an image of the first page of the letter to James in the Bible

An Overview of James Chapter 5: Maturity and Trust

James has focused his entire letter on Christian maturity — both in our faithfulness to God and in our conduct toward others. It’s not enough to just call ourselves Christ followers; we must be continually striving to grow closer to Him in our behavior, our morality, and our internal attitudes. Now James concludes his letter, and he does so by talking about where we place our trust in this life. This is very much a continuation of the thoughts James shares in chapter 4.

I’m working from the Christian Standard Bible.

Verses 1–6: Do Not Trust Wealth

Come now, you rich people! Weep and wail over the miseries that are coming on you. Your wealth is ruined and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your silver and gold are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You stored up treasure in the last days! Look! The pay that you withheld from the workers who reaped your fields cries out, and the outcry of the harvesters has reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts. You have lived luxuriously on the land and have indulged yourselves. You have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. You have condemned — you have murdered — the righteous man; he does not resist you.

James 5:1–6

James is exceedingly clear: you and I should not put our hope in our worldly possessions. He goes so far as to condemn those who amass their wealth at the expense of mercy and justice. He uses prophetic language to get his point across.

  • Their silver and gold corrodes, probably from stagnating in storage for too long rather than being used for the wages they owe.
  • The corroded silver and gold testify against and will consume them.
  • Withheld pay cries out.
  • The workers’ cries reach the ears of God.

James goes as far as to say that these wealthy individuals who seek ways to cheat their workers and withhold pay are guilty of murder. We live in a culture where such behavior is written off as “just doing business” or “looking after our shareholders.” This is not right. If we’re privileged enough that others rely on us for their livelihood, we should never engage in such practices. If we’re not in that position (as most of us will not be), we should never condone or justify this kind of greed. God believes it more important that we look after the needs of others than our luxuries.

Verses 7–12: Trust Instead In God

Therefore, brothers, be patient until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth and is patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, because the Lord’s coming is near. Brothers, do not complain about one another, so that you will not be judged. Look, the judge stands at the door!

Brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the Lord’s name as an example of suffering and patience. See, we count as blessed those who have endured. You have heard of Job’s endurance and have seen the outcome from the Lord. The Lord is very compassionate and merciful.

Now above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. Your “yes” must be “yes,” and your “no” must be “no,” so that you won’t fall under judgment.

James 5:7–12

James contrasts the impatience and callousness that can come from trusting in our wealth with the patience and strength that comes with trusting in the Lord. He puts this patience in context of a farmer who has to keep a long-term view of their work, knowing that a lack of patience could result in a ruined crop. Our trust in God encourages us to be patient with Him as well as with one another.

Take people like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and Job as examples of this kind of patience and trust. Their examples testify to us that our patient faith can endure anything through the Father. These people should be role models to us, not simply icons of faith. We should look at they way they endured their trials, at the ways they overcame discouragement and outright persecution, and resolve to do the same.

Then we get to the “above all” statement. This is the summation of everything James has written so far regarding our mature faith. Putting God’s word into action, showing generosity, overcoming prejudice, taming our tongues, growing in humility, and putting our trust where it belongs — all of this boils down to a very simple principle: be honest.

  • If we are honest with our perspective about suffering, we will understand that pains of this life are temporary and look past them to God’s greater purpose for us.
  • If we are honest with God’s word, then we will put it into practice when it demands change in our lives.
  • If we are honest with the example Jesus has left us, then we will put others before self, discard prejudice and discrimination, and seek mercy before secular judgments.
  • If we are honest with ourselves, we will be mindful of the ways we use our words, tempering our language even when incensed or frustrated.
  • If we are honest about our place in Creation, we will be humble before God and put His will before our own.
  • If we are honest in humility, then we will place our trust in the Creator rather than the perishable things He has created.

Verses 13–20: Trusting In Prayer

Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over him after anointing him with olive oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will restore him to health; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; yet he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit.

My brothers, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins.

James 5:13–20

Finally, James sums up his book with an encouragement to pray. This is where we put our trust and patience into action. Do we trust in God? Then we will trust in the power of prayer. Here, the mature Christian finds peace and fulfillment. Here, we give everything over to God.

James ends with this: those who are mature in Christ, be ready to help restore those who have gone astray. With every point of maturity in this letter, the opposite can occur. We should always be willing to help each other along our journeys and restore one another when necessary. The mature Christian does not write off another Christian over secular differences or spiritual struggles. The mature Christian seeks to heal and restore.

Miscellaneous Thoughts and Conclusion

  • You can’t read James 5 and come away with the thought that Jesus and His apostles would be OK when we shrug at someone struggling to make ends meet with their full-time job to say, “Then get a second job.”
  • It’s interesting that James inserts a comment about complaining about one another in his section about being patient with God. My takeaway is that being patient with each other is part of being patient with God. “As you have done to the least of these…”
  • James makes it clear that basic honesty is the ultimate litmus test for true Christianity. If we follow leaders or teachers who claim a Christian faith, but they can’t pass the test of basic honesty, we’re following the wrong people.
  • We do find examples in other letters of withdrawing fellowship from those who have fallen away. In each of those cases, however, the withdrawn individual caused major damage to the local congregation involved. Withdrawal should never be a default course of action.

If the attribution is correct, James would have written this letter before the events of Acts 12. He would have been writing to Christians who had heard and received the gospel news and were now ready to put that gospel into action. Putting Christ on in baptism is just the beginning of our Christian journey. We should always let God’s word refine and perfect us. Let’s be honest in our assessments of where we are as followers of Christ, and let’s put James words into action, growing closer to our Savior day by day.

Making Fasting Matter

empty plate on a bare table

Have you ever considered the fact that fasting is something Christians do in the New Testament? We often associate fasting with the Old Testament since it had periods of required fasting. The New Testament commands no such observances, but we find fasting listed along other traditions of worship we are familiar with.

Acts 14:23 says:

When they had appointed elders in every church and prayed with fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

This is toward the end of Paul’s first missionary journey, and it gives us an apostolic example of early Christians participating in fasting. In this case it’s coupled with prayer. Acts 13:2 – 3 contains similar language: “They were worshipping and fasting,” and, “After fasting and praying.” The apostles obviously had a tradition of fasting before important spiritual decisions or events.

Jesus also fasted. In the beginning of Matthew 4, we can read that Jesus fasted for forty days and nights prior to facing Satan. I’ve often heard this taught as Satan approaching Jesus at His weakest, but have you ever considered the fact that Jesus might have fasted to prepare for this encounter. Just as the apostles would later fast before important events, here we see Jesus possibly doing the same.

When to Fast

When is it appropriate for Christians to fast? While there’s no hard-and-fast “on the first day of the week” passage for fasting like there is for the memorial, I believe we see evidence that fasting can be done individually or collectively. Both examples in Acts see Paul and his friends fasting together. Just as we can pray both individually and collectively, we can fast alone or together.

Also based on these examples, there’s no prescribed time for fasting. Paul and the apostles did it prior to some big undertakings. Jesus fasted before facing Satan. Individuals in the Old Testament also fasted in times of mourning and repentance. Fasting is an opportunity to grow closer to God, so the best time to fast is when you need that closeness most. That’s why prayer and fasting go hand-in-hand. It’s an act of removing something you take for granted or rely on and replacing that thing with God.

What to Give Up

When I think of fasting, I most often think of food. I think you can make the case, however, that fasting isn’t limited to eating.

I Corinthians 7:4 – 5:

A wife does not have the right over her own body, but her husband does. In the same way, a husband does not have the right over his own body, but his wife does. Do not deprive one another sexually — except when you agree for a time, to devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again; otherwise, Satan may tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

When Paul says, “Do not deprive one another…except when you agree for a time to devote yourselves to prayer,” it certainly seems like a form of fasting. In this case, the couple fast from physical intimacy for a time.

The point is that fasting requires a serious commitment. It’s not about giving up something trivial for a week; it’s about disciplining yourself by removing something meaningful and important. Like the monetary offerings we see in the New Testament, what you give up is between you and God. Maybe one person will give up all social media for a period of time while another takes their fast more literally and gives up food.

How to Fast

Jesus and Paul both have some guidelines for us when it comes to fasting. For example, Paul warns against self-denial for the sake of false holiness in Colossians 2:18 – 23:

Let no one disqualify you, insisting on ascetic practices and the worship of angels, claiming access to a visionary realm and inflated without cause by his unspiritual mind. He doesn’t hold on to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and tendons, develops with growth from God. If you died with the Messiah to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations: “Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch”? All these regulations refer to what is destroyed by being used up; they are commands and doctrines of men. Although these have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence.

Basically, Paul is saying that fasting of any sort should not be outwardly enforced, nor does it serve as evidence of holiness in and of itself. I Timothy 4:1 – 5 makes a similar claim, that we should be careful of anyone regulating specific foods from which to abstain. These things can feel pious, but Paul says they’re not.

Jesus says, in Matthew 6:16 – 18:

Whenever you fast, don’t be sad-faced like the hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive so their fasting is obvious to people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you fast, put oil on your head, and wash your face, so that you don’t show your fasting to people but to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

The idea here is the same as Jesus’ teachings on prayer and benevolence. When you fast, it’s between you and God, not between you and everyone else. When you fast, it’s not my business what you are giving up, unless you need me to know so I can support and encourage you. In fact, Jesus says that no one should even be able to tell we’re fasting based on appearance or behavior.

So What About Lent?

At this point, Lent becomes an elephant in the virtual room. Should Christians observe Lent? My only response is that it’s between you and God. That comes with a caveat: that we all understand that Jesus nor His apostles command the observance of Lent in the New Testament. Then we can apply Romans 14:5 – 8:

One person considers one day to be above another day. Someone else considers every day to be the same. Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind. Whoever observes the day, observes it for the honor of the Lord. Whoever eats, eats for the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; and whoever does not eat, it is for the Lord that he does not eat it, yet he thanks God. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

If your conscience moves you to observe Lent, then do so in the ways we see Paul and Jesus observe and teach about fasting. If your conscience steers you away from Lent, then abstain. Do not judge the brother or sister who does observe, nor should the one who observes judge the one who does not. Both are acceptable to God as long as their motivations and conduct remain pure.

Fasting, Spirituality, and Self-Discipline

I Corinthians 9:24 – 27:

Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. However, they do it to receive a crown that will fade away, but we a crown that will never fade away. Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

To me this is the at the heart of fasting. It is an act of self-discipline that trains us to be self-disciplined in the Lord. The act of giving something up that is meaningful to you takes self-discipline. Sticking to it for a predetermined period of time takes self-discipline. If you are able to keep your fast quiet, that takes self-discipline. If you’re not letting a fast affect your behavior, that takes self-discipline. All of this helps us bring ourselves under control so that we will exercise self-control in all of our conduct.

Fasting can also bring us closer to God if we really are giving up something meaningful and replacing it with study and prayer. It puts us in a place to turn to God when we might most miss something of this world, and it helps put the things of this world in perspective. Whether you are giving up meals for a couple of weeks or turning off all screens for a month, fasting helps remind all of us that we need God more than we need the things of this world.

 

 

September Twelfth Christianity

APTOPIX Sept 11 Anniversary

How we respond to tragedy often speaks to who we really are. On September 12, 2001, I and many others saw some of the greatest outpourings of love and support toward all of those affected by the tragedies of the previous day.  Some call September 11 “America’s Darkest Day”, but the days and weeks to follow were some of our brightest in terms of charity, in kindness, and in helpfulness.  Prayer gatherings, migrations to New York City to help in any way, financial giving, even things as small as flowers and notes left as close to ground zero as could be placed – things like these fill my memories of the aftermath. We all wanted to do something to help and were actively looking for opportunities. When we should have felt our most helpless, we became not only helpful, but we became hopeful as well.

Romans 12:12 says, “Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer”  in the context of living sacrificially, of loving good and rejecting evil, of being fervent servants of God. In many ways, this is who we were on September 12. While some focused on those who committed the acts of violence, the energy of our nation was being poured into spreading hope, devoting ourselves to prayer, and standing strong in the face of hopelessness. We saw many acts of nobility and self-sacrifice. We saw generosity and love for our fellow man. We saw resolution and strength.

September 11 was a dark day, but many faced September 12 as stronger and more deeply spiritual people. Let’s remember that.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

I Peter 1:6-7

When things seem darkest, that’s when our hope should shine the brightest. When things seem at their worst, we should be at our best. September 11 was a terrible day, but suffering is continuous. There are souls in need of your love and compassion right now. There are people who need your hope and your help; you just have to feel compelled to share it. Remember who you were on September 12, and recapture that. Stand your ground against the hopelessness and despair so easily found in this world, and be a beacon of light and hope to those around you. Devote yourself to prayer, and be happy in your hope, always looking for reasons and opportunities to share that hope with others.

Grateful Living

We have much to be thankful for, but being a truly thankful Christian goes beyond words. We may acknowledge our thanks in prayer. We may sing hymns of thanksgiving. We may post online about our thankfulness to God for all of His blessings, but words are empty without actions to back them up. If we are truly grateful to our God, then we will live lives that reflect gratitude and contentment.

Unfortunately, many influences around us teach us ingratitude – whether we’re talking about marketers who want us to look for the Next Big Thing™ or personalities who will panic us about the failing dollar and how we should be investing in gold; whether it’s the one teaching us to hate those more fortunate than us or those who instill spitefulness in us toward those who rely on our generosity. We must put aside much if we are to truly live gratefully.

In Colossians 3:12-17, Paul writes:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

The grateful life is one typified by humility, by kindness, by patience with others. It is a life that seeks after Christ’s teachings rather than that of man. It is a life of praise rather than a life of self-centeredness. Take a minute and think about all God has done for you. Most of the time, when we are feeling discontented, it comes down to money. Where is my money going? How can I get and keep more? Who deserves to receive my money? How much money will I have in the future? We grumble about the hopelessness of this world. Grateful living, however, sets that aside.

Jesus, in Matthew 6:31-33, reminds us:

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we wear? For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

God never promises us a fair life. He never promises us a luxurious life. He never even promises us an easy life, but, if we take a moment to count them, we’ll see our lives are full of blessings. If we can acknowledge that, we have to put aside anything that would make us live ungratefully in the face of those blessings. We have to stop worrying so much about secular matters. We have to stop worrying about who is and is not deserving of our mercy, for would any of us be saved if God demonstrated the same mercy we do? It’s easy to let worldly definitions of fairness and justice cloud our gratefulness, but we can rise above that.

Our God does so much for us, and He has given us a hope beyond anything this world can offer. Let’s resolve then, as we set aside time to reflect on all we should be thankful for, to live lives reflecting that hope and that gratitude. When others see us, they should see a people unaffected (or, at least, minimally affected) by the trials of this world. They should see a people reaching for something better, and that hope will be evident in our lives when we learn to live our gratitude day by day.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21

Wish List

Tim Archer just posted a very self-reflective post on his blog about wish lists. I can’t think of a better way to open this post than with his words, so here they are:

Some web sites let you create wish lists, items that you would like to have from that site. I’m thinking in particular of Amazon.com, but I know there are others that do the same. They encourage you to publish these on your site so that friends and benefactors can know what to purchase for you.

He then proceeds to list some things in his life he knows he needs to work on, things he knows could use improvement in his own spiritual walk. Reading it made me feel spiritually reflective as well, and, instead of posting my reaction as a comment, I thought I’d make my own list here in hopes of encouraging you to engage in some self-reflection as well.

Here goes.

  1. Patience. Ecclesiastes 7:8 says, “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.” Often, when working with my brothers and sisters in Christ, I grow impatient that they are not as mature and level-headed as I obviously am.  I want things done succinctly and now, but the problem is that I may be willing to cause others to stumble in my desire to simply be done with something.
  2. Compartmentalizing. I’m pretty good at this when it comes to work and home. Where I stumble is in separating the physical from the spiritual. II Timothy 2:15 admonishes, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” Paul goes on to warn against vain arguments, which I let myself get pulled into at times because I allow my personal views on some things to interfere with my spirituality. I need to compartmentalize better, pulling the secular agendas from my spiritual walk.
  3. Prayer. I Thessalonians 5:17 simply states, “Pray without ceasing.” My prayer life is pretty abysmal. We often hear, in sermon illustrations, of those who only pray to God when in trouble. Those imaginary people make my prayer life look good. How successful can I be in pursuing a relationship with God when I refuse to talk to Him? Sure, I’ll listen, but I have a hard time reaching out. Perhaps this is merely a symptom of some skepticism I’ve never been able to eliminate from my faith.
  4. Initiative. This is the same as brother Tim’s fourth point of promptness. Proverbs 20:4 states, “The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing.” I’m good at putting things off until too late; I’m good at getting a whole lot of nothing done quickly. I need to take better initiative in the things that are most important.

You don’t have to spend much on me; just, if you happen to have any surplus of these qualities laying around, could you throw some my way? In seriousness, though, I think it’s important to self-reflect upon the type of Christians we wish we were. The next step is the tough one. It’s wanting it badly enough to actually do something about it. What kind of Christian do you want to be? What qualities would populate your wish list? More importantly, what are you going to do about it?

 

Prayer Works

Psalm 65:2 calls our God, “You who hears prayers.” As we examine our own personal prayer lives, do we view God’s listening to our prayers casually? It may be something we do if we can find the time or if we have a particularly pressing matter. It is something we take for granted. If God, however, does not take our prayers lightly, then we should not approach prayer casually.

Think of Elijah at Mount Carmel in I Kings 18, whose quiet, reserved prayer was answered resoundingly where the antics of the idolatrous priests were ignored. Remember Hezekiah, in II Kings 18-19 who turns to God in simple prayer against overwhelming odds. Finally, Daniel, in Daniel 6, continues to pray to God despite the law, and God saves him from a death sentence for his crime of prayer.

These stories are not just here to give us things to cover in Bible class or to talk about how God used to interact with His people. They are here to remind us that prayer works.

Defined By Prayer

In I Chronicles 4, we find ourselves in the middle of genealogical records, and, in verses 9-10, we run into a brief mention about a man named Jabez (meaning pain). We are told he is more honorable than his brethren, that he prays to God, and that God grants his prayer. We know nothing more about this man other than that he prayed to God. That is the snapshot we have of him: a man who calls on God for blessings and protection from evil.

Christians of the First Century devoted themselves to prayer. Acts 1:14, Acts 1:24, Acts 2:42, Acts 4:24, also within Acts 10, 6 12, 16, 20, 21 – we see Christians giving themselves to prayer time and again. These are defined by their prayer lives.

Measured By Prayer

We’ve had numerous lessons on how and why to pray. We know it works. Why not use it? It is a measure of our spirituality, our humility, and our faith. Of the many things Paul prays for in his recorded words, spiritual needs come first. In Matthew 6, in the Lord’s Prayer, only one physical need is mentioned. The more spiritually minded we are, the inclined we will be to kneel before God in prayer.

Before Jesus gives an example of prayer in Matthew 6, Jesus admonishes His audience not to pray in showy ways, in a proud manner. Instead, like the publican in Luke 18:9-14, we should approach God in humility, and that humility is rooted in our faith. I Peter 3:15 calls on us to sanctify Christ, and I Peter 5:6 tells us to humble ourselves in that sanctified presence. Ephesians 3:20-21 expresses Paul’s faith that God is capable of doing more than we can imagine. We simply need to have faith in His power.

We have the time to pray. We have reason to pray. The question is one of humility, of faith, and of spirituality. God hears our prayers, and prayer works. We should be like those First Century Christians, like that briefly mentioned Jabez, and be defined by devoting ourselves to prayer.

lesson by Tim Smelser