October 23, 2017

Wednesdays with James: Lesson Sixteen (final)

Late Summer Corn, Photo by David Cornwell

Late Summer Corn, Photo by David Cornwell

Wednesdays with James
Lesson Sixteen: The Pastoral Community

We have come to our final study in the Epistle of James. Here, once again, is our diagram of the entire letter, and as you see, it closes with a group of closing exhortations.

outline-of-james

Are any among you suffering? Let them pray. Are any cheerful? Let them sing psalms. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over the sick person, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. Faithful prayer will rescue the sick person, and the Lord will raise them up. If they have committed any sin, it will be forgiven them. So confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. When a righteous person prays, that prayer carries great power. Elijah was a man with passions like ours, and he prayed and prayed that it might not rain— and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, the sky gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit. My dear family, if someone in your company has wandered from the truth, and someone turns them back, know this: the one who turns back a sinner from wandering off into error will rescue that person’s life from death, and cover a multitude of sins.

• James 5:13-20

• • •

You may notice that I made one choice in identifying this section that differs from many commentators, who put James 5:12 in this final section, or as a standalone verse forming a transition to the concluding exhortations. I think it goes better as a conclusion to the preceding section, with its emphases on the speech believers use and the coming judgment.

Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear. Don’t swear by heaven; don’t swear by earth; don’t use any other oaths. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. That way, you will not fall under judgment.

However, verse 12 does also form an effective transition to what he says next, for James now concludes his letter with a series of appeals focusing on other, healthier forms of speech and action that the believing fellowship should practice.

James thus says goodbye by encouraging his friends to live in true community with each other.

This epistle, which has unveiled the various “stress fractures” threatening these congregations, concludes with appeals to practice love in simple, meaningful, down-to-earth ways.

  • Pray and sing together. Commiserate and celebrate with one another.
  • Visit and call for help from one another in times of sickness and trouble.
  • Practice confession and forgiveness.
  • Care and intercede for each other in ways that will promote healing.
  • Reflect on the lessons of scripture together (as James does here on the story of Elijah).
  • Love the “leavers” — don’t abandon those who have left the fellowship, but reach out to them.

As Patrick J. Hartin writes in his commentary, the letter ends with “a vision for true pastoral care.” He is not just referring to the work of those who are called “pastors,” but to a pastoral community, a fellowship of people that cares for each other, that seeks to be with one another through good times and bad for each other’s benefit.

We all know how dysfunctional such a community can be, how fragile and unsupportive, especially when under pressure. There is plenty of evidence of that in this very epistle.

In the end, James raises our sights to something better. But isn’t it interesting how simple and unsophisticated his counsel is? Pray. Sing. Visit. Confess. Forgive. Pray some more. Care.

Don’t make it any harder than that.

• • •

Wednesdays with James

The Complete Series

Comments

  1. isn’t it interesting how simple and unsophisticated his counsel is? Pray. Sing. Visit. Confess. Forgive. Pray some more. Care. Don’t make it any harder than that.

    Yep. That’s about too hard as it is already…

    • I like that. Encourage, encourage, encourage.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        If it’s supposed to be “encourage, encourage, encourage”, a lot of churches have dropped the ball.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I’ve never been much of a praying man, and I have run into Christians who go way too far up the “Pray, Pray, Pray Some More” spectrum.

      To cite The Moody Blues, it’s “A Question of Balance” and we’ve got a LOT out-of-balance today. (I think the Hopi have a word — I’m not even going to try to spell or pronounce it — that means “Life Out of Balance”.)

      • Daniel’s example is a good case in point. When he discovered his rivals had set him up so Darius would have to execute him, what did he do? He went to his room and praised God. “Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.”

        According to the account, he didn’t RAMP UP HIS PRAYING to MORE MORE MORE! He kept it simple, to his three-times-a-day routine. In fact, it doesn’t even say he asked God to CHANGE things, just that he gave thanks to God.

        • It’s formidably hard to thank God, even just a little, in hard times. I’ve not learned the trick of it.

          • The epiphany I just recently had regarding this is to get in the habit of thanking God three times a day. That way when bad things happen, you don’t change a thing.

  2. in slanting sunlight
    the last rows of unpicked corn,
    harvest of colors

    • Isn’t David’s picture magnificent?

      • Ronald Avra says:

        Captured it perfectly, he did.

      • That’s one of the most stunning photographs I’ve ever seen.

        • David Cornwell says:

          Sean, thank you. This is a huge compliment. It has been well received by everyone who has seen it. And it started out as an inspiration before I even left the house. The late evening was perfect. The light and sky were as good as it gets. And the cornfield is behind my house and up on a hill (an Indiana hill that is!). The corn is changing color now, and I thought I could stand in the narrow road up through the field in the right light, nearing pre-dusk, the result would probably be good.

          Meditating on the word “luminosity” can be deeply inspiring photographically.

      • CM, how about a permanent graphic/link to David’s photography-for-sale site, at the top of the IMonk authors (simply so it doesn’t get lost in the mix)? Thanks-

        Dana

      • Yes, CM, it’s magnificent.

        Thanks, David.

  3. Ronald Avra says:

    Confession can do wonders, but it needs to be practiced with care. I was raised in and attended Southern Baptist churches for many years. That denomination doesn’t have a culture that values confession and things that were said, in what was assumed to be confidence, frequently were out and making the rounds in the community at large. Confession and confidence take strong, tested relationships. The bridge has to be tried before you put a load on it.