November 8, 2015.
Daily Reading: James 4-5.
Background: James 1-3.
Concepts and Connections.
Drawing near to God: In this chapter James deals with the ever present threat of worldliness, offering practical wisdom to fight against the desires of the flesh. Notice how James doesn’t lay the blame on worldliness, however, but rather on the desires within us and our choices/attitude in life. It is our unsatisfied desires that lead us to sin if we are not privy to them so as to keep them in check. From within come fighting and murder to gratify our passions or covertness. James doesn’t beat around the bush here, but rather lays out the truth bluntly. He even points to our attitude when we do not receive what we ask for in prayer, indicating that we were asking for the wrong reason so as to use it also to satisfy our passions. But friendship with the world and the sin within is enmity with God. We cannot serve God and conform to the sinful pressures of the world. What is James’ solution? Humility before God, for God gives grace to the humble. We are to submit to God and resist the devil, so that he will free from us. Again, James lays it all out, calling out his audience for their impurity and sin. He doesn’t do this to make them mad, but rather to make them realize the problem and humble themselves before the Lord. In this humility, the Lord would lift them up. When reading this, it could be very beneficial to notice that often times we are the audience as well as those to whom James was writing. He calls for an attitude change, especially in the interactions with one another. We should not speak evil or judge one another, for their is only one Lawgiver and Judge, able to save and to destroy. Notice that this cannot mean that we are not to call out the sin of our brothers, for that is precisely what James is doing here, but we must do so in the way of love and never pass final judgment or be harsh on our brethren. When we help one another, we are to do so with humility and gentleness, for we too are fallen. Finally, James ends this chapter with the warning about boasting about tomorrow, for our life is but a vapor that passes away in a moment. We do not know if we will even have tomorrow, and thus we should always live in a way that is conscious of the gift of life God has given us in the moment and keep Him at the forefront of our minds when we plan for the future. He ends with a hard teaching, but one full of truth. The one who knows to to good, but does not do it, sins. This is often referred to the sin of omission, as compared to sins of commission.
1. Warning to the rich and encouragement to be patient: Continuing on from the previous chapter, James turns to those who were rich and sternly warns them about trusting in their riches, as is typically the case. It would seem that here he is probably speaking to the rich of the world, those who were oppressing the brethren. He points out the defrauding of the rich and says miseries are coming upon them for their oppression. The cries of those they have oppressed have gone up before God and those who have lived in luxury and self indulgence were simply fattening themselves before the day of the slaughter. Their sin was ever before them. He tells the brethren therefore to be patient and wait on the coming of the Lord, for in the end all things will be made right. They were to establish their hearts and set their mind not to grumble against each other, for the Judge was standing at the door. He points to the steadfastness of Job as and example of suffering and patience, and also an insight to the overall plan of God, who is compassionate and merciful. Note here the commission not to swear by heaven or earth (as in, call a curse upon you if you do not do the thing that you swear to do, which was done to gain credence and trust), but rather to let ‘yes’ be yes and ‘no’ be no. We are to be a people of our word, not needing to swear for we follow through with what we say (see Matthew 5:33-37).
2. Prayer and restoration: Finally, James concludes with a discussion on prayer and looking after one another. He begins by giving practical things to do in various situations, such as pray when suffering, praise when cheerful, and call for the elders of the church when someone is sick. The emphasis is placed on prayer here. We are to confess our sins one to another that we may be healed. This is an interesting phrase, as it doesn’t necessarily say confession here is for forgiveness, for that is God’s place. But our confession does bring about mental and spiritual healing. Then he likens us to the prophet Elijah, who prayed for it not to rain for three and a half years because of the wickedness that was going on in the land, and it did not rain (see I Kings 17-18). We often view Elijah as a very powerful prophet who is very unlike our nature today. But James said that we have the same nature as Elijah, indicating that our prayers are just as powerful as his, for the power comes from God, the same God to whom Elijah prayed. James ends the book with an encouragement to look out for one another. He says that if a brother stumbles and someone goes to him and brings him back, he has saved his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. Let us ever be on the lookout for each other, correcting gently and humbly, for we too will need this correction and encouragement as we go through life.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Deuteronomy 1-3.
Love one another.