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James (2011)

While You Are Waiting

James 5:7-20

Lesson audio


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 unexpected.

·         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 above.)

Don't Complain

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 be judged.

·         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 way.

·         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 God.

I hope you see the point; sometimes your suffering is to bring you back to God.

Singing Praise

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.[1]

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 of sins.

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 ways:

·         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.

Covering Sin

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.

[1] Matthew 18:15-19

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