5:7-20 – The Point:  To Turn Ourselves and Others to the Truth

In this last section of the letter, James makes his point.  All of these things that we are going through have the ultimate purpose of turning us to the Truth, and not just any truth, but the Truth as it is in Jesus, the only Truth that actually matters.  Any other context diminishes the truth in general.  We are turning to the truth continually, and living in the light of actual reality, not some spun narrative [by definition, an ACTUAL CONSPIRACY THEORY] in the form of some emergency or other (like Charlie Victor One-Niner for example).  When narratives begin to defy reality, they should crumble.  When they don’t, it is because something or someone is propping it up falsely, and you can just bet they have a self-centered agenda that goes with it.  THAT’S an ACTUAL conspiracy theory, as opposed to speaking about a failed narrative in the light of truth as it is found in Christ.  We need to learn and practice that difference–quietly, so as not to cast our valuables before people that will not appreciate it, which is the real meaning of the proverb Jesus gave us involving pearls and swine.

As we turn and are turned to the truth, it is then that WE are able to speak that reality to others in an effort to turn THEM to the truth as it is in Jesus.  The best way to do that is to know and speak the gospel, because it is in keeping with the very last verse of the letter:  “…let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

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As we saw when we did the Overview for the letter, James had a point for each section, and this one is no different.  Jesus told us that He would be coming like a thief in the night, and those that are prepared for that arrival will not be caught off guard.  This seems to be James’ version of that same idea.  This is actually called by theologians the doctrine of immanency.  This means that he could literally show up for you at any moment, and the important question that creates at leas in my mind is, “Will I be ready for that?”

James then gives final instructions as to HOW to be prepared for what will happen WHEN (not if) the Lord Jesus Christ returns from Heaven to gather all of God’s chosen to Himself and take them to be with Him forever.  Some have called this “the blessed hope,” but I’m a little leery of calling it anything other than the “return of Christ.”  That blessed hope could apply to a number of things, up to and including our eternal union with Him, so I don’t know about other applications.  Whatever your thoughts, the real important issue is His arrival and your readiness for it.

With that in mind, I saw the following sections in the text.

KV8:  Be active in Christ–His coming is IMMINENT

You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

7-9:  The imminent return of Christ

10-11:  Blessed are those that endure

12-15:  Faith, humility, prayer, and church fellowship with and for others

16-18:  The effectiveness of interpersonal prayer

19-20:  Preach the gospel (using words)!

We have often said that the Bible is an instruction book for believers among other things, and that is apparent here.  Let’s get into it!

KV8:  Be active in Christ–His coming is IMMINENT

You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

You guys that hang around with me a lot all know that we often talk about the Scriptures, what the Lord says, and His return, and we are all excited by all of that.  One of the things we don’t speak about enough but that we are starting to is our motivations, and this is one of our prime motivations:  the Return of Christ.  I’ll say more about it as we get into the text, which we will do now.

7-9:  The imminent return of Christ

I once heard a brother say that things that motivate you to holiness are things that we should cultivate in our lives and as often as possible.  This motivation should be common to ALL of us if we have been saved by the Lord Jesus Christ:  His imminent return to earth!  I don’t know what that might mean to everyone, but I know it excites me!  To see the man who is God, and who died for MY wrongdoings to pay the price and reckon me as righteous before God would be what I long for beyond anything else.

However, Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, particularly in chapter 4, tells us that HOLINESS is a prerequisite for what comes at the end of the chapter–in verses 16-18, it talks about all those who have died in Christ and then those who are left alive will be gathered by the Lord to be with Him forever.  For that is translated into English in v.17 as “will be caught up,” but the Greek word is harpagesometha, the future indicative in the first person plural and passive form of harpazo, which is the Greek word that would be translated as “rapture.”  Be careful, this doesn’t say anything specific about when this will occur, but if you don’t live long enough to see it, don’t worry, you’re going to meet Him before the rest.  That also says that all the folks that say the word “rapture” never occurs in the New Testament are dead wrong.  It doesn’t occur in Greek because it is a derivation of the Latin for the same word.  And that is NOT my interpretation.

I’m not going to talk about it particularly in terms of timing, but it is going to happen at some point.  Maybe not like all the Pretrib folks like to believe, or maybe just like that.  The truth is that we don’t know.  But remember that same chapter talks about the need to be sanctified.  That is a prerequisite to be taken–holiness.  If you aren’t, you won’t be. 

Why is this all a motivation?  Because of the imminent return of Christ.  Imminency is the state of something impending, that can happen at any time.  That requires a constant working towards readiness, being as prepared as you can be for something.  Beloved, it means we have to walk in sanctification and be holy, as He is holy.  We have to be prepared for His imminent return.  Let’s look at the text.

7:  Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains.

  • The very first thing James says here calls us to patience.  Why?  Because we have a tendency to try to rush everything.  Even patience.  You know the prayer!  “Lord, give me patience–and I need it right now!”  But James also promises an end, in that he tells us to be patient and wait for the coming of the Lord.  When this was first written, James had no idea that we would be reading this 2000 years later, and the Lord is not bound by time the way we are, so literally no time has passed for Him, just for us, because WE need the time to get ready.  We tend to get excited because we things coming to pass that were prophesied in Scripture in Ezekiel 38 or something, and we get all wound up.  It is absolutely true we live in exciting times.  But we should be patient, because we do not KNOW when we will see Him come.
  • Then James gives an example of what he means, and I mention this here, because this is an oft-twisted Scripture by the charismaniacs who like to grab that “latter rains” phrase to indicate modern day apostolic blessings, but it isn’t actually talking about that in context.  You see, it is the precious produce of the soil that receives not the blessing per se but the nourishment while it develops in patience.  This isn’t the blessings of the Spirit poured out, but rather the necessary food for the developing produce.  And it is an ANALOGY.  To say more is to engage in eisegesis and over spiritualize things.  This whole verse is about patience, not the pouring out of the Spirit.

8:  You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

  • And as if to emphasize that point to our modern-day Montanists, James also tells his readers, that’s us, to be patient!  Remember the last verse?  This continues the context!  James here tells us not to “practice the gifts of the Spirit,” but rather to “strengthen your hearts.”  That word for “strengthen” is a form of sterizo, meaning to steadfastly set your focus on something.
  • The word for heart is kardia, and even the ancient Greeks knew this was a figurative reference, but it was used metaphorically to mean the decision-making center of yourself.  (You don’t follow it, you set it steadfastly to make decisions to follow Christ.  Why?
  • For the coming of the Lord is near.  The word here is the classic one, parousia.  His parousia is the big event we have been waiting for all this time.  And when James wrote it, I don’t think he had any idea that “near” was going to last 2000 years.  John said it was the last hour.  Clearly this isn’t literal time.  But it IS imminent, and can happen at any time.  So be patient and set your heart like flint to follow Him you YOUR cross, because that’s what we’re really talking about.

9:  Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing  right at the door.

  • And there’s your cross.  DO NOT COMPLAIN against one another.  You know what that is?  The word means to groan, or murmur, or sigh against each other.  This is the reason for the judge to give condemnation to you (or penalty anyway).
  • James then tells us that the Judge is standing right at the door.  This could be a reference to that imminent parousia, or it could just be putting everyone on notice of God’s omniscience and omnipresence.  There is literally nothing you can hide from Him, even your very thoughts.

The theological concept that has formed around this section of James is called the Doctrine of Imminency.  It is the teaching that we could meet the Lord at any moment.  I came face to face with that possibility on November 2 of 2014.  My family took me to the Civic ER with severe chest pains, and you guessed it, I walked in while I was having an actual heart attack.  What would have happened then if I had not survived?  I really don’t know.  That would have been ME meeting Jesus at the appropriate time.  Well, I’m still here, and that event woke me up to my own spiritual danger.  Let my lesson help way you to yours.  Beloved, BE READY.  WALK in Sanctification.  If you don’t, Paul says that you will suffer loss, even though you will be saved.  I don’t know what that means, and I don’t want to find out, or see you find out the hard way.

So what does that mean?

10-11:  Blessed are those that endure

Well, patience has a character that over time becomes associated with it, and that is endurance.  We are quick to praise all those that are active in Gospel service, particularly evangelism, but as John Milton once wrote, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”  We are not to murmur about each other, especially not to God, but rather to leave each one to serve in the way God has called them, and to build them up in that service, whatever that may be.  For some, maybe it’s cooking for the potluck fellowships we have been known to have when our good friend Charlie Victor one-niner isn’t an issue.  Maybe it’s just showing up for a meeting and listening attentively to the teaching of the Word.  Whatever it is, it needs to be patiently endured.  And there are times that it isn’t clear, but at least we should be trying.  James in this part of the text uses the Old Testament prophets as examples.

10:  As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

  • James’ challenge here is to consider examples of other believers and servants of God.  He specifically mentions, the prophets, so his reference is to the men of Scripture, and Scripture in the days of James was before the New Testament was written, so he was referring to the Old Testament.  These men spoke in the name of the Lord.
  • It isn’t our task to go through them individually in detail this evening, but it is a worthwhile exercise.  I have recently been reading through the major prophets.  It started in Isaiah, and tradition has it that after Hezekiah had passed away, Isaiah continued to speak truth to Mannaseh, Hezekiah’s son in the day that the northern kingdom was conquered and taken away into Assyrian captivity.  Mannaseh was NOT a godly king like his father, and did not appreciate Isaiah’s words.  Ultimately, he gave order for Isaiah to be sawn in half from crotch to crown as it were, and it is my understanding that they started on the bottom to make Isaiah suffer as much as possible.
  • Then I read through Jeremiah and Second Jeremiah (Lamentations).  He is called the weeping prophet because of the disaster that he had to speak to the king and the people; it was in his day that Jerusalem’s walls were completely pulled down, and worse, the temple of Yahweh was destroyed by the Babylonians.  Tradition has it that he was stoned to death for continuing to speak the truth to a nation that had clearly turned away from God.  He weeps out his Lamentations in the book after Jeremiah.
  • A couple of days ago, I started to read Ezekiel.  He was a prophet during the exile of the Jews in Babylon.  He had the job of speak the truth of God to those who had turned away and were taken to Babylon in judgement.  Tradition tells us that Ezekiel was stabbed with a knife and murdered by a man for telling him that his adulterous relationship was wrong. 
  • I could go on through all of them, Beloved.  Now what kind of thing will we have to have patience and suffer through?  Well, we don’t know.  I can tell you a pastor in Alberta on Tuesday was turned away from the US border because he hadn’t received an experimental injection for a virus that shall remain nameless.  It was deemed that because his preaching could be streamed over the internet, his actual presence was not essential.  Evangelists in the UK have been arrested for calling sin what it is–sin.  That is going to start happening in Canada with that new law about proverbial “car thieves.”  As Jesus said through John in Revelation 14, “Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and  their faith in Jesus.” (vv.9-12)
  • The reason James would include this encouragement to look at these men and the suffering they endured with patience is for one logical reason only, Beloved–so that we can imitate it ourselves, no matter what comes.  I believe that this point is not well understood by the church today, and it may be a big part of the reason for that great apostacy Paul spoke of in 2 Thessalonians 2; false believers that have no real motivation for suffering as Christ did for us will turn away and reveal as they go out from us that they were not really of us to begin with.  Moving on.

11:  We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.

  • Wait, what?  BLESSED?  Stabbed?  Stoned?  Sawn in half while conscious?  Seriously?  Well, Yes, Beloved!  See what it says in the Scriptures!  The writer of Hebrews goes through a lot of people, but see what he starts to wrap up the historical references with:  “And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.” 
  • Did you hear what that said?  Men of whom the world was not worthy.  Is it worthy of us?  Lord hear my prayer:  I really hope not. 
  • And then James gives a very specific example:  Job.  You know, Job went through real trouble and loss, and lived through it, suffering all the way.  He did not understand what was going on.  He demanded answers from God!  Just like we do…and beloved, in Job’s case, God showed up!  God answered Job in telling him that it was Yahweh who was the creator, and not Job, and that He knew what He was doing.  Job not only accepted that answer, but he repented of his lousy attitude, and even prayed that the Lord would forgive his “friends.”  Many don’t notice this, but it actually quantifies what Job lost.  It also quantifies what he gained at the end, and it was actually double!  It is that outcome that shows us that regardless of our outcomes personally, God is full of compassion and merciful, as James says.

Beloved, we can simply take it to the bank that bad things are going to happen.  Our response needs to come from that new nature that Christ gave us when he died on the cross, and from the Holy Spirit who came to live inside us the instant we became a real Christian.  Or we risk not being ready for the parousia of Christ, His return for His people.  I really don’t want to be in that group, and James doesn’t really want that for folks either.  In fact, he has a suggestion for good Christian activities to help get and STAY ready.

12-15:  Faith, humility, prayer, and church fellowship with and for others

And that’s the list, beloved!  Does it sound familiar?  It should, we’ve been saying literally for DECADES at this point, and I mean more than three, personally.  Let’s look at a passage here.  “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and  to prayer.”  (Acts 2:42)

These activities are listed more or less here in James, and they were the very first things that the brand new Christian CHURCH did TOGETHER.  Every single one of these things is CRITICAL for the Christian at a personal level, and at a corporate level.  If you are not doing these activities both personally and together with other like-minded believers, then you are not really walking in the grace that Christ gave you or doing His will, nor can you continue on that path for long without beginning to incur judgement from God on yourself.  The good news is that, more or less, you will actually WANT to do these things as a response to Christ’s saving grace in your life!  Let’s look at what James says.

12:  But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.

  • James begins this with a statement made by his half brother years before in the most famous sermon ever preached anywhere, the Sermon on the Mount.  “But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.”  (Matt. 5:34-37)
  • You know, the Canadian government even recognizes this in their courts of Law.  I once had to speak for a friend who had been arrested on some serious charges and I was asked to either swear or affirm that I would tell the truth.  I was even offered a bible to swear on.  I just said, “I affirm I will tell nothing but the truth.”  This concept has manifested in multiple cultures!  It is one of the seven principles of Bushido that all Samurai lived by:  Meieo, honour.  A Samurai does not “give his word.”  If he says it, he will do it.  Or die trying.  James is telling us not to overcomplicate things, and to walk in integrity.  If you say you’re going to do something, then do your best to do it!  If you say you’re NOT going to do something, same thing.  This “I swear” gets people into trouble.  In ancient Israel in the days of the judges, it actually caused a man to have to sacrifice his own daughter as a burnt offering just so he wouldn’t be an oath breaker.  I’m not saying it was a good thing, but it’s there in the book of Judges.  Nothing good came of that.  Nothing good ever does.

13:  Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises.

  • We’ve talked a bit about suffering already, and it will come, if not from your witness for Christ, then just in the course of your life.  Injury, disease, and death, among other things, will always show up at our doors because of sin and lawlessness of the world!  It isn’t always your fault, either.  When it does, you are supposed to pray.  Tell God about it.  Ask Him for His grace to go through whatever, and I do mean WHATEVER it is.  I’ve been through some pretty crazy torments because of my witness for Christ, and because of sin and lawlessness in the world too.  And sometimes it helps to have OTHERS to pray for you and with you!
  • That’s about bad news and things, generally.  What about good stuff?  Beloved, God is there no matter what you’re going through, the bad AND the good!  If you have something good going on, give thanks!  SING!  Make melody in your heart to the one who caused the blessing to come your way despite your sin and others’ misdeeds.  There is nothing like singing to give thanks.  And you will learn to love to sing, or at least make a joyful noise.

14:  Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him,  anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;

  • Sickness and injury are what are dealt with here.  The proper prescription for medical issues should include elders from the church praying over you!  Sure, God gave us medicine and doctors, and there isn’t anything wrong with seeing a doctor, especially if you have a condition to manage, like diabetes or heart disease, two things I know better than I want to.  Prayer!  Communication with God!  With other believers, in fact those who are experienced Christians! 
  • The anointing of oil could be one of two things that I have heard.  I have seen both things done, and it had efficacy in both cases, so I have no idea.  First, it’s a physical anointing with physical oil of some kind.  Second, it is the Holy Spirit being directed in God’s prescribed manner, prayer, and it is having direct divine effect.  Another suggestion I heard about this is that the elders after praying actually help the believer to find appropriate medical care. 
  • What you should notice here in whatever the case is here, is that it is the CHURCH that is doing this together!  Too many times these days we have a believer in some “church” (please note the use of air quotes, because it isn’t really a church) gets some diagnosis that is serious, and they just involve the medical professionals and not other believers so that they can have spiritual support as well.  This is a blow to spiritual care, not to mention pastoral care.  Beloved, we should be involved in each other’s lives.  Yes, personal boundaries, yes, individuality…but we should be there for each other when we need each other!  And this by and large isn’t happening in my experience.

15:  and the prayer offered in faith will  restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.

  • Be careful with charismaniac tendencies on this verse.  Many will take this out of context and suggest that we no longer need the medical profession because Jesus will fix everything!  What if that isn’t His will, though?  We already know that it is His will that the trials He allows to occur in our lives train us in patience and endurance, not to mention character.  What if that terminal lung cancer diagnosis is supposed to put the finishing touches on your holiness before you actually go to meet Him?
  • I’ve seen a case like this.  I don’t know if you guys were around for John Paul.  He was an engineer with Honeywell from India that ended up being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and stage 4 by the time they caught it.  I remember visiting him in the hospital after his diagnosis, and do you know how he wanted to be prayed for?  It was his request that he not “miss the lessons” that the Lord had for him in allowing this experience in his life.  THAT was truly humbling.  He didn’t love his own life, Beloved.  He wanted to learn what the Lord had to teach him.
  • Now look at what this verse says.  “The prayer offered in faith will restore the sick.”  I’ve heard the charismaniac fakirs of the day all take this and twist it to mean that “God commands your healing.”  I heard Joel Osteen say this on his TV broadcast in a clip I just happened to catch channel surfing one Sunday.  Beloved, “restore” has multiple meanings within this context, and James is about to define it, so let’s let him.
  • “The Lord will raise him up.”  Again, this has more than one possible definition in context.  It could mean raise him up off his sickbed, certainly.  It could also mean raise him in the first resurrection, so we cannot just twist it and say God commands your healing, Beloved.  What could James possibly mean and why would he write this if that wasn’t what he meant?
  • “If he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.”  We are all sick with SIN.  The Lord will raise us up with CHRIST because He died to forgive our sins.  James is speaking the Gospel here, not talking about miraculous healing.  Think about the guy they dropped through Jesus’ roof on a palette (Mark 2).  What did Jesus do first and foremost? V.5 of that text tells us He forgave the man’s sins, addressing the REAL problem that ALL of us have.  He only physically healed the man to make the point that He had the authority to actually forgive those sins.  This event took place at Jesus’ home, by the way.  James was likely THERE, or nearby, beloved.  As Jesus’ younger half-brother (Joseph was his dad), he knew that Jesus’ priority was the salvation of the immortal soul, not the physical wellbeing of the body which is temporary.

Beloved, James is making the point in this section that we must walk TOGETHER.  We have proper ecclesiology to explain the church, we have instructions from the apostles on what leadership looks like in the church (hint, it doesn’t look like what it does in the world at all), and we have examples in Scripture in the book of Acts, the establishing of the Church, the body of Christ on earth.  We must know the truth of the word of God, speak about it with each other and often, and we must pray with and for each other.  We must have leadership that models that also!  Otherwise, it is not a church, and it is the expression of the church that is critical in the doing of the will of God on earth as it is in heaven.  This is a very large topic, and James only really gives it the briefest of treatments, and so will we here.  It is worth some future consideration and discussion, and we should talk about making plans for that.  Let’s move on.

16-18:  The effectiveness of interpersonal prayer

With this knowledge of a corporate man called “the Church” on earth and the knowledge that it needs to function TOGETHER, James draws a VERY quick and important conclusion–we need to be involved in each others’ lives and that means prayer.  Let’s just jump right in.

16:  Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

  • The conclusion James draws?  Confess your sins to one another.  Beloved, this is a good thing.  I know that it can be embarrassing, but remember the idea of keeping confidences.  The sanctity of confession is a concept at least as old as Christianity itself (there is an argument it is older).  Why would you confess your sins to each other?  Let me be very clear, it isn’t for forgiveness, it is for help and maybe accountability if it is invited or requested.  Only God can forgive sins, and that has never changed.  No person can “offer absolution,” only God Himself can do it, and He will if you ask for it and believe that Jesus paid the price for your sin on the cross, and then rose from the dead as proof that happened.
  • Another conclusion?  PRAY for one another!  I don’t think this means your sins have to become the weekly fodder of the church prayer meeting, by the way.  But the person you decided to confess your stuff to, they can and should pray for you, as well as give you all the help they can.  I have been and still am involved in that kind of relationship with various people as a pastor.  I won’t talk about it, because some of it is very…real…and by that I mean disturbing.  We aren’t talking about normal stuff in those cases, though. 
  • Another thing pray for each other means is that there is a time during the week that we can share prayer requests with each other and be prayed for and with.  That’s the Monday prayer meeting for us, and if your gathering doesn’t have a weekly prayer meeting, you should suggest it to the pastor, and if he won’t do it, maybe start one yourself!  Why?  So that we may be “healed.”  That word may also be translated as “made whole,” incidentally, it isn’t talking about physical healing necessarily.  God can do that, He can do anything.  But like we talked about a few minutes ago, the important thing is that the believer is made holy, or sanctified, that is “made whole,” not that the appendix scar he has on his abdomen from his appendectomy when he was 16 is removed or mystically “healed.” 
  • Then James gives us the key:  Prayer made by people that are practicing their Christianity is effective, and actually accomplishes things, EVEN if we don’t always know it.  And He’s about to give an example from Scripture.

17:  Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months.

  • This is of course Elijah from the days of the Kings of Israel, in this case it was King “Ah-HAAB” or Ahab as we know it in English (I have the pronunciation from a guy that has a degree in ancient languages).  In 1 Kings 17:1, Elijah prays and pronounces a curse against unrighteous King Ahab and the entire nation of Israel that has forsaken Yahweh.  That is apparently a kind of prayer.  I think I may have been involved in that kind of prayer once.  The guys that know me here know I used to live in little Italy in Centretown, and there used to be a strip club named Valentino’s literally two blocks from the house I lived in.  My roommate prayed that the strip club would be destroyed, and I think he even said “burn it down.”  It was like 2 in the morning or something.  I was barely awake.  I said amen, because I wanted that place shut down too.  I went to sleep and so did my roommate.  The next morning, there were headlines all over the local papers that Valentino’s had burned to the ground.  As if to make the point, not one person was harmed.  We looked at each other with really wide eyes.  We didn’t speak at all.  We were both shocked.

18:  Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.

  • And when Elijah prayed his imprecatory prayer, it didn’t rain in Israel for three and a half years!  Elijah prays again in 1 Kings 18:1 and the drought ends.  I want to point out that it is not Elijah or his prayer that did the work.  It is God that did the work, doing His will on earth, as it is always done in heaven.

It is a truism to state that God always hears prayer.  There are times he ignores it because it is associated with sin or false religion.  But for His children, those He chose from before the foundation of the world, the called, the chosen, the faithful, He ALWAYS hears prayer.  In fact, He always answers it, though different prayers have different answers.  Sometimes, like with Elijah, the answer is Yes!  No real explanation is necessary, because God is doing His will on earth as He always does it in heaven.  Sometimes, the answer is no, and James even talked about how wrong motives will get a prayer shut down.  Although “no” is really saying that your request isn’t really in line with the actual will of God.  That’s still easier to understand than the last answer possible:  Wait.  It is actually a yes, but it’s a not yet, and it can be frustrating.

But there is one prayer that God will always answer yes to–“Help me to share Christ with the world in everything I do.”  This assumes that you want to do that, and that you’re really doing it for Him and not for you and prestige or like that, but that’s our next paragraph, so let’s get there.

19-20:  Preach the gospel (using words)!

From the title, you can see I don’t agree with Francis of Assisi in his assertion that words are not always necessary to share the gospel.  Romans 10 makes it clear that it is not possible without the “foolishness of preaching.”  However, there is actually a purpose for this that James touches on, and that is what we should look at here.

19:  My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back,

  • I have said this many times, but some don’t seem to understand.  The solution for all humans everywhere to sin is the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Scripture tells us that there is none righteous, no, not one (Rom. 3:10), and that all of us have sinned and “missed the mark” of the Glory of God (Rom. 3:23).  Romans 6:23a tells us that the “wages”, something we earn by our works, of sin is death.  We are NOT able to pay that price, because it will simply end with our destruction in hell as a part of that death.  We are sinners, after all.  No, the price that has to be paid is a sinless life.  Fortunately, the rest of Romans 6:23(b) tells us that the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.  God became a man and lived the life that we should have but couldn’t, and died the death that we couldn’t so that we wouldn’t have to!  If you will believe that message in reality and truth, you will turn back from your sins, the very definition of the word “repent.”

20:  let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

  • And that’s the whole point of the gospel!  It is to turn sinners from the error of their ways!  It saves souls from death!  And it covers all sins!  It justifies sinners and it sanctifies them, and ultimately it will glorify all those that follow Him.  It is the summation of who we are and what we believe in a very real and complete sense.  And it is how James concludes. 

I find it kind of amazing that James started with the gospel and its implications and ends with the gospel and its implications.  The brother of the Lord here knows the score, beloved, and that’s what I saw in this text.

Regarding the book of James overall, we started by stating that James and Paul actually said the same things but in different words, and I believe we have demonstrated the exact same message in all of the Pauline epistles and this short one by James, the brother of Jesus.  The Scripture has been seen to be consistent between authors now. 

Next time, in TWO weeks, we will look at Peter’s first letter, known as the book of 1 Peter, in much the same way as we did for James here.  I need two weeks because I am NOT using a premade study plan, but am doing the work myself, and there are only so many hours in the day.  As most of you are aware, I am NOT paid for this, and that’s just fine, but it means I have to have a job, and work to support myself and my family while I do it, and that takes away from the time required to do a decent job of accurately handling the word of truth.  So that’s next time in 1 Peter, two weeks from tonight!

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