Tonight as we come to the end of our series looking at this letter James wrote to the scattered and persecuted Church in Jerusalem, we have seen how he encouraged the believers then, and of course us today as the church, to stand firm in Christ during times of trial and temptation that God allows us to go through in order that we may persevere in our faith, be mature and complete, and lacking nothing.
James also encouraged us in this letter, to not be merely listeners of the word, but be doers of the word. In other words, living out our faith in Christ in practical ways. He has challenged us not to show favouritism in the Church, and how we need to allow God to tame these tongues of ours, for us to be humble before God, and to trust in Him, and not, as many do today, in materialism. Then lastly, something we need to display as Christians during this time of uncertainty, and that is patience. Well today, James rounds up all that has gone before, firstly in v 12, with a simple challenge as believers, not to swear an oath, as indeed the Jews had a habit of doing, swearing either by heaven, or earth, or Jerusalem, Matt 5 v 37, Jesus said, "all you need to say is a simple yes or no, anything beyond this comes from the evil one". I have often heard one or two who claim to be believers, reinforcing something they want us to believe, by saying "I swear on my mothers life". James warns us that such swearing, like all wrong speech, invites Gods judgement.
Well next he gives us three examples of this great privilege we have as believers, of coming into the presence of God in prayer. Each example a sign of spiritual maturity. Firstly; prayer concerning those in the fellowship, as well as ourselves. Secondly; the world. Thirdly; our concern as believers for a brother or sister who, for whatever reason may have wandered from the truth.
Look at v 13. If we are honest, when trouble comes on us or, as might have been the case here, persecution prayer can often be the last thing we think of, whereas James says, God should be the first we turn to in faith, because if we claim as Christians to believe that God hears us when we pray, as indeed He does, then we need to pray.
Think of Nehemiah, when the King questioned him regarding his sad demeanour. Nehemiah shot up, in faith, what we might call an arrow prayer to God, and God responded, and Nehemiah was able to tell the King what was wrong. Not only that, the King was moved to assist in ways Nehemiah could never have dreamt of. So; when trouble comes, do not look down. LOOK UP and Pray.
Are you happy, cheerful? Then James says, SING. Sing praises to God. Moses told the Israelites, that when they entered the promised land, occupied the cities that were established, and likewise homes they did not build, as well as vineyards etc, they were not to forget the Lord their God, but praise Him. Because Moses knew, that what tends to happen when all is going well, is we do not think of God. Our hearts are far more inclined to think our circumstances are the reason we are happy. So we have thought about prayer and praise offered to God for ourselves. James now turns to the fellowship. Read V 14. I am sure my experience as a Pastor is not unique, in that Pastors/Ministers can often be the last to hear if someone in the fellowship is really unwell. But notice the initiative lies with the sick/unwell person to call the elders, and notice also the specific role the elders play. To pray over them, and to anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. Oil of course was widely used in and around the Middle East in the treatment of wounds and illnesses. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan poured wine and oil on the wounds of the man set upon by robbers, before binding up his wounds. Oil, is also symbolic of the Holy Spirit.
Well next v 15, and a verse that has been interpreted in many and various ways. Some helpful, some not! "The Prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well". I am sure like me we have each heard of well meaning Christians praying for a sick person, and there has been little or no indication that a healing has taken place. So immediately, a question mark is raised in our minds, as to the faith of the one offering prayer, or the one receiving prayer. But what does James mean by 'The prayer of faith?' I found what the theologian Alec Motyer said regarding this verse very helpful. "In the prayer of faith, our faith is not that the promises will be fulfilled just like that; it is the faith that rests trustfully in the will of a sovereign, faithful and loving God".
How often is it the case that we pray with compassion, and all integrity over a sick friend, but in doing so we are praying for our will to be done. Surely; before praying and anointing a sick person, the elders should be seeking to better understand Gods will. Because it may be, despite what we might think, that it is not Gods will that a healing, as we might want to see, will take place.
It might well be that for the sick person, having examined their hearts and consciences before the Lord, some unrepentant sin may have been manifesting itself physically, and even dare I suggest psychologically. Ps 32. v 3 When David kept silent. In other words, failed to repent before the Lord of his adultery with Bathsheba. He felt he was wasting away, his strength sapped. He even felt Gods hand was heavy on him. We must never underestimate what physical, emotional, psychological damage unrepentant sin can cause to an individual.
Look at v 16 Well such is sin, that we do not always want others to see our dirty washing. But if we have sinned against a brother or sister, then we know what Jesus taught us. We are to go and seek that persons forgiveness. If we have sinned against the church, then it may be we need to confess that publicly, but not before seeking with the elders how that might best be done, so that all in the fellowship can move forward. As always with the Lord, we have that assurance, as James says here in v 15 that our sins will be forgiven if we confess them before the Lord. Well next James encourages us to pray for our world, for all that is going on in our world. Look at v 17-18.
Well fresh from our Lent study in 1 Kings James speaks of Elijah, and how he prayed EARNESTLY that it would not rain. We know from 1 Kings 17 through to 19 of the backdrop to Elijahs prayer. Gods people had turned away from worshipping Him as the one true God, in favour of the idols brought in to Israel by Ahabs foreign wife, Jezebel.
We know that as a nation, over the past 100 yrs, the UK has turned away from God to worship idols: of which there are many. But all designed to satisfy the lusts of mens hearts. I believe what the Coronavirus is revealing is peoples lack of faith in Almighty God, and the Hope we can all have in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. As such, Satan seems to have many today, gripped with fear and uncertainty.
As we pray for our nation today, for God to grant wisdom to all government ministers and advisors, maybe we need to be praying as EARNESTLY as Elijah did for his nation. James has already reminded us in v 16, "that the prayers of a righteous person is powerful and effective”
Turn in your bibles to 1 Kings 18 v 43-44, and see Elijahs example of earnest and persistent prayer before the Lord, and remember, as James says here, Elijah was a human being, even as we are: and let us ask ourselves if we are as persistent before the Lord in prayer as perhaps we should be? When Elijah prayed, the heavens gave rain. Let us pray God will send the refreshing rain of His Spirit over this land in such a way that many will turn to Him with repentant hearts.
Finally: Look at v 19-20. I know that many of you, like Ali and I have someone you love, who you thought was going on in their faith, and for a multitude of reasons, turning away from the Lord. The question that always arises in my mind is; was there ever a genuine conversion that had taken place in the heart of the one who has backslidden. I guess only the Lord can answer if they we are genuinely born again of His Spirit.
But it seems here James is not referring to unregenerate people, but to born again believers who have wandered from the truth of Gods word. So it is imperative as believers we keep close to the Lord, not only in prayer, but in drawing closer to Him through His word.
As evangelical believers, I believe with the same earnestness that Elijah prayed for rain to fall on Israel, we need to be praying for God to breathe new life into the mainstream church today, especially for some of its senior clergy who have clearly wandered away from Gods word.
So; much to pray for. For ourselves, whether troubled, or happy. For our fellowship, offering prayers in faith, that in all we ask of God, it will be to see His will being done, even if that means what we ask for is not forthcoming. Praying prayers in earnest. Not giving up on prayer, but being as persistent as Elijah was. Finally; praying for those who are perhaps on a spiritual decline at present, that they, might once again feel the breath of God, breathing new life into their hearts and souls. Amen.