Study Notes

James 5:9-20


Last week, we looked at the first eight verses of the final chapter of James. In them, James wrote a blistering condemnation directed towards those who have made their money by corruption, and stored it up for their own selfishness. The rest of us were told to be patient, knowing that the Lord is coming soon, and that He will render to every person according to his or her deeds. In verses seven and eight, James reassured and comforted us, saying

James 5:7-8 Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

Patience is the key. The farmer is rewarded each year for his patience as he receives his crop. When the Lord returns, we also will be rewarded for our patience. As we pick up in verse nine, James continues this thought.

5:9-11 Do Not Complain

The problem with patience is that it doesn't come naturally to us who are impatient. Often, we say that we are waiting, but our mouths and actions speak otherwise.

If we listen to ourselves, most of us will find that we regularly complain against other people. We are impatient because "they are too dumb. They are too slow. They are too selfish. They are too crazy. They are too pig-headed."

But James says not to do this. Just as he instructed us back in chapter four,

James 4:11-12 Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the law, and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge {of it.} There is {only} one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?

James now reminds us of this same truth: we are not God. We are not appointed to be the judge of people. Yes, we can judge deeds, but no, we may not judge people. Instead, we are to be patient.

Patience Like The Prophets

I remember being a new Christian and people telling me, "Don't pray for patience, brother! I never pray for patience! God will hear that prayer and send you all kinds of trials and difficulties to test your patience! Life gets really bad when you pray for patience!"

Now, I don't know about you, but I have found that this life can get pretty bad whether I'm praying for patience or not! What I do know is this: this life hands me difficulties and suffering. My God has commanded me to be patient in the midst of it. If you pray for patience, do you honestly think that God is just going to make things worse?

"Look at the prophets," James says. It's a good thing that they didn't shy away from speaking in the name of the Lord because they were afraid of becoming patient! Instead, they boldly proclaimed the truth, even when it brought about hard times, persecutions, and even death. As Stephen proclaimed to the Jewish council,

Acts 7:52 "Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?.."

All through the Bible, we see examples of men and women of God suffering. And yet, we also see the faithfulness of God to these people. As they endured, God was compassionate and merciful to them.

Endurance Like Job

There is probably no greater example of suffering than Job. Here was a man who was rich beyond our imaginations. Having many possessions, a wife, ten grown children, and a heart for God, he seemed to have it all. But when the devil attacked everything he had, things became unbearable.

First, the Sabeans attacked, taking all of his oxen and donkeys and killing the servants who watched over them. Next, lightning fried all of his sheep and the shepherds. Immediately afterwards, the Chaldeans took all of his camels and slew the servants who kept them.

To make matters infinitely worse, a tornado wiped out the house that his children were in, killing them all instantly.

Job's response to these terrible things?

Job 1:20-22 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said, Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD." Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.

The devil, angry at not getting Job to curse God, attacked again. This time, Job was stricken physically. He was afflicted with a disease marked by inflamed, ulcerous, itching sores (2:7-8); sleeplessness, worms, hardened, running skin (chapter 7); loss of appetite (3:24), difficulty breathing (9:18); putrid breath (19:17); unending internal pain (30:16-17); and a fever and blackened skin (30:30).

Certainly affliction like this combined with such great losses would cause anyone to lose patience, and even cause one to question his or her faith in God.

But when Job endured, and showed himself faithful by praying for others, God blessed. His fortune was restored, and everything he'd previously had was doubled.

5:12 Do Not Swear

There are times in suffering when we let loose statements from our mouths that we regret. "As God is my witness, I will kill that man!" "I swear that I will never speak to her again!" "As long as I have breath, I will never let them rest until they pay back every cent!" These are sure ways to avoid blessing and bring judgment upon ourselves.

Jesus pointed out that vows made before the Lord are a mandatory obligation. Therefore, we are not to make them.

Matt. 5:33-37 "Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.' But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes' {or} ‘No, no'; and anything beyond these is of evil."

The statement, "I swear to God" should never depart from our lips. "Yes" and "no" will suffice.

5:13-18 Prayer For The Sick

We are not always called to endure suffering for as long a times as Job was. There are sicknesses that the Lord would be glorified through your healing rather than your perseverance. How can you know the difference? Ask for prayer.

Notice that it says to call for the elders of the church. There is an important statement here: you have to call. Oftentimes, I will offer to pray for people, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. But the Lord would rather see your faith working by your asking.

The elders are in the sanctuary after every Sunday and Thursday service for that purpose. If you are sick or suffering, ask for prayer. The elders will anoint you with oil, and offer up a prayer of faith.

If you are harboring sin, that is a good time to confess it. Sometimes our sin is manifested physically. Internal bitterness or unforgiveness in our lives can become ulcers or migraines. Sins of our spiritual heart can result in physical heart problems.


So what good does the prayer of a couple guys in the church do? It can accomplish much. James uses Elijah as a perfect example. Elijah was a guy with shortcomings and failings just like anybody else. As we studied through the books of First and Second Kings, we saw that Elijah had times of faith and times of failing. He had times of selflessness and times of selfishness. But when he prayed that no rain would fall on the land (1Kings 17:1) and 3 1/2 years later prayed that it would, God acted.

You see, the power of prayer is not based on the power of the one praying. It is God who answers prayer powerfully. Our elders have no power to heal you in and of themselves. But they will pray in faith to see if God desires to heal you of your affliction.

5:19-20 Turning Strayers Back To The Truth

The value of spiritual men and women like the elders of the church is not just to restore you to physical health. It is to see you turned back to the truth. Many of you here have spent months or years apart from God, and were gently restored by spiritual people ministering to you.

Once restored, we will not put your sins back on you. The righteous man never reminds you of sins that God has forgotten. When you confess and repent, these things are done in the Lord's eyes and in ours. This is because we genuinely love you, and, as the Scripture says,

1Pet. 4:8 Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.

Today, we invite you to come forward and be ministered to by the elders. If you are sick, ask for prayer. If you are in sin, confess that and let them pray for you. If you have strayed from the Lord, admit it and let them pray to see you restored.

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