Be patient, then, my brothers, until the Lord comes. See how patient a farmer is as he waits for his land to produce precious crops. He waits patiently for the autumn and spring rains. You also must be patient. Keep your hopes high, for the day of the Lord’s coming is near. Do not complain against one another, my brothers, so that God will not judge you. The Judge is near, ready to appear. My brothers, remember the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Take them as examples of patient endurance under suffering. We call them happy because they endured. You have heard of Job’s patience, and you know how the Lord provided for him in the end. For the Lord is full of mercy and compassion. Above all, my brothers, do not use an oath when you make a promise. Do not swear by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Say only “Yes” when you mean yes and “No” when you mean no, and then you will not come under God’s judgement.
Is anyone among you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? He should sing praises. Is there anyone who is ill? He should send for the church elders, who will pray for him and rub olive- oil on him in the name of the Lord. This prayer made in faith will heal the sick person; the Lord will restore him to health, and the sins he has committed will be forgiven. So, then, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you will be healed. The prayer of a good person has a powerful effect. Elijah was the same kind of person as we are. He prayed earnestly that there would be no rain, and no rain fell on the land for three and a half years. Once again he prayed, and the sky poured out its rain and the earth produced its crops.
My brothers, if one of you wanders away from the truth and another one brings him back again, remember this; whoever turns a sinner back from his wrong way will save that sinner’s soul from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.
At about the time I was preparing this reflection I attended a day’s workshop of practice guidance as part of my ‘continuing professional development’ as a social worker. This is a requirement to stay on the professional register and be deemed fit to practice. The letter from James to all God’s people is rather like practice guidance for those called to be Christians. The letter is a collection of instructions.
James uses vivid figures of speech and models like Job and Elijah to illustrate his instructions. The letter stresses the necessity of patience to endure present circumstances while waiting for God’s coming. A farmer patiently waits for the seasons’ rains to refresh the soil on his land so that it can produce the precious crops for harvest. James tells his ‘readers’ to be similarly patient and to keep their hopes high as they anticipate the coming of the Lord. Likewise, the prophets and Job demonstrated patience in their endurance under suffering. They trusted in God, who is compassionate and merciful, and God provided for them in the end. Remembering that God wants the best for us, Christians can endure suffering for the Gospel and, in God’s sustaining love, be happy.
The next instruction follows the words of Jesus about making promises which must be done clearly and simply by saying “Yes” or “No” to a commitment. No swearing, no oaths by heaven or earth, or anything else. We need to take care and guard our tongues.
James reminds those he is writing to of the need to pray, if in trouble, or to sing praises, if happy. If a brother or sister in the fellowship is ill, then the church elders should be sent for to pray for that person and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. The fellowship needs to be strong now, as then. Christians must be patient with one another to endure stress and avoid falling into the temptation of offloading irritation in complaints or grudges against one another. And, there must be confidence and trust with confession of sins and prayers to promote fitness of soul and body and healing and offset the danger to the soul of the believer who may be falling away from the true path of faith towards spiritual death.
James offers Elijah as an example of a great pray-er who “was the same kind of person as we are”, praying against rain when it was not needed (no rain fell) and then for rain when it poured and watered the soil so that “the earth produced its crops”. The same holds true for those who follow Elijah’s example. “The prayer of a good person has a powerful effect”.
Dear God May we be patient, as James instructed, enduring what we suffer in faith till You come to restore us and make us happy. Empower our fellowships with the grace to foster growth in faith and healing. Make our prayers effective. Amen
Pamela Dowling is an Elder who served at the former St John’s Church URC in Forest Hill.