I know many in the church today are generous and use their wealth to help others. It is our church culture when we have fellowship meals that we sit together without discrimination around the table and we ensure that everybody can fill their plate and enjoy the food. But it was quite different in the church James wrote to. And so he is very blunt about the judgement coming on the rich oppressors. James warned them that their wealth was corrosive. He seems to echo the teaching of Jesus, ““Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19–21) In light of this and the other issues in their church James then highlights their need for prayerful patience.
As examples of patience, he pointed to farmers who needed patience as their crops grew from seedtime to harvest; and also to the patience of Job who remained faithful to God despite the suffering in his life. Scholars point to two aspects of patience: 1) long-suffering which relates to patience with people, and 2) endurance which relates to patience with our circumstances. When considering how to be patient it is helpful to differentiate between the circumstances we are in and the people we are with. Sometimes our frustration with circumstances spill over into our interactions with people. It is important during a worldwide pandemic, not to allow our frustration with the circumstances to harm our relationship with family and friends.
James also stressed the need for prayer. Here he includes: Praying for those in trouble, Praying for those who are ill and Praying for those who have sinned. He offers Elijah as an example of righteous prayer. God inspired Elijah to prophesy there would be no rain for three years. That meant three years of drought, failed crops, hunger, and economic ruin. Then on the mountain Elijah prayed for rain. The rain fell, just a few drops at first, but then a torrent washing over the land. James notes, Elijah was human like us. As fellow humans then, we can be confident our earnest prayers will be heard by God. And as James states, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16) Surely this should inspire our prayerfulness.
What difference does this make to us? James began his letter saying trials lead to perseverance and then to spiritual maturity. Patience and righteous prayer are signs of perseverance, of mature faith in action. One commentator on James wrote, our character is forged on the anvil of difficulty; and in the tensions we face between the benevolent purpose of God and the harsh facts of a ruthless world. In our present circumstances we need to be prayerfully patient. In the past two years we have been forged on the anvil of difficulties, the harsh facts of COVID-19 and tested in ways we could not have imagined. Clearly, patience and endurance are still needed.
I hope what we have learnt from our studies in James has been of benefit. Trials can lead to spiritual maturity. Those who are serious about their faith will put it into action. We are warned of the dangers of selfishness and called to love our neighbours as ourselves. We need to tame our tongues using our voices to both praise God and to build people up. We should seek heavenly wisdom and follow its path of peace, rather than becoming involved in fights and quarrels. And as we have found today, we need to be prayerfully patient as we face difficult circumstances.
Outline the problem James identified with the wealthy landowners? (Deuteronomy 24:15 & Acts 4:32–35)
What similarities do you see between the teaching of James and that of Jesus? (Matthew 6:19–21)
What does the example of a farmer teach us about patience?
What do we know about Job that helps inspire us to be patient?
Compare and contrast the types of prayer James has mentioned in his letter James 1.6, 4.3, 5.4 & 5.13-16. What can we learn from this to help us become more prayerful?
How have you been stretched, tried and tested in the past couple of years? How do you think God has been working in you, changing you and helping you to mature spiritually through this time?
If possible, give an example of how you have found yourself, drawn more deeply into his word, clinging more strongly to his love or praying with an intensity you haven’t known before?
Rev John Malcolm