A Letter From James, Part 5. Conclusion
A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
In this study we’ll conclude our survey of the the letter from James, half brother of Jesus. The original Apostles named him overseer of the Church in Jerusalem, a position he held until his death in 62AD. James probably wrote his letter around 50 AD or even a little before. The stoning of Stephen in 36 AD had led to the persecution and scattering of the young Church, which was still primarily made up of Jewish converts. This study will focus on chapter 5, the final chapter of his instructions to the scattered Church.
Warning to Rich Oppressors
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you (James 5:1-6).
Without any warning, James turned to unleash this tirade against the wealthy. In a few years the Romans would come, destroying everything in their path. The life style that the rich had come to enjoy, often by oppressing the poor, would be ripped away from them and they would be left with nothing. From the language it’s reasonable to see this as a dual fulfillment prophecy, taking place both in the first century Roman conquest of Israel and in the end times where the Lord will hold the whole world accountable for things like this.
Patience In Suffering
Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned (James 5:7-12).
Just as quickly as he left, James turned back to his primary recipients, the scattered Church. But everything he said to them is also good advice for our time. In many countries, the Christian way of life has never been tolerated and believers there have always lived under the threat of persecution. In the US and some other western countries this has not been the case, and persecution for our faith has been largely unknown. But lately we’ve seen growing signs that those days are rapidly coming to a close. American Christians are seeing increasing instances of persecution among us as our influence on society diminishes and our public voice is stilled. Patience will be the order of the day, and the Lord promised to reward us for it.
He said, “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth” (Rev. 3:10).
The Prayer of Faith
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective
Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops (James 5:13-17).
The Lord’s promise to heal His people first appears in Exodus 15:26 where it became one of the names by which He’s known, “Jehovah Rapha,” the Lord who heals you. This promise continues throughout the Old Testament. The Psalms, Proverbs, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Malachi contain numerous examples. Here are just a couple.
Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases (Psalm 103:2-3).
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:4-5).
But this promise was not just for God’s people in the Old Testament. Jesus healed the sick. When He sent His disciples out to preach the Gospel He told them to heal the sick (Luke 9:1-2). Later, He said whoever has faith in Him will do the things He did (John 14:12). That includes healing the sick. Peter and Paul healed the sick and raised the dead. Paul said that the gift of healing has been distributed throughout the Church for the common good of the body (1 Cor. 12:7).
Those who deny that the gift of healing exists in the Church today do so in the face of substantial evidence to the contrary, and without a single verse to support their position. Having never performed or perhaps even seen a miraculous healing, they’ve applied the reverse of 2 Cor. 5:7 and are living by sight instead of by faith.
Think about this for a moment. God has chosen us, the Church, to be His example of the incomparable riches of His grace in ages yet to come (Ephes. 2:7) bestowing on us every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). When Jesus came He demonstrated these gifts and empowered His disciples to demonstrate them as well. He said anyone who has faith in Him would do the things He did. Would He then suddenly withdraw His gifts from us without telling us He was doing so, leaving us without the remedy for our infirmities that He died to give us?
It is true that not everyone who applies James 5:14-16 is healed. But in those cases the reasons don’t originate with God. He is the God who heals us. He sent His Son to die for us so we could be healed. Jesus never said the timing wasn’t right, or that it wasn’t God’s will for a person to be healed.
The only recorded time when Jesus was given the choice to heal someone or not is in Matt. 8:2-3.
A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.
Numbers 23:19 tells us God is not a man that he would lie, or the son of a man that he would change his mind. “Has He ever spoken and not done it, or promised and not fulfilled it?” Moses asked. And Hebrews 13:8 says Jesus is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. We can’t blame God.
James reminded us that Elijah was just a human, like we are, and yet when he prayed that the rain would cease not a drop of water fell on Israel for 3 ½ years. Then he prayed for it to resume and it did. His point was if the prayers of an ordinary man of faith could keep the rain from falling on an entire nation surely they can heal us from our illnesses.
The problems with our not being healed have to originate on Earth, not in Heaven. Something, or someone, is impeding our prayers. Remember, the whole world is under the control of the evil one (1 John 5:19). A criminal knows what he does is against the law, but he does it anyway thinking he won’t get caught. It’s up to the police to stop him. In the same way, what Satan and his minions do to us is against the law, but they do it anyway. It’s up to us to stop them, and the Bible shows us how. But we can’t stop them if we’re somehow allowing them to do it or blaming God for the lack of results instead.
My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins (James 5:19-20).
Only someone who isn’t really saved can wander from the truth into the face of death. Paul taught that God takes ownership of all believers and puts His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come (2 Cor. 1:21-22). Jesus promised never to lose any of those the Father has given Him (John 6:39). He said no one can snatch any of us out of either His or His Father’s hands (John 10:27-30).
Therefore someone who wanders from the truth and needs to be saved from death didn’t really believe the truth in the first place. Turning such a person back requires helping them become truly saved. Only the blood of Jesus can save them from death and cover a multitude of sins.
Of late, I’ve come across the opinion that James was writing to Jews who were still under the Law and therefore is not meant for the Church. Those who advocate this put forth several reasons, beginning with the way he addressed the letter, “To the 12 tribes scattered among the nations.” But when James wrote his letter the Church still consisted predominately of converted Jews. And if he wrote it in 50 AD or before, the Council of Jerusalem which opened the doors of the Church to the Gentiles hadn’t taken place yet.
They say James advocated a “faith plus works” form of salvation, which they interpret as keeping the Law. But what he really said was that true faith will manifest itself in the performance of acts of kindness toward others. James never once advocated keeping the Law as a requirement for salvation.
They say he never mentioned accepting the shed blood of Jesus as payment for our sins as the way to salvation. But he was writing to people who were already saved, explaining how to live a Christian life. His focus was not on salvation but on sanctification.
There are even some who put James among the “Judaizers” who insisted that Gentiles wishing to follow Jesus had to be circumcised and put themselves under the Law. But they overlook the fact that it was James who, only a few years after he wrote this letter, ruled against the Judaizers in opening the door to the Gentiles without any such requirements (Acts 15:19-20).
I undertook this study to dispute these claims as being without merit. In doing so I’m siding with the generations of Christians who right from the earliest days of the Church saw the Letter from James as valuable instruction to the entire Church, worthy of inclusion in the New Testament.