The Confessed Life! — James 5:12-20
By Pastor Lee Hemen
August 24, 2014
What would you like your last words to be to those you leave behind before you die? Perhaps you would want to leave behind some good advice for those you are leaving or maybe you would want to just say, “so long”? The comedian Bob Hope, to his wife Delores after she asked him where he wanted to be buried, replied, “Surprise me.” W. C. Fields, when he was asked why he was reading the Bible on his death bed, responded, “I’m looking for loop holes!” King David related with his last words that “When one rules over men in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth. (2 Samuel 23:3-4 NIV)” How cool is that!
James tried to fit into his final words all that he could so his readers would gain as much wisdom from his teaching as possible. For James it all boiled down to a simple life lived in Christ. A believer should not become impatient with their words, prayers, faith or sins. For James a life in Jesus was a confessed life. If you have made your confession to follow the one who died for you, then you should act like it! The confessed life is one of following Jesus; let’s discover what James teaches us…
The Psalmist prays, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalms 19:14 NIV)” James knew that…
I. The confessed life doesn’t need curse words! (Vv. 12-13)
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. Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. (James 5:12-13 NIV)
1. I remember when my mother wanted to make sure I listened to her, she would say something like “Young man, you had better be listening to me!” James tells his readers, “Above all” in that he wanted them to pay particular attention to what he was about to tell them. He wanted to leave them with some good parting advice that they soon would not forget. Jesus would use the term, “I tell you the truth” or “Amen” when he wanted his listeners to pay attention to what he was about to say. James wanted to get his reader’s attention to the details of their life in Christ. Believers can be so lackadaisical in their attitude and or actions concerning their faith. Just as a believer’s impatience should not be seen or heard in their griping or grumbling, we should not hear swear words come from a mouth that has been cleansed by Christ. Jesus would teach, “Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (Matthew 5:34-37 NIV)” Words often reflect the person’s true inner self. Jesus knew that it was not so much the words one used; it was the intent behind the words one used. We can use perfectly fine sounding words in very ungodly ways. James is just reinforcing Jesus’ teaching. James then reminds us that if we are “in trouble” we should instead use our voices for prayer. Speaking to God is far better than cursing the darkness. But more than that, if we are blessed, happy, we should “sing songs of praise”! The confessed life doesn’t need curse words!
EXAMPLE: I will never forget the first time I heard a grandparent, not mine, use foul language. I thought, “Grandparents shouldn’t use language like that! They’re grandparents!” It was shocking for me because you would think that folks who have lived long enough to see their grandchildren would have enough sense not to use ungodly language to express themselves, however, sin does not discriminate according to the age of the person. Praise and prayer, not cursing, should be what comes out of the mouths of believers. The confessed life doesn’t need curse words!
James continued in what he thought about prayer for the Christian. He understood that prayer is to be foundational for a dynamic life in Christ. In fact, we discover that for James…
II. The confessed life trusts in prayer! (Vv. 14-18)
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. 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. 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. 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. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. (James 5:14-18 NIV)
1. James knew that prayer is the one great thing the church can do for each other. Talking to God is never a wasted effort, especially if it is for the benefit of a fellow believer! “Is anyone sick?” James asks and then answers his own inquiry by relating the following advice, “He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.” The oil isn’t what is important here but rather the elders of the church praying over their fellow member “in the name of the Lord.” And notice, the one who is sick should be the one to ask for prayer! Actually, a great deal of confusion has been taught about these verses. Full physical health is not promised here, the practice of extreme unction (8th century) is not being taught here, and James is not teaching prayer plus a physician will do the trick either. The word for sick actually means to be weak. So, James is also referring to those who are not just physically weak but those who are spiritually weak in their faith! In fact, according to the literal translation, James affirms, “and the prayer of the faith shall save the distressed one, and the Lord shall raise him up, and if sins he may have committed, they shall be forgiven to him.” (Young’s Literal Translation) Prayer offered in faith is the key here. James is not teaching that hidden sin has caused a person to be sick, but rather his weak faith! “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed (literally made whole).” The power of prayer was evident for James and he knew that “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” His example is “Elijah” who “was a man just like us.” And remember that “He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.” Just as Elijah depended on prayer, James knew the confessed life trusts in prayer as well!
EXAMPLE: One of the first things Jesus’ disciples wanted him to do was to teach them how to pray. Up until this time, prayer had been by mechanical, uninspired, repetitious, and well boring! I was taught as a child to use beads and to murmur mindlessly over and over the same prayers hundreds if not thousands of times, and then, we were taught that God may or may not listen depending upon our attitude! How liberating it was for me when I learned that prayer was not something repeated ad nauseam. I learned that my prayer was actually talking to and having a conversation with the Living Lord and having him not only listen but respond! The prayer of a Christian is both powerful and effective and prayer is the best thing we can do for any situation! The confessed life trusts in prayer!
James was concerned for those believers who wandered away from the truth because of their spiritual weakness. He knew and understood that God is gracious and always forgives us when we confess our sins. James desired his readers realize that…
III. The confessed life turns wanderers back to the fold! (Vv. 19-20)
My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20 NIV)
1. James, as he wraps his letter up, states, “My brothers.” He is tacitly reminding them who they are, fellow Christians, and that they are part of something far greater than themselves, Jesus’ body his church. More than anything James wanted the body of Christ to be strong in their faith. And here we discover that James was indeed writing about someone who was weak in their faith rather than someone who was ill when he states “if one of you should wander from the truth.” The weak in the Lord will wander. It is the duty of those who are strong and steadfast in faith to “bring him back.” In fact, they should do so! Some of Paul’s final words to his friend and fellow pastor Timothy sound like James’ words of encouragement when he writes, “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith. (1 Timothy 6:20-21 NIV)” He wrote the church at Galatia, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. (Galatians 6:1 NIV)” James’ last request to his readers has a touch of tenderness and a clear note of encouragement to those who have helped others who have grown weary and have wandered from their faith. He writes “remember this.” We are to remember that except by the grace of God we could be the one who has wandered. How beautiful is it then to bring back the one lost sheep to the warm fold of the Father’s arms. James shares that “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” James did not mean the sins of the person turning the one back would be covered but rather that the sinner’s condition, his multitude of sins, would be covered by the grace of God when one turns back to him! Therefore he is saved from the wages of his sin, which is spiritual death! James knew that the confessed life turns wanderers back to the fold!
EXAMPLE: One of the most beautiful parables taught by Jesus is the one of the good shepherd who leaves the 99 safe sheep and goes out and looks for the one lost lamb. He finds the lamb, puts it on his shoulders, and carries it home where the whole town rejoices at its return and safety! Shouldn’t this be true for the body of Christ too? Recently a Camas family lost their daughter to unscrupulous people who had evil designs on their 19 year-old. She miraculously returned to them safe and unharmed and they wept openly at her return. Praise God that James taught that the confessed life turns wanderers back to the fold!
The confessed life doesn’t need curse words! The confessed life trusts in prayer! And, James knew that the confessed life turns wanderers back to the fold!
This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.