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James

Coming Again - What To Do!

James  5:7-20

No part of Christian teaching has provoked more nonsense than the Second Coming of Christ. It is instructive that the Scripture itself does not give us the slightest encouragement about determining when He will return, or what events will occur first. The entire thrust of the Scripture on this subject is what we should be doing to get ready for it.

(James 5:7-20 NIV) Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. {8} You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. {9} Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! {10} Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. {11} As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. {12} Above all, my brothers, do not swear--not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your "Yes" be yes, and your "No," no, or you will be condemned. {13} Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. {14} Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. {15} And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. {16} Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. {17} Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. {18} Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. {19} My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, {20} remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

The Second Coming

The matter of our Lord's return can be summarized - we need no more than this for our purpose in this lesson - as simply the parousia, the return. He is coming back. More than that we need to remember these things:

·         His return is always described as being swift and unexpected. "A thief in the night" is the usual phrase used to describe it. So all predictions of dates and times are useless; He will come when He comes.

·         His return will be in power, and his purpose will be to judge the world. Today he is patient, not wanting any of us to be lost. When He returns, matters (and, for that matter, matter) will be different.

What are we supposed to do about it, then? If we don't know when he's coming, but we know he's coming for judgment, what should we do? James gives us two general concepts first:

Be patient

The word in the Greek is makrothumeo, which is a compound word. The first part you might recognize in English as "macro" - a prefix which means "big." In Greek it means "long" - either in time or distance. Thumeo is, roughly, "passion." This word deals, then, with our emotions. It is used in two significant passages of Scripture:

·         In the 13th chapter of First Corinthians, the Love Chapter, we see love is patient - the same word.

·         In the story of the unforgiving debtor[1] both debtors cry out, "Be patient with me!" It is the same word.

It is the word we might use when we counsel someone to be patient with a misbehaving child. It is the word for those who must put up with things.

Stand firm

The word in the Greek is often translated, when used as a verb, as "strengthen." It means to be a fixed point in a fluid world. In the story of Lazarus you will recall the "great gulf fixed." That "fixed" is the same word. The idea is that you take in what Christ has given you and you do not change. You become like your Father in heaven: eternal, unchanging. He is always reliable because of his eternal nature. We should likewise be reliable, firmly standing in the faith, because we have partaken of that nature.

The "Don't" of Awaiting

James is fond of giving us advice; it is interesting that so little of it is negative. Here are a couple of the "don'ts" - the "Thou Shalt Not" list:

Don't grumble

It is very interesting that James says that grumbling is judgment. Most of have the idea that grousing under our breath somehow doesn't count. But just because you muttered the judgment does not make it any less judgment. We need to remember that when we judge others - even under our breath - we are in serious trouble. This is because judgment belongs to God alone; when we judge our fellow man we are taking what belongs to God - and he will not take that lightly. (It is so much a relief to know that God is so loving and forgiving!)

Besides, look at it from the "Kingdom Come" point of view: If Jesus were to arrive in the next fifteen minutes, would you feel foolish for what you're grumbling about now? Something a little trivial, perhaps?

Do not take oaths

This sounds almost strange to our modern ears. One very seldom hears an oath taken in all seriousness today, outside of a courtroom where (it seems) most hold it to be a mere formality. We have lost the sense of being under oath as being likely to produce the truth.

This is because of the nature of the oath itself. It is an attempt to involve God in proclaiming your honesty - at least at that moment. Obviously, in a society which does not take God seriously, an oath would be a rare thing. Who would fear to take an oath by God if God does not exist?

The source of trouble for James in his time is quite different. Men took God quite seriously - and tried to find a loophole. You will recall Christ's example where he berates the Pharisees for telling people that if you swear by the Temple, it counts - but if you swear by the gold on the Temple, it doesn't. James is complaining about false oaths. But there is a point for us in it. Now that the Spirit is in us, God no longer is "beyond" - and therefore for the true Christian an oath should be unnecessary. It should be clear that a Christian simply would not lie, for the Spirit of Truth is in him. It is presumption to do so.

Now that we think man supreme, we have the opposite problem. There is no oath which can be taken seriously - for there is now nothing superior to ourselves. If you think not, consider this: two thirds of the American people approve of Bill Clinton, our president (as of this writing) - and consider that perjury, lying under oath, is acceptable when it is done to cover up adultery. I wonder how he would have felt if Christ appeared at the moment of his testimony. Perhaps we should consider our words in that light as well.

The "Do's"

James gives us a number of things to "do."

Prayer in time of trouble.

It is possible to misinterpret this advice. James is not advocating "firehouse faith" prayer - prayer only in times of trouble. But if you will recall Jesus himself prayed with greatest fervency in the garden the night before he was crucified. When you are in trouble, plead with the one who can help you!

Songs of praise

Old Athanasius had it right: there is no moment we are closer to heaven that when we are singing God's praises. Why? Because it is at that moment that all of us is in touch with Him. To sing, one must use (or at least should) all one's heart, soul, mind and strength. To do that in God's praise puts us in touch with him, for we know that he inhabits the praise of his people. Are you happy? Draw closer to God - as he draws closer to us.

Anointing and praying for the sick

It is amusing that so many churches have a problem with this passage. The reason is that it has been taken amiss by some. There is the feeling that anointing with oil (taken in the Old Testament sense of anointing a king or prophet) and praying over them is somehow magic in curing disease. That is not the point James is trying to make.

In the time in which this was written, anointing someone with oil was a medical process as well as a symbolic one - did you ever use Vaseline on someone? The injunction here is to provide the best care you can (the oil) and also to call upon the Lord. So I take it that we are to go to the doctor's office, follow his advice - and call upon the elders to pray for us.

Why the elders? Consider: if you want someone praying for you, wouldn't you want someone who has a close relationship with God? And shouldn't the elders have exactly that? That's why James tells us that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective, for it is the righteous whom God will hear.

Confession

Confession has been little used in the Protestant churches, as a reaction to its abuse in the Catholic faith. It remains, however, a requirement.

·         Confession is to sin what cleansing is to a wound - the first step in healing.

·         Confession is necessary to restoration. God will not accept any but the holy; we cannot be holy except through Christ's blood. This is given to us for the forgiveness of sins - which begins with repentance and confession.

·         Once restored, we are in "good standing" with God - and thus our prayers would be heard.

Note that we are to confess to each other and then pray for each other. God already knows what we've done; he just wants it out in the open where the church (that is, each other) can help deal with it. This passage is about the church helping the sinner to restoration.

Covering

When you see the word "cover" with regard to sin, you should immediately thing of the Atonement Cover which was on the Ark of the Covenant. That cover - sanctified with blood - was to be a barrier between the effects of sin and the holy God. So it is when we confess our sins to each other, and ask others to assist us in these most spiritual matters, we become like an atonement cover for each other. We stand between the holy God and the effects of our brother's sins. To "stand between" is English for intercede. This is therefore a type of intercession.

Suppose the Lord should return to find us today doing these things.

·         Are you in trouble? Be close to him; pray.

·         Are you happy? Be close to him; sing and rejoice.

·         Are you sick? Call upon the church to bring you close to him in prayer.

·         Are you sinful? Confess and be restored. Let your brothers and sisters stand as a atonement cover between your sins and your God.

In these ways we shall be ready when he comes. It does not matter what our state of emotions or health when he returns. What matters is our standing with him.


[1] Matthew 18:23-35

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