In this final chapter I would like to review what we have covered in this book so far and then examine the last verses where James himself leaves his readers with some things that they need to remember after finishing his letter.
First, the review. The Jews to whom James was writing were discouraged because of the alienation they were suffering as a result of their surroundings. As a culture they were isolated because of Jewish custom and practice which made them very different than the Gentile community that surrounded them. As Christians they were alienated because their moral code and spiritual aspirations were so much higher and nobler than the pagans with whom they lived. Many of them began to realize that Christianity was not just some sort of doctrinal adjustment or an appendage to the Jewish tradition, it represented a radical change of attitude and activity in one's life; a change that was absolutely necessary if they were to survive their persecution and isolation.
If we were to summarize this book, we could say that James explains the six ways that Christians are different or have changed in order to reflect the sincerity of their faith and thus survive in a world of disbelief. Because you see, if there is no change, there is no survival.
Six Ways Christians are Different
- Christians rejoice when there are problems, knowing that perseverance through trials brings spiritual growth (James 1:1-11). People in the world may resign themselves and become angry or depressed at adversity, but Christians respond to trials with joy, knowing that when trouble is near, so is the Lord.
- Christians respond to temptation by taking action against sin, not succumbing to sin (James 1:12-18; James 4:1-10). Godly people expect temptation and deal with it through prayer, self-control and knowledge of God's word, not by rationalizing unrighteous behavior.
- Christians not only hear the Word, they do what the Word teaches them to do (James 1:19-27; James 2:14-26). Where much of the New Testament focuses on explaining what Christians believe, James zeros in on what Christians ought to do in order to demonstrate their beliefs. According to James, the sincerity of your faith is seen in your walk, not just your talk.
- Christians are not prejudice (James 2:1-13; James 4:11-12). Unlike the world around them, disciples of Jesus are exclusive in matters of faith but inclusive in matters of love. In other words, we believe that only Christians are saved, but Christians themselves ought to love everyone regardless of their social, cultural or religious backgrounds.
- Christians have control over their tongues (James 3:1-18). If faith is evidenced by works, then no works bear greater testimony to faith than those generated by our speech. James says that the control of the tongue is the key to controlling the whole person: mind, body and soul. More churches are destroyed by slander than by false doctrine.
- Christians consider God first in all of their affairs, especially financial affairs (James 4:13-5:6). Nothing is dearer to us than our pocketbooks, therefore to honor God with our pocketbooks is to honor Him indeed.
James finishes his letter with a couple of postscripts in order to remind these brethren what they needed to do in order to finish the Christian race. They needed to change in order to stay in the race and needed the following in order to finish it.
Four PSs From James
1. Patience - 5:7-11
7Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. 8You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.
The Lord is coming and when He does, He will reward those who have done good and judge those who have done evil. The farmer does not worry about the harvest, he knows that there is a period of time between planting and reaping and is ready to wait. In the same way, Christians should not be discouraged when they notice that their growth is not as fast as they would like, and others who are doing wrong seem to be escaping punishment or, as believers, they are suffering and no end seems in sight. The Lord is near (He hears, sees and will help). This is not a reference to the end of time (the Lord is near) but rather a practical encouragement that God is present and aware of our difficulties.
9Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. 10As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.
Do not complain about each other (God is watching what you do). If you are complaining about a brother, stop. Let God be the judge, your job is to love, not to judge (we judge sin, not people). Job suffered greatly and eventually God blessed him with more than he had before his trials (Job 42:10; 12). He did not receive this because he was good, he was blessed because he was patient.
2. Purity of Heart - 5:12
12But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.
This is the same exhortation as the one given by Jesus in Matthew 5:37. Sincerity in what you say (your heart matches your mouth). Some say yes to Jesus with their mouths but say no with their actions. Many are yes/no Christians: yes to Christ when it suits them, no to Christ when He interferes with their comfort, routine, traditions, money, pleasures, friends or habits.
14"To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: 15'I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.
- Revelation 3:14-16
Yes/no Christians are not Christians. Real Christians are yes with their lips as well as their actions. This is an exhortation to say what you mean and do what you say.
3. Prayer - 5:13-18
13Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. 14Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;
In the world, when people are happy they celebrate, when sad they cry and sometimes become depressed because they can't celebrate. In Christ, Christians react differently. When they are happy they praise God in song and prayer, when sad they pray to God for comfort and wisdom, when sick they pray to God for strength and restoration. They do this because they know that prayer has power.
15and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. 16Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. 17Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.
God answers prayer in healing (every healing is God's work, whether man recognizes it or not). God answers prayer in forgiving sin. Christians who sin ask for forgiveness in prayer (I John 1:7-9). Non-Christians ask through baptism (I Peter 3:21). God answers prayer for all of our physical needs (Elijah asked for rain).
The Christian life is one of prayer when happy, when sad, when sick, when in need. Paul says, "Pray always" (I Thessalonians 5:16-18).
4. Pause for Serious Reflection - 5:19-20
19My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back,
It is possible to be saved, be in Christ and then be lost again (Hebrews 6:4-8). How does this happen? We lose our way and then refuse to change once we have fallen. We continue to add one sin to another instead of stopping, acknowledging that we are in error, turning around and finding our way back to where we lost our way in the first place.
A good way to tell how far away from God you are is to examine how near you are to His word (obedience to/knowledge of); to His will (condition of conscience); to His people (church involvement).
20let 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.
It is possible to be lost so we should be on guard to help each other find our way back. If you see your brother letting go, help him gently to return. If you neglect to do so who will go and get you when/if you begin to fall? Do not be angry or defensive. Do not go away mad at the preacher, or brother, or the church if you are corrected in some error or fault. You will make mistakes so expect that someday, somehow, someone will have to correct you. Be happy and humble yourself realizing that your soul is being saved from death and that you are being preserved from going further into sin and darkness.
James closes his letter with four PSs that are applicable to our situation today as well.
- Persevere: The Lord is near you. Whatever the hardship, load or discouragement, do not give up following Him and obeying Him. The crown is for the one who finishes faithfully. It does not matter how fast you run, it's if you finish or not that is important.
- Pure in heart: Be firm in your commitment. Be a "yes" Christian, even if it costs you something. After all, it cost Jesus His life in order for you to be a Christian in the first place. Why do you complain if being His disciple costs you something?
- Pray: For everything, always. If Elijah asked for it to stop raining and God answered his prayer, can He not find you work, happiness, a solution to your problem? Pray with faith, brethren.
- Pause: Be careful, you could lose your way. It has happened to others. If you do, thank God for the person who has the love and courage to correct you and bring you back again.
I add a fifth PS: Put this teaching into action. Don't just hear it and understand the ideas contained in the pages of this book. They will only profit you if you do them.
21"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' 23And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'
- Matthew 7:21-23