This article contains an exposition of James 5:7-20, as well as some discussion questions on the material.

3 pages.

James 5:7-20 – The Communion of Saints

Perseverance and the Word🔗

Once again, James warns the church to be in the world, but not of the world.  He is concerned that the persecution which believers must endure will lead to decline in the church.  There are dangers all around: the loss of courage and conviction, the lack of dependence on the Lord.  The phrase "patience in the face of suffering" means to suppress violent emotional reactions.  Suffering is always related to perseverance (1:3).

Perseverance, or unfailing patience, should not be confused with becoming passive.  It can only be produced by the Word of God; in it he has given us the promise of eternal life with him.  We can observe a good example of perseverance in the natural world (v. 7).  The farmer cultivates the land, sows his seed, and waters the soil, but the final outcome of the crop is not within his power to decide.  He must leave the result to the Lord and, thus, he depends on the Lord for rain in the spring and fall (Hosea 6:3; Joel 2:23).  In just the same way, the church must also be patient while it faithfully fulfills the Lord's will here on earth.

Watchfulness and Patience🔗

Such faithful patience can also be described as watchfulness. The Christian lives in the sure knowledge that some day the great Judge will return in glory to this sinful earth.  If this remains the firm expectation of the church, lamentations and complaints will not be heard from the lips of God's children.  Such fruitless activity will only serve to weaken our devotion to the coming Christ.  He stands at the door and knocks (Mark 13:29; Matthew 24:33).

His parousia, his imminent return, his glorious reappearance on the clouds of heaven (Acts 1:11) must ultimately determine the direction of the church here on earth.  The entire Christian life must be one prolonged preparation for that last great event in the history of redemption.  The confession of the church in Article 37 (Belgic Confession) is not an indication that there remains nothing to do.  Rather it is a call to continue our work as Christ's church.

James illustrates his teaching about patience and perseverance with examples taken from Scripture; see Hebrews 12:1-3.  "The outcome of the Lord’s dealings" is the goal or objective of Job's life which the Lord has ordained (cf. Job 1, 2 and 42).

Trustworthy Speech🔗

In verse 12 James lays stress on Christ's law concerning the reliability of our speech (Matthew 5:34-37). In Matthew 5 Christ addressed the covenant people of the old dispensation concerning the practice of oaths. It had become accepted practice to use oaths as a way to convince other people that the absolute truth had been told.  But in the church a simple "yes" or "no" ought to be sufficient.

The certainty of the church must be in the Word of God.  The words of men are never above the Scriptures. The world is full of lies and uncertainty.  God hears not only our oaths, but everything that we say. (See Lord's Day 37, Heidelberg Catechism.)  It is impossible to hide from him.  We must be faithful and reliable in our speaking, even though we know that not everyone in the church is of the church.  It is Christ who has the sole authority to set the rules for the communion of saints.  He pronounced the law - let your yes be yes, and your no be no.

The concluding verses of this chapter form one unit (vv. 13-20). James states in verse 13 that prayers must be made in case of affliction (suffering, sickness, struggles).  In such times the Lord must be called upon for help.  When there is deliverance or healing, thanksgiving must be made to the Lord. James emphasizes to the congregation that they must be thankful in prosperity, and patient in adversity.  The church must possess a sure confidence in the future.  (Lord’s Day 10)    

The verses 14 and 15 are a stumbling block for many who think that these verses allude to faith-healing. However, James refers to sickness and sin because there were people suffering from illness who had not confessed their sins.  These people did not call for the elders.  They had no desire to be anointed with holy oil nor did they ask for the laying-on of hands.  Both are symbols of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  And they did not confess their sins.

Wandering from the truth had caused this to happen (v. 19).  In the days of the ancient church, it was a common practice to consult the pagan doctors in an attempt to obtain healing from sickness.  Many of these doctors were also priests in the pagan temples.  In effect, such Christians denied that they belonged with body and soul to the Lord Jesus Christ. (See Lord’s Day 1.)

James speaks out against this ungodly practice.  In days of sickness as well, Christians must show that they still belong to the Lord.  They should call on the elders, so that they can be anointed with holy oil.  The Lord's name, not that of Aesculapius (the god of healing), should be invoked.  The church must be absolutely committed to the doctrine of total redemption through Christ Jesus (Revelation 3:14-22).  Only through the confession of sins can proper communion with God be re-established.  Then the sick can pray for healing.  Such prayer is fervent prayer because it is God himself who gives the power.

Fervent Prayer🔗

The church cannot exist without prayer. James uses the example of Elijah in the time of Ahab (1 Kings 18:41-45). This was a time in which God's covenant people had been dispersed among the world. The church cannot be double-minded. It must serve either the Lord or Baal; either the Lord or Aesculapius.

This choice is still vitally important for the church in these times. When sin is neither confessed nor resisted, it becomes an impediment to prayer.  The church must always cling to the Word of Truth in the midst of an unbelieving and hostile world.  Salvation lies in the Word of God.

Questions for Discussion🔗

  1. Which Roman Catholic sacrament is based on a wrong interpretation of James 5:14?  Explain the error.
  2. Why is it wrong to base the practice of faith-healing on verse 14?
  3. How should we pray for healing?  Why is faith-healing detrimental to the existence of true faith?
  4.  Which Roman Catholic practice is based on a wrong interpretation of verse 16?
  5. Does the Bible teach that there is a connection between sickness and sin? (See 1 Corinthians 11:30; Job 2.)
  6. The church no longer anoints people.  Does this development represent a loss to our communal life?
  7. When is the laying-on of hands practiced in the church?  How should we view this practice?

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