Text: James 5:1-20
“How’s your heart?” This was a regular question that my mom asked growing up. In this final chapter, James demonstrates all the care of a parent for his readers. Even though he repeatedly calls his readers “my brothers” James seems to have a fatherly affection for his people and their hearts. And so James returns to much of what he has already covered in the first four chapters. “We’ve talked about this, but do you understand? Is it in your life? Is it in your heart?” His plea is to “Establish you hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (5:8).
Corrupting Riches, Corroding Hearts (vs. 1-6)
James begins with a scathing charge to the rich whose wealth is corrupted and corrupting, “Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you” (vs. 2-3). Their wealth itself is rotting away just like their hearts. The hordes of money stockpiled for the future will testify against the rich man on the last day, “The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts” (vs 4). These men have lived in luxury and pleasure. But their consumption is fattening themselves up for the day of slaughter. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Jesus asks, “For what can a man give in return for his soul?” (Mk. 8:36-37) Pennies in heaven are worth more than piles of gold in hell. Money is enough to damn your soul, but money can’t save your soul. Who can save?
Patient Hearts (vs. 7-11)
After his prophetic rage against the rich, James turns his pastoral attention to his suffering brothers. “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord” (vs 7). A farmer cannot hurry up the timing of the harvest. He must wait patiently on something that he can not control––rain. Patience deals with time. But patience is not passive, slouched with crossed arms in the back seat. Patience actively accepts that God is working. Establish your heart in confidence that the seed is growing and the rains are coming.
While you wait, don’t grumble with one another because you know that “the Judge is standing at the door” (vs. 9). Suppose you and your siblings are home alone while your mom runs errands and she’s given you some instructions––clean up the toys in the living room and don’t fight. But when the look-out perched on the couch announces a simple statement, “Mom’s coming,” what’s your reaction? My guess is that it depends on your behavior the last couple hours. How do we survive patiently the present suffering? Look to the Old Testament prophets or look to Job for your paradigm of hope (vs. 10-11). Patience is required to see that everything that God the Father gives is a good and perfect gift (1:17). You unwrap a gift and it looks like cancer. But in time, you’ll see that it’s the cancer that brought your brother back to the Lord. Or you unwrap the gift and it looks like being excluded from the cool circle. But with patience you see that this hurt gives you a life-long tenderness for those on the outside. What is the Lord’s purpose in all this? That you may see “how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (vs. 11).
To Ring True (vs. 12)
“Honesty is the best policy” is a common expression. James would tweak it to “Honest is the only policy.” Swearing on a stack of bibles or crossing your heart and hoping to die does not make you trustworthy. Doing what you say makes you trustworthy and removes you from condemnation. G.K. Chesterton said, “Above all, I would like to ring true.”
Sickness, Sin, and the Prayer of a Righteous Person (vs. 13-18)
James asks, “Is anyone among you suffering?” Does your mom have colin cancer? Then pray. Are you overwhelmed between the kids, dinner prep, and 4-14 loads of laundry? Then pray. Are you lonely and stuck on the outside of the cliche? Then you can pray. “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” If you’re overflowing with the sweet milk of human kindness, then let a psalm fly! “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of he church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” So what do you do if you find yourself either full of sickness or full of sin? Pray to the one who is able to health both body and soul.
To Save a Soul (vs. 19-20)
James’ final word is an encouragement to seek and save the wandering sinner. A heart established in Lord does what the Lord does. What has Jesus Christ done? The Lord has saved the souls of sinners by covering a multitude of sins. This is love. Is your heart established in the Lord?