James 5:13-20

12/13/09 On prayer: In all the suffering and oppression that people face, rather than “swearing” (v. 12) or “dealing with it” yourself (v. 13) James says that we should pray. That should be our knee jerk reaction in all situations both positive and negative. These were volatile times and James was intent on diffusing the situation. However, his counsel was not to the extreme of violence or the other extreme of silently bearing suffering. God’s people must participate in warlike fashion by prayer.

Prayer is not passive! Indeed it’s as violent as you can get in the spiritual realm, which is the cause of all the trouble in the first place. Prayer is an act of war, and some warriors are more effective than others, yet all are needed, and all increase their skill with combat experience.

But James starts out by pointing out and that in joy (euphorii) we should pray songs of praise (psalms). Glorying in the might and power and goodness of our our commander is good battle strategy because it draws us into trust in difficult situations where we must simply obey orders.

He then goes on to speak of sickness, presumably serious illness since elders had to be called to come to him. For James, and the Jewish mindset in general, sickness was tied to sin–which is true at a root level, though Jesus himself made an important distinction that sin isn’t to be seen as God’s vindictiveness. (Who sinned, this man or his parents?) So someone seriously ill who believes in the power and desire of God to heal, should call for anointing. “And the prayer offered in faith (by the elders, but also by the sick one?) and he will be restored. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.

Presumably, this isn’t a baptism where every unconfessed sin is forgiven. Most likely these would be sins that may have led to the sickness in the first place, like unhealthful living, for instance. Such sins are to be confessed, acknowledged, turned away from, and prayer offered in such a situation by faithful people will move heaven in a way that it could not otherwise move. It’s not magic, it is responding to a change in people that allows new conditions for action in heaven.

Over all, James concludes his letter, we must be intent on helping people live in “orthopraxi.” That is the belief that is not simply acknowledged as fact (orthodoxy), but truth that is believed to the point of life transformation. Belief that leads to correct practice. This is an intriguing verse that our efforts to rescue others will somehow count toward or own salvation and covering sins.

This brings to a close this devotional study. Find devotional commentaries on other books of the Bible at www.scoggins.biz. Also find information about my book on Revelation.

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James 5:7-12

12/12/09 “Therefore,” says James, meaning that this paragraph should be read with the previous in mind. Even though James was speaking directly to the rich, it was more of a rhetorical strategy for his real audience, the poor. So he is merely continuing to speak to them. “Therefore…” in light of what is going to happen to the boastful and oppressive rich, be patient and endure. These things take time like growing a garden. And endure without complaining, or retaliation.

The temptation in times of suffering and temptation is to lose patience and lash out at the nearest thing. That seemed to be happening to the early church. The outside pressures, economic mostly, caused by the rich upon the poor caused the church to give in to the temptation to vent on each other. We must resist that temptation. Why? Because we know that judgment day is near and it’s not going to be only the rich who are going to be judged. The poor also shall be judged. We must endure and persever. In the end God will come through for his people.

V. 12, “Above all…” Here is a primary point James wishes to make in his admonitions: “Do not swear.” He was not speaking of cursing and dirty language, although the Bible is clear that that is wrong as well. It was fairly common in those days to make oaths to authenticate the truth of what you were saying. The natural result of that was and is to come to believe that with oath-taking one is not bound to tell the truth. This is what Peter did when denying Christ. Obviously, that is an inauthentic and downright dishonest way to live. James is telling his people to be authentic people–because this is what the judge is looking for.

James 4:11-12

12/10/09 James was writing during a difficult time in early church history. Some see this as spats between believers, but this was  a time when murder and other physical violence was considered acceptable in defending beliefs. After all, Saul was sanctioned in his persecution of the new Christian church. Religious zealots were often violent. So James here is addressing some bad stuff going on in the early church.

The word translated “desires” or “pleasures” is “hedonon” from which we get “hedonism.” Passion ran high to all extremes. Plato himself understood what James understood. He said, “The sole cause of wars and revolutions and battles is nothing other than the body and its desires.”

Cicero said, “It is insatiable desires which overturn not only individual men, but whole families, and which even bring down the state. From desires there spring hatred, schisms, discord, seditions, and wars.”

It is not too extreme to understand that the situation of believer against believer was extreme. They said they wanted peace, but they only wanted it on their own terms. Because their own terms meant that they could continue in their own pleasures, hedonism of their own sort, and not only sexual. Friendship with the world, in such a context, involved a violent frame of mind, a methodology of force. The lead into chapter four was peace.

V. 11-12, These verses now in the context become more real. If things were going so far as murder, then the evil-speak must have been unrestrained. Not the subtle gossip we might imagine but outright inflammatory slander. Not that this is an worse than the subtler version in the end. When God knows our heart’s attitude against another human, whether or not we speak it is less consequential. We shall be treated as we have treated.

James 4:1-10

12/9/09 V. 1, Where, asks James, does the quarreling among people (and he’s speaking specifically to the church) come from? As simple as the question is the answer must be profound coming from scripture, since it would directly affect the unity and love of God’s people. The source of all this, he states unequivocally, is that our pleasures control us. Our bodies are manipulated and controlled by sensual pleasures.

V. 2, So since we lust and don’t have something we get angry at the one who does have. This is pleasure controlling our feelings and actions. Envy for what you do not have leads to fighting. That is it. That’s the source of our disunity: the love of our own pleasures.

But James doesn’t dwell long on this negative aspect. He jumps right away to the solution, which, interestingly is not “stop lusting and desiring.” The solution is that you can have what you desire. The reason you don’t is that you don’t ask for it. The NIV adds the word God there, making the statement that we should ask God for what we want. That’s certainly true, but the original doesn’t say to ask God, it simply says to ask. Couldn’t it also be true that we need to ask for what we want from each other? That’s the polite thing to do. But too often we don’t communicate with each other.

V. 3, You might say that you ask, but you don’t really, says James. You ask from wrong motives. So it’s not that we may desire and lust in any fashion, but we should desire and lust in a proper way, with good motives. Our normal motives for desiring and lusting are the gratification of our own pleasure. But this is anti-God.

V. 4, To allow our carnal desires to rule us is to commit adultery against God, and to rebel against him.

V. 5, The Greek here is unclear and this verse is variously interpreted. But given the context it’s possible that James was saying that God himself desires and lusts. But that he desires and lusts for our benefit, that his Spirit would dwell in us.

The word lust is a strong word that need not have negative connotations. “Epipotheo” is to pursue with love or to yearn for earnestly. So lusting with good motives–genuine love for others–is actually a powerful emotion that speaks in tune with the heart of God.

V. 6, God gives us great grace to overcome the power and control of sensual pleasures when he humbles us.

V. 7, By submitting to God’s discipline and working with him to resist Satan’s temptations toward shallow pleasures, the grace of God will send him fleeing.

V. 8, But sending the devil fleeing isn’t the end. Then we must draw near to God and him to us. Work with him for cleansing and eradicating the sinfulness in us. Stop playing with it. Let God remove it from our hearts so we may be single-minded for him.

V. 9, Let repentance wash over us. See the state of our heart and feel the shame appropriate to our condition.

V. 10, Humble yourself before the Lord and he won’t let you stay there. He will exalt you!

James 3:13-18

12/8/09 V. 13, The truly wise and understanding will show in gentleness and good behavior. So if someone is not gentle with good behavior it shows the opposite: that he is not wise and does not have understanding of spiritual things.

V. 14, Each of us must search our own hearts to understand what lurks there. When we see what is there in all honesty we must be humble so that we don’t end up being hypocrites and actors pretending to be what we are not so that we don’t discredit the gospel of Jesus. We can still preach the good news but with the meekness of one who realizes he is a work in progress and admits his own faults.

V. 15, The “wisdom” that presents an arrogant “righteousness” comes from the powers of evil.

V. 16, This is the way of evil: disorder, jealousy, and ambition. Where such things exist evil is there.

V. 17, Real wisdom, on the other hand, is pure, peace loving, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good deeds, firm and unwavering, and honest about the work that still needs to be done in the life.

V. 18, Lit: “And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those making peace.” James’ meaning is a little muddled in this verse judging by the difference in translations. But from the overall context it seems pretty clear that peace is the result of the kind of wisdom and understanding that James has been describing.

James 2:14-26

12/6/09 V. 14, In this passage James doesn’t claim that a form faith cannot exist without works, only it’s a useless sort of faith that won’t save. It’s not really faith.

V. 15-17, Then by way of example he gives a situation where someone shares “faith” with someone who needs food and clothes instead of helping them. That faith is useless, it’s a dead faith, not a living faith. And it’s dead “by its own standards.” In other words, real faith has a standard of requiring action based on that faith. Without that it’s a counterfeit, a lie.

V. 18-19, Some see a separation between the two. One may say, “I have faith,” and another may say, “I have works.” But John says, “I have both. Indeed one cannot be separated form the other. I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that three parts of God still equal one. That’s good, but even demons believe that.”

V. 20, Why is it so hard to believe that two parts, faith and works, make up one?

V. 21, Abraham’s faith was justified (shown to be living and real) by his deed of willingness to sacrifice his son.

V. 22, And the happy result was that his faith became more real and more alive by his trust in God to obey in deed.

V. 23, Abraham’s faith, as demonstrated by his deed, was reckoned to him as righteousness. It showed his faith as real.

V. 24, Two, faith and works, are one.

V. 25, Rahab is another example.

V. 26, The body and spirit are one, and Three are One. Take any one out of those combinations and they don’t separate, they cease to exist altogether. That’s how it is with faith and works.

James 2:1-13

12/5/09 V. 1, In the family of Christ we must learn to see everyone as equal before God and do away with our internal caste system.

V. 2-3, The rich must not receive special attention and the poor less, not just in the matter of time spent, but in the matter of our attitude.

V. 4, If it’s the heart that matters then we are unqualified to judge who should receive different treatment.

V. 5, Because frankly, the poor often have spiritual things more prioritized anyway. From a heart perspective the poor man may well be the rich one.

V. 6-7, Besides, it’s the rich who so often cause trouble for God’s people and have no room for God.

V. 8, Instead, obey the law that says to love your neighbor.

V. 9, Don’t sin by being partial. It is a sin.

V. 10-11, It’s as bad as adultery or murder, and to commit partiality is to commit all sin.

V. 12, Live by the law of love, which see every person as equally valuable.

V. 13, Because judgment will be fair. If we are merciless we receive in kind. Not because God is vindictive but because that is the natural result of our deeds.