Bible blog 1986

JAMES 5

7 My friends, be patient until the Lord returns. Think of farmers who wait patiently for the spring and summer rains to make their valuable crops grow. 8 Be patient like those farmers and don’t give up. The Lord will soon be here! 9 Don’t grumble about each other or you will be judged, and the judge is right outside the door.

10 My friends, follow the example of the prophets who spoke for the Lord. They were patient, even when they had to suffer. 11 In fact, we praise the ones who endured the most. You remember how patient Job was and how the Lord finally helped him. The Lord did this because he is so merciful and kind.

12 My friends, above all else, don’t take an oath. You must not swear by heaven or by earth or by anything else. “Yes” or “No” is all you need to say. If you say anything more, you will be condemned.

13 If you are having trouble, you should pray. And if you are feeling good, you should sing praises. 14 If you are sick, ask the church leaders to come and pray for you. Ask them to put olive oil on you in the name of the Lord. 15 If you have faith when you pray for sick people, they will get well. The Lord will heal them, and if they have sinned, he will forgive them.

16 If you have sinned, you should tell each other what you have done. Then you can pray for one another and be healed. The prayer of an innocent person is powerful, and it can help a lot. 17 Elijah was just as human as we are, and for three and a half years his prayers kept the rain from falling. 18 But when he did pray for rain, it fell from the skies and made the crops grow.

19 My friends, if any followers have wandered away from the truth, you should try to lead them back. 20 If you turn sinners from the wrong way, you will save them from death, and their many sins will be forgiven.

This concluding section of the letter of James ends abruptly as if perhaps something has been lost. Again we should note the absence of greetings in the name of Jesus which we might expect at this point. This has led scholars to wonder if it is really a rare example of a Judaistic pastoral letter, written to the scattered communities of Jews after the destruction of the Temple in 70CE. The many reminiscences of Jesus’ teaching, together with the references to the coming of the Lord, however, convince me that it is a Jewish Christian letter, composed in the name of James, the brother of Jesus, who was killed in 62 CE by his fellow Jews. image.jpeg

The memory of his martyrdom would have sharpened these words that counsel patience and steadfastness. For many of the early assemblies of Jesus, life was far from easy, with pressure and sometimes persecution from fellow Jews as well as the Roman authorities. Comfortable Christians today should reflect on their endurance and that of contemporary believers in Pakistan, Syria, Iran and elsewhere.

The image of the farmer awaiting harvest was used by Jesus to encourage steadfast faith, as James does here. The patience is only justifiable if indeed the judge is at the door. I noted yesterday that I do not think he is; and that those who share my scepticism will either dismiss James’ counsel, or interpret it in a new way. The example of Job is poorly chosen, as we read how impatient he was even to the point of denouncing God and cursing the day of his birth. The kindness of God is not the most obvious quality evident in the story of Job’s suffering.

Verse 12 is linked  to the main theme of patience by the unstated thought that the use of oaths is unsteady behaviour, whereas abiding by your word ahows steadiness.

The life of the assemblies for which James is writing is evident in the commands to pray for the sick and to anoint them. The phrase “prayer of faith” which is here translated as “if you have faith when you pray” may be a kind of technical term for communal prayer over the sick. Again we should note James’ confidence that the sick will be healed, and the absence of counsel for the times when there is no healing. The mutual confession of sin shows the members of the assembly exercising their priestly function for each other, withiut the need for clergy; and the final verse points to the ministry of rescuing members of have got lost, the task which Jesus ascribed to the good shepherd. The letter ends with the assurance of forgiveness.

Although the Letter of James is more of a round robin than directed to a particular community, its tone is affectionate and its wisdom, if sharp towards the rich, is genial towards the ordinary poor people of the assemblies of Jesus. Its connections to the teaching of Jesus make it unusual amongst the letters of the Christian bible and its concern with integity of faith and action is of permanent value.

 

 

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