In my previous post on James I only briefly touched upon James 4v13 to 5v20. Having spent more time reading this section, I wanted to share my thoughts on it.
For this post I focus on how this section of James can be taken to relate to our attitude with respect to the second coming of our Lord. I find it particularly relevant coming into this new year, where I have a strong tendency to make plans and set goals for the coming year, but which often feature worldly things rather than heavenly.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
This is a warning to not get so caught up in our own plans for our life, that we forget we are sustained by His power (Hebrews 1v3). I think we should plan, but we need to be thinking about who our plans glorify, ourselves or God, and we should not be so engrossed in our plans that we can’t hear the plan God has for us.
We can also relate this back to 1v9-11, which warns the rich to be humble, because they will “fade away in the midst of his pursuits”. So even while we follow our pursuits, let’s do it humbly and knowing it is only because God has given us this life, and sustains us in it, that we can do this.
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.
While starting out as a warning against “you rich”, it seems like this is not about being rich in itself, but about sins that the rich are more likely to be able to commit: they are condemned for their treatment of labourers (v4), themselves (v5) and the righteous (v6).
Nevertheless the sin of having “laid up treasure in the last day” is something I think we can all relate to, whether it is monetary or other kinds of treasure. Let’s try hard to remember not to be seeking those earthly treasures which will corrode and could condemn us. Those who plan without God (4v13-17) are likely also planning to acquire these earthly treasures.
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. 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.
Having given us two warnings in the previous two sections, he now tell us positively what we should be doing, and gives us a command, v8: “be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand”.
What does it mean to be patient? James has clearly told us early in this book to be “doers of the word” so this isn’t to be passive. I think instead we can look to 1v12 “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life”. Being patient is seeing that our treasure is not something to be stored up here on earth, but is the crown we will receive when Jesus returns.
So we should not be like the people in the two warnings, seeking wealth or worldly pleasures, but should be patient on earth looking to our future treasure. If our eyes are on this heavenly crown, then we should be more able to endure the struggles of our lives here, than if we are worrying about our fragile earthly treasures.
We can also refer back to 1v2 “Count it all joys, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” and which James picks up again here with his call for us to be steadfast. So it won’t be easy being patient here on earth, but we should try to consider it a joy, knowing what the suffering will produce.
v9, “the Judge is standing at the door”, then picks up the theme of judgement that has also been running through this book. We can look back to verses including 2v12, 3v1, 4v12 for James’ reminders about the judgement that will come with Jesus return. While we should be looking for our inheritance we will receive when Jesus returns, we shouldn’t forget the judgement that comes with it.
I know that v12 can be controversial and I don’t intend to talk about practically what it means. But in the context of this passage, I feel we can at least say that if we are living our lives here with our eyes on the coming return of Jesus then surely we would only want to use His name reverently, being “slow to speak”, and not to mis-use it in any way.
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.
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
So how do we live, while we wait patiently for the day of the Lord? Prayerfully! And as we learned in 1v6, praying with faith. Whether it is in rejoicing, or through suffering or sickness, pray. I know I find this very difficult, especially in the hard times, but it is helpful to be reminded of this again.
Here, James gives us Elijah as an example of prayer, and encourages us by saying in v17 “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours”. In v10 he gave us Job as an example of patience and steadfastness. I know that I often see the prophets as people very different to us, but it is encouraging that James reminds us they are people like us, and sees them as examples for us, knowing God is “compassionate and merciful” (v11).
The final reminder in v19-20 is to watch out for those drifting away. This is so important; we don’t want to lose any of our brothers or sisters before Jesus comes back.
Having made lots of plans for 2016, I now need to stop and go back and think and pray about it again, having read these warnings and commands in James. The power of God’s Word to shows us our errors and teach us is wonderful, as Hebrews 4v12 well describes it: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart”.
Having read this passage with a fellow Christian he told me an analogy he had heard: That we should be like a boat on water – a boat needs to keep moving forwards, or else the rudder isn’t able to turn the boat if the boat is stationary. And so we need to be moving forwards in our lives, but so that God can steer us where He wants us to go.