Spiritual Reclamation – James 5:19-20

This Sunday we conclude our text in the Epistle of James.

This letter has more exhortations than any book of the New Testament, yet we see over and over James’ heart for the people of the church, as an elder and pastor. Fourteen times James addresses the church “my brethren,” exhorting them to heed what he has to say! He is often calling the church to make our calling and election sure and to persevere in the faith. He does this first by stressing that trials have a purpose. “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:2-3). James goes on in this letter to give us the tools we need to run our race in this world; we need patience, wisdom and true saving faith. He also fills the epistle with vivid illustrations from the Old Testament that strengthen his points about perseverance. James 1:22 exhorts, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” He closes chapter 1 with an example of true religion in verse 27 – “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”

In chapter 2 James looks at the hypocrisy of looking at the outer man and the riches of the world at the expense of the poor. We are not to show partiality and in doing so bear fruit characteristic of one saved by God. He continues with that classic illustration of faith and works in 2:14-26 and closes the illustration with these words, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”  

Chapter 3 first considers the teacher and his responsibility before God, but then quickly moves into a deep look at the tongue, – the words that flow out of our mouths – announcing that one who bears the name of Christ will control what he says, in the meekness of wisdom.

Chapter 4 discusses one who loves the world and the earthly pleasures that it gives. James 4:4 warns, Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Over and over James contrasts the life of a believer and one who wanders.    

In chapter 5 James opens with a call to persevere under condemnation, we are called to suffer with patience.

James 5:8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. As James closes, he addresses the prayer of the righteous and confession of sin in verses 13-18.

All these things and more that James handles in this epistle, highlight what a true Christian’s walk looks like, and what it looks like when one errs or wanders from the truth. This is the very thing that James leaves us with in 5:19-20: Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone 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 cover a multitude of sins.

This is a call to every believer! If one among us should wander from that which James calls the truth, it is the responsibility of the rest of us to try to turn him back! This stresses the care we are to have for one another. It’s easy to ignore sin and look the other way, but we are a family, adopted children of God, and James calls you to be used by God at times to bring one back into the fold. He’s not calling you to be a heretic hunter, or to condemn your brother or sister to the fires of hell, but to turn them, to bring them back into the fold, with the goal of restoring the wandering one to a knowledge of their salvation, and that their sins are covered by the death and resurrection of Christ alone.

My brethren what a blessing it is to be used by God to bring an erring brother or sister back from whatever they may be erring in. Its worth is unfathomable! How do we do this? James doesn’t elaborate, but from the rest of Scripture we see that it is to be done gently, in love, prayer, correction, patience, and when necessary by discipline as a church body. But in all cases, the goal is restoration of a brother or sister in Christ.

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Let Your Yes be Yes and Your No, No! – James 5:12

The taking of oaths and telling of the truth are very important in any culture. But if truth be told, we live in a world of broken oaths and lies. In years gone by, contracts were made with a handshake, which meant you were giving your word on a matter; today we rely on formal written contracts produced by lawyers, and yet, even so, they are broken as easily as the handshakes were made years ago.

We live in a world today filled with chronic liars. People lie to the government; and the government lies to the people; politicians lie with straight faces to voters; they lie to get into office and lie once elected; many break the very laws that they are sworn to uphold. People lie to their employers, and employers lie to their workers. Husband’s lie to their wives, and wives lie to their husbands. Children lie to their parents, and parents lie to their children. In our courts and governmental offices, oaths are regularly taken and broken as if they were never made. We see the most prevalent breaking of oaths in the marriage covenant via divorce. It’s a wonder how our society survives with so many broken oaths and lies as we see today.

But what about the Christian? Do those in Christ behave any differently? Expecially when there is a cost to keeping one’s oath, are Christians permitted to bail out, just like the world? What does the Bible have to say about oaths and lies? Our text in James 5:12 directly and aggressively addresses the topic of oaths, lies, and being truthful.

James declares But above all, my brethren, do not swear, (take an oath) either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your “Yes,” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No,” lest you fall into judgment. (NKJ). Next Sunday, as we study this text in James, we will look specifically at oaths – are oaths totally prohibited from the Christian’s lips, or does this refer to specific types of oaths? Most importantly we will dwell on the truth we are to live by. Being truthful at times will cost you, but there is no other option for the believer.

James follows Jesus’ exhortation of Jesus in Matthew 5:33 – 37: “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’

For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. (NKJ)

This week meditate on these texts along with Ephesians 4:25: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”

Where and how have you fallen short in these exhortations from the Word? Where and when and to whom have you not kept your word? Is your life characterized by letting your yes be yes, and your no, no?

Please pray for us as we continue our exhortations in James. That the Word would go forth truthfully and clearly, and that it would be received openly with joy.

Patient Endurance – James 5:1-11

How should we respond to trials of oppression and condemnation? Should we fight fire with fire? James tells us that this is not the Christian way to do things. In the epistle of James chapter 5, the author who is our Lord’s brother James, deals with two populations of people – the rich oppressors and those who patiently endure their oppression.

In verses 1 through 6, James calls on the oppressors to weep and wail over the tribulations that are coming to them because of their win. He begins by using the same phrase that he used in chapter 4 verse 13, “Come now” to grab their attention. In 4:13 James was addressing the believer,but here in chapter 5 he calls the attention of the rich unbelieving oppressors to warn them that their demise is coming. These verses (1-6) speak of their judgment in similar terms as the Old Testament prophets. It is a harsh condemnation of those who oppress and hold on to their riches, storing them up. In verse 3 James writes, “Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire”. James continues by describing the exploitation of their workers, whose cries have been heard by the Lord of hosts. He closes this sharp rebuke of the rich in verses 5 and 6; in verse 5 describing their lives of pleasure and luxury, which only lead to their demise; as verses 6 declares “you condemned you murdered the just, righteous man who does not resist you.”

The question is, are these rich oppressors in the church? Or does James speak of the unbelieving rich, in general? In keeping with the epistle, James is writing to those claiming to be Christians; so even though James doesn’t call them to repentance here his rebuke is a sharp wake up call to professing Christians to repent!

James continues in verses 7 through 11 with what should be the Christian response to oppression and condemnation. This instruction is applicable to all persecution, whether coming from so-called Christians or from the world, wherein the believer is oppressed in any way. Christians should respond with patience. In verses 7-9 James says the reason is, “the Lord’s coming is near.” He uses the illustration of the farmer patiently waiting for the rains, and so you must also wait patiently because the Lord is near. James closes in verses 10-11 as he looks back to the prophets of old and their patient endurance though they suffered greatly at times. Verse 11 ends wonderfully with a look to Job and the purpose of the Lord, who is compassionate and merciful.

In various places throughout the world Christians are oppressed more than in other parts. While there are places and times we are persecuted here in the US there will come a day, perhaps soon, where all true Christians will be oppressed and condemned. James gives us much wisdom in our text, “Be patient for your redemption draws near.” Every day that goes by you are one day closer to our Lord’s return. The great judge of the just and unjust will return as surely as He said He would. Even so, come Lord Jesus. Maranatha!

A Call to Listen Up! – James 4:13-16

James continues in chapter 4 verse 13 with a seemingly mundane illustration of a businessman’s plans to make some money. He starts off this section with a rare phrase in the New Testament “Come now,” found only in James 4:13 and in our next section – chapter 5 verse 1. It’s a verb in the imperative form – a command. James is commanding his audience to “come now,” which may also be translated as “Listen up!” But James previously used the word brethren, and here he uses the general phrase, “you who say.” This raises a question as to whether James is speaking to a group of unbelievers, as he does in chapter 5 verse 1 where he uses the same phrase in reference to ‘the rich.’ But in the text before us, it seems as though the general, “you who say” also refers to believers, and so we will be looking at this first section in that way, and the next at the unbelieving “rich” in chapter 5:1-6.

The central proposition of this text challenges us to examine how we live our lives. Do you live presumptuously? Do you presume life will go on, without any thought of God and His will – as James’ illustration brings out in verse 13 “today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit?” Clearly those who speak and think in this manner are not planning with any thought of the Lord and His will; their thoughts are concerned solely with trade and profit. They are choosing their own time – today or tomorrow; their own location – such and such a town; and the duration – a year. James answers this folly in verse 14yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” Basically he is saying: no one knows God’s secret will and the duration of his own life, so how can you be so sure of your future plans, not take God’s will into account.

In verse 15 James teaches us the way of humility before our Lord: “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” It is boastful arrogance and sin to plan apart from God’s will. David wrote in Psalm 40:8 “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” Andin Psalm 143:10 “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God!”

Where do you find the desire and strength to do God’s will? In Jesus Christ your Savior who submitted fully to the Father’s will here on earth; who said, “Not my will, but thy will” (Luke 24:42). Jesus submitted to the will of the Father perfectly. Apart from Jesus and salvation we would all follow Satan and his ways as he declared: “I will ascend to heaven, I will exalt, I will sit, I will ascend the heights, I will be” (see Isaiah 14:12-15) By God’s grace, our wills are to be conformed to His will. May that be our prayer today and every day – “not my will, but Yours be done.”

Slander, Judging, and the Lawgiver – James 4:11-12

Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? James 4:11-12

In our text, James continues from where he began in chapter 3:1, on the topic of wisdom in speech. Here in verses 11-12 of chapter 4, he continues to address speech, in particularly, slander (speaking evil), judging, and standing in the place of the Lawgiver, who is God. The original Greek word in verse 11 for “speak evil” or can mean unjustified speech which taken along with the following word judges or condemns carries the idea of slander. The words can also refer more broadly to any destructive attack, gossip, or accusation – hence there are various ways to translate this word: slander, speaking evil, criticize, or backbite. James exhorts (commands) the brethren “Do not slander one another, brethren.” This is consistent with the command of Leviticus 19:16 which prohibits slander “You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD.”

James goes further declaring “He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the l aw and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? How does one who slanders and condemns others judge the law? Most likely James is pointing to the law summarized by Jesus in Matthew 22:36-39 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” When you slander, speak evil, and backbite you do not love the brethren. You are actually condemning your brother or sister and standing in the place of the Lawgiver Himself Jesus Christ.

Lord willing we’ll look closely at reasons that one might slander, speaks evil against another, or judge another, as we open the text. This is a sin that many fall into, some without even realizing they are doing it! There are ways, times, and places to correct a brother or sister who errs in this way; there may even come a time when it becomes necessary remove a person from the church fellowship because of this very sin. But whatever is done to correct, all is to be done in love with the hope of turning the brother or sister around.

Misuse of Speech in Quarrels and Slander – James 4:1-12

In our last section, James 3:13-18, we looked at the wisdom from above and the wisdom from below, where James contrasted wise living with false boasting and selfish ambition. As we turn the page to chapter 4, James continues giving direction to the church as he addresses some apparent conflicts in the churches and communities to which he writes. James uses harsh language in the first five verses of chapter 4. After asking the rhetorical question, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” James diagnoses their problem as originating from their pleasures. They are putting themselves above others and quarreling and fighting, as they do. They are befriending the world and in the process becoming enemies of God. This first section ends with verse 5 which can be a difficult verse to translate, but seems to utilize Old Testament language to speak of the Holy Spirit within, and God’s jealousy in the face of their spiritual adultery. As our jealous Husband, God desires that His people to be in a right relationship with Him. This is possibly an allusion to the imagery of book of the prophet Hosea.

In the second section, verses 6-10, James points God’s people toward humility and repentance. “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James starts off this section announcing that God bestows grace to the humble; and then he exhorts the church with a string of commands (underlined below) in verses 7-10 showing how this is to be done: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lamentand mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. The text tells us that these are the paths to personal humiliation before God and exaltation in God’s presence.

In the third portion of the text, verses 11-12, James concludes the whole larger section which began back in chapter 3:1-12 with the taming the tongue. Here now James is transitioning into the next section by looking back, but also by looking ahead to the matter of God’s judgment on the wicked.

These verses obviously address some unidentified specific conflicts in the early church to whom James writes. Recalling Paul’s words to Timothy that, All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. (2 Tim 3:16), we can be assured that there is much for our church today to learn from this section of James’ epistle. It teaches us how to avoid quarrels and slander in our midst, as we act humbly toward one another, particularly in our manner of speech. So we may anticipate that this text will be profitable to our church as we meet this Sunday. Please pray for the service and come expecting that God will speak to you through His Word.

Wisdom from Above and Wisdom from Below – James 3:13-18

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. James 3:17

In chapter 3 of the epistle of James, James, the brother of our Lord, continues the second major theme of his epistle, concerning wisdom and speech. Clearly James contrasts two kinds of wisdom. First there is an earthly wisdom which is displayed in bitter jealousy and selfish ambition; he refers to such wisdom as earthly, natural, and demonic. James contrasts this wisdom described in verses 14-16 with wisdom from above, or godly wisdom in verse 17; he writes that wisdom from above is pure, peaceful, gentile, willing to submit, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and genuine. And the result of this kind of wisdom, he says in verse 18 is, “a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those making peace.”

Whether this was a general admonition, or James was addressing a specific issue to his original hearers, there is nevertheless, much for the church to learn from and apply from this section, which closes out chapter 3. First, as verse 13 proclaims, the one who is wise will display that wisdom through godly conduct. Second, verses 14-16, Christians should avoid worldly wisdom. And third, verses 17-18, Christians should embrace wisdom from above, and what it produces.

This last section of chapter 3 contrasting the two kinds of wisdom is the antecedent link to James’ rebuke in Chapter 4:1-12, of those in the church who were heeding an earthly wisdom from below and so acting as friends of the world rather than friends of God.

This week meditate on and/or discuss the following texts in order to prepare your heart for the Lord’s Day: James 3:13-18, Job 28:28, Proverbs 15:33, Jeremiah 9:24, Matthew 5:9; 11:29