
What we can see clearly in this passage is one thing. God expects us to pray. And that, no matter who one interprets the particulars of this passage, is a clear lesson we see here.
Think on all of those things, and over the course of the next few days we will explore around some of the things we see here.
Sick? Call for Help
Have you ever noticed that your pastor is a very busy man? Most are. Have you ever seen or heard a situation where a person got their feelings hurt because they felt ignored when a need presented itself?
We don’t necessarily see just why the person in this passage is sick. As with most of this passage, there is more than substantial discussion about it. He may be simply sick. It may be that the trials and persecutions discussed previously have worn the person down to the point that they have become sick. They may even be sick as a result of sin.
They whys of the sickness don’t really matter as much as the reaction. Note here one very important thought, and the answer to this question: Who called for the elders? Correct, the person suffering the illness called. Why does that matter?
It matters because our Pastors, Elders/Deacons, cannot be all places at all times, nor are they all knowing. We certainly bear some responsibility to communicate our needs to our brothers and sisters in Christ. What a shame to be suffering from some great need and it not be met simply because nobody knew
Additionally, look at the reaction once a summons is made. The elders come; they respond to this expressed need. People gather to meet the need once it has been expressed.
This may not be the primary point of this passage, but it is certainly one we can make. We are to be there for each other. We should communicate our needs to those who can help us. If we are not the suffering ones, we should pray for, assist, and uplift those among us who are in need, whether physical or emotional.
The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
Here things seemingly get complicated. What does sin, faith, and Elijah all have to do with any of this? Well, here go my thoughts for what they are worth.
Why are they praying about this man’s sin? Maybe he is sick because he sinned. I don’t know. Even if this man’s sin had not made him sick, we all know one important thing: sin is an impediment to our prayers to God. Even if our malady is not caused by sin, it is simply a good practice to seek forgiveness for our sins before talking to God. Even though we may be forgiven the penalty for our sin, the presence of unresolved sins in our lives still hinders our fellowship with God.
It is important that we pray with the full faith that God will, in fact, answer our prayer. If we pray without granting God ultimate power to accomplish anything He wants to, we should not expect answers.
We have to pray in God’ will. This may be an illustration again of the presence of the Elders in the life of this ailing person. How do we learn God’s will? A knowledge of God’s will is a learned thing. We come to understand it through prayer, study, and meditation. Certainly a case could be made that the prayers of the Elders, while not necessarily more effective than the prayers of other believers, might be grounded in a better understanding of what God’s will might be in a situation.
If there was ever a many tuned into the will of God, Elijah would have been one. I can only imagine this great man of God, praying for the rain with great faith and great understanding of what God was trying to accomplish. Elijah prayed that a drought be ended and the rains given, and it happened! Clearly, Elijah was both fervent and effectual in his prayer, and his prayer was answered.
Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.
Finally, James closes his Epistle in a way we would certainly expect. The entire theme of James’ writing has been about the demonstration of true, saving faith. James has attempted to teach us that while what we do never saves us, what we do certainly provides the evidence and reality of our salvation. Who is the warning in the last few verses intended for? Given the overall tone of James’ writing, I think this is a warning to those who may be backsliding into a life of sin. He has spent an entire book warning what true faith looks like, so this seems to fit.
We certainly have a responsibility to an erring brother or sister, and it may be as important as our responsibility to win the lost.
Blessings and hope that you have enjoyed our trip through the Book of James.