It must be acknowledged that the subject of the second
coming of Christ is not much taught in our home church these days. It is now
fashionable to consider this to be something which is not immediately relevant to
the Christian's life. Therefore, it may be safely ignored. But perhaps we might
venture to bring forward three points which may explain why James put such
emphasis on it:
First, the early church universally considered the return of
Christ to be imminent. It is a subject of every major writer in the New
Testament. It was considered not only to be imminent, but extremely important —
particularly with regard to what you should do between now and his return.
It is also universally stated that his return will be swift and
Finally, he will return in power to judge the living and the
dead. When he does so, it is too late to repent.
So you see that it's simply a matter of heaven and hell;
nothing more important than that.
James 5:7-12 NASB
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. (8) You too be patient;
strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. (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. (10) As an example, brethren, of
suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. (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. (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.
The Farmer Waits
As any grandparent knows, human beings are not born with a
great deal of patience. It is a learned skill. The most difficult type of
waiting in patience is that to which you have no sign of what is to come.
Consider this simple farmer here: how is it that he can wait patiently? Is it
not because he has experience with agriculture, and therefore knows what is
going to happen? Indeed, he will see signs along the way of what is coming up
from the ground. To be more specific:
The farmer waits in reasonable hope. A logical man knows that the
corn is going to grow; the fact that it is not yet grown is not particularly
discouraging. Similarly with the Christian, we see signs along the way of the
maturity in our Christian faith.
The farmer waits for results. If I might suggest, he knows that
those results are first real and not wishful thinking. He also knows that those
results are the right ones; if you plant wheat, you get wheat. Finally — to
make three R's out of the thing — the results will be rich. Seed grain
typically reproduces itself on the order of 30 to a hundredfold. Likewise, in
our Christian lives, we see results as we go along which are real. If we do it
right, they are righteous. And those who have achieved maturity in Christ knows
the riches of his blessings.
What is the result we came for? Simply this: to hear our Lord
say, "well done, good and faithful servant."
(I am indebted to C. H. Spurgeon for the three points
It does seem unreasonable to be told not complain. We do
seem to get a lot of fun out of it. But James points out the drawbacks here:
First, it leads to judgment. It's very difficult to complain
about someone without being judgmental, eventually. And if you judge, you will
Worse, in doing this you steal from Christ to his authority of
judgment. And just which judge is coming soon?
It is just possible that being told not to do something
lacks a certain bit of education. The usual response is, "just what is it
that you wanted me to do, then?" The answer from James is: imitate those
found in the Old Testament who exhibited patience in the suffering. He cites the
arch example: Job.
Do Not Swear
To understand what James is talking about, we need to review
the matter of the oath. An oath simply is a formal declaration in which you
invoke the aid of Almighty God. In so doing, you declare yourself willing to
accept punishment at God's hands if you fail to deliver. The ancient human
being took this most seriously; much effort was given to devising oaths which
were not in fact binding, but sure sounded like it. You might remember Christ's
complaint to the Pharisees about swearing by the Temple or swearing by the gold
on the Temple. This is not a good habit to get into. Here's why:
You might be making promises you can't keep. And you're asking
God to be your insurance policy that they will happen. He might take exception
to this practice and discipline you for it.
Worse, you might be issuing a condemnation which obliges God to
act on your behalf — which you have no right to do. This type of oath usually
starts with the phrase, "God damn." Did you know that was an oath?
The secret to avoiding this is simple: be so honest that
people trust your yes be yes and your no be no. Then you don't need an oath.
Praise and Prayer
James 5:13-18 NASB
Is anyone among you suffering? Then he
must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. (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; (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. (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. (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. (18) Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain
and the earth produced its fruit.
Response to Suffering
It seems intuitively obvious to the casual observer that the
natural response to suffering is prayer. After all, you believe that the Lord
God Almighty is capable of changing things — and you have something you want to
be changed. Of course, in the process you will be giving policy advice to God.
This is not particularly wise. But there are certain items you should pray for,
which are given as examples in the Scripture:
You can pray for rescue — as David often did, evidenced in the
Psalms. It's perfectly okay to ask God to get you out of this mess. The problem
comes when you tell him how.
You can also pray for strength. If you're suffering as Job did,
you're going to need it. God knows that; just let him deliver it in his own
You should always pray that you know that he is God.
Why should you pray that last one? Consider the example of
Manasseh, one of the worst Kings Israel ever had. His evil practices got him
deported — and then he repented:
2 Chronicles 33:12-13 NASB (12) When he was in distress, he entreated the
LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. (13) When he prayed to Him, He was moved by his
entreaty and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem to his
kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was
I hope you see the point; sometimes your suffering is to
bring you back to God.
The modern worship service treats singing as a way to warm
up the audience for the main act — the preacher. Because of this, our worship
services often resemble a rock concert. But this is not the real use of singing
praise. Several hundred years ago Athanasius wrote to one of his students
(Marcellinus) to tell him that in chanting of the Psalms one was always closest
to God. Why? Because only when singing are you praising God with all your
heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. All of you praises
all of him.
If prayer is the right response to suffering, then praise is
the right response to joy. When God has blessed you it is appropriate to say
thank you. This lifts you when you do it alone; but it is magnified when you do
it with other Christians. Those who understand this find it hard to explain;
but there are moments in worship when we are praising God that the soul reaches
for the sublime limits.
Prayer for the Sick
We must begin this section with a warning. Of all of the
formal practices of the New Testament, this is the one that is most subject to fraud
by televangelists. Sending in your contributions to receive a vial of holy
anointing oil is a practice that goes back to the early days of radio. The
combination of having a scriptural proof and good marketing organization seems
to be irresistible. You have been warned.
However, it is quite the case that this practice was
performed by the apostles and the early church. They considered it normal. The
major difference is that we think it is scientifically bogus. They did not have
our concept of science. Since they didn't know that this was impossible they
went ahead and did it anyway, and it worked. We might ask why this is so.
One major reason for this is that as part of the process of
anointing they required confession of sin. It is a sad difficulty with the fact
that the Geneva Bible added verses and chapters; it made the Bible much easier
to quote out of context. Televangelists will quote verses 13 through 15, and
cheerfully forget verse 16. The whole question of suffering because you have
sinned is tied up in this. Do not pretend to sweet innocence when you're
suffering has been caused by your own sin. Rather, confess your sin and receive
the anointing of the church – so that what has been bound in heaven will be
bound in earth.
Multitude of Sins
James 5:19-20 NASB
My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, (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
Mission of the Church
Perhaps we should begin with a review of just exactly what
the mission of the church is:
First, we are to convert people to Christianity.
Second, we are to teach them what the apostles taught.
Third, we are to keep them safe within the church.
If you do this, they go to heaven. If you don't, they go to
hell. It's that important. These two verses address the third bullet: keeping
them safe within the church.
Technical Side Note
The verses here are capable of being interpreted in two
First, there is the Roman Catholic interpretation: covering your
sins helps save me.
Second, there is the interpretation of pretty much everyone else:
covering your sins helps save you.
The Greek can be interpreted in either fashion, though the
bulk of Scripture seems to argue for the second interpretation. But both points
are worth a thought; at the very least God will reward you for turning someone
else from the error of his way. It's just possible that James meant this
passage to be ambiguous.
Please remember that James is writing to the Jews. The model
he will use for covering sins, at least mentally, is that of the Ark of the
Covenant. If you recall, inside the ark were the Ten Commandments, the pot of
manna and Aaron's rod. A little research to the Old Testament will tell you
that all three of these things are witnesses to the sins of the people of
Israel. They are inside the box, covered by what is called the atonement cover.
The cover is gold; it is sanctified with blood. I leave to the reader the
symbolic significance of that; the key point is that in terms that the people
of that time understood this cover prevented God from seeing the sins of
Israel. What James is telling us is that our ministry to other sinners performs
the same function. It covers over the sins.
Now you begin to see that we are indeed "my brother's
keeper." It is the responsibility of the Christian, particularly the
mature Christian, to turn others back from sin. This should be done gently, and
always in the spirit that knows we are sinners too. But it should be done.