This is our final lesson in this series on Dispersed & Dedicated from the book of James and I have thoroughly enjoyed the study. I hope you have been encouraged by these messages.
I cannot think of a better way to wrap up than with an admonition to maintain a patient enduring faith in the days ahead. James is going to offer 3 points to help us cope with our challenges while we continue to praise the name of the Lord until He calls us home. In the last message, James told these Christians to have the patience of a farmer eagerly awaiting the coming of the Lord. A farmer works while he waits for the early and late rains which produce the fruit of the harvest. Now he will continue this discussion on the subject of keeping the faith with patience and endurance.
Our context for the study is James 5:10-20. We will read that passage now before we get started.
“As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 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. 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. Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. 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; 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. 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. 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. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, 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.”
Examples of Patient Enduring Faith (James 5:10-11)
As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 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.
Longsuffering is another word used in many translations of the Bible in place of patience. The reason for this is that in many biblical contexts, patience is often coupled with suffering. If you patiently endure a period of suffering without wavering in your faith, the quality that you have obtained is in fact, longsuffering.
The prophets of old were prime examples of this type of patient endurance with unwavering faith. Look at how many prophets of God stood in the face of opposition amidst a people living in sin and had to preach that the people needed to repent or else they would suffer the wrath of Almighty God.
Unfortunately, while warning the people of a pending judgment from God, their message was not always a popular one. The prophets that proclaimed truth were persecuted, beaten, imprisoned, and in many cases killed for their message. Yet, these men of God never lost their focus on the mission and they were willing to undergo whatever trial to make sure that God’s truth was upheld.
In Hebrews 11:32-40, we read,
“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 mocking and scourging, 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. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.”
James slips in another beatitude and adds, we count them “blessed” who endured.
There are many historical accounts where the prophets of God suffered for their message. Jesus mentioned in His preaching that prophets were killed when sent to preach to His people and in many cases, they were stoned to death. God tried to reach out to His people and take them under His care, but they were unwilling to listen to these men of God that served as a mouthpiece for God.
Most of us have read and studied the story of Job because of how remarkable it is that through all that he had to endure, he never lost his heart of faithfulness to God and through patient suffering, he became one of the greatest examples of longsuffering. Job already had Satan picking his life apart piece by piece and to make matters worse, Job’s wife was asking him to curse God and die. All of his friends thought he was sinning and thereby causing God to bring this crisis into his life. Yet, Job did not sin with his lips and continued to be a man of God, turning away from evil and worshipping God through everything.
The Bible reminds us here that God rewards this level of faith that patiently endures with His compassion and mercy. At the end of the book of Job, we see God restoring his livelihood and rewarding his faithfulness through every trial. God will deal with us in the same way when we endure the difficulties that come each day. In Job 42:10-17, we find these words,
“The Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he prayed for his friends, and the Lord increased all that Job had twofold. Then all his brothers and all his sisters and all who had known him before came to him, and they ate bread with him in his house; and they consoled him and comforted him for all the adversities that the Lord had brought on him. And each one gave him one piece of money, and each a ring of gold. The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had 14,000 sheep and 6,000 camels and 1,000 yoke of oxen and 1,000 female donkeys. He had seven sons and three daughters. He named the first Jemimah, and the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land no women were found so fair as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them inheritance among their brothers. After this, Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons and his grandsons, four generations. And Job died, an old man and full of days."
We never know what the Lord has in store for us. He may allow Satan to bring us within an inch of our death. A child of God does not fear death and the destruction of our flesh. We trust that God always means well when dealing with His people. In Job 19:25-26, Job said, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last, he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh, I shall see God.” That is what someone with a patient enduring faith would be able to say confidently.
Trustworthiness and a Patient Enduring Faith (James 5:12)
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.
Swearing or taking an oath by heaven or earth is condemned. James is echoing his brother Jesus as in Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus said,
“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”
In our last lesson in James, we talked about having honest dealings with those that render services for us. If you shake hands and agree to something or a contract has been made and a certain amount of money to pay for wages has been established, let your “yes” be “yes” and pay up. Again, this goes back to what James said about being double-minded in all of our ways. Do not be hasty to agree to something and not follow through. This is especially true of making an agreement with the Lord.
In Numbers 30:2, we learn about the importance of maintaining our commitments to the Lord, “If a man vows a vow to the LORD or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” In Ecclesiastes 5:4, we find, “When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow.” When God makes an oath to us about our salvation, He will complete what He promised as He swore by Himself to keep it (Heb. 6:13-17).
The point is this. If you make a promise to your fellow man and especially to God, do not go back on your word. Be a person of your word. Be honest, fair, truthful, and unwavering. This is a part of having an enduring faith.
Pray to and Praise God with a Patient Enduring Faith (James 5:13-20)
Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. 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; 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. 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. 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. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, 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.
We will go through suffering, cheerfulness, and sickness in our walk of faith. While we do not enjoy times of trial and hardship, these are inevitable even for the child of God. We spoke earlier of the prophets and Job going through this tumultuous period in their life and God rewarded them for having a patient enduring faith through it all.
Early Christians also faced persecution and the pains of living in a broken world and they would suffer as a result. James says that when you are suffering, go to God in prayer. Seek God’s help through these moments that seem too heavy to bear by yourself. In Psalm 34:4, we see,
“I sought the LORD, and He answered me, And delivered me from all my fears.”
See also Psalm 107:6, 13, 28.
While we also rejoice in our suffering for the cause of Christ, there will be days where we are very happy or cheerful over the events in our life and James says this should lead to praise and worship towards God. We need to sing praises and give thanks in every circumstance, but especially when we feel blessed and experience times of rejoicing in a rich outpouring of God’s love and goodness. The book of Proverbs 15:13, 15 reveals,
“A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, But when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken… All the days of the afflicted are bad, But a cheerful heart has a continual feast.”
The word used here for rejoice is to “have the mind well”. The opposite of being cheerful is having a broken spirit.
Beyond persecution and the pains of this life, along with the cheerful times which cause rejoicing in the Lord, we must deal with sickness. We know that life on earth does not last forever. Our bodies become ill from time to time. We age and wear out until we are no longer able to recover or withstand the day of our passing. The answer to sickness is to seek God in prayer. James adds here that when we are sick, we are to call for the elders of the church and they are to anoint us with oil and pray over us. Let me be clear that the elders are not attempting to perform miracles like the apostles could (Mark 16:18). The elders are asking God to heal the one who is sick. Anointing someone with oil was used in the early days of medicine. Coupled with wine they might use oil to heal a wound. For example, in Isaiah 1:6 we find, “From the sole of the foot even to the head There is nothing sound in it, Only bruises, welts and raw wounds, Not pressed out or bandaged, Nor softened with oil.” Also, in Luke 10:34, we see this medicinal use when the good Samaritan found someone injured, and he
“came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him.”
Oil was also used in anointing someone with favor, such as a king upon appointment or someone preparing to hold a special role in service to God. In this case, the oil appears to be symbolic of both. Anointing the one who is sick represents that we need God’s favor bestowed on them but also, we want the oil to represent the healing power that only God can provide. One thing I do not think the oil represents is preparing them for burial as in Matthew 26:12 where Jesus said, “For when she poured this perfume (ointment or oil) on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial.” The hope was not for burial but for the one who was sick to get well.
While we have generally overlooked this passage because it resembles the actions of the fake healers (notice I did not say, faith healers). I have seen this practiced in the Lord’s church and this is a biblical approach to our total wellness as Christians. James adds that it is not necessarily the oil applied in the name of the Lord that heals, but the prayer offered in faith. I would suggest that prayer is sufficient for approaching God on behalf of the sick but should someone request from the elders this anointing, we would certainly want to honor this request and trust that God would bless our obedience to this teaching.
In Isaiah 38:1-5, Hezekiah was going to die, and he turned to the Lord in prayer and wept bitterly reminding God that he was a faithful servant. God spared his life and granted him fifteen more years. This is not always true! If you remember, James has already told us to pray, “if the Lord wills” and we ask everything in His name, meaning that it is according to His authority. Whether God chooses to spare a life, the ultimate end of human existence is physical death.
The goal should be to pray and ask God to spare the soul from sin. This is what James says next. God is always the source of healing. He says, “and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.” Sickness and sin were often associated with one another. If you were sick, people wanted to know what sin you committed to cause the sickness to plague your life. Jesus even made this connection in Matthew 9:2,
“And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, ‘Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.’”
Jesus was accused of blaspheming because He was claiming to forgive sin. He was not saying that the man was a sinner and that is why he was paralyzed. He wanted the teachers that accused Him of blasphemy to know that He has the authority to forgive sins on the earth. Sin brought every curse, sickness, disease, and genetic deformity that exists in this world. So, Jesus adds which is easier to say, “Get up and walk” or “your sins are forgiven”? While we understand that sin is the original cause of all the brokenness in this world, even the righteous will come under viruses and ailments that attack our bodies and our physical well-being. When we pray over someone that is sick we should also seek God’s forgiveness on their behalf, especially if the sickness could lead to death. No one should face the end of their days on earth with unforgiven sins even if the sickness may take our physical life. The soul will be preserved if the heart of the dying is in good standing with the Lord.
Do we have this kind of faith to offer such a prayer and trust God to work in the capacity that James is teaching us about today? Are we willing to accept the answer that God gives if He chooses not to grant a restored portion of health to the sick? While many might look at this perspective as a copout, stating that we are giving God an excuse not to answer, the fact is that some deaths are necessary to bring about His eternal glory, even the death of His own Son. Every faithful servant of God is promised a resurrection when this life is over. Not everyone is granted relief or wellness from pain and sickness. In those moments, the grace of the Lord is sufficient for us.
Patient endurance includes being transparent about our struggles in life. Due to the uncertainties of life, it is wise according to James to take the time to confess our faults to one another and pray for one another. Do not wait until you are sick or suffering to start praying to God about your transgressions. Be open, honest, and forthcoming when you have fallen short of the glory of God.
The reason for evaluating our spiritual condition and repenting when we find some fault gives our brethren an opportunity to pray for us and these prayers are highly effective. We want those that are living a godly life to approach God on our behalf. This will ensure that the result leads to our forgiveness and the cleansing of all unrighteousness. When we are not living right, our prayers can be hindered according to the Scriptures. When we come to those who are strong in the faith and seek prayers, they can go before the throne for our healing.
James talks about the power of prayer by using the example of Elijah from I Kings 17 & 18. The power of a prayer warrior is that we can ask God to move on our behalf. Elijah prayed by faith that it would not rain, and for 3 ½ years, the Lord did not allow rain to fall. Then Elijah prayed again, and the rain fell from heaven. The lesson that we need to gain from this is that we can beseech the Lord and move mountains. We can ask for great things from the Lord and if we ask in faith, He will do it. Ironically, during the time that the rain had ceased and then it started coming from heaven again at Elijah’s request of God, Elijah also blesses a widow with perpetual bread supplies in the midst of a famine and also prays over the son of his hostess that had died and his life was restored. Jesus confirms the truth of this story when He said,
“But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.”
Once you realize that God moves and is ready to act on the requests of His children, we will have faith like Elijah in all our earthly encounters. For too long we have prayed half-heartedly, and it is time for the prayers of the saints to rise before God while we watch in eager anticipation for answers, believing that we already have our requests.
James ends this letter by reminding us of the importance of crying out to God for those that may have strayed from the truth. James says if we can get them heading in the right direction again, “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." Pray not only for the sinners of this world but for those who are on the brink of falling back into the ways of the world. Souls will be lost if we are not on our knees and reaching out to help.
We are watching in recent days many Christians that have grown weary of doing good, they have allowed the cares of this world to drag them down and they are slowly drifting away from the Lord and His church. The pandemic has not made the faith of some Christians stronger but rather has led them to begin questioning the value of serving Christ and the importance of the church. Many have grown so comfortable with video sermons and being able to sit on the couch and watch a preacher preach or listen to a teacher teach a class, that they no longer desire the fellowship of those of like precious faith. The tool that we have used to share in God’s word for the past year via the internet is not the model that the Lord set up for us. We were not meant to do life alone. Jesus established the church in His death through the shedding of His blood and we are called to assemble to sing, pray, study, give, take the Lord’s supper and build one another up. As the church plans to return to regular assemblies as we monitor the number of cases in our area, I pray that you will wholeheartedly return in trusting faith that it is God’s will and that this is the only way that we can each do our part in the edification and growing up to maturity to be like Christ. We are the body. We are dependent on one another so that we can be fully functional in our local community. Do not for a minute buy into the fact that this temporary method of communicating God’s word was ever meant to be a permanent fix. Come together as one and shine as a light in the community where you meet.
If you have never obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ, I want to assist you in putting your trust in Jesus, repenting of your sins, confessing Jesus as Lord, and putting Him on in baptism thereby receiving the forgiveness of sins. From this point forward, you are added to the church of Christ and you will serve Him faithfully all your days.
If you are a child of God but you have missed the mark and have fallen short of the glory of God once again, there is no more pertinent passage to remind you of how forgiveness can be found. Let me know how I can assist you and I will pray with you in faith that God will remove those sins and save your soul from death.