James 5

James 5:7

Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains.

The farmer waits. In his eschatological parables Jesus told stories of masters, noblemen, and bridegrooms being gone “a long time” (Matt. 24:48, 25:5, 25:19). Since Jesus has been gone a long time, he exhorts us to “be like servants waiting for their master” (Luke 12:36). The need to wait is echoed by the epistle writers. “Wait eagerly for our adoption as sons” (Rom 8:23); “We hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (Rom 8:25); “We eagerly await a Savior” (Php. 3:20); “Be patient brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits…” (Jas. 5:7); “Wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (Jude 1:21).

Jesus and every New Testament writer spoke of the need to wait patiently and eagerly for the Lord’s return. We are to be watchful and ready, but we are not to put life on hold. Plant trees and raise families, and do whatever God put you on this earth to do. Invest, build, dig deep and go long. Let your light shine so others may praise your Father in heaven.

James 5:9

Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.

Right at the door. It sounds as if Jesus’ return and Judgment Day are right around the corner, in which case James was mistaken because nobody knows when the Lord will return except the Father (Matt. 24:36).

The context is waiting patiently and enduring in the face of persecution. If Jesus was just weeks away, we wouldn’t need to wait at all, and there would be little opportunity to endure. When James says, “The Judge is at the door,” or Paul says, “The Lord is at hand” (Php. 4:5), they are encouraging us to persevere and live with the end in mind.

James 5:11

We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.

(a) We count those blessed who endured. Those who endure do so by the grace of God. We are not blessed because we have passed the enduring test; we are blessed when the trials of life teach us to rely on God and draw from the abundance of his grace (see entry for Jas. 1:12).

(b) You have heard of the endurance of Job. Job faced severe trials losing his home, his family, and his health. Job did not come through his trial because he was made of the right stuff. In fact, Job’s trials brought out bitterness and suicidal inclinations. Yet Job got there in the end on account of “the outcome of the Lord’s dealings.” It was the grace of God that enabled Job to endure the unendurable.

(c) Full of compassion and is merciful. To be merciful is to be compassionate, so James is really saying the same thing twice for emphasis. Because of his great love (Eph. 2:4), God abounds in mercy toward us (Eph. 2:4, 1 Pet. 1:3).

Further reading: “The ‘patience’ of Job

James 5:12

But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.

(a) Do not swear… with any other oath. Those who live under law tend to put a lot of stock in their promise-making, and this was certainly true of the Jews (see Ex. 19:8). Don’t rely on your promises to God; rely on his promises to you (see Matt. 5:34-36).

(b) So that you may not fall under judgment. Instead of making promises you may break, speak simply and with integrity. Be honest, not hypocritical.

James 5:15

and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.

Be forgiven. As far as God is concerned, you are forgiven, but you won’t be forgiven – that is, you won’t experience the gift of his forgiveness – unless you receive it by faith (Acts 10:43, 26:18).

On the cross the Lamb of God bore the sins of the whole world (John 1:29, 2 John 2:2). All your sins have been forgiven. But it is only in Christ we have or possess the forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7, Col. 1:14). See entry for Forgiveness.

James 5:19

My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back,

If any among you strays. Those who wander can be brought back onto the right path. This is good news for anyone who has lost their way.

James 5:20

let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

(a) Will save his soul from death. The lost sinner who is in danger of death can be turned around.

James is not preaching a perverted form of church discipline that involves threatening God’s children with death. He’s encouraging us to preach the good news to those who are lost.

(b) From death. Jesus is the Deliverer who rescues us from our enemies (Luke 1:71) and there is no greater enemy than death (1 Cor. 15:26). When we point people to Jesus, we are leading them to a Savior who saves our souls from death (Ps. 33:19, 116:8).

(c) Will cover a multitude of sins. It is the love of God that covers all our sins (1 Pet 4:8). This is the good news that inspires sinners to turn to God and be saved.

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