Gems From James - Chapter 5

Earth or Heaven?

Picture the rich. With their wealth they can purchase the influence of the media to pursue their economic and political agendas. Men of ambition arrange themselves in lines to genuflect before men of substance; together they weave their plans for the subordination of lesser humans. Whole families of little brown men work in their mines, never seeing the light of day, destined to perish in darkness so that the rich can have their silver, gold, or precious stones. Whole nations are reduced to serfdom, bowing their backs in the intense labor of working the fields, sharecroppers at best while the rich skim the cream of their toil off the top. Unaware that earthly life is “a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away,” the rich and famous have their short moment in the sun, the tinsel of these glitterati flashing for a flicker, then gone. Choosing earth, they have ignored heaven; they have gotten their earthly gain, but will pay an awful eternal price.

The passing pleasures of sin and the riches of an earthly Egypt have their appeal. For those who can never get past the power of tangible existence, those things have their life-directing allure. But for the saint of God, called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light, these have no pulsating glimmer or attractive glow; they are seen for what they are, that which rusts, rots, or becomes moth-eaten. The Christian, then, is able to focus his attention on what is eternal, following the footsteps of Christ to the crown of glory yet unseen.

 

 

Calling the Witnesses

God is able to call witnesses. “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today,” spoke the Almighty to Israel, as they prepared to cross the Jordan, “that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants” (Deuteronomy 30:19). Quite a Judge, who can subpoena heaven and earth, and force them to testify!

The reason for the testimony is so that God can establish the reasonableness of His purpose, to give credibility to what He wants man to believe. “The works which the Father has given Me to accomplish,” stated Jesus, “the very works that I do, bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me” (John 5:36). Those miracles of Christ were necessary to establish that He was the Son of God. The testimony of the apostles likewise is a key ingredient in proving that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. “This Jesus God raised up again,” affirmed Peter, “to which we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:32). The Lord, the righteous Judge, then has witnesses which He will call on the Day of Judgment.

“In these last days” the rich of the earth had best cease to fix their attentions on their pursuits of the flesh. Those who live daily in splendor would do well to repent and turn to the Lord, to cease their oppression of the poor, and to use their accumulated treasures to spread the gospel. The Almighty has His witnesses to call, and will call them to testify against those who have not arranged to have Jesus as their Advocate.

 

 

In the Last Days

“For as in those days which were before the Flood,” the Lord Jesus informed us, “they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark” (Matthew 24:38). But God entered into judgment with them, and the world of that day was destroyed by water. As the descendants of Noah began their decline, God intervened with the scattering at Babel and the selection of Abraham. Thus 2500 years or so of history occurred in earth before the age of Moses was introduced. It then required 1500 years of time before the stage was set for Jesus to appear on earth and inaugurate the final stage of earth’s existence. “But when the fullness of the time came,” annotated Paul, “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law” (Galatians 4:4). It required the death of Jesus as testator and His ascension as mediator or executor of the covenant to bring about what the Bible calls the last days. “In these last days,” asseverated Hebrews’ author, God “has spoken to us in His Son” (Hebrews 1:2). This, then, is the most important of periods in earth’s history, the epoch in which the complete revelation of God has been given to man. Saints of the new covenant therefore are described by the apostle Paul as those “upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (I Corinthians 10:11).

Those who look for improvement in the human race in general in “the last days” are going to be disappointed. “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come,” was Paul’s exhortation to Timothy. “For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power” (II Timothy 3:1-5). The saint needs to recognize that is how it is “in the last days,” and not get discouraged about it, but rather get excited about the prospects of running a salvage operation on the mass of humanity. Lights shine out most clearly in a dark place!

 

 

Be Patient!

The Lord Jesus is coming! Many have made their predictions over the years, whether it was 1844 or 1917, or whether the 1980’s were the “countdown to Armageddon,” but they have all been wrong. That they have all been wrong, however, does not negate the fact that Jesus is indeed coming, and that by His standards His coming is soon.

In the meantime, the saint has to be found faithful. “Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes,” were Jesus’ words (Matthew 24:46). But if the Master comes and finds the “slave” unfaithful, He will “cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; weeping shall be there and the gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:51). The pressures to falter before the finish are strong; otherwise the scripture would not have its warnings. The rich, for example, according to James, oppress the Christian and drag him into court, blaspheming the “fair name” by which he has been called (James 2:6,7). They condemn and put to death the righteous man (James 5:6). But the holy ones of God are to wait for the Lord to act, maintaining their good attitudes in the face of opposition, knowing that He “will bring about justice for them speedily” (Luke 18:8).

One of the big challenges facing the brethren, and obviously a major danger to their eternity, is the oppression which comes from the rich. The same type of people who conspired to put Jesus to death also persecuted the early church. And the same type of people will continue to oppose the gospel, and use every possible means to block the dissemination of God’s word. This can be discouraging, especially when the Christian analyzes the considerable earthly resources the rich have available for engaging in their oppression. But the saint is to strengthen his heart, trust the Lord, and be patient until everything gets straightened out at the second coming!

 

Good Attitudes!

It is comparatively easy to maintain good attitudes when everything is rolling along smoothly. But when challenges mount, then attitudes can falter, tempers can flare, and complaining about everything can break out.

God so composed the body of Christ such that it has to work as a team. “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function,” instructed the apostle Paul, “so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:4,5). In order for good teamwork to occur, there has to be a lot of communication and cooperation between members of the body. Satan, disrupter and destroyer that he is, will do everything in his power to wreck that communication and cooperation, including oppression from the rich. Saints need to be aware of the ultimate source of their challenges, and work diligently to keep their attitudes positive, their focus forward, and their teamwork intact.

“And we know,” the apostle Paul affirmed, “that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). There is no accidental suffering; there are no accidental slanders or slights; all are to some degree designed by God to produce His patience in those who are being conformed to the image of His Son. Jesus did not complain or lash out on His way to the cross, and His brethren are not to complain either.

 

 

The Outcome

This world is pictured as hostile to God. “We know that we are of God,” the apostle John encouraged the brethren, “and the whole world lies under the power of the evil one” (I John 5:19). Christians must really recognize that they have been born again to suffer at the hands of this hostile and rebellious world. “For you have been called for this purpose,” emphasized Peter, “since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example to follow in His steps” (I Peter 2:21). This suffering is necessary as a means of driving sin out of the saint and enabling Him to take on the character of Christ. “He who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,” commented Peter, “so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (I Peter 4:1,2). As the disciple of Christ contemplates these things in general terms, he is conscious that he needs to train his mind to be able to accept the suffering as Christ did, rather than running the route of compromise to avoid the trial. “Consider it all joy, my brethren,” James had opened this epistle, “when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2,3). And he keeps the theme throughout, bringing it to a close in the final chapter.

Endurance is what the book of James is all about. “The testing of your faith produces endurance,” he had stated in his opening (James 1:3). And the endurance of Job and the other prophets are touted as positive examples to the suffering saints. “Blessed,” James had noted in his opening remarks, “is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life” (James 1:12). The trials are necessary to produce the blessed qualities of endurance and perseverance. For this reason the saints excitedly say, “Bring them on!”

 

 

 

Watch Your Language

Teaching about the tongue is one of the major threads of James’ epistle. “If anyone thinks himself to be religious,” he had written in what has been categorized as the first chapter, “and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless” (James 1:26). The unbridled tongue is evidence of self-deception! And it renders a man’s religion worthless! This is strong language, and therefore strong warning to every saint. The next chapter follows with a discussion of someone’s claiming to have faith, but not backing it with action. “Faith,” he said, “if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17). The third chapter engages in an extensive commentary on the tongue, pointing out that the tongue directs the course of the life. The thrust of the commentary is that the Christian’s tongue is to be tamed through the assistance of God, so that the pattern is no longer one of blessing God and then turning around and cursing men. And in the fourth chapter, disciples are warned against speaking against one another, placing themselves as judges of the law. As if that were not enough, the saints are also warned about “boasting in their arrogance,” making big talk about their plans for profit, but not considering the will of God. “All such boasting is evil,” he stated (James 4:16). So it is not surprising to find that the letter closes with imprecations against those who make oaths, pointing the brethren to the positive purposes of the tongue instead.

It is clear that control of the tongue is vital to anyone’s desiring to have the good side of eternity. The scripture is not kidding when it tells each saint to “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (I Timothy 4:7). The injunction on the cessation of using oaths is prefaced by the words “above all!” The serious saint will tame the tongue and let his character do more of the talking. It takes longer, it requires disciplined effort, but it is many times more effective.

 

 

Watchword of the Hour

Sentries on patrol peer into the darkness of the night. Crossing paths, they exchange greetings, and pass along information as to the status of the watch. “All’s quiet,” may be the exchange, or “There’s something out there.” And there may be a codeword used for identification; the expression, “Blue Moon,” for example, could be used as the watchword of the hour, the password by which access to the compound may be granted.

The use of the watchword naturally extended to rallying the troops for battle. It is easy to see the Scots, having laid their plans for a secret strike on the hated English, spreading the watchword “Blue Moon,” a signal that would gather the fighting men at Bannockburn on the second full moon in January. “Blue Moon” would spread from village to village, from hut to hut, and on the 29th of January the men would assemble on the bank above the Firth River plain.

Finally, the meaning would extend to the name of a campaign. “Operation Blue Moon” would apply to the Scots’ plan to drive the English south of Hadrian’s Wall, beginning with the battle on the 29th of January. At the beginning of every battle, the cry of “Blue Moon, Blue Moon, Blue Moon,” would erupt from the lips of the men as William Wallace, his face painted with blue war paint, rode his charger to the forefront and led the warriors into the fray against the English regulars.

Such is the meaning and significance of a watchword. So what is the watchword of the hour for the soldier of the King? What word will rally his soul for the next battle in the campaign against the forces and territory of the dark lord?

What, then, can the saints of God do that none of the other residents of this planet can, and have their exercises felt in the courts of heaven? “Pray and praise!” What watchword of the hour can be passed from disciple to disciple, from hut to hut, in preparation for the coming of the final stage of the great spiritual war? “Pray and praise!” As the Almighty King preps His white charger and rallies His forces for the final stages of the campaign against the gates of Hades, what is the watchword of the hour? “Pray and praise!” And what then is the watchword of every hour? “Pray and praise!”

 

 

James on Sickness

From the time that briars and brambles first grew in the Garden of Eden, disease and death have been a part of human physical existence. With the exception of Enoch, who walked with God before the Deluge, and Elijah, the praying prophet, all who have lived on earth have succumbed to the sting of death. Those who were not martyred, murdered, or mangled died as a result of some sort of disease or organ failure, and colds, influenza, measles, mumps, and general crud wreak their occasional vengeance on all classes of the human race.

Christians themselves are not exempt from sickness. Epaphroditas, associate of Paul, commended by the Lord, “was sick to the point of death” (Philippians 2:27). Paul, whose handkerchiefs brought healing to many in Ephesus as signs of the truthfulness of the gospel, was not able to bring release to his beloved brother in the Lord. “Erastus remained at Corinth,” was one of Paul’s newsy notes to Timothy, “but Trophimus I left sick at Miletus” (II Timothy 4:20). The All Wise apparently allows Christians to become sick just like everyone else, so that those who obey the gospel do so for spiritual reasons rather than the blessing of temporal earthly health.

Physical sickness sometimes can get an individual’s attention when nothing else will. The purpose in this case seems to be to accomplish the restoration of fellowship with God and with the brethren — “and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.”

 

 

Prayer and Healing

Prayer, especially in conjunction with its twin, fasting, is the most powerful force operating on earth. The prayer of the solitary saint, in wisdom offering his petitions to the Ruler of the heavens, can sidetrack the most powerful armada ever assembled. The supplication of a godly woman, wearing the name of Christ and having bold and confident access to the throne of God, can alter the course of history. The petitions of faithful congregations, drawing near to the Personage of the Almighty through the new and living way, can move mountains and open whole nations to the progress of the gospel. Prayer, however, requires a Biblically directed faith in an unseen God, and a willingness to pray irrespective as to whether the results are or ever will be visible.

Prayers offered in faith by scriptural elders and believing brethren exert powerful influences in the court of heaven. Forgiveness of sin, healing of the body, and restoration of the soul are accomplished through these prayers! These are but small things in the sight of our God, but what big blessings and what powerful participation accrue to the saints of the Most High through His allowing their prayers to ascend to His ears.

 

 

Effective Prayer

The faithful follower of Christ knows that his prayers are heard and acted upon by God. By contrast, those who are outside of Christ do not have their prayers heard at the throne of the Almighty, since no one can come to the Father except through Jesus Christ. Cornelius, an example of the God-fearing among the Gentiles, had his prayers ascend as a memorial to God, and one prayer heard that resulted in the coming of Peter with the gospel; but his example shows that only those who are truly in Christ have their prayers heeded.

What a blessing it is for the disciple of Christ to know that His prayers are attended to by the great God and Sovereign of the universe! Some of the blessings James has already commented upon in this epistle are: 1) The saint can pray for wisdom; 2) He can ask and receive; 3) He can pray for strength in suffering; 4) The elders can pray over the one who is sick and in need of restoration; and 5) The brethren can confess their sins to one another and pray for one another, that they may be healed. To which he adds, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16).

Do you want your prayers answered? 1) Get your life in order so that you are defined by God as a righteous Christian. 2) Learn to praise and thank God in a Biblical fashion so that your prayers are effective. 3) Pray the prayers that are going to accomplish much for the kingdom.

 

 

Elijah’s Example

Abraham was a great example of faith. Unlike any who walked with God before him, he held fast his belief in what God had promised even though the promise would not be fulfilled in his lifetime. “A father of many nations,” was what Abraham would be, looking to the Gentiles’ coming into the fellowship of God through Christ. “In hope against hope he believed,” it was written, “in order that he might become a father of many nations” (Romans 4:18). This extraordinary man, guiding his life and making his decisions based on a distant and unseen promise of God, became the “father” of all who believe from the ranks of the uncircumcision as well as those of the circumcision. Once Abraham’s example was in place, it served as a foundation for all who would come after him; if he could believe God, so could each of them.

Indeed, then, the record of the Old Testament greats is there for the foundation of faith of those who could come “in these last times.” By faith they “conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” (Hebrews 11:33,34). These became the “great cloud of witnesses surrounding us,” proving to us that the will of God can be accomplished by us who function under the terms of the more glorious new covenant.

Elijah’s faith stands as an encouraging example for those of the faith of the New Testament. If Elijah could call fire from heaven, saints can call for the judgment of God. If the praying prophet could call for the withholding of rain to bring the nation to repentance, followers of Christ can petition for circumstances to bring the lost to a sense of their need for the Lord. If the seer could pray for the heavens to pour rain, then disciples of Christ can pray for open doors for the gospel. “The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

 

 

Saving a Straying Soul

There are those who believe that once a person is “saved,” he cannot be lost. This is based on the false theology of Calvinism, wherein an individual does not have a choice to be saved in the first place, and therefore cannot be lost by his own choice in the second. The Bible is pretty clear, however, that from the time that Eve first ate of the forbidden fruit through the time that the gospel was preached, that each of mankind has a choice to make. Sin is a choice, and obedience to the gospel is a choice. Thus, on the Day of Pentecost, 30 AD, the audience was exhorted by the apostle Peter, “Be saved from this perverse generation” (Acts 2:40). But the choice to serve God must be made on a continual, day-to-day basis. The apostle Paul therefore exhorted the Christians in Rome: “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Romans 6:16). “Take care, brethren,” was the exhortation of Hebrews’ writer, “lest there be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart in falling away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). It is possible for a Christian to fall away, and by his own choice, spend an eternity in hell.

All who are physically descended from Adam are creatures of free will. They are lost because of their choice, they are saved by choosing to be obedient to the gospel, they can lose that salvation by straying from the truth, and they can be turned back to the way of righteousness again. Bringing people through these steps takes a lot of work and coordinated effort by the edifiers in the body of Christ. But the love of God will overflow as His tender mercy is acknowledged by all who are willing to submit or resubmit to His generous government.

 

Synopsis of the Book of James

Human nature exhibits the same weaknesses and perversities over and over. And because time is involved in a process in which the saints, by the Spirit, are putting to death the deeds of the flesh, these same weaknesses and perversities often manifest themselves inside the church of the living God. The writings of the New Testament, therefore, will occasionally list these characteristics so that they are more easily identifiable. Paul, for example, in writing to the congregation of saints at Corinth, wrote that he was afraid that he might find “strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances” in the church when he arrived (II Corinthians 12:21). James, elder in the congregation at Jerusalem, was well acquainted with all these manifestations, and wrote his epistle to the church in general to assist saints on their road to victory over sin, self, and circumstance.

The brother needs to recall that it is his faith that is being tested. God is not desirous that the saint fail the test; rather, “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us” (James 4:5). Through the trials, through the testing, through the troubles with the tongue, brethren in the churches are reminded, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” The conclusion is pretty clear: “Submit therefore to God.” So serious is the Almighty about the success of the saints that they are given power over the prince of darkness. “Resist the devil,” is the instruction, “and he will flee from you.” But then comes the great positive and comforting promise, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:6-8). Move forward, then, brethren, in the triumphant walk of tested faith!