Patience and Prayer
James 5:1 – 20
Patience and Prayer
In 1975 the Sarasota Herald Tribune Newspaper in Florida, reported the death of Mrs Bertha Adams, a 71 year old widow. She had died of malnutrition, weighing only 23 kilograms when she died, and her neighbours reported that before she had starved to death, she had begged food from them.
However 2 days before her death, her lawyer opened 2 safe deposit boxes she owned, and discovered that Mrs Adams held $800,000 in cash, and over $40,000 in stock certificates.
The newspaper headline read: “She begs for food, but dies with nearly a million in the bank.”
They lawyer who made the discovery, observed “it now appears, she was a very successful businesswoman.”
But I read that article, and thought, “well, yes, but also, no!”
She might have made lots of money, but it also seems that she missed the point of money.
The point of money is not to have it all stacked up in the bank, while you die of starvation because you haven’t bought food!
The amassing of wealth instead of using wealth for its intended purposes, is problematic.
And it’s a problem that James deals with in chapter 5 of his letter.
Judgment awaits those who misuse their wealth (v 1 - 6)
Have a listen to what he says. Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.
Notice the affectionate language of brothers and sisters is gone.
Now we’ve just got “you rich people”
And he says, judgment awaits those who misuse the wealth that God has entrusted to them.
Now, there may not be a single one of these rich people who are mis-using their wealth in any of the churches in which James’ letter is being read out, but hearing this serves as a warning for the Christian people who are there.
Because, I reckon if we’re honest, we can look at the lives of people who are rich, who seem to be able to spend their money however they want, and it can look appealing to us, can’t it?
We wish we were like them,
We wish we had Bertha Adams’ $800,000.
But James wants us, through hearing this warning, to know that we don’t want to be like them,
We have no reason at all to envy them, because misery is coming on them.
This word misery is one that the Old Testament prophets used to speak about facing God’s righteous judgment. To wail in the Bible, is to cry out because God’s calling you to account for your sin and rebellion.
But the problem for these people isn’t that they’re rich, is it? It’s that they’ve misused their wealth.
It’s not what you have, but how you use it.
Because it’s possible to mis-use wealth.
I got my car serviced this week. Every time I hand over money for anything to do with my car, I think surely this is a mi-use of my money! It never seems to change anything!
But James is a bit more specific, isn’t he? And there are 2 particular ways of mis-using wealth that he wants to point out.
The first is the Berth Adams problem, hoarding wealth which cannot last.
The wicked rich try to hang on to wealth that can’t last (v 2 – 3)
See at the end of verse 3, You have hoarded wealth in the last days.
These people have tried to amass wealth for themselves, but doesn’t even last!
Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded
3 separate ways of saying, what you have spent all your energy gathering for yourself, cannot last.
And it’s probably not that these rich people were swanning round in fancy clothes that were all moth-eaten without them realising, kind of , Emperor’s new clothes style.
He probably means that the way you’re trying to hang onto this stuff, that itself is the evidence that it’s going to waste.
When I was a teenager I loved the stories of the 5 missionary martyrs in Ecuador. Some of you will know these 5 young American missionaries who were trying to bring the good news of Jesus to the Auca Indians in 1956, only to be murdered by the very people they were trying to reach with the gospel.
One of the 5, Jim Elliot, wrote in his diary on October 28, 1949, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose."
Now, he was actually thinking of his life, But it’s true even of things of much lesser value, like money and possessions.
You cannot keep them.
And so why would we try to hold onto them?
Here’s the warning to us, not to use our wealth for selfish purposes.
I think when it comes to financial matters, my first thought is, how to use it for selfish purposes. “Oh, I’ve got this money, what do I want?
What could I buy?
What would be nice to have?”
But actually, like these rich people, I probably don’t really need much more, and if I amass wealth for myself, I’m stopping those resources being used for the very purpose for which God’s given them to me.
I’ve got the Bertha Adams problem!
The 16th Century Church Reformer John Calvin wrote this:, God has not appointed gold for rust, nor garments for moths;, but, on the contrary, he has designed them as aids and helps to human life.
God didn’t invent clothes to hang in our wardrobes forever, he didn’t invent money just so it could sit in our bank accounts. He made them in order for us to use them for the benefit of people.
And it is the last days, James says. Christ has come, and died and risen,
He’s ascended to the Father,
Now we wait for his return!
Of all the times in human history, why would you use wealth selfishly now?!
We’ve seen God’s grace poured out on us in Jesus, we know he’s going to return.
To , put it bluntly, it’s really utter foolishness, in the time of salvation history in which we live, to use wealth selfishly.
The wicked rich mis-use wealth by failing to pay what they owe (v 4 – 6)
The second way that these rich people have mis-used their wealth, is that they haven’t paid others what they owe.
See verse 4, Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.
And they’ve done this, so they can do more of the first thing! You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence
They’ve failed to give others what they owe them, so they can continue to spend what they have on themselves.
God had given specific commands in the Old Testament about prompt payment of people who you might have hired to work in your field or whatever. Don’t leave him hanging for days, pay him at the end of each day, God said, so he can eat, and provide for his family.
But they haven’t, and it’s as if the wages themselves are crying out for justice,
And then the harvesters join in, and their cries have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.
If you’re a parent, sometimes, you know that your instructions have reached your child’s ears, but nothing seems to happen!
They hear, but don’t always respond!
But God is different. When the Bible speaks of people’s prayers, or people’s cries, reaching the ears of God, it’s not in one ear and out the other, it means God hears, and responds.
For God to hear, is for God to act in justice.
Now, you might think, I don’t have any employees! And so this week I was wondering what God might be saying to us, who are several steps removed, from this subsistence kind of living;, we don’t owe people wages.
And it seemed to me the message here is about justice. And those who have enough, which is where most of us would fit, are deaf to the cries of those who are being denied justice.
And so I wonder if we should be asking the questions about how we make sure we hear the cries of those today who are denied justice, those who go without.
Perhaps for those of us who invest our money through other organisations, where decisions are made at arms’ length to us,
Those of us who support businesses through our spending, which , is of course, all of us!
Should we be doing more, to make sure that the businesses that we , in effect are partnering with, are treating their employees and others fairly and justly.
Do we need to be more careful with how and where we spend our money.
It seems from the warning to rich oppressors here, that for us to say to God “Well, I just didn’t know that the company I had shares in was abusing its workers overseas,
Or I just didn’t know that the brand of clothing I bought had a reputation for underpaying its employees”,
I don’t think that would be considered a reasonable excuse!
I think God would probably say that he heard the cries for justice, so why didn’t we?
So wait patiently, assured of God’s righteous judgement (v 7 – 12)
But what if we are the ones suffering at the hands of others?
Well, James’ encouragement is to wait patiently, assured of God’s righteous judgement.
Have a look at verse 7, 7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.
Notice the brothers and sisters again. He’s looking at people inside the church, not outside. And you’ll notice, if you were here at the very beginning of our series, that James has come back to where he started;, how should we as Christian people, respond to trials.
Verse 7 begins in James’ original language with the word “therefore”, which is translated then in our NIV Bibles.
We’ve just heard that God will bring justice to those who are denied it, therefore Be patient brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.
At least some of the trials, some of the suffering that James has in mind, includes suffering as a result of injustice at the hands of others.
The example of the farmer: things won’t stay this way forever (v 7 – 9)
And James gives 2 examples to encourage patience. The first is that of a farmer, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.
Imagine waiting for spring rains! Fancy that!
But naturally, in the usual course of things, that’s what a farmer does. Because he or she knows the value of the crop to come, they wait for the rain.
There’d be no point in a farmer, having sown all his seeds, looking out at his paddock, and saying to himself, “Ah, all I can see is dirt. Obviously nothing is going to happen here! I may as well just give up and move off the land.”
No, the farmer knows that things won’t stay this way forever, and so they wait patiently for what is to come.
And while it might look like nothing’s happening now, he’ll only get to enjoy the crop if he waits patiently, assured of what’s coming.
That’s the example that James wants Christian people to follow. The return of Christ is near.
Yes, it might be hard. James knows that.
Your life might be difficult.
You may be being denied justice. James isn’t trying to minimise any of that. Those are the very reasons he’s writing this part of his letter.
But don’t think that God doesn’t see, hear, or understand. And don’t think that what you ought to be doing in the face of injustice, is going about trying to get vengeance.
Or Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged.
Leave that up to God. The Judge is standing at the door!
He’s spent those first 6 verses assuring us that God sees and hears injustice, even those wages locked up in the boss’s safe cry out to God.
See, God is not blind, to the injustice that you face even if it seems like nothing is ever going to change.
There are numbers here, who in different ways, are suffering because of the actions of others.
There are some in our church family who suffer in their relationships.
There are some who are isolated or discriminated against in their workplaces, or in their classrooms, because they’ve publicly identified themselves as Christians,
There are some who are treated badly by people they know, because of their faith in Jesus,
And there are many, who suffer, not particularly because of others, but because we live in a broken and hurting world.
There are some for whom the Christian life is difficult.
And it’s easy, in all those situations, to grumble about others who seem to have it much easier than we do,
To take our frustrations out on others, but James urges us to be patient and stand firm because the Lord’s coming is near.
To say the Lord’s coming is near, is to say Jesus could come back today or tomorrow, not that he has to come back, today or tomorrow.
Jesus is coming back.
Your suffering isn’t going to go on forever.
People aren’t going to get away with doing evil and committing injustice endlessly.
The hardship and sadness you face,
The sorrow and mourning we go through in this world are not permanent.
Things aren’t going to stay this way forever. Jesus is coming back as saviour and judge.
stand firm is literally “establish your heart.” That’s not a bad expression, is it?!
When we suffer,
When we face trials of many kinds, our heart can easily be carried along in different directions;,
Like here, in grumbling,
Or in the desire for revenge,
Our heart can get carried away thinking that God has turned his back on us,
Our heart can get carried away thinking that we’d be better off not living the Christian life.
Establish your heart. Speak to yourself again and again of Christ’s work in you and for you,
Establish your heart. Guard against the other voices that would seek to sway you,
Establish your heart. Ask other Christian people to speak into your life, to remind your heart of the things that you know, and need to know, but perhaps are at risk of forgetting, when hardships come.
Establish your heart. Dwell on the promises of God, a day is coming when there will be no more tears, or suffering, or crying, or pain.
Establish your heart. Remembering that the Lord’s coming is near.
The example of the prophets: faithful, obedient people sometimes suffer (v 10 – 11)
James gives another example to help his readers establish their hearts in the face of trials and hardships, the Old Testament prophets, and especially the perseverance of Job.
There are some Christian people who would tell us that if you’re suffering, it must be because you’re being disobedient to God, that you are outside his will for your life.
A friend of mine was once convinced by some other Christians, that she was suffering a disability, because of a disobedient choice that she had made once in her Christian life. As far as I could tell there was nothing at all in the Bible to suggest that was the case, and yet being told that did enormous damage to her faith.
Not only is that kind of teaching cruel, and some kind of blend of Christianity with middle-class western aspirationalism and greed, it’s completely at odds with what James says here.
It is possible to suffer, because we’ve made sinful or disobedient choices. So, yes, look at your life,
Repent of sin if necessary. But if you’re suffering, don’t think that it must be a sign that you’ve displeased God in some choice you’ve made along the way.
Gosh, if that were how it worked, my life would be filled with suffering, not the relatively cushy existence that I enjoy.
The prophets who James refers to, what does he say about them?, They spoke in the name of the Lord. They were doing God’s work! And they suffered, particularly because of their obedience.
It is entirely possible to be God’s faithful obedient person, living out your Christian life in the place that God would have you be, and yet to be suffering. That was the experience of the prophets.
And James wants to say “they were able to establish their hearts in the face of suffering, so you can do it too.
Faithful, obedient people sometimes suffer.
How to pray for Christians who suffer: Pray for patience and steadfast hearts
One of the things we’ve noted at various points when James mentions suffering in his letter, is that numbers of have haven’t particularly suffered in life, while others have.
And many Christians around the world suffer a lot more than we do.
We pray for them regularly on Sundays, but sometimes it can be a bit tricky, can’t it, to figure out how we should be praying for Christians who are facing hardships, whether that’s people we know or people we’ve never met.
But do you see, here’s our answer!
We might think we don’t know what God wants for Christian people who are suffering, but actually, we know exactly.
Here in verses 7 to 12, God wants his people to be patient and wait for Jesus’ return,
To stand firm, establish their hearts, so that nothing will sway them as face suffering,
God wants his people to follow the example of his faithful servants in the Old Testament, who persevered, and saw what the Lord finally brought about.
And God wants his people to experience his compassion and his mercy.
Next time you don’t know what to pray for someone who’s facing some hardship, whether that’s someone here, or someone else you know, or Christian brothers and sisters overseas,
Pray this for them. Because this is what God wants for his people.
How to pray for Christians who suffer: Pray for healing.
And so having thought about prayer as a possible application of that middle section, as James draws is letter to a close, he teaches specifically, about how we should pray for people who suffer.
Have a look at it with me, from verse 13, 13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord
James wants to encourage us to pray whatever our circumstances. And really, we could hear that, and put it into practice, and that would be time well spent, wouldn’t it?
James wants us to know that prayer isn’t just for when things are hard. You know that handle they have on the trams in the city to stop the tram in a hurry. What does it say, “Emergency use only. $500 fine!”
Sometimes I think that’s how we treat prayer! Emergency use only! It’s like God’s going to fine us if we use it at the wrong time!
No, even when we’re happy, our response should be to praise God.
In the last couple of months, I’ve deliberately worked to be more thankful to God. I keep mulling over the words form Nehemiah 8, the joy of the Lord is your strength.
I want to have the joy of the Lord, thankfulness to God. I want to develop the habit of praying not only when things are hard, but also when I’m happy.
But the focus here is on praying when we, or others, suffer. James’ word for “in trouble”, is the same word he used to describe the suffering of the prophets back up in verse 10.
So, clearly if he’s using the same words, he hasn’t moved off into an entirely different theme. And no doubt the kind of prayer we should be praying, is what we thought about in verses 7 to 12 in praying for others.
Those things, the established heart, are good things to pray for ourselves when we are in trouble.
So come back to verse 14 if you will, 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord
Elders, or overseers, or bishops, in the New Testament were spiritually mature men, often older in years, but not always, who were appointed to teach and shepherd the church. So what I do in our church, is function as an elder. And others in our church, Bible Study Group leaders, for example, exercise some of the functions of elders, also.
And so if someone in the church is sick, that person is to call the elders. Don’t sit at home waiting for the pastor to turn up!
The sick person takes the initiative in this situation, and gets on the phone.
But notice it’s the elders who pray. You might have heard Christians talk about praying over someone. Well this is the only time in the Bible this language is used.
And the elders are to anoint the sick person with oil, that is pour oil on the person’s head.
Anointing was used in the Old Testament to symbolise somebody being consecrated to God’s service.
Priests were anointed,
Kings were anointed.
It was a symbol of being set apart for God.
So there’s nothing magical in the oil. It’s not the oil that is effective, but the prayer offered in faith, that will make the sick person well;
If you’re sick. , Pray.
Call other believers, call your Bible Study Group leaders,
Call others who lead in our church,
Call me, and we will pray for you.
That is a good and proper thing for us to do.
James isn’t talking about people who might have a gift of healings, or anything like that, but this is how every church should function.
But let me say, as I have wrestled with this passage during the week, and actually this passage is one I have come back to on numbers of occasions, to try and make sure I’ve understood it rightly,
Each time I’ve come back to it, I’ve been convinced that James here isn’t simply promising healing from physical illness.
He perhaps does have that in mind, and I’ve just said we should be , praying for those among us who are sick, but I think that James actually has his eye more firmly on something slightly different.
Now, anytime someone says to you, “the Bible isn’t saying what you think it says, you need to listen to me so you can understand the hidden meaning”, you should be cautious.
That can be a dangerous way of handling the Scriptures. So let’s have a look together, and see what we think God is saying to us in these verses.
How to pray for Christians who suffer: Pray for salvation, single-mindedness, and wisdom.
I guess the first thing that might suggest that James is thinking about something more than physical illness, is the promise in verse 15, the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well, and I know from talking to some of you during the week that these words raised that very question for you.
The rest of the Scriptures are clear, that God doesn’t give us a blanket promise to heal us every time we get sick.
That’s what heaven’s going to be like;, no sickness. But God doesn’t promise that in this life.
And of course, if that was the case, we’d live forever!
Every time you get sick, get someone to pray for you, and you’d get better!
And that’s not even our experience, is it? We, as a church, have prayed desperately, for numbers of our own, who have been sick, even in the last few weeks.
We prayed in faith, absolutely confident that God is able to heal,
And he didn’t.
And if this is a blanket promise that God will heal the sick. Then God is a liar.
But I am convinced that God is not, and so I think God is perhaps promising something else.
When James speaks of “sickness” in verse 14, he uses a word that can mean physical sickness, but just means “to be weak.”
The Apostle Paul uses the word to capture all the various ways in which he was weak as a Christian,
Paul uses it again to describe Abraham as without weakness in faith.
Again in Romans 14, it’s about being weak in faith.
It’s used to describe Christians who make a mistakes, and stumble in their faith.
And so I wonder, especially in the context of James, where he has such a concern for Christians who stumble,
And Christians who struggle,
Christians who are tempted,
Christians who are double-minded, that’s really the concern that runs through the whole letter,
It makes me wonder if it makes better sense to imagine that James hasn’t changed topic here at all, but that he’s still concerned for Christians who are finding the Christian life hard.
Does he still have in mind, as he has all along, Christians whose faith is weak?
And I think maybe the answer is “yes”.
It would certainly make better sense of verse 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; literally “the sick person will be saved”, which is how that word is nearly always translated the 90 odd times it appears in the New Testament.
Think of the quote from Joel 2 in Acts chapter 2, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ That’s this word.
And even verse 16, if it’s addressed to the Christian who’s being double-minded, the Christian who’s at risk of giving up in the face of trial, Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed, “healed” there is probably more often used to describe what we might call spiritual healing than healing from physical illness.
You might know Peter’s famous line about what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross by his wounds you have been healed
It’s probably a spiritual restoration that James has in mind, for the Christian who’s struggling,
The Christian who’s double-minded
The Christian, remember chapter 1, who doesn’t know how to respond to the trials and temptations they face.
That would seem to make sense of the Old Testament concept of anointing, wouldn’t it? Anointing never had anything to do with illness, but it was a symbol of consecration of someone being given over completely to God.
Anointing is a symbol of turning your back on double-mindedness.
If you are weak, if you don’t want to be double-minded, here’s what you can do, and there’s an absolute promise that God will respond.
Back in chapter 1 verse 5, James makes another one of these absolute promises, If any of you lacks wisdom, in the face of trials, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you
Here he says, if anyone among you is weak, get other Christians to pray for you, and here’s the absolute assurance of your answer.
Even the choice of Elijah, as an example, suggests that James is not speaking as much about physical illness, as about the weak Christian coming back to God.
Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and he prayed that it would rain.
The story is recorded for us in 1 Kings 17 and 18, but if James wanted to make a case for healing from sickness, one can only imagine he would have picked the story also in 1 Kings 17, of Elijah praying to God for the life of a young boy who had died.
The narrator tells us there in 1 Kings that God heard Elijah’s prayer, and he lived.
If you want a story about Elijah and healing, I think that’s the one you’d go to.
The story about the rain, is actually a story about , guess what?!
God’s people falling into temptation,
God’s people committing adultery with the world.
I think there’s enough to make us think that this is what he’s talking about, as much as, if not more than physical healing.
And while there is this focus given to the elders, James says this is something for all of us.
The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
A righteous person, he just means normal Christians.
Our prayers can support each other in hardship and trial.And see how he finishes? It fits with what we’ve just been thinking he seems to be saying, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this:, Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death, and cover over a multitude of sins.
This is where we’ve heard everything he says in the letter, about trials and temptations,
Christians who struggle,
Christians who don’t control their tongues,
The need to establish our hearts in the face of suffering,
This is the call to action,
This is the bit where he says “get up out your seats and do it.”
Every single member of our church family, can play this role, for others, and see them saved.
If only, we will let them.