James makes his final 3 exhortations

by Kyle
published January 18, 2014


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Have you ever been in an argument and right after you end it, you think of the perfect thing you should have said, but now it’s too late to go back and say it with any sort of rhetorical force? The French have an expression for that. It’s called l’esprit de l’escalier, which roughly translates as “staircase wit.”

As bad as it is, it’s worse with a letter or an email. You had all that time to review it and make the words just right, and you sealed the envelope or hit “send” just a few seconds too early.

It’s even worse when you write a column, read it on Saturday morning, and think, “I can’t believe I didn’t say (insert profound, salient point here)!”

It seems like James, as he closes his letter, is attempting to avoid just that. James’ final three exhortations in James 5:13-20 read like they are tacked on to the end. James certainly doesn’t have a neat, pithy close at all. The whole letter doesn’t wrap up in a nice little bow, but I would argue that the last points he makes are really the summation and climax of the letter.

Do you remember how James’ letter begins? James is addressing a scattered church that has been struggling against persecution. James’ whole letter, then, can be read as instruction on how to handle hard times. Over and over again, James encourages patience and endurance in the face of suffering. So much of James’ letter gives advice on how to respond to difficulty in a healthy, God-honoring way. James offers these final three, and perhaps most powerful, ways to face adversity.

The first is to maintain your integrity. James echoes the words of his brother Jesus when he admonishes his readers to avoid lofty oaths and to “Let your ‘Yes’ be yes, and your ‘No,’ no.”

What, exactly, is James asking of us when he talks about forswearing oaths for simply an answer? Integrity.

James is quoting a section of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, 6 and 7. For much of Matthew 5, Jesus examines examples of the Jewish ethic his audience would have been so familiar with and finds it wanting. It’s not only wrong to murder, but it’s just as bad to lose your temper with someone (Matthew 5:12-26). It’s not only wrong to commit adultery, but it’s just as wrong to even “look at a woman with lust for her” (Matthew 5:27-30).

It’s in this examination where Jesus not only prohibits making “false vows,” but binds people to everything they say, whether they make an oath on it or not. In short, people should be able to count on everything you say to be true. Americans aren’t good at this. Psychology Today reports that we tell 1.65 lies per day. Statistically, you lie at least once a day. The University of Massachusetts discovered that 60 percent of people can’t have a 10-minute conversation without lying at least once. We aren’t very good at following this first instruction

James’ second admonition is to turn to God for everything. Pray when you’re in trouble, sing praise to God when you’re happy and gather people around you to pray when you’re sick (James 5:13-16).

Do you go to God with everything that happens in your day? Do you pray without ceasing? Do you carry a perpetual and conscious awareness of God every moment of every day? Is God the first one you go to when something bad happens?

I know I’m bad at this. I suspect you are bad at this, too. I even know of churches here in San Angelo that refuse to “call the elders of the church to pray over (the sick) and anoint (them) with oil in the name of the Lord,” even when members of the congregation request it specifically. Prayer is powerful, and we’re wrong to ignore it. Look at how powerful Elijah’s prayers were (James 5:17-18). We aren’t good at following this second instruction, either.

James’ final instruction is to seek to restore people who fall into sin.

Instead of ostracizing, we should seek to build up and redeem. Why?

First, it’s because that’s what God does.

Second, it’s what you would want from others when you mess up, and we both know that you mess up plenty.

Third, it’s because if you push everyone away when they mess up, you’ll end up alone. Being alone is particularly hard when times get hard.

Are times hard for you? If they aren’t, they will be at some point. That’s just the nature of life.

These are the resources we’ve been given by God to make it through the hard times.

James’ whole letter provides encouragement, instruction and correction for handling tough times, but these are not just coping mechanisms. James isn’t concerned that we just “make it through.” Most of us can do that on our own. James is concerned that we make it through our trials in a way that pleases God and makes available real and actual healing on the other side.

God is working on fixing all the pain of the world (read Revelation 21-22), but in the meantime, maintaining your integrity, turning to God and being gracious to the people in your life, even when they wrong you, is what God has given you to make things hurt a little less.

What do you think?

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