James Chapter 5: Christian Counsel and Behavior

Nov 5th, 2009 | By | Category: James, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

James Chapter 5: Christian Counsel and Behavior

James 5:1 Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.

James wrote his epistle shortly before AD 44, which was prior to the trouble that came on the nation of Israel in AD 69-70. The accumulated wealth of the nation was doomed to destruction.

While the main thrust, or focus, of this epistle was to Jews who had accepted Christ, yet every so often James inserted thoughts for the unconsecrated. In chapter 5, he admonished this latter element. Probably he had in mind the admonitions of John the Baptist, which pertained to the trouble that was to come on Israel in AD 69-70 (Luke 3:10-14). However, God overruled so that the admonitions back there apply equally to the coming Time of Trouble at the end of the present age. In our day, the words of James apply to all of the consecrated, as well as to anyone else who hears them.

Comment: Matthew 6:19, part of the Sermon on the Mount, corresponds with James 5:1-3, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.”

Q: Would James 5:1-6 also have an application to the end of this age? Would there be a correspondency with Revelation 3:17,18? “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.”

A: The Laodicean message is addressed to those who take the name “Christian.” In regard to the end times, James 5:1-6 is addressed to the professed Christian, and not just to the Jewish Christian. The “richness” that is condemned in the Laodicean message means a satisfaction with the measure of spiritual development already attained. Such professed Christians feel spiritually rich and fed. However, this passage here in James also has an application to the public because of the mention of the poor whose wages are held back and of the farmers who are not properly reimbursed. Incidentally, the Pastor felt that the agrarian element is the backbone of the nation, and once that is eroded, any kind of trouble can develop.

Comment: From the standpoint of principle, Proverbs 11:26 applies, “He that withholdeth corn, the people shall curse him: but blessing shall be upon the head of him that selleth it.”

James 5:2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.

James 5:3 Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.

“Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.” Today the gap is widening between the rich and the poor. True Christians who are accumulating wealth improperly will lose all in the giving of their life in the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” period after the Little Flock is gone.

James 5:4 Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.

Again an agrarian emphasis is shown, this time by the phrase “reaped down your fields.”

Those who work by the sweat of their brow, tilling the ground and taking all the risks of nature, are not profiting.

Q: The word “sabaoth” appears only twice in the New Testament, here and in Romans 9:29. In the Old Testament, the term is translated “LORD of hosts.” Wouldn’t the thought in James 5:4 be the Lord of armies, the Lord of hosts? God is the Lord of all nationalities, all peoples, who have been oppressed and unjustly treated.

A: Yes, that is true in this context, but of course the title, as originally given, pertains to the heavens as the Lord’s army, or host. When the phrase is translated in terms of down here on earth, it pertains to human beings. Just as all of the planets obey God and His laws, so He has laid down, with regard to the conduct of physical (human) beings, principles and laws that are based on common sense and fair play.

Comment: The same philosophy of the poor getting their hire is found in Deuteronomy 24:15.

“At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee.”

Reply: For thousands of years, most people were day laborers (today we call them migrant workers). These were poor people, so their pay was to be given to them regularly and not withheld or delayed. When workers are dependent for their daily bread, employers have a tremendous responsibility to be fair.

In countries where child labor is practiced, additional problems can be created when some from the United States interfere and tell them to cease from the practice. The supposed cure makes the condition of the poor ten times worse if child labor is the only means of the family’s getting sustenance. We should analyze a problem from the other person’s standpoint and not just legislate and talk without considering the ramifications. In fact, so many laws are passed each year in this country that it is virtually impossible to be informed on all of them. And riders tacked onto the end of other bills can be especially dangerous. If God’s perfect law failed because of man’s imperfections, then man’s imperfect law makes conditions a thousand-fold worse. The Kingdom is needed for perfect law and perfect power to enforce that law.

“The cries [of the poor] … are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.” This statement reminds us of the children of Israel in Egypt. The Lord hearkened to their cry and sent them a savior, Moses.

James 5:5 Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.

“As in a day of slaughter.” As a principle, cattle are fattened for the slaughter. Here James was saying that those who store up riches are unknowingly heaping condemnation on themselves because they are not fulfilling the responsibility of fair play toward others that possession entails. That responsibility seems to be directly proportional to the amount of goods possessed. Riches heap up condemnation instead of real security.

James 5:6 Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.

Comment: “The just [One]” would be primarily Jesus, but the use of the present tense (“he doth not resist you”) indicates a secondary application to the body members.

Reply: The word “just” is in the singular in this instance, showing that originally James was referring to Jesus, who went like a Lamb to the slaughter (Isa. 53:7). But at this end of the age, the reference broadens to include the body members. The Second Psalm is another example of Jesus as the primary application and the body members secondarily.

The context suggests that when conditions ripen and repressive measures are taken, which will ostensibly be done for the common good, the just will become targets. The Adversary’s technique is to have prohibitions in speaking against this or that, and it will get down to the very principles of the Bible and our liberty in Christ. We see the net closing in little by little. The progressive throttling cannot be stopped, and it is just a matter of time until it chokes. Satan wants to throttle true liberty in the name of liberty, but the world’s idea of liberty is license.

Everything can be done except the right thing.

Comment: Acts 3:14 is a good parallel text: “But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you.” And 1 Thessalonians 2:15 illustrates the principle: “Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men.”

James 5:7 Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.

The “early and latter rain” would be the special outpouring of truth at the beginning and at the end (or Harvest) of the Gospel Age. The husbandman (God) waits until He receives the produce as a result of the early and latter rain. Some of the “latter rain” was very heavy during the general Harvest. When the Pastor died, the truth began to lessen as a worldwide work. The brethren being found in Romania, the Ukraine, Brazil, etc., are the remnant of the latter rain.

“Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming [Greek parousia, presence] of the Lord.” As the under-Shepherd, Jesus is charged with the oversight, but the “husbandman” is God. The husbandman “hath long patience” for the development of the precious fruit. With principles so upside down today, we would like to intervene if we had the power, but God is patient because He is looking for the last members of the Little Flock. They are so precious in His sight that He is withholding the trouble, but once they are gone, swift retribution will occur. “Until he [it] receive the early and latter rain.” The ground that produces the fruit—that is, the soil of the heart—receives the early and latter rain. From another perspective, the early and latter rain can be considered the outpouring of truth at both the beginning and the end of the Harvest period.

James 5:8 Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.

Again the word “coming” should be “presence,” from the Greek parousia.

Q: Here at the end of the age, we feel the sense of Jesus’ drawing nigh, but did this verse apply to the early Church too from the perspective Paul mentioned in Romans 13:12 of the night being far spent? In the history of the human race, the Christian dispensation is the last third of 6,000 years.

A: Paul, who was caught up to the third heaven, had an awesome perspective of the truth (see 2 Cor. 12:2). Therefore, his saying that the Kingdom was drawing nigh was from his special  sense of comprehension, but why did James think of the Lord’s presence as being near? The prophecy recorded in John 21:21-23 made the disciples think it was imminent: “Peter seeing him [John] saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” With John and James Zebedee being brothers, this prophecy particularly influenced James. Also, the disciples asked Jesus, “Wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Several other Scriptures also sounded as if the kingdom was at hand.

Most of the Christians in the first dispensation (up through AD 69) were Jews. Therefore, the Epistle of James was especially beneficial to Jews, whereas Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews, also addressed to the Jews, was of such a high nature that it is very helpful to Gentiles as well.

Not only do each of the stones in the high priest’s breastplate fit the characteristics of an apostle, but also each one corresponds to an Ancient Worthy. Although we cannot pin down the apostles’ counterparts with certainty, nevertheless, it is interesting to observe that Joseph of Egypt displays some of Paul’s characteristics.

James 5:9 Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.

“Grudge not one against another, brethren” indicates there was a prevailing condition that could prevent brethren from making their calling and election sure. James warned not to speak evil of one another in the condemnatory sense of saying one was not of the Little Flock (James 4:11). After all, how do we know where we ourselves stand with the Lord? The distinction is as follows. Although we may see symptoms of conditions that can be detrimental to the new creature’s development and making his calling and election sure, that observation is not the same as judging an individual’s destiny, for we are all in process of development. It is the Lord who reviews a life to determine if one is qualified for the Little Flock, not fellow Christians.

Evidently, James was warning some who went that far in judging individuals. John even gave the name of such a person: “I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church” (3 John 9,10). Diotrephes criticized those who met with John and pressured the brethren not to attend the fellowship of John, who was an apostle.

In Ephesus, the first period of the Church, the general attitude of the brethren was favorable, but certain individuals manifested the Nicolaitan spirit. Probably many brethren got life as part of either the Little Flock or the Great Company, and only a few, relatively speaking, went into Second Death. When the Nicolaitan spirit manifested itself by some calling themselves apostles, it was immediately pointed out.

“Behold, the judge standeth before the door.” The “judge” here is Jesus. “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10). This portion of verse 9 reminds us of Genesis 4:7, “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin [Satan] lieth at the door.” Cain was being warned that he was coming close to the danger line of willful sin.

Incidentally, with Jesus being the “judge” standing before the door, the double message continues for the beginning and the end of the Gospel Age. We are reminded of Jesus’ standing at the door and knocking in the message to the Laodicean period of the Church (Rev. 3:20).

James 5:10 Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.

This kind of “patience” is long suffering, patient endurance (as opposed to cheerful constancy).

James 5:11 Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

At the conclusion (“the end”) of his trial, Job could be counted “happy,” but during his trial, he found no relief either according to the flesh or from his three supposed comforters and Elihu.

Hebrews 12:11 tells us, “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are [rightly] exercised thereby.”

Job was considered by others to be unfaithful, but his suffering proved the opposite—that he had God’s favor. We, too, should be tenaciously faithful under affliction. We are to obey conscience and principle and then hold fast. Job had physical sufferings, temporal deprivations, criticism from his wife, and ridicule from others, yet previously he had been a judge with great deference and respect paid to him. He experienced a real reversal in his circumstances.

Afterward, because of his patient endurance, he was blessed abundantly. Verse 11 is a good clue that Job pictures the Church, not the world of mankind.

“The Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” In the allegory in the beginning, God defended Job with the Adversary (Job 1:8). Job’s designed experiences revealed his good character—his character became more fully developed through his trials—and his subsequent restoration and reward more than compensated for his sufferings. Not only were Job’s sufferings for his highest good and interest, but it was better that God did not comfort him too quickly. And there is another way that mercy was shown; namely, his “comforters” were made ashamed of their reasoning and put in their place. They had to recognize the wrong done to Job and ask for his forgiveness.

James 5:12 But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.

For more than four chapters, James had just given a lot of strong admonitions, so why now did he say, “Above all things, my brethren, swear not … but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation”? Why did he give this type of advice?

Comment: He was warning those who were boastful, too confident, and overspeaking. Their own words would condemn them. By judgmentally condemning others, they were, in effect, judging themselves to be of the Little Flock.

Reply: “Let not him that girdeth on his harness [armor] boast himself as he that putteth it off” is the principle (1 Kings 20:11). We should not state too affirmatively what we will and will not do with regard to future experiences, for we do not really know the mettle of our own character. Talk is cheap! Even the Apostle Peter needed to be “converted” after consecration (Luke 22:32)). We are not to be boastful but should pray for help that we will do what is right. A vow must be kept.

Comment: Again James was quoting Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount: “But I say unto  you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” (Matt. 5:34-37).

Reply: One of the signs of the end of the age is the prevalence of “trucebreakers.” “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be … trucebreakers” (2 Tim. 3:1-3). A “truce” is a promise. Today cynics say, “A promise is meant to be broken.” The standard of public morals is upside down, and the conditions in the world are coming into the Church. For example, many feel that getting a divorce with a legal paper ends the matter, but especially among the consecrated, it is necessary to know the grounds for the divorce.

Comment: What is equally bad is that the Church resents an investigation that helps one to judge righteously. Brethren feel that the divorce is past history and should not be reopened.

Reply: We would like to know the grounds of the divorce so that our own conscience will not be defiled and so that we will not make a wrong judgment of the matter. Otherwise, we might be favoring the one whom the Lord disapproves, and to favor the party who has committed the wrong does additional harm.

James 5:13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.

A principle is stated here; namely, the one who is “afflicted” may not be in the same happy condition as the one who is “merry.” The afflicted individual has a right to be in an entirely different frame of mind. Opposite advice is sometimes foolishly given to those who are mourning and in an afflicted condition, the implication being that the Christian should always be rejoicing. It is true that the general attitude of a Christian should be cheerful, but the specific condition of an individual at a certain moment in time is another matter. Thus general rules cannot be applied to every specific incident. Nevertheless, exceptions to the overall picture are overruled by the preponderant number of experiences where the individual is in a happy and cheerful frame of mind. If that is not the case, the Christian is living below his privilege. Many Scriptures indicate that a trial is grievous for the moment, but rejoicing comes afterward, that is, when the person sees the fruitage that results.

Therefore, we cannot judge one another based upon a particular experience. How the Christian meets trials, experiences, and calamities overall, throughout his life, is what matters. Some incorrectly feel the Christian should be like a stoic, impervious to emotion. However, emotion is proper on certain occasions.

The implication is that the afflicted one is not rejoicing. To experience the suffering is not pleasant; it is afterward that the rejoicing comes. However, our general attitude should be one of cheerfulness, for overall we should rejoice. The instruction is to pray when we are afflicted, for in joy and in sorrow, we are to direct all to the Lord. Incidentally, we should not harshly judge one who suffers and mourns in a trial, for Christians are not stoics who are impervious to emotion.

Q: What about a person who has a nervous condition that causes weakness? Can the “affliction” referred to here be either spiritual or physical?

A: Yes, and having a spiritual sickness may or may not mean one is guilty. When we are going through an affliction, it is proper to ask in prayer, “Is this experience a result of my doing good, or is it because of disobedience?” Paul and Silas were severely beaten for preaching the Word, but afterward they sang for joy because they knew they were suffering for righteousness’ sake (Acts 16:22-25).

Comment: Verse 13 is saying that whatever our condition, we should direct our thoughts to the Lord. If we are in trouble, we pray to Him. If we are happy, we praise Him. Everything should be directed to the Lord.

Reply: Yes, we may be praying to receive forgiveness or to know where we stand with the Lord. Or perhaps we are praying to know if a particular experience is a mark of disfavor or the result of doing good. For example, Paul and Silas were beaten with stripes and put in prison for preaching the Word. What did they do? They sang hymns because they knew their sufferings were for righteousness’ sake.

Q: What kind of “affliction” was James speaking about here?

A: It could be any kind of affliction. The type of affliction cannot be tied down any more than the type of merriment. One might rejoice over receiving an answer to prayer, at seeing something beautiful in nature, for having a happy experience, etc. Similarly, the Christian would pray about a great variety of afflictions. Certainly we do not bring all our problems to the brethren, for if that were the case, we would be constantly talking about disappointments and trials. The great majority of our afflictions are taken privately to the Lord in prayer. Only when we need additional comfort or advice do we disclose our problems to others.

James 5:14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:

“Is any[one morally or spiritually] sick among you?” is the normal question, although physical sickness could be included in certain unusual instances. The Lord can heal if it is His will.

Comment: The distinction between verses 13 and 14 seems to be that one who is physically or spiritually sick where guilt is not involved needs to pray. One who is sin sick because of disobeying the Lord is in a more serious condition and needs to “call for the elders of the church … [to] pray over him.”

Reply: That is true. For example, isolated periods of affliction caused by, say, side effects of medicine are one thing, but continuous depression requires more attention than just the individual’s praying. An individual in this latter circumstance wants and needs some assurance that he is not rejected by the Lord. Discouragement is a tool of the Adversary for assailing some of the best of the Lord’s people. The most conscientious brethren, those who are most introspective of their own life and deeds, are the very ones who can fall into this category by condemning themselves where perhaps they should not. Even the Apostle Paul must have had an experience along this line, for he said, “I judge not mine own self” (1 Cor. 4:3); that is, “I do not judge where I stand with the Lord.” Paul had a persistent fever, perhaps malaria, that caused him to have some down periods.

James was referring to a situation where the individual felt himself falling further and further from the Lord. Notice that the remedy for such sin-sickness is for the individual himself to “call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” The one who is “sick” must initiate the action.

Q: Since the term “the elders” is followed by the phrase “of the church,” is the emphasis more on elected elders?

A: No doubt, generally speaking, the reference is to elected elders of the local ecclesia, but the verse is not limited to that interpretation. John was merely giving advice in a few words to answer a very real problem. He was giving guidelines of a way out and not saying that something else could not be done under another circumstance.

Comment: The “elders” would not necessarily have to be elected elders, but should be mature brothers or even a sister. One who is really suffering from spiritual sickness and craves restoration to favor with the Lord would seek help from those he deems to have walked faithfully in the narrow way—and hence from those who would sympathetically and earnestly pray about the matter.

Reply: Yes, in time of need, one would want to look for the stronger brethren, for those in whom he had confidence and from whom he would get scriptural advice, even if they were far away. The individual could go to just one “elder,” but it is better if there are two or three.

In theory, elected elders are supposed to be above average, and it would be best, all things being equal, to go to the local elders. However, they may not be the ones in whom the individual has the most confidence—it would depend on the cause or manifestation of the sinsickness.

For example, if one has been a thorn in an ecclesia, he should go to the ecclesia elders.

Incidentally, in times of persecution, literal elders would probably be more qualified and sympathetic. In times of relative ease, one should select mature brothers or sisters, even from a distance.

“Let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” Along with prayer, literal oil may have been used in the early Church, especially with the Christian Jews. Literal oil, a symbol of the Holy Spirit, would have been a visual token and one that could be felt.

Comment: Depression may not be the result of sin-sickness at all but could be the result of a mental breakdown, for example. Therefore, this “sickness” is not limited to wrongdoing. There is nothing wrong in having a prayer for one who is depressed and feels he cannot cope with the overpowering situation.

Reply: A physical condition in the mind sometimes affects our spiritual condition. Several principles are involved. “Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” What principle in connection with this solution is first made manifest?

Comment: The suffering individual himself has to ask for help. The request cannot be initiated by others who see the problem.

Reply: Many try to influence or petition on behalf of others. There is nothing wrong with such efforts, but it is not wise to take the radical step of bringing the condition to “the elders” and to expect results unless the individual himself originates the request. Otherwise, the “formula” is almost doomed to defeat right away and is not helpful to the faith of either the individual or those trying to administer the solution.

Comment: The “elders” are not necessarily elected elders, but they should be brethren who (1) are living close to the Lord and (2) can enter sympathetically into the situation.

Reply: If we were living in a time of great persecution against Christians, the elected elders would be outstanding representatives. They would be elected because their lives manifest courage and conviction. However, in times of ease, peace, and prosperity, we do not know whether the elected elders are really mature. When Christians have to meet secretly because the empire is against them, the contrast is much more noticeable with those who are knowledgeable and courageous for the Lord. If we needed help, we would certainly go to such obviously strong elders for help.

The point is that the “elders” do not necessarily have to be elected but should be mature Christians. It would be better to call in elders from far away, elected or otherwise, than to just seek help from local individuals because they are elected elders. Normally speaking, with all things being equal, it would be logical to seek help from local elected elders, but things are not always equal. Moreover, an elder (singular) could be sought; a plurality is desirable but not essential. The elders should be sympathetic to the situation, yet rugged enough individuals that their sympathy would not override principle. Otherwise, they might agree with the one seeking help, even if the person is wrong. As the saying goes, “misery loves company,” so the tendency is to choose those who will confirm us in our problem, even if wrong advice is given.

Rather, we should go to mature brothers (or sisters) who have manifested stability of character and sound sense in the past. Such individuals can provide help and advice for the circumstance.

Q: We have been concentrating on spiritual sickness or a mental condition, but sometimes even an extreme physical state may be involved. The point is that sometimes we, as a group or fellowship, go so far in the other direction that we do not believe in physical healing. However, physical situations may arise in life, perhaps even with our own child—and where would we go but to the Lord?

A: We each personally have to answer for these matters and conduct our lives accordingly. As individuals, we should try to base our reasoning on God’s Word. Our Heavenly Father is “very pitiful, and of tender mercy” (verse 11). A stoic might set up rules and regulations he is sorry for later. For example, if one has lived 50 years with a principle, then to rescind it is hard, even when the principle is seen to be not especially creditable. Generally speaking, verse 14 refers to spiritual sickness, and sometimes there is a mixture of both spiritual and physical. In rare cases, the sickness can even be wholly a physical situation, but the brunt of the advice is spiritual.

Comment: The “affliction” of verse 13 seems to be more physical, although it could include a spiritual affliction. Whatever the problem, we can always personally go to the Lord in prayer. According to His will, He may heal us through our own prayers. Then prayer accompanied with the anointing of oil would be more along the lines of, but not be confined to, a spiritual illness.

Comment: With regard to spiritual sickness, to call on the local elders for prayer might even be, in a sense, an admission by a person that he has been of a contrary disposition in their midst. In other words, he may have caused dissension in the ecclesia. Then, by asking the elders of the ecclesia to pray for him, he would be admitting his fault and his desire to have God’s favor.

Reply: Yes. Someone may have done something wrong and now, seeing the result of the wrong course and the injuries it has caused, he notices that his own relationship with the Lord has deteriorated.

What is the thought of “anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord”? We believe literal oil was used in the early Church, particularly with the Christianized Jew. Certain signs or evidences (handkerchiefs, for example) were used back there when tongues and other gifts existed. However, literal oil is certainly not a necessity today, especially for spiritual sickness.

The oil represented being anointed with the Holy Spirit. Comfort and unctuous words console the individual who is looking for help, advice, and sympathy through communal prayer.

Notice that the elders pray “over him.” The thought is that the suppliant, who was looking for aid, went to the elders, confessed his weakness, and kneeled down before the standing elders.

We see the practice being done in a visual way back there.

Comment: The use of literal oil would be very humbling. Mark 6:13 states that when the twelve apostles went out, “they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.”

Reply: When the seventy were sent out before Pentecost, they were endued with the Holy Spirit in a sort of mechanical manner. Jesus gave them of his spirit. Having had a Jewish tradition along the line of using literal oil, they were naturally disposed to anoint with oil, but down through the age, the literal aspect was dropped and just the spiritual aspect retained. For one to have a feeling of the Lord’s presence in his life was far more important than the use of literal oil.

Comment: Whether or not literal oil was used, the important point is that those who were spiritually sick needed more of the Holy Spirit in the sense that it was the Comforter.

Reply: The “elders” should use comforting and unctuous words. Communal prayer is intended. With the elders standing, the “sick” one confesses his weakness and kneels down in humility. Then the elders pray over him.

Comment: Baptism with water, water immersion, is a good step to manifest our consecration before the brotherhood. The use of literal oil would be the same in principle, manifesting the heart condition.

Reply: There would be nothing wrong in using literal oil today to try to fulfill the letter of the Word, but we do not see it as an essential requirement. Whether or not to use literal oil would be up to the feeling of the individuals who are involved. The letter and the spirit combined would be better than just the spirit alone.

What are “physical” afflictions? There can be material loss that has nothing to do with sickness of the body. Thus a Christian can be afflicted in any number of ways besides having a physical calamity. For example, the problem can pertain to one’s family or his employment. For a brother with five children to be suddenly out of work is an affliction. He would earnestly pray to the Lord for help.

James 5:15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

Paul said (paraphrased), “To the Jew, I am a Jew. To the Gentile, I am a Gentile. To the strong, I am strong. To the weak, I am weak” (1 Cor. 9:20-22). The opposite advice has been given in a testimony meeting, where one who was discouraged was told, “You should not be that way. You do not have faith.” Improperly, strength has been used for the weak one, and weak and submissive advice has been given to the one who is overly strong. If a person is strong in committing the wrong, would talking to him meekly (“Dear brother …”) change him? No! If strength is met with strength—for example, with a Scripture that is blunt and to the point—it will hopefully accomplish some good. The manner in which the sick and the weak are treated becomes important, as well as the steps that are to be taken. And prayer is a very important element in the advice. If a brother is already discouraged and condemning himself, someone can push him off the cliff by suggesting that his suffering is caused by something he did wrong.

“The Lord shall raise him up [restore him].” Verse 15, which pertains primarily to spiritual or moral sickness, is related to verse 14, the reference being to group prayer. The prayer of faith of the group will save the spiritually or morally sick individual. The healing can even begin immediately. However, it is important for all parties participating in the group prayer to be in heart sympathy with the situation and to do the procedure according to the Scriptures. And if the individual has committed sins, he will be forgiven because in true repentance, he asked for this prayer.

The “sick” are primarily the spiritually sick, but the physical is not ruled out entirely, especially since the two sometimes go hand in hand.

Comment: James stated unequivocally that the “prayer of faith” will be answered: “The prayer of faith shall save the sick.” Similarly, he said earlier, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of  God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let himask in faith, nothing wavering” (James 1:5,6).

Reply: Yes. Not only does God not upbraid a prayer for wisdom, but He is pleased to grant the petition that is asked, nothing doubting.

Notice that the sins of the individual who is in this state of sickness will be forgiven. This statement shows that verse 15 is primarily referring to spiritual sickness. But why would the sins be forgiven?

Comment: The person has truly repented by humbling himself to ask the elders for prayer.

Reply: Yes, forgiveness is contingent upon the individual’s humbly requesting aid and a closer relationship with the Lord. Also, the person who presents himself for this healing is evidently kneeling in humble supplication.

Q: Is the word “if” correct? Should it be “though”—“and though he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him”?

A: Not necessarily. If a person is truly sick, the mind is affected. Some Christians who are introspective by nature are fearful, and they wonder and imagine things in an abnormal fashion because of a physical condition of the mind. The mind, or brain, can get sick just as a stomach, arm, or leg can ache. The brain can have a sickness that creates a melancholy situation. In the Garden of Gethsemane, even Jesus, who was not sick but weakened, had the great burden of wondering if he had been faithful in every matter. Sometimes a physical condition or other abnormal pressures in life can cause a nervous breakdown, adversely affecting the mind. Thus a spiritual sickness or feeling can prevent one from studying the Bible or from praying effectively, for example, without sins having been committed. From this standpoint, the word “if” is proper in verse 15, even though in most instances the condition probably results from sin or disobedience.

Comment: There can be pressures on the brain that have nothing to do with sin. Low blood sugar can also affect behavior and produce depression. During these periods, one cannot rejoice. It seems that to really enter sympathetically into another person’s infirmity, we need to have the experience ourself.

Reply: That is why this type of subject should be discussed and why a soul sickness due to conditions other than sin should not be ruled out. It is harder for those in present truth to humble themselves today because brethren generally think of verse 15 as applying only to those who do something wrong. They think one’s estrangement from the Lord is because of disobedience and sin. Because that is the only view usually entertained, a person suffering soul sickness becomes even more reluctant to humble himself lest the action put him in an unfavorable light. Meanwhile, the individual does not know what is causing the condition. The trial is especially difficult if the group the individual meets with on a regular basis is cold and not given to commiseration for this type of condition. Consequently, verse 15 is not practiced much in the Truth movement.

Comment: Job suffered along that line. He had not done wrong, but those who observed him— the supposed comforters—thought he had. Brethren can likewise jump to the wrong conclusion or assumption.

Reply: For that reason, Job was singled out by name in verse 11. In verses 17 and 18, Elijah was brought in from the standpoint not of the afflicted one but of the one who is trying to aid the afflicted one. Elijah’s faith is an example of those who pray in a scriptural way in faith over such a one and do not doubt. Such prayers will be answered, James tells us. “The prayer of faith shall save the sick [individual], and the Lord shall raise him up [restore him].” However, both the afflicted one and the comforters have to observe the mandatory contingencies.

When the prayer of faith is consummated, the afflicted one gets up off his knees, and something begins to happen. In fact, many sincere Christians who have been helped by the prayer of faith testify they felt something happen that they cannot fully explain. In other words, the healing process begins at the moment of the consummation of the prayer of faith when the individual starts to stand up.

Comment: A theoretical example of when the prayer of faith should be requested is the following. If a Christian has suicidal thoughts because of a brain tumor or some other physical condition with excruciating pain, he should call for the elders.

Reply: In order for the prayer of faith to be profitable, we can see the importance of the proper atmosphere on both sides of the situation. If a person has difficulty going to others in his ecclesia for help because he knows they are not sympathetic along this line, that person should look for help elsewhere. Either others are not aware of this type of thinking, or they feel the individual should bear the trial himself.

Comment: We can see the necessity to study these verses now, for any one of us could be in this situation of soul sickness before the end of our consecrated walk. If we do not study these principles earlier, our head would be too confused at that time to know what to do or whom to ask for help.

Comment: Faith healers have abused this practice in some nominal circles, but the abuse notwithstanding, these Scriptures are good advice.

James 5:16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

“Confess your faults one to another.” An example of a “fault” to be confessed would be when the mind keeps returning to unwanted thoughts, such as envy. However, verse 16 does not mean we should confess all of our faults.

Comment: The Greek word translated “faults” is rendered “sins” in both the RSV and the NIV: “Therefore confess your sins to one another.”

Reply: If one feels he is starting to sink spiritually and is in need of help, he should ask for that help. However, the group should be sympathetic enough to realize the situation and to desire to help such a one lest he fall out of the way. Unfortunately, some brethren are in a group that is so hard and lacking in feeling that a brother or sister can faint by the way because of being afraid to confess the fault(s). In other words, some individuals feel we should not have such faults. Thus this verse is a lesson to the ecclesia, and especially to the elders, to be approachable and amenable.

Comment: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” We often quote this portion of verse 16 in the context of private prayer on behalf of an individual, whereas the context includes public prayer.

Reply: This text is also related to Jesus’ ministry and his healing of certain ones. Jesus commended individuals for their faith, saying, “Thy faith hath made thee whole” (Matt. 9:22).

“I have not seen such great faith in all Israel” (Matt. 8:10 paraphrase). It is interesting that James brought in the subject of faith, for most people think of him as emphasizing works, particularly in the earlier part of his epistle—works of faith. But now, in the end of his epistle, he stressed the subject of faith. Thus James was rounded out on the subject with a practical application. In the statement “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much,” notice that the word “prayer” is in the singular. Therefore, under this condition, a sincere group prayer offered by an elder or elders is favorable. In fact, the sincere prayer of any righteous  consecrated Christian, in whom the Lord is pleased—whether or not the individual is an elected elder or is a man or a woman—will have some effect. Of course the effect, the answer to the prayer, may not be in the sense that the afflicted individual had in mind, but the Lord will show compassion and a way out, an alternative.

Comment: This is good, practical spiritual advice because if something a brother has done, is doing, or is feeling is so grievous that he thinks he cannot bear the trial, the Adversary will try to take advantage of the situation. Confessing this weakness and need for prayer before others is helpful.

As stated earlier, verse 15 is related to verse 14. Although verse 16 is related to verse 15, James was putting in the clutch. Verses 14 and 15 showed the effectiveness of group prayer, but now he was sliding into the thought that it is good as individuals to confess faults one to another.

Thus there is a double application because James was going from the group into the singular application. “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another. [Then] the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” Verse 16 goes down to the individual case, for it is not always practical to bring up faults before a group. A cold group cannot understand the weakness and the struggle that a Christian is having.

Comment: Both aspects of verse 16 are helpful. At one time or another, we are all in the situation of the individual who has the sin or weakness and needs the prayers of others. It is difficult to make the confession to someone else, yet confession is important, for it shows the proper heart attitude in desiring to be healed. The other aspect is that of being the one who is willing to help. We can pray for the individual and be the strong one at that point. There is a great weight of responsibility. The NIV says, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” The power of the Holy Spirit is behind the prayer, and the effectiveness is that the prayer works; it makes the change.

Comment: Sometimes weaknesses remain with us for a long time. We receive help and relief in answer to prayer, yet that weakness may persist or reappear so that we have to ask again and again for help. Therefore, if a weakness is not permanently lifted, we should not give up and/or get discouraged.

Verse 16 can be viewed profitably from two standpoints. (1) If the fault were of the type where we misunderstood another person and privately judged and reprimanded him, then we should privately go to that individual and personally seek his forgiveness. (2) If the misrepresentation were done publicly, then it should be publicly renounced and confessed. In other words, if we slandered or treated another party wrongfully, then we should confess publicly that we were at fault in the words we had spoken. In a very extreme situation, we should apologize as well as publicly confess our faults to one another, but even with faults of a lesser nature, we should still confess and manifest our humility publicly.

Verse 16 is not saying to confess all of our faults to one another, but for a teacher to set himself up as not having faults would be wrong. A teacher does not have to specify each fault, but he should indicate that he has faults and problems too.

If a teacher is misrepresented and the misrepresentation kills his service, there is long-term damage. Another case would be where an elder taught a wrong doctrine over the years and now sees his error. (“Doctrine” uses a series of Scriptures to teach a certain lesson.) The elder would be obligated to confess that he now sees the subject in a new light. If his wrong teaching has been quite extensive and he cannot make the correction with everyone who heard it, he should make the correction as public as possible and try to get it on a recording. In other words, a “fault” in either habit (practice) or doctrine should be confessed.

The “fervent prayer of a righteous man” has great power in its effects. Notice that there are two requirements in finding one to pray for us. (1) He must be “righteous”; that is, he should be one who has tried to obey God over a period of time. (2) The prayer must be fervent. Stated another way, the fervent prayer of a righteous man is powerfully effective.

James 5:17 Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.

Elijah felt overwhelmed when he said, “I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life,” yet he did some very courageous things (1 Kings 19:10,14).

Elijah, “a man subject to like passions as we are … prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth” for 3 1/2 years. When he prayed again, “the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.” Elijah initiated these two prayers. Here is additional information not supplied in the Old Testament. There the impression is given that God purposed the withholding of rain and Elijah acted accordingly, but here we see that Elijah prayed earnestly that it not rain. Why did the prophet pray to this effect?

Comment: Elijah wanted the Israelites to be brought to their knees because they were worshipping Baal.

Reply: Yes. True prayer is not credulity but the exercise of a belief in God and a trust that He will do certain things based on His Word and principles. Elijah saw that the great prosperity of the evildoer had fermented the entire nation. False prophets and false teachers proliferated. As a person, Elijah was very zealous for God, so he prayed earnestly, “Do not let it rain so that the people will be brought to their senses. You said in Leviticus 26 that if the nation did not obey, you would withhold the rain, causing our crops to diminish and our land to be unfruitful.” Thus Elijah prayed in harmony with what God had predicated and established as a principle. Similarly, Daniel, who understood by the books that 70 years of desolation had been predicted, prayed for the forgiveness of the people in harmony with God’s own words through Jeremiah the prophet.

Elijah prayed that the rain would be withheld for quite a long time, and God fixed the period as 1,260 days, for that specific time period would fit in with subsequent spiritual fulfillments. In other words, God used the initial asking of Elijah as an opportunity to bring in the 1,260 years of prophecy.

Q: Revelation 13:13,14 talks about the two-horned beast doing great miracles in the sight of men, making fire come down from heaven to deceive the people into making an image to the beast. Will that situation be similar to Elijah’s experience, whereby the great leaders of Christendom pray for something and the dramatic fulfillment makes the whole world think they are men of God? It will seem to be a prayer of faith in the eyes of the world.

A: Yes. A few Scriptures suggest that a supernatural manifestation will convince certain ones at the very end of the age, who will assume the answer to prayer came from God.

Elijah prayed again and asked his servant to go up into the mountain seven times. A little hand appeared in the distance, and the rain came (1 Kings 18:41-46). Meanwhile, God so energized Elijah that he ran ahead of Ahab’s chariot.

Note: At the end of the age, the leaders of Christendom will give the prayer of faith, and a dramatic answer to that prayer will be permitted in order to deceive all but the very elect (Matt. 24:24; Rev. 13:13,14).

James 5:18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.

The Old Testament also does not reveal the detail that Elijah “prayed again,” and the rain came, that is, after the fixed period of time determined by God had elapsed. In other words, when Elijah bowed himself down to the earth, he was praying, and then he saw a cloud in the shape of a man’s fist (1 Kings 18:41-44).

James introduced Elijah into the account as an example of one who offered undoubting prayer.

Likewise the Christian tries to aid the sin-sick, afflicted individual through fervent undoubting prayer. Job was brought into the account from the standpoint of his afflictions (verse 11).

James 5:19 Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;

James 5:20 Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

One who saves a soul from Second Death hides a multitude of sins, but whose sins—the sinner’s sins or the sins of the one who does the saving, or converting? This situation is serious, and a principle is being enunciated, so it is important to determine whose multitude of sins is being hidden. The sins of the sick person are covered. Some evangelists like this text because they feel they can continue to live their careless and immoral lifestyle and still be approved of God as long as they convert others. A wrong lesson is thus drawn, for they believe that the success of their ministries hides the multitude of their sins. However, sins can be forgiven only through the merit of Jesus Christ. A realization of the need for cleansing, the attitude of repentance, and then looking to God through Jesus are what saves sinners. It is a dangerous and false concept for an evangelist to feel that the successful results of his ministry in converting others gives him a good standing with God.

The very fact that the individual asks for prayer shows he is in a penitent attitude. “Is anyone spiritually sick or weak among you? Let him call for elders, and let them pray over him.” By confessing his need for help, the sick one manifests repentance. Realizing that there is a barrier with his prayers to God, that he is having difficulty getting through, he asks for help. Verse 20 refers back to verse 15, “If he [the sick one] have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” Sins are covered for the one who is seeking help, not for the one who is being used as an instrument of help.

Q: Is there a correlation, in principle, to the role of a watchman as stated in Ezekiel 3:20,21? “When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, … he shall die: because thou [as a watchman] hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul.”

A: That text is indirectly related and is like an addendum, for it shows the responsibility of the one who is a watcher and is giving the advice. However, James was talking about the one who is being advised and helped. Ezekiel was strong about one who turns from his righteousness.

Q: In regard to hiding a multitude of sins, the sins of the sinner are being covered. Are past sins being hidden or future sins that would have been committed if the individual had not repented? Past willful sins would still have to be expiated; they could not be hidden. But possible future sins would be hidden because they would not be committed.

A: That would be correct and makes sense.

Comment: Although this portion of James is directed to the one who is the sinner, another lesson is the responsibility we have for helping our brethren and being involved with those whom we see are slipping out of the way. We should not just sit back and say, “Too bad,” or simply, “I will pray for them,” for action is indicated in verse 19: “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him.” The only way to convert a brother is to be actively involved with him and to help him see the error of his way.

Reply: Ezekiel 3 brings out that thought, which is a good point but is not the particular point James was emphasizing. Whoever is instrumental in helping a morally sick or weak brother will certainly get a blessing.

Comment: That will be the Church’s job in the Kingdom, so we should have that attitude now.

Comment: In saving a soul from Second Death, we are really saving two souls, the sinner’s soul because he has hearkened and our own because we have taken the right action.

Reply: There are two types of deliverance. What James was saying can be taken from two different standpoints. One is from the standpoint of the individual who is asking for help. But at the end of his epistle, he was also saying, “If you see one going astray, you have a responsibility to warn him of the error of his way and to try to stir him up and save him.”

If a brother gets despondent and gives up, he is lost. His attitude should be such that he goes to the class or to some trusted individual for advice and help. God can save unto the uttermost if one is humble and desires help after “erring” (wandering from the truth or going astray). It is sad when one goes beyond the point of retrieval.

In regard to the sinner, we can use the illustration of a river and a waterfall, like Niagara Falls.

As one is drifting downstream and getting nearer and nearer the falls, the tug of the water becomes stronger and stronger. Therefore, to take a step of retrieval becomes more and more difficult. But if one in that position does take a stand, it is all the more creditable because of the difficulty. Hence he can be forgiven more. A step of faith taken at one’s weakest moment is rewarded. The principle is the same with one who has a lot of this world’s good (power, influence, wealth, or whatever), for he could more easily go astray. However, if he is faithful, he will receive a greater reward than one who had less but was equally faithful.

When a woman washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, the Pharisees criticized him. Jesus replied, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little” (Luke 7:47). The Lord considered her act of humility as evidence of her love in spite of her numerous sins. Many probably deceive themselves into thinking they can trifle with sin because the Lord is merciful and forgiving. Hence they get deeper and deeper into sin until they find they cannot fight the current and retrieval is impossible. The Apostle Paul said, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid” (Rom. 6:1,2). To do so would be presumptuous.

In summary, a multitude of sins—many, many sins—will be forgiven, and the individual will be saved from Second Death if the right steps are taken. After he has gone astray, he must desire forgiveness and turn back to harmony with the Lord.

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