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James 5 Notes

James 5:7-10 - Commentary

THE CONTEXT:  The verses that immediately precede this passage speak a prophetic warning to those who say, "Today or tomorrow let's go into this city, and spend a year there, trade, and make a profit" (4:13-17)--and to the rich (5:1-6).

  • Those focused on profits will find that their life is a vapor that will soon vanish (4:14). Their boasting is evil (4:16). If they know what is good and fail to do it, that is to them a sin (4:17).
  • The rich will soon "weep and howl for (the) miseries that are coming on (them)" (5:1). They will soon find their riches corrupted and their garments moth-eaten (5:2). Their gold will corrode "and will eat (their) flesh like fire" (5:3). The Lord has heard the cries of the laborers whom the rich have defrauded (5:4).

These warnings to the money-hungry and rich are important background to our text, because the people to whom James speaks on 5:7-10 have surely suffered at the hands of the people that James mentioned in these earlier verses.


7 Be patient therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it, until it receives the early and late rain. 8You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

"Be patient therefore, brothers" (v. 7a). James emphasizes patience by repetition. He mentions it in this verse (twice) and again in verses 8 and 10. Patience is required, because they have suffered at the hands of the money-grubbers and the rich (4:13 - 5:6).

The alternatives to patience would be to take matters in their own hands in an attempt to wreak vengeance on those who have injured them--or to suffer silently and allow their anger to eat away at their innards. Neither of those alternatives hold much promise. The rich have people at their disposal to protect them--and the first victim of anger is likely to be the angry person.

"until the coming (Greek: parousia) of the Lord" (v. 7a). The question is whether James intends the parousia mentioned here to mean (1) the Second Coming of Christ or (2) the coming of God's judgment on those who have oppressed the poor--and the resultant vindication of the poor.

The traditional answer is that parousia equates to Christ's Second Coming. The problem with that is that Christ's coming hasn't occurred yet, so the people to whom James was writing died without receiving the vindication that would come with the Second Coming.

But we need to remember that parousia was an ordinary Greek word that meant "coming" or "arrival" or "presence." Paul uses it in the New Testament to refer to his own presence in Corinth (2 Corinthians 10:10) and Philippi (Philippians 1:26; 2:12). He also uses it to refer to the presence of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (1 Corinthians 16:17)--and Titus (2 Corinthians 7:6)--and to the coming of the lawless one (2 Thessalonians 2:9).

It is easy to lose sight of these ordinary uses of parousia, because the word is so often equated with Christ's Second Coming. Scholars today often write about the Parousia (capitalized), assuming that readers will understand that they are talking about Christ's Second Coming. However, as noted above, the word is used in the New Testament in other ways--as well as to refer to Christ's Second Coming.

Therefore, it is entirely possible that James was telling these Christian brothers and sisters to be patient until God would come to judge the rich and to vindicate faithful people who had been victimized by the rich.

But whether James intends parousia to refer to Christ's Second Coming or the coming of God in judgment, he is assuring these Christians that God is in charge and that the day will come when they will receive vindication.

"Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it" (v. 7c). This is the first of three examples that James uses to illustrate the need for patience. Being a farmer requires great patience. A farmer must prepare the ground and sow the seed--and must then wait for the seed to sprout--and must wait even longer for the fruit to ripen. In some cases, such as when planting an orchard, farmers must wait for several years to get their first harvest. If the farmer were to become impatient and to replant too quickly, he/she might never see any fruit from his/her efforts (see Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43; Luke 13:6-9).

"until it receives the early and late rain" (v. 7d). The word "rain" doesn't appear in the original Greek text, but "the early and late" obviously refer to the early and late rains that came in the Fall (October-November) and Spring (March-April) in Palestine (Deuteronomy 11:14). Farmers would plant crops to take advantage of the early (Fall) rain. The late (Spring) rain would bring substantial growth of the crop.

"You also be patient" (v. 8a). Just as the farmer is patient, so also these Christians must be patient.

"Establish (Greek: sterizo) your hearts" (v. 8b). The word sterizo means to establish or fix or set firmly, and implies a kind of rock-steadiness. James is telling these Christians to strengthen their hearts to endure present circumstances. If we were writing today, we might say, "Stiffen your spine" or "Plant your feet solidly, and don't allow anyone to move you."

"for the coming (parousia) of the Lord is at hand" (v. 8b). See the comments on verse 7a above for the meaning of "the parousia of the Lord."


9 Don't grumble, brothers, against one another, so that you won't be judged. Behold, the judge stands at the door. 10 Take, brothers, for an example of suffering and of patience, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

"Don't grumble, brothers, against one another" (v. 9a). The word "grumble" brings to mind occasions in the Old Testament where the Israelites complained about God and Moses (Exodus 14:10-14; 15:22-25; 16:1-4, 13-15; 17:1-7; Numbers 11:1-15, 31-35; 14:1-45; 16:12-14; 20:2-13; 21:4-9)--but the concern here is Christians complaining about each other.

When everything is working well, we have no reason to blame anyone? But when we are suffering adversity, we look for a cause--and are tempted to blame those nearest us. That is counter-productive, because in adversity we need to be mutually supportive rather than mutually destructive.

"so that you won't be judged" (Greek: krino) (v. 9b). James implies that those who resort to blaming behavior will be subject to judgment. This is consistent with Jesus' comment in the Sermon on the Mount, "Don't judge, so that you won't be judged. For with whatever judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with whatever measure you measure, it will be measured to you" (Matthew 7:1-2).

The word krino can mean either to evaluate or to condemn. Christians are called to evaluate--to assess (Matthew 7:16; 1 John 4:1), but not to condemn. Condemnation is God's prerogative.

James doesn't say whether the judgment to be suffered by those who judge will come from God or other people. He implies that it will come from God, and I believe that to be his intent (see also 2:13; 4:11-12). However, I have found that, when I get into a judging mood, I usually incur disapproval from the people around me--so I believe that people who judge others can expect judgment from both God and other people.

"Behold, the judge stands at the door" (v. 9c). James warns that judgment is nearby--just on the other side of the door--ready to be exercised quickly when we judge others.

But the judge on the other side of the door will also come to vindicate those who have suffered injustice at the hands of the rich--and to condemn the oppressors.

"Take, brothers, for an example of suffering and of patience, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord" (v. 10). The first example James gave of patience was the farmer (v. 7b). Now he offers the prophets as the second example.

People often persecuted prophets, because prophets delivered God's message of judgment, a message that people didn't want to hear (Matthew 5:12).

I am a little surprised to hear James speak of prophets as exemplars of patience. Faithfulness, usually--patience, well, not so much.

  • Jonah was the worst of the bunch. Called to carry a prophetic word to Nineveh, he first ran away, and then obeyed reluctantly he had no other choice. He delivered the required word to the Ninevites--one wonders how enthusiastically. When the Ninevites repented, he became angry and asked God to take his life. Patient! Hardly.
  • Jeremiah complained that he had become a laughing stock, and that everyone mocked him.
  • Elijah was more patient. During a God-given drought, he hid near the brook Cherith where God sustained him with food and water over a period that lasted many months--and perhaps several years--and stood up to the prophets of Baal in a dramatic confrontation. However, faced with threats from Jezebel, he asked God to take his life. He then complained to God about the unfaithfulness of the Israelites--claiming to be the only remaining faithful person.
  • Elisha was better--doing what God called him to do without complaint. Likewise Amos and some other prophets.

"Behold, we call them blessed who endured. You have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the Lord in the outcome, and how the Lord is full of compassion and mercy" (v. 11). This verse isn't included in the lectionary reading, but one wonders why. In it, James gives a third example of patience--Job--the man who lost everything, but refused to curse God.

James 5:13-20 - Commentary

THE CONTEXT:  Chapter 5 started with warnings to the rich, who will soon "weep and howl for (the) miseries that are coming on (them)," because the Lord has heard the cries of the laborers whom the rich have defrauded (5:1-6).  In 5:7-10, James counsels patience until the Lord comes again--patience like that of a farmer waiting for the fruit to appear.  He also warns his readers not to grumble against one another "so that you won't be judged."  He holds up the prophets as an example of suffering and patience.  Now, in 5:13-20, James emphasizes prayer, confession, and the value of redeeming those who have wandered from the truth.


13 Is any among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praises. 14 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the assembly, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord, 15 and the prayer of faith will heal him who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

"Is any among you suffering? Let him pray" (v. 13a).  This verse has a prescription for both ends of human emotion.  If suffering, pray.  If cheerful, sing praises.

The suffering of which this verse speaks could be physical, emotional, or circumstantial (such as being sick or homeless).  The antidote is prayer, not only for God to solve the problem, but also for the strength and grace to bear it.

"Is any cheerful? Let him sing praises" (v. 13b).  Being cheerful depends as much on us as on our circumstances.  Some people are perpetually gloomy, and others always have a smile on their face.  Body chemistry has something to do with that.  Some people are naturally sunny, and others less so.

But habits make a difference.  Anna in The King and I sang:

"Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect.  And whistle a happy tune.  So no one will suspect I'm afraid." Anna discovered that her deception not only fooled others, but it fooled her as well.  She no longer felt afraid.

An old Gospel song gives similar advice:  "When upon life's billows you are tempest tossed, When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, Count your many blessings, name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done."

The Apostle Paul's prescription was:

"Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus toward you."  (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

So pray, whistle a happy tune, count your blessings, rejoice, and sing praises to God.

"Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders (Greek: presbyteros) of the assembly" (Greek: ekklesias--church) (v. 14a).  In Israel, an elder (Hebrew: zaqen) was typically an older man chosen for his maturity and wisdom to serve in a position of authority (as a representative of the people, governor, judge, or adviser).  Scribes and Pharisees were New Testament examples--arbiters of "the tradition of the elders" (Matthew 15:2; 16:21; 26:3, 47, 57: 27:1, 3, 12, 20, 41; 28:2; Acts 4:5, 8, 23; 6:12).

The New Testament church continued that tradition.  Peter referred to himself as "a fellow elder" (sympresbyteros 1 Peter 5:1), as did John (presbyteros 2 John 1:1; 3:1).

Peter exhorted his fellow elders to "shepherd the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion, but voluntarily, not for dishonest gain, but willingly; neither as lording it over those entrusted to you, but making yourselves examples to the flock," promising that "when the chief Shepherd is revealed, you will receive the crown of glory that doesn't fade away"(1 Peter 5:2-4).  He exhorted younger people to "be subject to the elder" (1 Peter 5:5).

Some consider elder (presbyteros) and bishop (Greek: episkope) to be different names for the same office, but Paul treats them separately in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 (episkope) and 5:17-22 (presbyteros) as well as in Titus 1:5-6 (presbyteros) and 1:7-9 (episkopos).

"and let them pray over him" (v. 14b).  The first duty of the elders to the sick is to pray.  James gives no instruction regarding the content of such prayers.  Prayers for physical healing, emotional well-being, and spiritual discernment are all appropriate.

"anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord" (v. 14c).  Olive oil was the most common, and was used for purposes both secular (food, lamp fuel, and medicinal ointments) and religious (anointing kings, priests, prophets; tabernacle/temple uses; purification rituals; and offerings and sacrifices).

James doesn't give details regarding the type or quantity of oil to be used--or where it is to be applied.  He says only that the anointing should be done "in the name of the Lord."

In Exodus 30:22-25, Moses gave a recipe for anointing oil that included myrrh, cinnamon, cane, cassia, and olive oil that produced a batch of about a half liter (one quart).  It was to be used only for holy purposes, and would have served for many applications.

Early in their ministry, the twelve "anointed many with oil who were sick, and healed them" (Mark 6:13).

Catholics and some others practice anointing the sick with oil--but most denominations don't.  Perhaps that is because this is the only place in the New Testament where Christians are specifically tasked with anointing the sick with oil.  Perhaps it is because many New Testament healings didn't involve anointing with oil.  However, it would seem helpful to recover and encourage this practice.

Not everyone has the gift of healing, but Jesus did.  Paul did.  Other apostles did.  We have no reason to believe that the gift of healing is not still alive today.

"and the prayer of faith will heal (Greek: sozo) him who is sick" (v. 15a).  It isn't simply the prayer that opens the door to healing, but "the prayer of faith."

The word sozo can mean heal, but it can also mean save.  Perhaps James intends his readers to understand both as true.  He says that the sick person, if a sinner (which all of us are) will be forgiven.  Therefore, I understand sozo in this verse to mean that the person will be healed of illness--and will also be saved from sin.

"and the Lord will raise (Greek: egeiro) him up" (v. 15b)  Jesus used this same Greek word to speak of his own resurrection (John 2:19-22), and Paul used it to speak of our resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:15; 2 Corinthians 4:14).  This is another place where we could interpret James in two ways:  (1) that the sick person will be raised from his sickbed and (2) that the door is open for his resurrection.  I believe that both interpretations are legitimate.

"If he has committed sins, he will be forgiven" (v. 15c).  Spiritual healing is as important as physical healing.  Prayers of faith can accomplish both.


16 Confess your offenses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The insistent prayer of a righteous person is powerfully effective. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain, and it didn't rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 He prayed again, and the sky gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit.

"Confess (Greek: exomologeo) your offenses (Greek: hamartia--sins) to one another" (v. 16a).  The word exomologeo means to confess or to profess or to agree.  It (and the related word, homologeo) can be used for a profession of faith (1 John 2:23; 4:2-3, 15) or a confession of sin (1 John 1:6).  It is the latter that is meant here.

The word hamartia means sin--an offense--missing the mark with regard to truth or duty--failure to meet the standard.  Our sins are by their nature sins against God, but they are also sins against our neighbors or fellow-believers.

Confession of sin can be (1) to God alone, (2) to the person against whom we have sinned, (3) to a spiritual adviser, or (4) to the entire church (Jacobs, 759).

James' requirement in this verse that we confess our sins to one another suggests that we are to confess sins committed against the people against whom we have sinned.  Confession to the entire church would usually be reserved for a situation in which we are guilty of a public scandal that has besmirched the reputation of the church at large.  Confessing our sins to one another doesn't preclude also confessing them privately to God.  Both are needful when we have injured our neighbor.

Confessing to Christian brothers or sisters that we have sinned against them can begin the healing of relationships.  It needs to be done with sensitivity, and in the case of a serious breach might be best done with the advice and help of a trusted spiritual counselor.  For instance, confessing to a man that we have had sexual relationships with his wife might create more problems than it could ever resolve.

"and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The insistent prayer of a righteous person is powerfully effective" (v. 16b).  Now James returns to the theme of prayer, which permeates this entire passage.  Keep in mind that prayer is the second step of a two-step process, the first step being confessing to one another.

In this verse, James calls us to pray for one another.  That can be difficult, and implies forgiveness.  Once again, this step is important to healing, both physical and spiritual.

James promises that the "insistent prayer of a righteous person is powerfully effective."

"Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain, and it didn't rain on the earth for three years and six months. He prayed again, and the sky gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit" (vv. 17-18).  James uses the example of Elijah to illustrate his contention that the prayers of a righteous person have great power.  The incident to which he alludes is recorded in 1 Kings 17-18, which also tells the stories of the healing/resurrection of the son of the widow of Zarephath and Elijah's triumph over the priests of Baal at Mount Carmel.

Oddly, the account of drought and rain in 1 Kings doesn't mention Elijah praying.  The stories of the widow of Zarephath and Elijah's triumph over the priests of Baal do.


19 Brothers, if any among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins.

"Brothers, if any among you wanders from the truth (Greek: aletheia), and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins" (vv. 19-20).

Aletheia (truth) is that which is real, untainted by falsehood.  There are different kinds of truth.  A person who avoids telling lies will gain a reputation as truthful.  That is critical to our Christian witness.

However, the greater truth is that in which we believe and on which we have staked our lives.  For Christians, that means Jesus.  Jesus is truth personified--"the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).  Jesus promised, "If you remain in my word, then you...will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:31-32).

The promise is that, when people stray from the faith and we help them to find their way back to faith, we will have helped to save their souls from death.  While this could refer to physical death (because some sins put a person's physical life in jeopardy), the more significant salvation is spiritual and eternal.

The promise is also that turning a sinner from the error of his ways "will cover a multitude of sins."  Are these the sins of the errant person or the one who leads him/her back to the fold.  Quite possibly both (see Ezekiel 3:21; 1 Timothy 4:16).



BLB:  James 5 - The Life of a Living Faith

A. A rebuke of the ungodly rich.

1. (James 5:1-3) The rich and the illusion of wealth.

1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!

a. Come now, you rich: James had developed the idea of the need for complete dependence on God. He now naturally rebuked those most likely to live independently from God - the rich. i. While Jesus counted some rich persons among His followers (such as Zaccheus, Joseph of Armithea, and Barnabas), we are compelled to observe that riches do present an additional and significant obstacle to the kingdom (Matthew 19:23-24). It is also true that the pursuit of riches is a motivation for every conceivable sin (1 Timothy 6:10). ii. "He speaks to them not simply as rich (for riches and grace sometimes may go together) but as wicked, not only wallowing in wealth, but abusing it to pride, luxury, oppression, and cruelty." (Poole)

b. Weep and howl: In the style of an Old Testament prophet, James tells the rich to mourn in consideration of their destiny (the miseries that are coming upon you). In the life to come, their riches will be revealed as corrupted, moth-eaten and corroded. i. James probably refers to the destruction of three kinds of wealth. Stores of food are corrupted (rotted), garments are moth-eaten, and gold and silver are corroded. Each one of them comes to nothing in their own way. ii. "More than that, James adds, with a Dantesque touch of horror, the rust will devour (or corrode) your flesh like fire, you are so bound up with your greedy gains; your wealth perishes and you perish with it and by it, eaten away in burning pain." (Moffatt)  iii. "Better weep here, where there are wiping handkerchiefs in the hand of Christ, than to have your eyes whipped out in hell. Better howl with men than yell with devils." (Trapp)

c. Will be a witness against you: The corruptible nature of the wealth of the rich will witness against them. On the day of judgment it will be revealed that they have lived their lives in the arrogant independence James previously condemned, heaping up earthly treasure in the last days, when they should have been heaping up treasure in heaven (Luke 18:22). i. In the last days: "The doom is depicted in highly coloured Jewish phrases, and the same immediate prospect of the End is held out as a threat to the rich and as a consolation to the oppressed poor." (Moffatt)

2. (James 5:4-6) The sins of the rich are condemned.

Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. 5 You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.

a. The wages of the laborers . . . you kept back by fraud: They had withheld the wages of their laborers. They lived indulgently without regard for others (as the man in Jesus' story about the rich man and Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31). They had condemned and murdered from their position of power. i. "Deferring payment is a sort of defrauding, as it bereaves the creditor of the benefit of improvement; and so they are taxed here with injustice, as well as covetousness, in that they lived upon other men's labours, and starved the poor to enrich themselves." (Poole)

b. The cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth: The title Lord of Sabaoth in James 5:4 should not be confused with the similar title Lord of the Sabbath (used in Mark 2:28 and Luke 6:5). Instead it is a translation of the idea behind the Hebrew term Lord of Hosts (compare Romans 9:29 with Isaiah 1:9), which means "the Lord of armies," especially in the sense of heavenly and angelic armies. It describes God as the warrior, the commander-in-chief of all heavenly armies. i. The use of this title was meant to give these unjust reach a sober warning. The cries of the people they had oppressed had come to the ears of the God who commands heavenly armies; the God of might and power and judgment. ii. "The primary reference is to Yahweh as the God of hosts or the armies of Israel and later the hosts of heaven. The rabbis rarely use the title, but Exodus 3:6 connects it with Yahweh's war against injustice." (Adamson) iii. This is "a frequent appellation of God in the Old Testament; and signifies his uncontrollable power, and the infinitely numerous means he has for governing the world, and defending his followers, and punishing the wicked." (Clarke)

c. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you: Often those who are poor and without power in this world have little satisfaction from justice. Yet God hears their cries, and He is the one who guarantees to ultimately right every wrong and answer every injustice. i. Condemned . . . you have murdered the just: "Take it either properly, or metaphorically of usurers and extortioners, that not only rob, but ravish the poor that are fallen into their nets." (Trapp)

B. A call for patient endurance in light of the coming judgment. 1. (James 5:7-8) Imitate the patient endurance of the farmer.

Therefore 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. 8 You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

a. Therefore be patient, brethren: James brought the issue of the ultimate judgment before us in his remarks about the ungodly rich and their destiny. Now he calls Christians (especially those enduring hardship) to patiently endure until the coming of the Lord. i. "James stirs no class-feeling, e.g. of labourers against their unjust employers; leave the wealthy oppressors to God's imminent vengeance on their cruelty." (Moffatt). ii. "Sometimes, indeed, the very hope of the coming of the Lord has seemed to increase impatience rather than patience. . . . Oh, to be patient in fellowship with God!" (Morgan)

b. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently: A farmer does not give up when his crop does not come to harvest immediately. He keeps on working even when the crop cannot be seen at all. Even so Christians must work hard and exercise patient endurance even when the harvest day seems far away. i. As James instructs us, we are to wait upon God and not lose heart. "A man to whom it is given to wait for a reward keeps up his courage, and when he has to wait, he says, 'It is no more than I expected. I never reckoned that I was to slay my enemy at the first blow. I never imagined that I was to capture the city as soon as ever I had digged the first trench; I reckoned upon waiting, and now that is come, I find that God gives me the grace to fight on and wrestle on, till the victory shall come.' And patience saves a man from a great deal of haste and folly." (Spurgeon). ii. When we think about it, the waiting and need for endurance we have in the Christian life is very much like the waiting of the farmer.

  • · He waits with a reasonable hope and expectation of reward.
  • · He waits a long time.
  • · He waits working all the while.
  • · He waits depending on things out of his own power; with his eye on the heavens.
  • · He waits despite changing circumstances and many uncertainties.
  • · He waits encouraged by the value of the harvest.
  • · He waits encouraged by the work and harvest of others.
  • · He waits because he really has no other option.
  • · He waits because it does no good to give up.
  • · He waits aware of how the seasons work.
  • · He waits because as time goes on, it becomes more important and not less to do so.

c. Until it receives the early and latter rain: The pictures of the early and latter rain should be taken literally as James intends. He refers to the early rains (coming in late October or early November) that were essential to soften the ground for plowing, and to the latter rains (coming in late April or May) which were essential to the maturing of the crops shortly before harvest. There is no allegorical picture here of an early and a latter outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church. i. The Bible does explain that there will be a significant outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the last days (Joel 2:28-29, Acts 2:17-18); but this passage from James doesn't seem to be relevant to that outpouring. ii. Instead, the sense here is more as Moffatt explains: "The farmer had to wait for this rainfall twice in the year; but although he could do nothing to bring it, he did not lose heart, provided that he was obeying the will of his God."

d. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand: The soon return of Jesus requires that we have established hearts, hearts that are rooted in Jesus and His eternal resolution of all things. i. "When God shall give you a rich return for all you have done for him, you will blush to think you ever doubted; you will be ashamed to think you ever grew weary in his service. You shall have your reward. Not tomorrow, so wait: not the next day perhaps, so be patient. You may be full of doubts one day, your joys sink low. It may be rough windy weather with you in your spirit. You may even doubt whether you are the Lord's, but if you have rested in the name of Jesus, if by the grace of God you are what you are, if he is all your salvation, and all your desire, - have patience; have patience, for the reward will surely come in God's good time." (Spurgeon)

e. For the coming of the Lord is at hand: There is a real sense in which the coming of the Lord was at hand in the days of James as well as in our own day today. One might say that since the Ascension of Jesus, history has been brought to the brink of consummation and now runs parallel along side the edge of the brink, with the coming of the Lord . . . at hand.

2. (James 5:9) Practicing patient endurance among God's people.

Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.

a. Do not grumble against one another: Times of hardship can cause us to be less than loving with our Christian brothers and sisters. James reminds us that we cannot become grumblers and complainers in our hardship - lest we be condemned even in our hardship.

b. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door! Jesus comes as a Judge, not only to judge the world, but also to assess the faithfulness of Christians (2 Corinthians 5:10). In light of this, we cannot allow hardship to make us unloving towards each other.

3. (James 5:10-11) Following examples of patient endurance.

10 As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 We 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.

a. Take the prophets . . . as an example of suffering and patience: James reminds us that the prophets of the Old Testament endured hardship, yet practiced patient endurance. We can take them as examples. i. Among these prophets, Jeremiah is one example of someone who endured mistreatment with patience. He was put in the stocks (Jeremiah 20:2), thrown into prison (Jeremiah 32:2), and lowered into miry dungeon (Jeremiah 28:6). Yet he persisted in his ministry. ii. "As much as God honoured and loved them, yet they were not exempted from afflictions, but were maligned, traduced, and persecuted by men, 1 Kings 18:13; 19:14; 2 Kings 6:31; Amos 7:10; Hebrews 11; and therefore when they suffered such hard things, it is no shame for you to suffer the like, Matthew 5:12." (Poole)

b. You have heard of the perseverance of Job: James essentially tells us three things about Job and why he is a significant example for the suffering Christian. i. First we see the perseverance of Job. Passages such as Job 1:20-22 show us the tremendous perseverance of this afflicted man, who refused to curse God despite his severe and mysterious suffering. ii. We see also the end intended by the Lord, speaking of the ultimate goal and purpose of God in allowing the suffering to come upon Job. Perhaps the greatest end intended by the Lord was to use Job as a lesson to angelic beings, even as God promises to use the church (Ephesians 3:10-11). "If a man were to attack me with a knife I would resist him with all my strength, and count it a tragedy if he succeeded. Yet if a surgeon comes to me with a knife, I welcome both him and the knife; let him cut me open, even wider than the knife-attacker, because I know his purpose is good and necessary." (Spurgeon).  iii. We see further that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful. This is not immediately apparent in the story of Job; we can quickly think that God was cruel to Job. Yet upon consideration, we can see that God was indeed very compassionate and merciful.

  • · God was very compassionate and merciful to Job because He only allowed suffering for a very good reason.
  • · God was very compassionate and merciful to Job because He restricted what Satan could do against Job.
  • · God was very compassionate and merciful to Job because He sustained Him with His unseen hand through all his suffering.
  • · God was very compassionate and merciful to Job because in the whole process God used Satan himself. At the end of it all, God had accomplished something wonderful: To make Job a better and more blessed man than ever. Remember that as good as Job was at the beginning of the book, he was a better man at the end of it. He was better in character, humbler, and more blessed than before.

iv. "And when we come to look all Job's life through, we see that the Lord in mercy brought him out of it all with unspeakable advantage. He who tested with one hand supported with the other. Whatever Satan's end might be in tempting the patriarch, God had an end which covered and compassed that of the destroyer, and that end was answered all along the line, from the first loss which happened among the oxen to the last taunt of his three accusers." (Spurgeon). v. That the Lord is very compassionate: "I wish we could all read the original Greek; for this word, 'The Lord is very pitiful,' is a specially remarkable one. It means literally that the Lord hath 'many bowels,' or a great heart, and so it indicates great tenderness." (Spurgeon)

4. (James 5:12) An exhortation in light of the coming judgment before Jesus.

12 But 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.

a. Do not swear: Many Jewish people in the time James wrote made distinctions between "binding oaths" and "non-binding oaths." Oaths that did not include the name of God were considered non-binding, and to use such oaths was a way of "crossing your fingers behind your back" when telling a lie. It is these kinds of oaths that James condemned. i. The Bible does not forbid the swearing of all oaths, only against the swearing of deceptive, unwise, or flippant oaths. On occasion God Himself swears oaths (such as in Luke 1:73, Hebrews 3:11, and Hebrews 6:13). ii. "All swearing is not forbidden, any more than Matthew 5:34; (for oaths are made use of by holy men in both the Old and New Testament, Genesis 21:23, 24; 24:3; 26:28; 1 Kings 17:1-2; 2 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 1:20; and the use of an oath is permitted and approved of by God himself, Psalm 15:4; Hebrews 6:16) but such oaths are false, rash, vain, without just cause, or customary and frequent in ordinary discourse." (Poole)

b. Do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath: James again echoed the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:34-37). The need to swear or make oaths, beyond a simple and clear yes or no betrays the weakness of one's word. It demonstrates that there is not enough weight in one's own character to confirm their words.

c. Lest you fall into judgment: This lack of character will be exposed at the judgment seat of Christ. This motivates us all the more to prepare for that judgment by our speaking with integrity. i. This admonition may seem out of context to us. Yet, "Probably James jotted it down as an after-thought, to emphasize the warning of James 5:9; in excitement or irritation there was a temptation to curse and swear violently and profanely." (Moffatt).

C. Exhortations for Christians to care for one another.

1. (James 5:13-14) How to meet needs arising among Christians.

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. 14 Is 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;

a. Is anyone among you suffering? The suffering need to pray, the cheerful should sing psalms of praise to God, and the sick should call for the elders of the church, asking them to pray for their need.

i. Instead of complaining (as in the previous verse), the sufferer should pray. "Instead of murmuring against one another (James 5:9), or complaining peevishly, or breaking out into curses, pray to God." (Moffatt). ii. James has the same advice for both the suffering one and the cheerful one: take it all to the Lord. In fact, the two commands could be reversed: sufferers should sing also, and the cheerful should also pray. iii. "Elsewhere in the N.T. the word to sing praise refers to public worship, and always, if the usage in classical Greek and Greek O.T. be decisive, to songs with a musical accompaniment." (Moffatt)  iv. James clearly set the initiative on the person in need: let him call. The hesitancy of people to ask for or to seek prayer from the leadership of the church in such circumstances is a true mystery.

b. Let them pray over him: James also said that the elders of the church, as they pray, should anoint the sick person with oil in the name of the Lord. This anointing with oil has been interpreted as either seeking the best medical attention possible for the afflicted (oil massages were considered medicinal), or as an emblem of the Holy Spirit's presence and power. i. Anointing the sick with oil is also mentioned in Mark 6:13. Luke 10:34 mentions the application of oil in a medicinal sense. "The efficacy of olive oil as a medical agent was well known." (Hiebert) According to Burdick, the word for anoint here is not the usual one used in the New Testament, but has more of a medicinal meaning to it. ii. "Oil was and is frequently used in the east as a means of cure in very dangerous diseases; and in Egypt it is often used in the cure of the plague. Even in Europe it has been tried with great success in the cure of dropsy. And pure olive oil is excellent for recent wounds and bruises; and I have seen it tried in this way with the best effects. . . . St. James desires them to use natural means while looking to God for an especial blessing. And no wise man would direct otherwise." (Clarke)  iii. The Roman Catholic Church mutated this command to anoint the sick into the "sacrament" of Extreme Unction, administered to someone to prepare that one for death. Something James intended to heal was made into a preparation for death!

2. (James 5:15-16) God's answer to the prayers of His people.

15 and 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. 16 Therefore, 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.

a. And the prayer of faith will save the sick: Many have wondered if James guarantees healing here for the sick who are prayed for in faith. Some interpret this as a reference to ultimate resurrection. The reference to sins being forgiven ads to the idea that James is considering a spiritual work and healing, not necessarily a physical healing. i. Yet the context of the statement demands that James does not exclude physical healing as an answer to prayer, though he does seem to mean something broader than only a physical healing. We should pray for others in faith, expecting that God will heal them, then leave the matter in God's hands. ii. Clearly, God does not grant immediate healing for every prayer of faith, and the reasons are hidden in the heart and mind of God. Still, many are not healed simply because there is no prayer of faith offered. The best approach in praying for the sick is to pray with humble confidence that they will be healed, unless God clearly and powerfully makes it clear that this is not His will. Having prayed, we simply leave the matter to God.  iii. Often we do not pray the prayer of faith out of concern for God's reputation if there should be no healing. We should remember that God is big enough to handle His own reputation.

b. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed: James reminds us that mutual confession and prayer brings healing, both physically and spiritually. Confession can free us from the heavy burdens (physically and spiritually) of unresolved sin, and removes hindrances to the work of the Holy Spirit. i. To one another: Confession to another in the body of Christ is essential because sin will demand to have us to itself, isolated from all others. Confession breaks the power of secret sin. Yet, confession need not be made to a "priest" or any imagined mediator; we simply confess to one another as appropriate. Confession is good, but must be made with discretion. An unwise confession of sin can be the cause of more sin. ii. Clarke observes that if this passage actually refers to the Roman Catholic practice of the confessional, then the priest should likewise confess his sins to the people. He also adds: "There is no instance in auricular confession where the penitent and the priest pray together for pardon; but here the people are commanded to pray for each other that they may be healed." (Clarke)  iii. Noting from the context, sin should especially be confessed where physical healing is necessary. It is possible - though by no means always the case - that a person's sickness is the direct result of some sin that has not been dealt with, as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 11:30.  iv. Hiebert on confess: "The root form means literally to say the same thing; hence, it means that in confession sin we agree to identify it by its true name and admit that it is sin."  v. "Now, in the primitive church this was openly done as a rule, before the congregation. The earliest manual of the church practice prescribes: 'you must confess your sins in church, and not betake yourself to prayer with a bad conscience' (Didache iv.)." (Moffatt).  vi. The great conviction of sin and subsequent confession of sin is common during times of spiritual awakening. There is really nothing unusual about confession during Revival. Finney - a great apostle of Revival - urged it and described it. In the North China revivals under Jonathan Goforth, confession was almost invariably the prelude to blessing; one writer describing the significant Korean revivals associated with Goforth wrote: "We may have our theories of the desirability or undesirability of public confession of sin. I have had mine, but I know that when the Spirit of God falls upon guilty souls, there will be confession, and no power on earth can stop it." (from Calling to Remembrance by William Newton Blair).  vii. Public confession of sin has the potential for great good or bad. Some guiding principles can help.

  • · Confession should be made to the one sinned against. "Most Christians display a preference for confession in secret before God, even concerning matters which involve other people. To confess to God seems to them to be the easiest way out. If offenders were really conscious of the presence of God, even secret confession of private sin would have a good effect. Alas, most offenders merely commune with themselves instead of making contact with God, who refuses their prayers under certain conditions. In the words of our Lord, it is clear that sin involving another person should be confessed to that person." (Orr)
  • · Confession should often be public. James 5:16 illustrates this principle. A.T. Robertson, the great Greek scholar, says that in James 5:16 the odd tense of the Greek verb confess in this verse implies group confession rather than private confession. It is confession "ones to others" not "one to one other."
  • · Public confession must be discrete. Often the confession needs to be no more than what is necessary to enlist prayer. It can be enough to say publicly, "Pray for me, I need victory over my besetting sin." It would be wrong to go into more detail, but saying this much is important. It keeps us from being "let's pretend Christians" who act as if everything is fine when it isn't. "Almost all sexual transgressions are either secret or private and should be so confessed. A burden too great to bear may be shared with a pastor or doctor or a friend of the same sex. Scripture discourages even the naming of immorality among believers, and declares that it is a shame even to speak of things done in secret by the immoral." (Orr)
  • · Distinguish between secret sins and those which directly affect others. Orr gives a good principle: "If you sin secretly, confess secretly, admitting publicly that you need the victory but keeping details to yourself. If you sin openly confess openly to remove stumbling blocks from those whom you have hindered. If you have sinned spiritually (prayerlessness, lovelessness, and unbelief as well as their offspring, criticism, etc.) then confess to the church that you have been a hindrance." (J. Edwin Orr)
  • · Confession is often made to people, but before God. At the same time, we notice that James says confess your trespasses to one another. One of the interesting things about confession of sin as I have noticed it in the writings of J. Edwin Orr is that the confessions are almost always addressed to people, not to God. It isn't that you confess your sin to God and others merely hear. You confess your sin before others and ask them to pray for you to get it right before God.
  • · Confession should be appropriately specific. When open confession of sin is appropriate - more than the public stating of spiritual need, but confessing open sin or sin against the church - it must be specific. "If I made any mistakes I'm sorry" is no confession of sin at all. You sinned specifically, so confess specifically. "It costs nothing for a church member to admit in a prayer meeting: 'I am not what I ought to be.' It costs no more to say: 'I ought to be a better Christian.' It costs something to say: 'I have been a trouble-maker in this church.' It costs something to say: 'I have had bitterness of heart towards certain leaders, to whom I shall definitely apologise.' " (Orr, Full Surrender)
  • · Confession should be thorough. "Some confessions are not thorough. They are too general. They are not made to the persons concerned. They neglect completely the necessary restitution. Or they make no provision for a different course of conduct in which the sin is forsaken. They are endeavours for psychological relief." (Orr)
  • · Confession must have honesty and integrity. If we confess with no real intention of battling the sin, our confession isn't thorough and it mocks God. The story is told of an Irishman who confessed to his priest that he had stolen two bags of potatoes. The priest had heard the gossip around town and said to the man, "Mike, I heard it was only one bag of potatoes stolen from the market." The Irishman replied, "That's true Father, but it was so easy that I plan on taking another tomorrow night." By all means, avoid phony confession - confession without true brokenness or sorrow. If it isn't deeply real, it isn't any good.
  • · One need not fear that public confession of sin will inevitably get out of hand. Orr tells of a time when a woman was overwrought by deep sorrow for sin and became hysterical. He saw the danger immediately and told her, "Quiet, sister. Turn your eyes on Jesus." She did and the danger of extreme emotion was avoided.
  • · Those who hear a confession of sin also have a great responsibility. Those who hear the confession should have the proper response: loving, intercessory prayer, and not human wisdom, gossiping, or "sharing" the need with others.

ix. Real, deep, genuine confession of sin has been a feature of every genuine awakening or revival in the past 250 years. But it isn't anything new, as demonstrated by the revival in Ephesus recorded in Acts 19:17-20. It says, many who believed came confessing and telling their deeds. This was Christians getting right with God, and open confession was part of it.

c. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much: In writing about the need for prayer for the suffering, for the sick, and for the sinning, James points to the effective nature of prayer - when it is fervent and offered by a righteous man. i. The idea of fervent in this context is strong. "It might be rendered literally: 'Very strong is the supplication of a righteous man, energizing.'" (Meyer) ii. "When such a power of prayer is granted, faith should be immediately called into exercise, that the blessing may be given: the spirit of prayer is the proof that the power of God is present to heal. Long prayers give no particular evidence of Divine inspiration." (Clarke)  iii. Much of our prayer is not effective simply because it is not fervent. It is offered with a lukewarm attitude that virtually asks God to care about something that we care little about. Effective prayer must be fervent, not because we must emotionally persuade a reluctant God, but because we must gain God's heart by being fervent for the things He is fervent for. iv. Additionally, effective prayer is offered by a righteous man. This is someone who recognizes the grounds of his righteousness reside in Jesus, and whose personal walk is generally consistent with the righteousness that he has in Jesus.  v. Avails much: "It was so with John Knox, whose prayers were more dreaded by Mary of Scots than the armies of Philip." (Meyer)

3. (James 5:17-18) Elijah as an example of answered prayer.

17 Elijah 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. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.

a. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours: Elijah is a model of earnest prayer that was answered by God. His effectiveness in prayer extended even to the weather! Yet this shows that Elijah's heart was in tune with God's. He prayed for the rain to stop and start only because he sensed it was in the heart of God in His dealings with Israel.

b. Prayed earnestly: Literally, this is prayed with prayer. To truly pray, by definition, is to pray earnestly. i. "He prayed with prayer; a Hebraism for, he prayed fervently." (Clarke)

c. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours: This being true, we then can be men with the power of prayer like him.

4. (James 5:19-20) Helping a sinning brother.

19 My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, 20 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.

a. If anyone among you wanders from the truth: Having introduced the topics of sin and confession, James reminds us of the need to confront those who have wandered from the truth. Wanders from the truth is a good picture. Most people don't wander deliberately - it just sort of happens. Nonetheless, it still gets them off track and possibly in danger. i. "Read the verse and you will see that it was that of a backslider from the visible church of God. The words, 'If any of you,' must refer to a professed Christian." (Spurgeon)

b. And someone turns him back: This shows us that God uses human instruments in turning sinners back from the errors of their ways. God does not need to use such human instruments, and sometimes He does not. The Apostle Paul - or rather, Saul of Tarsus - was not converted through any human instrument, save perhaps the prayers of the dying martyr Stephen for him. Yet no one preached to him, but Jesus decided to meet him directly. i. One reason God uses human instruments is because it brings Him more glory than if He were to do His work by Himself. In this way God is like a skilled workman who makes incredible things using the worst of tools. After the same pattern, God uses earthen vessels to be containers of His glory. ii. "Most persons have been convinced by the pious conversation of sisters, by the holy example of mothers, by the minister, by the Sabbath-school, or by the reading of tracts or perusing Scripture. Let us not therefore believe that God will often work without instruments; let us not sit down silently and say, 'God will do his own work.' It is quite true he will; but then he does his work by using his children as instruments." (Spurgeon).  iii. Along this line, can we not say that when we refuse to make ourselves available to God's service - weak and failing as we are - we in fact rob Him of some of His glory? He can glorify Himself through a weak vessel like you; you should let Him do it.  iv. "It may not appear so brilliant a thing to bring back a backslider as to reclaim a harlot or a drunkard, but in the sight of God it is no small miracle of grace, and to the instrument who has performed it shall yield no small comfort. Seek ye, then, my brethren, those who were of us but have gone from us; seek ye those who linger still in the congregation but have disgraced the church, and are put away from us, and rightly so, because we cannot countenance their uncleanness; seek them with prayers, and tears, and entreaties, if peradventure God may grant them repentance that they may be saved." (Spurgeon)

c. He who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins: There is a blessing for the one who loves his brother enough to confront him, and who turns him from the error of his way. He has saved that soul from death and covered a multitude of sins. ii. James concludes with this because this is exactly what he has endeavored to do through this challenging letter - to confront those who have wandered from a living faith, endeavoring to save their souls from death, by demanding that they not only hear the word, but do it, because a living faith will have its proof. So the homily ends - abruptly, even more abruptly than the First Epistle of John, without any closing word of farewell to the readers, abruptly but not ineffectively.