Should elders be healing their flock on demand?
· Be patient therefore brethren unto the coming of the Lord: “Now as for you brethren” (Living Bible) James turns his attention away from the persecutors. He has nothing more to say to them. They must be patient, a different word from the “patience” of chapter 1, which has the connotation of a quality of character forged in the furnace of trial. This word means to assess the situation and to therefore set oneself to endure. Patience in James 1 is a result but “be patient” in James 5:7 is a determination beforehand. To think about how you would react to various trials and temptations before they happen is an effective way to prepare for the trials of life before they come upon you.
James focuses on the end: the coming of the Lord. If we live our lives with the purpose of the Father firmly fixed in our minds, we will be able to “endure unto the end.”
· Behold the husbandman early and latter rain: look at the patience of the farmer. He has a tremendous investment in his crop. He waits patiently because he knows he cannot afford to give up. Neither can we. (Galatians 6:7-9 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.)
These are the heavy rains which prepared the ground for ploughing and later protected the crops from the drought of summer. In Joel 2 the former and latter rains speak of the coming of the first and second advents of the Messiah, the “former rains moderately” (“in righteousness” - margin). For James, only the burning hope of the coming Kingdom of God will enable his brethren and sisters to endure. But they must take the long view. They were in the time of the “early rain” and they must prepare their hearts to endure patiently until the “latter rain” of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The same is true for us.
· stablish your hearts: be resolute and unflinching in the face of trial. The coming, “parousia,” (presence) of the Lord is at hand” (RSV). Indeed the presence of the Lord would soon be felt in Jerusalem in the form of the rampaging legions of Rome.
· Grudge not one against another: The Greek word for “grudge” is “stenazo” which means to sigh or mutter. Bear with one another. Be tolerant. Do not be frustrated and impatient with one another. The judge stands at the door and key aspect of jucgement is the way we treat one another.
James 5:10, 11
· take, my brethren, the prophets… as an example of suffering: This is a foundation principle for successfully living life in Christ: familiarity with the word will be a tremendous fortification and source of strength when confronted with the trials of life. Paul says in Romans 15:4 “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”
We are comforted in the fellowship of suffering endured by those who have gone before (see 1 Peter 1:7; 4:12; Philippians 3:10). The courage of believers such as Stephen and James are an inspiration. The example of the Lord Jesus Christ is powerful beyond words.
The word gives us a sense of heritage and community and continuity with a wonderful past. In this vein we should take the time to become familiar with our own heritage and history as a Christadelphian community. The writings of our pioneers and the current issues and developments within the brotherhood today should be topics of prayer and discussion in the spirit of the Master. We need to prayerfully sink our roots deeply into the word and into our community for therein lies the strength to overcome every trial and temptation. The Lord is present in the place of prayer; he is present in the word; and he is present in the community of the faithful. We must want to be where the Master is.
· suffering affliction: this phrase is from one Greek word, “kakopatheia” and means “to be beset by the afflictions of this world” [Kittel and Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1985, page 803.] or hardship due to persecution for the sake of the gospel. (2 Timothy 2:3, 9; 4:5 - hardness, suffer trouble, endure afflictions).
· count them blessed (RV) which endured: we can look back on their example and have their lives in perfect perspective. They are happy because, no matter what hardships they had to endure, “theirs is the Kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).
patience of Job and have seen the end of the Lord: or rather “the end which the Lord brought about.” The same word is used in Matthew 26:58. Peter did not go to see the “end of Jesus.” He followed along “to see how it would turn out.” The word teaches us that the Father is very compassionate and full of mercy and so we believe, no matter how difficult the trial, that “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28) and that the end which the Lord will bring about will be glorious beyond our imagination. (See 1 Corinthians 2:9)
· above all things… swear not at all: before anything else, says James, refrain from taking oaths. See Ecclesiastes 5:2-6: “suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin.” In the context of persecution and trial, this is a warning against the practice of having followers of the Lord renounce him with an oath or face dire consequences. Also, the practice of swearing oaths was a testimony to the dishonesty of society in James’ day. Where men and women are honest, no oaths are needed. Society was so corrupt that they sought to mitigate their responsibility in oath-taking by swearing by things of assigned value such as the temple and the altar or the gold upon the altar or by one’s own head! The oaths were more or less binding depending on the importance of the item sworn by. The Lord expressly forbids this practice (see Matthew 5:34-37).
· fall into condemnation: “become a hypocrite.” They might avoid persecution by denying Christ but if they still truly believed they would have to play the role of supporting the rich and powerful while harbouring a secret allegiance to the Lord.
· Is any among you afflicted: afflicted is the same word as in verse 10. Suffering affliction (for Christ). It describes one who is in an unhappy situation. It is the opposite of “merry.” “Depressed” would be a good synonym for this word.
· let him pray: pray earnestly; pray for your tormentors (Matthew 5:44); pray always and everywhere (Ephesians 6:18)
· Is any merry: the opposite of afflicted: happy, cheerful. Express your joy in holy poetry and song. What are the songs on our lips? Are they the songs of Zion or of Babylon? (Psalm 137:3).
· Is any sick among you: The context clearly shows that the verses which follow do not teach anything about the healing of physical illness. Providentially, the very choice of words to describe the “sick” one removes any shadow of doubt about James’ intended meaning.
· The word “sick” in this verse is “Astheneo.” Sometimes this word denotes a physical illness and sometimes a spiritual one. E.g.:
· There is a clear case for taking this word, on its own merits, to read, “weak in the faith” and not “sick” as it has been translated here. However, we are left in no uncertainty by the word which is translated “sick” in verse 15. It is the Greek word “Kamno” and it occurs only here and in two other places:
· Hebrews 12:3 – wearied (and faint in your minds); to be worn out by the “contradiction of sinners.”
· Revelation 2:3 – fainted (hast laboured and hast not fainted)
The two words for sick refer to one another. The first word can be taken either of two ways – physical or spiritual weakness. However, the second word for sick never refers to a physical weakness. Therefore, the weight of evidence falls in favour of the meaning of “spiritual weakness” for the first word, “Astheneo.” When viewed in this light, these verses make perfect sense and fit precisely into the context of the epistle.
· let him call for the elders of the Ecclesia: The elders must concern themselves with the spiritual welfare of those in their care. However, James articulates a first-principle which applies to every “helping” profession. No one can be helped out of a spiritual problem unless they first want to help themselves. When the spiritually weak person takes the first step back to his or her Ecclesial family, then it is possible to restore such a person but not before.
· let them pray over him: this phrase along with the anointing with oil, seems to indicate a formal readmission to fellowship. The importance of prayer cannot be overemphasized in Ecclesial affairs. We need to constantly remind ourselves that we do all of our work before the eyes of the Lord. (Acts 20:36; Acts 12:12; Acts 2:42 indicate that regular meetings for prayer were an integral part of the practice of the early Ecclesia).
· anointing him with oil: This custom was appropriate given the Jewish nature of the brotherhood in James’ day. To anoint with olive oil meant:
· welcome: Luke 7:46
· joy: Psalm 23:5; 141:6
· dedication: Psalm 133:2
All of these implications are perfectly suitable to the restoration to fellowship of one who was falling away. The association in scripture of oil with the word of God is also very appropriate to this context: (See Matthew 25:1-8).
· the prayer of faith: if we take this to be in the context of physical illness, a very real danger exists of expecting a cure – there is no hedging here: the prayer of faith will save the sick – and of adding a burden of guilt upon those whose prayer for healing is not answered.
Some say, that, since it is a prayer of faith, then if healing does not take place, it must be due to lack of faith! Personal experience alone teaches us that this is not true. Often the greatest examples of faith and courage are given by brethren and sisters who live with a chronic illness. If this were a true principle why were Paul’s prayers not answered (2 Corinthians 12:8)? Did Paul lack sufficient faith? What about Timothy and his digestive problems? Why did Paul prescribe a little wine rather than the “prayer of faith” (1 Timothy 5:23)?
The Father will heal if it is His will. But he does not heal on demand. This passage does not support this kind of “faith healing.” Thankfully, we are not left in any doubt about the real meaning or context of this passage.
The word prayer here is different from the word for prayer used in verses 15, 17, and 18. It is “Euche” and it means a vow (Acts 18:18; 21:23 – only other occurrences). It is the vow of renewed faith that will “save the one who is falling away.” That is one form of healing that is absolutely certain. The Father rejoices over one sinner who repents. He is eager to forgive when forgiveness is sought. His sins shall be forgiven.
· raise him up: the same word for raise is used of the risen Christ in Romans 6:4, 9 in the context of baptism. (See John 5:25! The hour is coming and now is…). We experience spiritual resurrection in our life in Chirst now, if we will worship God in spirit and in truth, through the joy of the forgiveness of sins. Indeed we must experience this in a spiritual sense now if we hope to experience resurrection in all its fullness and power when the Lord returns.
· if he have committed sins: “if he is the power of unforgiven sin.” This phrase fits perfectly the context of someone who has been weak in the faith and who has fallen prey to temptation as in chapter 1:12-16. The brother or sister who returns will find a ready welcome from the Father and from his brothers and sisters. Note the context again:
· the “vow” of faith shall save: restore to salvation (Psalm 51:10-12)
· the Lord shall raise him up (as at baptism)
· his sins shall be forgiven
The context of the rest of the chapter supports this view entirely:
· v.16 confess faults and pray for one another to be “healed”
· vv. 17, 18 the example of Elijah, one subject to spiritual depression
· v. 19 if any “among” (RV) you (same phrase as v. 14) err from the truth and one convert him
· v. 20 convert a sinner from the error of his way; save a soul from death (i.e. raise him up!); cover a multitude of sins
· Confess your faults one to another: This is a difficult piece of advice to follow. James is telling us to trust one another and to rely on one another. This is true fellowship. In revealing our inmost faults and in learning to love one another at that level we truly enter into the love of the Father for His children. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Rom. 5:8
· pray for one another: true love and fellowship leads naturally to prayer Ephesians 6:18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;
· that ye may be healed: this healing is in the context of revealing faults. The intent is to be healed from some besetting weakness which is interfering with one’s walk to the Kingdom. (See 1 Peter 2:24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.) “Healed same word as in James 5:16.
· the effectual fervent prayer of a righteus man availeth much: the RSV renders this phrase: “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects." James always returns to the word for a powerful example of what he means. Elijah was a man like us, serving God as best he could but subject to extremes of depression due to the persistence of outside pressures on his faith. But look at the outcome of his prayer! Even in his darkest moments, Elijah never stopped praying. He prayed earnestly, with passion and honesty. Even when he felt most alone, he was heard by the Father and his needs were met. Never give up on prayer and never give up praying for each other!
· Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth: James concludes his epistle with an appeal to his brethren and sisters to stand by one another in this time of trial and persecution. If one lacks the wisdom to “count it all joy” when the time of testing strikes, he or she is in danger of falling prey to despondency and sin of“erring” and being be turned away from the truth.
· one convert him from the error of his way: cause him to turn back to the truth. 1 Peter 2:25 “For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” Our work in caring for our brethren and sisters is an extension of the work of the Lord. Daniel 12:3 “And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.” Or Malachi: Malachi 2:6 "The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity."
· "his way…" not the Father’s way. Any way that we choose for ourselves apart from the Father’s loving guidance, will be the way of error. (See Proverbs 3:5, 6; 16:25)
· save a soul from death and hide a multitude of sins: “hide” means to “cover” or “cause to be forgotten.” Psalm 103:12 “As far as the eastis from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” Peter says that love between brethren “covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Proverbs 10:12 "Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins."
So James ends his epistle. No flowery conclusion. He simply says: You must be about the Lord‘s business. You cannot come to the Kingdom of God alone. You are poets, doers of God’s word playing your part seriously and sensitively in company with your brothers and sisters. You will be judged on the basis of the love your have shown your brothers and sisters, especially in their time of need. You have a commission to convert sinners from the error of their ways but the first sinner who needs converting is you. That’s why we rejoice together in the precious gifts of forgiveness, hope and joy and why we meditate on how, in loving kindness and caring, may help each other overcome the sin that so easily besets us that we may, together, run with endurance the race that is set before us.
Psalms 51:8-13 “Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto methe joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee."
I hope you have found this helpful.