June 4, 2023
There are several challenges presented in these final verses of chapter five. So we’ll tackle the easiest first. Here is James 5:12:
But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
This verse stands essentially on its own. It might seem like a weird placement. It is not solidly connected to the verses that precede it, nor with the verses that follow. Here it stands, all by its lonesome.
There are a few things we can get out of the way. By no means does James mean that swearing oaths is worse than murder or adultery or other such heinous sins.
Second, those who sometimes slip with a bit of a salty tongue can rest assured that in this instance, when James says do not swear, he is not talking about using dirty or blue language. Earlier, he condemns grumbling against other people. Now that’s the dirty language.
The swearing prohibited by James is all about invoking God’s name, or substitutes for it, to guarantee the truth of what we say. “I swear to God, it happened that way.” No, no, no, James says. Because you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you word is your bond. A simple yes or no is what matters most.
Here’s a comparison between what Jesus said in Matthew 5 and what James said in chapter five:
“Do not swear an oath at all, “Do not swear,
Either by heaven… not by heaven
or by the earth… or by earth
or by Jerusalem… or by anything else.
Do not swear by your head…
All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ All you need to say is a simple ‘Yes’
or ‘No’; or ‘No.’
anything beyond this comes from the
evil one.” Otherwise you will be condemned.”
What have we seen over and over in James? He not only paid attention to his brother’s teachings, but also incorporated many of them in his letter.
In verse twelve, James is exhorting us to be as honest as humanly possible. And with that, he then transitions to calling us to be as fervent and sincere in our prayers as humanly possible.
Now on to the more challenging part. Here’s verses thirteen through eighteen:
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
When I was a senior in high school, my mom’s cancer returned. Her first surgery was when I was in eighth grade. She missed my high school graduation because she was in the hospital. The next two years consisted of chemo, experimental treatments, a slight remission, and then her death.
Through it all, we prayed. My mom was a strong Christian. There were lots of tears, through the sorrow and pain, but she knew Jesus was her Savior. She sang in the choir at the Methodist church. She was worshiping every Sunday that she could. The rest of us were Easter and Christmas people. I still feel regret over that.
I’ll never forget the day, when my mom was mostly homebound, when a
friend came to visit. The friend was part of the more charismatic/ fundamentalist stream of Protestantism. For the most part, she was kind. She prayed for my mom. And then she said, “Dorothy, if you prayed harder; if you had a deeper faith, you might be healed.” My dad, who was not a believer, mustered as much restraint as he could when he told her it was time for her to leave.
We have all prayed for people who have died from the illness or disease or injury we have prayed for them to recover from. We know the frustration, pain, disappointment.
Let’s go through this verse-by-verse.
First, verse 13:
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.
This is a great way to start. No matter what you are experiencing, bring it to God. Nothing you are going through in life is ignored by God or lost to God. Pour your heart out to Him. Here’s something you might want to
IN ALL SITUATIONS, PRAYER PROVES POWERFUL.
Right out of the gate, James calls us to build grit into our lives. “Is anyone among you suffering?” He uses another one of those great compound words he likes to use. Kakopathei can be broken down into its two parts:
Kakos = “Base, wrong, of bad nature, depraved, wicked.”
Pathos = “An affliction of the mind, emotions, passion.”
In other words, are you being abused? Are you being treated wickedly? Are you in distress? Are you feeling the weight of some physical or emotional assault? Then turn to God in prayer. It doesn’t say this will easily or automatically help you escape what befalls you. But, through the power of prayer, you can hold up. You can get by. You can power through. With grit, you can not only stay connected to God, but how you handle the kakopathei will testify to the depth of your faith in Jesus Christ.
I love how 1 Peter 5:6-11 describes grit:
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
What a wonderful promise. When suffering, first of all, bring it to God. Find your strength at the foot of the cross. Cling to God’s wonderful grace. As we sometimes sing:
O what peace we often forfeit O what needless pain we bear All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer
Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged Take it to the Lord in prayer
Can we find a friend so faithful Who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness Take it to the Lord in prayer
That is so beautifully and simply put. It is the first part of James 5:13.
The second half is pure joy. “Is anyone cheerful?” Again, another compound Greek word is used. Euthymei:
Eu = “Good or well.”
Thymei = “The principle of thought, feeling, spirit, soul.”
This is the contentment Jesus talked about in the Sermon on the Mount. The Greek word here is not rooted in outward circumstances. It is not dependent on deliverance from trials. It is cheerfulness in good times and in bad. Do you have that in your life? It is something which only comes from God. And so that is why, James says, we sing songs of praise. Our inner sense of well-being is expressed outwardly through praise. Amen?
An ancient Greek philosopher described euthymei this way:
“Cheerfulness, a condition according to which the soul lives calmly and steadily, being disturbed by no fear, or superstition, or other passion.”
It’s interesting to note that James doesn’t say we can only live in a state of one exclusive of the other. We can both pray through suffering and rejoice in the Lord. In fact, such tranquility in all things is what being in a relationship with Jesus Christ is all about. When you’re in deep spiritual pain, pray. When your soul is broken, pray. When your soul is rejoicing, praise. When you are floating in a sea of tranquility, praise. In all things, connect, heart and mind, with God.
This is a good place to stop. Next week, we’ll move on to verse fourteen. Here, James addresses the person who has lost the ability to persevere. This is the person who’s about to fold under pressure. It’s not a good place to be. And so, James is going to call those within the Body of Christ to rally around these wounded warriors.
Until next week:
SOLI DEO GLORIA…
To the Glory of God Alone