OPERATION RESTORATION – James 5:19-20

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INTRODUCTION:

We’ve come to the final two verses of James’ letter to the Hebrew Christians scattered all over the Roman Empire and beyond.  It’s not the typical conclusion of a letter, such as the ones written by the apostle Paul, or Peter, or John.  There are no parting words of farewell, and there is no closing prayer.  But James has a reason for ending his letter with the words he uses. We will soon see, as we fit these parting words into the context of the rest of the letter.

Having served as a chaplain in a hospital setting for many years, and having been “under the knife” several times myself, I’ve become somewhat familiar with the  procedures that are followed in some operations.  I think that there are some elements of comparison, and I will be pointing them out as we look at James 5:19-20 in the light of what has preceded it.

Here are two translations of this passage of Scripture, James 5:19-20:

“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.” (NASB)

“My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered off from God’s truth, don’t write them off.  Go after them.  Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering from God.” (The Message)

I.  THE UNHAPPY WANDERERS (verse 19a)

James calls them “brethren”, meaning that they are either believers, or at least members of the congregations.  “If anyone strays from the truth”.  The word “if” implies that there are some in these congregations who have strayed, and there are others who haven’t strayed from the truth.  He is saying that straying from the truth can happen and has happened.  The word translated “strays”, or “wanders” is the Greek word “planao”.  We get our English word “planet” from this word.  It was generally believed, in those days, that the planets wandered around in the skies, and appeared in different places and at different times.  They didn’t realize that these planets are in an elliptical obit around the sun, as is the earth.

James has been describing and dealing with these “wanderings” throughout his letter.  Many of his readers and hearers have been guilty of impatience, misuse of their tongues, self-centeredness, greed, or other evidences of failing to practice the truth.  The following saying is so true:  “If truth isn’t applied, we’ve either wandered from it, or never possessed it.”

It’s a scary thing to wander from the truths of God’s Word.  It usually happens slowly, imperceptible at first.  Then we realize that we have not only wandered from the truth, but we have also drifted away from our closeness to the Lord Jesus Christ and to other believers.  Feelings of guilt, fear and embarrassment may keep us from seeking help and turning back.  We may begin to feel that our lives are out of control and that the situation is hopeless.

Have you ever been in a helpless situation because of a physical injury or infection? When I was in my early 20’s I felt pain in my lower abdomen.  Within minutes I was doubled over, and the pain was so intense that all I could do was to cry out for help.  My mother heard my cries and took me immediately to a nearby hospital.  I was given a shot to ease the pain and told that  I was having an acute appendicitis attack.  I would be going into surgery immediately.  My family doctor arrived, and told me that he would be performing the surgery.  I would be sedated and would not be awake or feel any pain during the surgery.  His presence and assurances relieved much of the tension I was experiencing.  When I awoke there was a scar, stitches and minimal pain.   The inflammation was gone and I was feeling much better.  One of my aunts died from a ruptured appendix when she was a teenager, so my fears were real.  I look back at that event as a life-saving experience, thanks in part to the immediate action by my mother and the doctor.

II.  THE RESTORERS (verse 19b)

The end of verse 19 contains five simple words:  “And one turns him back” (NASB).  The Message uses the words, “Go after them.  Bring them back.”  In verse 20 James gives a more detailed description of the wanderer’s condition when he says “turns a sinner from the error of his way.”  James uses the Greek word “hamartolos”, an archer’s term meaning, “missing the mark”.  But the word is also used to describe a traveler who has left the familiar road and is following winding, twisted paths that cause him to lose his way.  He has chosen to go his own way, and this choice has affected his thoughts, words, actions, and attitudes.  We are either walking in God’s truth or in our own way.  Those are the options.  The “turning back” is descriptive of the acknowledgement of one’s sin, confession of it, turning from it, and once again walking in fellowship with God and in obedience to God’s truth.

The apostle Paul, in Galatians 6:1, wanted to make sure that his readers knew what their attitude should be in the restoration process.  He says, “restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, lest you too be tempted.”  I have an anonymous poem in my collection of illustrations, and it brings tears of regret to my eyes every time I read it.  I hope it has a similar effect on you.

Pray don’t find fault with the man that limps

Or stumbles along the road,

Unless you have worn the shoes he wears

Or struggled beneath his load.

There may be tacks in his shoes that hurt

Tho’ hidden away from view,

Or the burden he bears placed on your back

Might make you stumble too.

Don’t sneer at the man who’s down today,

Unless you have felt the blow

That caused his fall or felt the shame

That only the fallen know.

You may be strong; but still the blows

That were his, if dealt to you

In the selfsame way at the selfsame time

Might cause you to stagger, too.

Don’t be too harsh with the man that sins,

Or pelt him with word or stone,

Unless you are sure – yes, doubly sure –

That you have no sins of your own.

For you know perhaps if the tempter’s voice

Should whisper as soft to you

As it did to him when he went astray

It might cause you to falter too.

In order to effectively turn another believer back to fellowship with God through gentle reproof and correction, we will need to have that kind of an attitude toward the wanderer and toward ourselves.   The hymn writer, Robert Robinson, expressed his inner struggles when he said:  “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.” (Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing).  The wanderer will need love, concern, and encouragement in order to confess the sin which has dragged him down, and redirect his focus toward the God who loves him and wants to forgive him and welcome him back.  You might say that God is calling us to be part of the “welcoming committee”.

III.  THE JOYFUL RESULTS (verse 20)

At the end of verse 20, James describes the results of the restoration process. First, “He . . . will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins”.  These words can be confusing if taken out of their context, and without a grasp of the Hebrew concept of sin and death.  The word “he” refers to the restorer, as he is used by God. The phrase “save his soul from death” is probably referring to physical death, not spiritual death.  As a doctor often saves his patients from the harmful and continuing affects of an infection or an injury, the restorer has the responsibility and privilege of saving a wandering Christian from the continuing effects of his sin.  In the Old Testament scriptures, sin is often associated with physical death.  When Adam and Eve sinned, one of the penalties was eventual physical death.  Moses and a whole generation of the children of Israel spent 40 years wandering in the desert and dying because of their sins.  The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire because of sin, and only Lot and his family were spared.  The recipients of his letter didn’t need an explanation.  They already knew the record of God’s dealings with His people.

The other result of the restorer’s ministry is “the covering of a multitude of sins”.  By his own loving, listening, and forgiving attitude, the restorer mirrors God’s love and forgiveness, and becomes a model of forgiveness and acceptance to other believers in the fellowship.  As it says in Proverbs 10:12, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.”  King David said in Psalm 32:3-6, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me.  My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.  I acknowledged my sin to Thee, and my iniquity I did not hide;  I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; and Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin.”  As a restorer, God gives us the privilege of sharing in the joy of that forgiveness (covering) of sin and return to fellowship.  They say, “Misery loves company”.  Well, relief-from-misery loves company also, and we’re invited to the celebration!  If you’ve ever had a restoration experience, whether you were the restorer or the one who was restored, you know that it was a joy-filled experience for both parties!

IV.  SUMMARY AND PERSONAL APPLICATION

Pastor and Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe concludes his commentary on the epistle of James by asking a series of questions to help us examine our hearts and evaluate our own spiritual maturity.  Let’s reflect on each question and be honest with ourselves and with God as we answer them.

  1.  Am I becoming more and more patient in the testings of life?
  2. Do I play with temptation, or resist it from the start?
  3. Do I find joy in obeying the Word of God, or do I merely study it and learn it?
  4. Are there any prejudices that saddle me?
  5. Am I able to control my tongue?
  6. Am I a peacemaker rather than a troublemaker?  Do people come to me for spiritual wisdom?
  7. Am I a friend of God or a friend of the world?
  8. Do I make plans without considering the will of God?
  9. Am I selfish when it comes to money?  Am I unfaithful in the paying of my bills?
  10. Do I naturally depend on prayer when I find myself in some kind of trouble?
  11. Am I the kind of person others seek for prayer support?
  12. What is my attitude toward the wandering brother?  Do I criticize and gossip, or do I seek to restore him in love?

May the Lord give you diligence as you pursue godliness and divine wisdom.  May He also provide strength and a loving friend if you should begin to stumble or falter.

“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”  (James 1:22)

 

 

PRAYING LIKE ELIJAH – A True Story in Africa in the 20th Century

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John C. Wengatz was a pioneer missionary to Africa for 42 years, serving in Liberia, Angola, and the Congo during the early to mid-1900’s.  In his book, Miracles in Black, Dr. Wengatz tells of an African convert who was left at a new mission station to carry on the Lord’s work with a cannibal tribe.  It was the dry season when Joao Mbaxi took over, but soon the tropical rains would be coming.  Month after month went by, however, without a cloud appearing in the sky.  Then came the time for the normal dry period.  By now everyone was suffering, and many were on the brink of starvation.  In all the years they had worshiped their ancient gods, the rains had never failed them, and so Joao was told that he must leave the country and take “the white man’s God” with him.  The courageous Christian refused to go.  Then, flushed with anger, the chief sullenly warned, “If your God is as good as you say and so powerful that he rules the sky, why doesn’t He send us the needed showers?  If it doesn’t rain by sunrise tomorrow, we will drink your blood and eat your flesh!”  Recalling the biblical account of Elijah, Joao went to his hut and prayed for divine help with the same urgency as that ancient prophet.  Meanwhile the members of the tribe waited for the dawn when the Christian leader would become the victim of their horrible feast.  Just before daylight, thunder was heard in the distance, lightning flashed across the sky, and abundant rain refreshed the entire region!  As a result, the believer was able to continue his work for Christ.

GOD’S REPEAT PERFORMANCE OF I KINGS 17:42-45 IN ANSWER TO BELIEVING PRAYER.

God glorified Himself in answer to prayer and answered their challenge:  “If your God is as good as you say and so powerful that he rules the sky, why doesn’t He send us the needed showers?”  Are you faced with a seemingly-impossible challenge in your life today?  God would like to hear from you about it.

As the prophet Jeremiah said to the Lord God, “Are there any among the idols of the nations who give rain?  Or can the heavens grant showers?  Is it not Thou, O Lord our God?  Therefore we hope in Thee, for Thou art the one who hast done all these things.”  (Jeremiah 14:22)

GOD, THE RAIN-MAKER : A true story from the life and teachings of Watchman Nee

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Watchman Nee was a church leader and Christian teacher in Mainland China during the 20th century.  As a new Christian, I read two of his books:  The Normal Christian Life, and Sit, Walk, Stan(a commentary on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians).  Both books were a real encouragement to me because they both talk about the basics of the Christian life.  Nee had an experience similar to that of Elijah, as noted in my previous post (The Power of Prayer – James 5:16b-18)

In his book, Sit, Walk, Stand, Watchman Nee describes a preaching mission to an island off the South China coast.  There were seven in the ministering group, including a 16-year-old new convert whom he calls Brother Wu.  The island was fairly large, containing about 6000 homes.  Nee had a contact there, an old schoolmate of his who was headteacher of the village school, but he refused to house the group when he discovered that they had come to preach the Gospel.  Finally, they found lodging with a Chinese herbalist, who became their first convert.  Preaching seemed quite fruitless on the island, and Nee discovered it was because of the dedication of the people there to an idol they called Ta-wang.  They were convinced of his power because on the day of his festival and parade each year, the weather was always near-perfect.

“When is the procession this year?”, young Wu asked a group that had gathered to hear them preach.  “It is fixed for January 11th at 8 in the morning”, was the reply. “Then”, said the new convert, “I promise you that it will certainly rain on the 11th.”

At that there was an outburst of cries from the crowd:  “That is enough!  We don’t want to hear any more preaching.  If there is rain on the 11th, then your God is God!”

Watchman Nee had been elsewhere in the village when this confrontation took place.  Upon being informed about it, he saw that the situation was serious and called the group to prayer.  On the morning of the 11th, there was not a cloud in the sky, but during grace for breakfast, sprinkles began to fall and these were followed by heavy rain.  Worshipers of the idol Ta-wang were so upset that they placed it in a sedan chair and carried it outdoors, hoping this would stop the rain.  Then the rain increased!  After only a short distance, the carriers of the idol stumbled and fell, dropping the idol and fracturing its jaw and left arm.

A number of young people turned to Christ as a result of the rain coming in answer to prayer, but the elders of the village made divination and said that the wrong day had been chosen.  The proper day of the procession, they said, should have been the 14th.  When Nee and his friends heard this, they again went to prayer, asking for rain on the 14th and for clear days for preaching until then.  That afternoon the sky cleared, and on the good days that followed, there were thirty converts.  On the crucial last day, Nee says:  “The 14th broke, another perfect day, and we had good meetings.  As the evening approached we met again at the appointed hour.  We quietly brought the matter to the Lord’s remembrance.  Not a minute late, His answer came with torrential rain and floods as before.”

The power of the idol over the islanders was broken; the enemy was defeated.  Believing prayer had brought a great victory.  Conversations followed.  And the impact upon the servants of God who had witnessed His power would continue to enrich their Christian service from that time on.  (Sermon Illustrations, PRAYER, answered)

As in the case of Elijah’s prayer, God once again brought rain in answer to prayer. God demonstrated that He was truly God, and there are no other “gods” like Him.

SCRIPTURE READING;  Now Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of the roar of a heavy shower.”  So Ahab went up to eat and drink.  But Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he crouched down on the earth, and put his face between his knees (as he prayed).  And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.”  So he went up and said, “There is nothing.”  And he said “go back” seven times.  And it came about that at the seventh time, that he said, “Behold, a cloud as small as a man’s hand is coming up from the sea.”  And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, so that the heavy shower does not stop you.’ ”  So it came about in a short while, that the sky grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy shower.  (I Kings 17:41-45)

THE GOD OF ELIJAH IS OUR GOD!  HE STILL LIVES AND ANSWERS PRAYER!

THE POWER OF PRAYER – James 5:16b-18

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Have you ever made a statement and wanted a good example to back up your words?  You wanted an example that came from a person whom all your readers highly respected; and an example that could not be refuted.  James makes this statement in verse 16:  “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” (NASB)

“That’s quite a statement!”, his readers and listeners must have been thinking, “You had better be ready to back that up!”  Let’s examine that statement carefully first, and then we’ll see how he backs up his words.

I.  THE STATEMENT (verse 16b)

The word translated “prayer” is the Greek word deesis.  It usually refers to specific prayer of petition for specific needs, and this is the only time that James uses this word.  The “righteous man” is the person who is committed to God and desires to do His will.  This kind of petition has power because it is unwavering, trusting that God is more than equal to the task and will be honored and glorified through it.  The word “effective” literally means “energized”.  The context before this statement of James relates to praying for one another, but the example that follows seems to be referring to prayer for God to show Himself strong in situations where His existence and His power are being challenged by those who don’t believe in Him and make a mockery of Him.  So the statement may apply to both situations.

The “Message” (The Bible in Contemporary Language), says it this way:  “The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.”

II.  THE EXAMPLE (verses 17-18)

His readers and listeners are wondering who James is going to use as an example to back up his statement:  “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”. (NIV)  He chooses the prophet Elijah, and immediately his statement gains credibility in the minds of his audience.  Elijah is the Old Testament prophet of God who is mentioned in the New Testament more times than any other Old Testament prophet.  He and Moses were beside Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.

The Hebrew people considered Elijah to be one of their greatest “super-heroes”.  He was remembered as one who wore unusual clothing and did powerful deeds.   His fearless words and awesome feats brought fear to the hearts of kings and Baal -worshippers.  Even the Hebrew Christians addressed in this letter had a tendency to put their focus on the man, Elijah, rather than on the God who inspired him and empowered him.  That’s why James begins verse 17 with the following words:  “Elijah was a man with a like nature as ours” (NASB).  He was a human being also, with all the weaknesses and struggles that we possess, and faced with the same kinds of temptations.  So why aren’t we all like him?  I think that British evangelist Leonard Ravenhill captured the difference when he said, “Elijah was a man of like passions as we are, but alas, we are not men of like prayer as he was!”  Leonard is the author of the book, “Why Revival Tarries”, and is also quoted as saying, “A man who is intimate with God is not intimidated by man”, and “No man is greater than his prayer life.”

It’s interesting that I Kings 17 does not say that Elijah prayed before he made the following statement to King Ahab:  “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years (three and a half years), except by my word.”  The Spirit of God must have given James that insight.  However, after God gave Elijah that prophesy, which could mean instant death for him, there must have been a prayer in his heart as the prophesy was spoken by his lips!  Wouldn’t you agree?  And he said those words with conviction.  There was no doubt in his mind that God would fulfill His promise.

But the Scriptures also give us a record of Elijah’s “humanness”.  When Jezebel said that she was going to take his life,”   Elijah “was afraid and arose and ran for his life . . . and sat down under a juniper tree”  (I Kings 19:3).  However, verse 4 tells us that he prays to God and repents of his actions.  He asks the Lord that he might die, and says, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.”  God lovingly responds by giving him rest, food, and strength for the journey and ministry ahead.

If you examine Elijah’s public prayers during his ministry, you will find those prayers to be short and to the point, giving glory to God.  He wasn’t trying to impress God or others by his prayers.

James was also a man of prayer, as was Elijah.  Tradition tells that he was nicknamed “camel knees” because of the callouses on his knees from spending many hours on his knees in prayer.  Did you know that the epistle of James, for its size, has more to say about prayer than any other book?  At least 14 verses are devoted to prayer or principles of prayer.  That’s about 15% of the book!

Let’s continue to take a good look at our God as He describes Himself in His Word. May our prayers reflect His sufficiency and our total dependence on Him.

 

 

 

 

 

QUESTIONS TO PRAY ABOUT – James 5:13-16a

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James begins this verse by asking, “Is any one of you in trouble?”  Do you think that James is expecting a “no” answer?  Is he using the laws of probability here? Let’s say that James expects at least 5000 people to read or hear this letter. Therefore there must be at least one person who has this “trouble”.  I don’t think so.  James is expecting a positive response.  If that’s true, then why is he asking the question?  Why doesn’t he just tell them to pray when they are troubled? James is asking a “rhetorical question” here, and he uses three of them in verses 13 and 14.

Sometimes a rhetorical question is used to give the recipient a moment to pause and think about it before receiving the answer.  It can be used as a teaching tool.   Since the reader or listener knows that the answer is “yes”, he may be more likely to listen and pay attention to what is said next.  The Lord Jesus used rhetorical questions.  In Mark 8 He used them repeatedly for the purpose of encouragement and application.

I.  ARE YOU TROUBLED? (verse 13a)

The Greek word translated “troubled” in the NIV, is the word kakopathei.  It can refer to suffering evil or hardship of any kind.  These Hebrew Christians and their families have been scattered all over Asia Minor because of the persecution, so they are struggling to find jobs, learn a new language and adjust to a different culture.  That can be very frustrating!  James knew that they needed some encouragement and some practical steps to take in order to ease their troubled minds.

Let me translate the Greek word into terms and expressions that we can all identify with.  “Are you feeling down?”  “Are you worried or distressed?”  “Are you having a bad day?”  “Are things just not going your way today?  “Do you feel like you got up on the wrong side of the bed?”  James’ response to his question is:  PRAY.  He doesn’t mean “say a prayer”.  He is encouraging them to go into the presence of God, praise and worship Him, get right with Him, give thanks to Him, and then bring their requests to Him.  By the time they get to their petition, they might find that they don’t have any urgent requests anymore.  They now feel refreshed and have a new perspective on their day.  The focus of attention has moved from their problems to their all-sufficient God.

II.  ARE YOU CHEERFUL?  (verse 13b)

The Greek word translated “cheerful” here means feeling good inside; a joyful spirit that is not dependent upon circumstances.  James says, “when you’re cheerful, sing about it, and don’t sing just any song, sing a psalm – a song of praise to God!”  Let the joy that’s inside come out – don’t keep it to yourself!   The apostle Paul and Silas were singing praises to God at midnight while they were in the Philippian jail (Acts 16:25)!

Many of you have probably enjoyed listening to a large choir as they sang the great hymns of the faith.  But if you’ve ever sung in a choir yourself, you know that singing your heart out with the other choir members after all the hours of practice is an even greater experience of joy and praise to God.  And don’t forget the enjoyment that God is experiencing as He listens to your voices and the expressions of praise from your hearts.  It is a mutually gratifying experience!

Singing played a major role in the history of the people of Israel.  There are several times in the Old Testament when the whole nation of Israel sang together to the Lord.  These occasions probably came to the mind of James as he was writing these words, and also to the minds of his readers and listeners.  The first time was in Exodus 15, when Moses and the children of Israel passed through the Red Sea on dry ground, and the entire Egyptian army drowned when the waters returned to their place.  The first few words of that song are:  “I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously!  The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea” (NKJV). Can you imagine what that must have sounded like?  Thousands of people singing it as loud as they could, their faces beaming with joy!  If you read the entire song, you will see that it was more than just a song.  It was a cheer to God, a vocal applause, shouting out to Him in song in response to the great things He has done. When was the last time you gave God a “round of applause” for the things He has done in your life and in the lives of others?  Don’t you think He deserves that kind of a response from our mouths?

When we’re happy we can be a source of cheer and encouragement to others also.  If you’ve been to a football, basketball, or soccer game, and the cheerleaders have you and the rest of the crowd cheering, your team usually plays harder and better.  Your cheers are urging them on and building their confidence. Statistics generally show that more games are won when the team is on its own “home field”, or has the “home court advantage.”

Once, when a great fire broke out at midnight and people thought that all the occupants of the building had been evacuated, way up on the fifth floor a little child was seen crying for help.  Up went a ladder, and soon a fireman was seen ascending to the spot.  As he neared the second story the flames burst in fury from the windows, and the multitude almost despaired of the rescue of the child.  The brave man faltered, and a comrade at the bottom cried out, “Cheer him!”  Cheer upon cheer arose from the crowd.  Up the ladder he went and saved the child, because they cheered him.  When we’re happy, let’s be “cheerleaders” to those around us.

There are several other occasions where the whole nation of Israel sang praises to God.  For example, there is I Chronicles 15 (the return of the Ark of God), and II Chronicles 5 (dedication of the temple).  In addition to these occasions, James remembers the final Passover meal that he and the other disciples celebrated with the Lord Jesus.  Since Jesus presided over the meal, after they had eaten the lamb and unleavened bread, it was Jesus who also led them in the customary singing of a hymn.  Jesus sang a hymn of praise and deliverance from the land of Egypt, knowing that the next day He was going to be that Lamb Who would be sacrificed to pay for the sins of the world.  Yet He was able to sing for joy!  I hope and pray that there is a song in your heart, and on your lips today!

III.  ARE YOU WITHOUT STRENGTH?  (verses 14-16)

Another time for specific prayer is when someone within the congregation is sick. I believe this is the only place in the New Testament where praying and anointing of the sick are mentioned in conjunction with each other.  Therefore we must be very careful to understand the context of James’ words, and especially to understand the meaning of the Greek words that are used in these verses. This is not a passage of Scripture that can be clearly understood by just reading it in several translations.  Rather, I think that this is a passage of Scripture that can be easily misunderstood and misapplied if it isn’t thoroughly examined.  Get ready for some hard work and attention to details!

After examining the context of verses 14 to 16, and in the process of studying the first significant Greek word in verse 14, I am getting an altogether different understanding of what is happening in these three verses.  Please join me in laying aside previous ideas and conclusions for a while, and let’s take a fresh look at this text and its applications to us today.

Here are some questions I’ve been asking myself as I look at the context.  James has been addressing emotional, social, and spiritual issues in this letter.  Why would he suddenly switch to physical healing in an unclear manner and then back away from it as suddenly as he brought it up?  What does anointing with oil, confession of sin, and forgiveness have to do with sickness?  What kind of “healing” is being spoken about here?

The first Greek word I am now studying is the word asthenei.  It is the word I have highlighted in the NASB translation of the first sentence in James 5:14:  “Is anyone among you sick?  It literally means, “without strength”.  In Mark 6:13 it is associated with the casting out of demons. The apostle Paul used this Greek word when referring to one’s conscience being weak (Romans 6:19; I Cor. 8:7), and the weakness of one’s flesh when it comes to giving into temptation and sin (Romans 8:3).

Notice also in verse 14, it says, “is any one among you sick, let him call for the elders . . . “.  Whatever this “sickness”  or “lack of strength” is, it isn’t incapacitating and it doesn’t appear to be physically contagious.  Also, since he is the one calling upon the elders, his specific purpose for doing so is so that they might pray for him, anointing him with oil as they pray.    This person has come to the point where he wants to make it known that he is ready and willing to do this, and wants the elders of the church to be in charge of it.  If it seems that I am belaboring the point, there is a reason for it.

I like the way the Greek Interlinear New Testament literally translates what the elders are doing:  “let them pray over him, having anointed with oil . . . “.  The  word “anointed” here means “to rub”.  It is a different word from the one used to anoint people or vessels for service to God.  Here is my interpretation based on the context of what James dealt with before it, and what proceeds afterward. As we all may know from experience, many of the issues that James has been addressing (e.g. anger, jealousy, bitterness, guilt, and anxiety) can have overpowering effects on us mentally, emotionally, spiritually, socially, and also physically.  They can draw us inward and control our personalities much like the effects of a harmful addictive drug.  Therefore I personally wonder if the elders were giving this man something similar to massage therapy and aroma therapy to soothe and comfort him in his anguish.   At the same time they were praying over him, so that he might get some things that have been bothering him “off his chest” so to speak.  The penetrating oil, the soothing aroma, the faces of these elders above him, and the sound of their prayers are preparing him to release the troubles and sins that have been eating away at his soul.  It is done in the name of the Lord, because God deserves the glory and praise for what only He can do.

In verse 15, James says, “and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick” (NASB).  The word translated “prayer” is a different Greek word for prayer.  It is the Greek word euche, which means “intense prayer“.  It is intense because it is offered in faith – grounded in the assurance of God’s will in this matter, and trusting in His enabling.  It may also be “intense” because these elders are praying together for a common purpose.  The following devotional article in Our Daily Bread is a true example of intense faith and intense prayer.

Louis Banks relates a story of a veteran missionary who returned to China after a long absence.  On the day of his return, he was met by a former convert and six other Chinese nationals.  These six, as the missionary later learned, had received Christ while living in the dark shadows of opium addiction.  Amazed by their good health, the missionary asked his former convert what remedy he had used in their deliverance.  The man answered by pointing to his knees.  He had prayed for them, and when they came to him for help he encouraged them to pray for themselves.  When they came back saying that it did them no good, the man of faith sent them back to their knees.  He said he did this again and again until they stood before him clean, sound in body and mind.  Through prayer, their cruel chains had been broken, and they had new songs of joy and praise on their lips.

Dr. M.R. DeHaan II, ends his devotional with these words:  “This doesn’t imply that we shouldn’t use other means of help.  But it says that whatever help we seek, nothing must replace the role of prayer.”

As James says in verse 15, “the prayer of faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.”  (NASB)  God has given each of us a body, soul, and spirit, and when one of these aspects of our being is weak and hurting, it affects the other two.  From this verse and verse 16, it appears that the source of the weakness is spiritual, but it has weakened the body and emotions as well.  When God “raises him up”, He is restoring vitality to every part of his being.

So James exhorts them in verse 16 to “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (NIV).  He is emphasizing that the sins they have been committing against each other are the source of their problems, and gives the remedy.  As Jews, his readers would tend to associate suffering with sin, and in this case they are correct.  The remedy is not only to confess their sins to God, but also to confess their sins to those whom they have wronged, praying for each other as well.  Only then can our relationships be healed.  As Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount, “. , , first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matthew 5:24).

Confession isn’t easy, but it’s the right thing to do in God’s sight.  God will always give us the strength to do what is right if we ask it of Him.  Is there someone you should talk to today, confessing your sin and asking for forgiveness?  The first stanza of the hymn entitled “The Evening Prayer” contains these words:

If I have wounded any soul today,

If I have caused one foot to go astray,

If I have walked in my own willful way,

Dear Lord, forgive

by Maude Battersby

 

May you experience the joy of our Lord’s presence and closeness today, and may He shine out on your countenances as He did on the face of Moses!  BE SHINY!  (Matthew 5:16 – a child’s paraphrase).

 

 

 

 

MAKING OATHS – James 5:12

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INTRODUCTION:

There are so many ways of making an oath.  You’ve probably heard many of these, and maybe you’ve used a few yourselves.  Oaths that use words such as “I swear”, “I swear to God”,  “I swear on a stack of Bibles”, “as God is my witness”, “may God strike me dead if I don’t”, and the list goes on and on.  As a kid, an oath that I heard quite often was “I swear to God, hope to die, stick a thousand needles in my eye”.  That’s a pretty gross oath!  In the Boy Scouts a favorite oath that was used after making a promise was “scout’s honor”. Is there a particular formula that you have used in order to let people know that you were telling the truth?  Is it necessary to go through that rigmarole so that our word will be trusted?

Here in verse 12, James seems to come from out of the blue to talk about this subject of swearing and oaths.  As we dig into this verse I think we are going to find some connections with what has been said earlier in this letter.  This is a verse of Scripture that is easy to misunderstand and misinterpret if we don’t look at it from the context of the Old Testament Scriptures, the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the historical setting and culture into which these Hebrew Christians had been immersed since childhood.

I.  THE REPROOF (verse 12a)

The first three words are :  “But above all”.   James is changing topics and letting his audience know that this new topic is of the utmost importance.  He uses a familiar address to them, calling them “my brothers” or “my brethren”.  By doing so, he is including himself in the words he is about to say to them.  His command is “do not swear”.  James is not talking about using foul or dirty language.  The original meaning of the Greek word was “to grasp tightly (holy objects)”.  In many places in the Classical Greek writings ( Homer, Xenophon, Aristotle, and others), this Greek word, omnyo, referred to grasping something and raising one’s hand as a way of taking an oath publicly.  However, in this case James is not speaking of the taking of oaths, as in a court situation, but of the making of oaths by people in order to convince others that they are telling the truth, swearing “either by heaven, or by earth, or with any other oath”.  James remembers the words of the Lord Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount, because his words are in such close agreement with those of Jesus. It’s as if the Spirit of God brought these words of Jesus to mind, so he wrote them down.  Below is a comparison of parts of the two passages, so that you can see how close in wording they are.

“But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet , , , but let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’, or ‘No, no’; and everything beyond these is of evil.”  Matthew 5:34-37

“. . . do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but let your yes be yes, and your no, no; so that you may not fall under judgment.”  James 5:12

There are many Old Testament scriptures related to the taking of vows, but there is one passage in the book of Numbers that must have come to the minds of both audiences immediately:  Numbers chapter 30, the “law of vows”.  The entire chapter is devoted to vows!

The Jews during the time of Christ and James had turned oath-making into an “art form”.  People made lots of oaths in those days.  It appeared to be a form of bragging, drawing attention to themselves by the frequent and elaborate oaths they made.  They figured that if they didn’t put God’s name into their oath, they wouldn’t be bound by that oath, because God wasn’t being called upon to bear witness to it. So they came up with elaborate ways to make their oaths sound very binding to others, when, in their own estimation, the oaths weren’t binding at all!  This was one of many reasons why Jesus called them “hypocrites” (ones who wore a mask to hide the real identities).

II.  THE CORRECTION (verse 12b)

James corrects their misuse of oaths by saying, “let your yes be yes, and your no, no.”  Our honesty and integrity should be such that we don’t need to say anything more.  That’s all it should take for people to believe you.  Lewis Carroll used the following words in his book, “Alice in Wonderland”:  “Say what you mean, and mean what you say.”

Theodor Seuss Geisel was an American writer and illustrator, best known for authoring children’s books under the pen name Dr. Seuss.  You may have read some of his books yourself.  In 1940 he wrote a book entitled, “Horton Hatches the Egg”.  In this book, a bird named Mayzie (“lazy Mayzie”) asks Horton the elephant to sit on her egg for her, saying that she will be right back.  But she never returns! Horton  made a promise, and he says to himself, “I meant what I said and I said what I meant.  An elephant’s faithful, one-hundred percent.”  In the pouring Spring rain, and in the freezing cold winter, Horton continues to sit on that egg and say those words.  In spite of the laughter and jeering of the other animals, Horton is undaunted.  In the face of death, and a trip over the mountain and across the sea, for fifty-one weeks, Horton continues to sit and say, “I meant what I said and I said what I meant.  An elephant’s faithful, one-hundred percent.”  Would that we could each make such a statement about ourselves, mean it, and verify it by our actions!

By the way, the book does have a happy ending.  You can find several renderings of “Horton Hatches the Egg”, along with pictures, on You-Tube.

III.  THE REASON (verse 12c)

James now ends this warning by giving the reason why personal oath-making is a waste of time in God’s sight.  He says, “so that you may not fall under judgment”. James said the same thing in verse 9:  “Behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.”  God is all-knowing and all-present (Psalm 139; Jeremiah 23:24).  Therefore, any oath we make, we are making in His presence, and He holds us accountable for every oath we make.

How good is your word?  Can people depend on what you say?  Do friends, family members, co-workers, neighbors, classmates believe you and trust you without question?  Dennis DeHaan put those desires into the words of a poem and prayer:

Lord, by Thy Spirit, grant to me

A deep desire for honesty,

So that, when I must give my word,

No one will doubt what he has heard.

A HEAVENLY PERSPECTIVE:

There is Someone whose faithfulness and credibility is unsurpassed.  In Genesis 12:1-3, God made a promise to Abraham, and at the end of verse 3 God said, “And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  In Numbers 23:19 God told Balaam to say these words to Balak:  “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it?  Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”  In Deuteronomy 7:9, God gives these words to Moses:  “Know therefore that the Lord your God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments . . . “

Joshua says the following words in Joshua 23:14, “Now behold, today I am going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the Lord your God spoke concerning you has failed; all of them have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed.”

Can God be trusted to keep His promises?  You know He can!  He’s been proving it over and over again!  He promised to send a Redeemer, His own Son, as a sacrifice for our sins.  Isaiah describes Him in chapter 53.  John the Baptist said of Him, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  When the price had been paid, Jesus cried out on the cross, “Finished!”  The masterpiece of God’s sacrificial love was completed,

God has made you a promise, in case you haven’t claimed it yet.  John 1:12-13 says, “But as many as received Him (Jesus Christ), to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”  Faith is taking God at His Word, and acting upon it.  Are you ready to give Him your life in exchange for His?  If you are not a child of God through faith in the finished work of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, you don’t know what you’re missing!  You can take His Word and my word for it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

\ There is still more work to be done!