James 5:7-20 – Waiting on the Lord
He’ll Be Back
James finishes his letter with two thoughts on his mind – how Christians ought to live in light of Christ’s return, and how Christians ought to pray in light of Christ’s faithfulness. Check out James 5:7-20 for the whole passage. Here are some of my thoughts below.
Enduring (James 5:7-12)
What does it look like to wait for Christ’s return? James turns our thoughts to farming – it’s hard work over a long period of time, but bears fruit that sustains and satisfies people in the end. He says that just like the farmer waits for harvest, we wait for Christ’s return. We keep on working with the expectation that when that time comes, it will be ultimately satisfying and sustaining. Notice also that the farmer doesn’t wait by doing nothing – neither should we.
Just like farming has its troubles, so will the Christian life. There will be conflict from within the church, so we should be patient with each other. When we spend large amounts of time in close quarters with others, it’s easy for us to focus on their faults. Instead of this, we need to forgive and focus on our shared hope in Christ. There will also be trouble from the outside, so James points us to Job and the prophets as examples of those who kept speaking truth and worshipping God when they were accosted by life and accused by the people around them. He tells us that we count them as blessed because we see God’s mercy and compassion in their lives, and we will see it in our own as well.
Praying (James 5:13-18)
In suffering, joy, sickness and sin, James says we should pray. It may be cries of praise, prayer, intercession, confession or urgent requests. Why pray? Because Elijah, “a man with a nature like ours … prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit. (James 5:17-18 HCSB).” That’s powerful. Easy to read as a story, hard to fully grasp as history. But James’ point stands: “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much (James 5:16b NASB),” not because the man or woman is righteous, but because the God they serve is powerful and faithful. He is both willing and able to heal, forgive and answer any prayer we have according to His perfect wisdom.
Restoring (James 5:19-20)
Sometimes we are going to fail. We may even fail miserably. But that is not the end of our hope – remember, God is faithful to forgive sin when we confess it (James 5:15). When we’re in sin, we often forget that truth though. We are tempted to either take our sin too lightly or the cross too lightly, and then we end up continuing in sin because we believe that either it is not serious, or that we are beyond hope.
This is one reason why it is so important for us to be surrounded by gospel community. When we stray from the truth, someone else can call us to repentance and to trust that Christ’s sacrifice really can cover our sin. When they fall, we can return the favour. Even the prayers for repentance and healing mentioned in the previous few verses happen within this community. One of the roles of the church is to bring believers back to the foot of the Jesus, trusting, relying on and submitting to Him.
It can be messy work confronting someone with their sin and pointing them back to the cross, so James gives a jewel of encouragement to everyone who takes on that task: “whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins (James 5:20 HCSB).” The cost of restoration is worth it. Christ did it for all of us and we get to be a part of His restoration in each other’s lives.
Oddly enough, this is where James ends his letter. We don’t have a closing greeting, possibly because this letter would have circulated and not necessarily been addressed to specific people, so there was no one to give a specific mention or thanks to in the end. Also keep in mind that he signed his name at the top, not at the bottom like we do in letters and emails today. Regardless of the specific reason for not including any closing remarks, James’ abrupt stop fits the pattern of the rest of his letter: pointed. He has addressed many issues that call us to examine our own hearts and see what we need to work on by Christ’s grace.
Live It Out
How are you actively waiting for Christ’s return? Does the thought of Christ coming back bother you, excite you, or are you indifferent to it? What does this reveal about your heart?
We should always pray, because God is always faithful. How is your prayer life? Try keeping a prayer journal to help you remember things you want to pray and praise God for. If the words aren’t coming or you have trouble focusing while you pray, try writing them down on paper.
Do you need to be restored spiritually? If so, who can you ask to help you? Is there anyone you need to reach out to or confront to point them back to the good news of Christ’s death, resurrection and authority?