Essentials of Faith
The first essential is “Be patient.” James instructs us to trust God in the tension. James returns to his initial theme in chapter 1 when he writes, “Whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3). How we respond to stress is the consummate maturity indicator. How we react when God is silent or when nothing seems to be happening is a sign of our faith fortitude. The farmer sows the seed and then waits for the early rains in October or the late rains in April. He wants powerlessly since he cannot control the weather or the growth of the seed, yet waits with full assurance that the harvest will come. In the interim, James implores us, “Don’t give up on God!” But he also says, “Don’t give up on one another,” for complaints increase in times of stress, and it’s in the tension that we can get on one another’s nerves. James advises us to remember the suffering of the prophets and the endurance of Job who always kept the vision of God’s future before their eyes.
The second essential is “Hold your tongue.” For this essential, James returns once again to a familiar subject, the tongue. He questions if we need to qualify what we say with an oath or a vow. As Jesus said, “let your yes be yes, or your no be no.” Oaths are superfluous because all our words are spoken in God’s presence.
The third essential is “Sing.” For this, James asks, “Are you joyful? Then sing songs of praise.” If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands! If you’re happy and you know it, stomp your feet! If you’re happy and you know it, sing!
The fourth essential is “Pray.” What are the two great outcomes of prayer? Healing and forgiveness. When a first century Jew became ill, he first went to his rabbi to be anointed with oil before going to the doctor. The oil represents the Spirit’s power and presence to heal and forgive. It is grounded in the faith that God can alter outcomes; God can heal the sick. But we don’t have to go to a rabbi or pastor to pray, James says, using the example of Elijah who had the same limitations as us, and his prayers stopped and began the rain. James continues and says, “Confess your faults one to another,” because sometimes it’s not enough to confess our faults to God alone.
The fifth and final essential is “Don’t give up on one another,” even when the other person has given up on God. James concludes his letter by instructing us to reach out to those who have wandered from the fold and are living outside of God’s will—not to judge them, but to take them to the foot of the cross. For when we seek the lost, we often find ourselves!
THOUGHT: There is nothing we experience in our lives that cannot be offered to God in praise and prayer.
WORD: James 5:7-20
James’ argument is finished. He has said what he wants to say about testing (and temptation), about wisdom (and speech), and about riches (and generosity). Now all that remains is for him to conclude his book by summarizing his points, alluding to each theme in the midst of offering final encouragement to the church in Jerusalem.
So, in 5:7-11, he touches on the theme of trials by way of rounding off his discussion of riches. In James 5:1-6, he had some harsh things to say to the opulently wealthy. Here he has some encouraging things to those who have been abused by the wealthy. In so doing he tells them not to grumble—this is an inappropriate form of speech. In 5:12 he again touches on the theme of speech by warning against the use of oaths. Then in 5:13-17, it is back to the idea of trials, but this time it is in the context of illness. “Pray,” he says, “ask God for health;” and so he interweaves the idea of speech (prayer) and wisdom (“ask God”). His concluding words in 5:19-20 identify his reason for writing the book in the first place; to bring wandering believers back to God’s way of truth.
DEED: Re-read James 5:7-12. How would you sum up this passage in one sentence?
Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)
How do you think the virtue of patience connects with your prayer life?
Is the example of Job encouraging or discouraging to you? (Refresh your memory of Job’s story by reading the introduction in your Bible, or looking on-line for an overview of the book) What can we learn from Job’s experience?