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Wednesday in the Word

Second Baptist Church

December 19, 2012

James 5:7-12

  1. Last week we saw how James warned those who were rich to not use their wealth to abuse the weak and powerless. But in verse 7, we find James addressing not the abuser, but the abused. The dominant theme of these closing verses is the use of the tongue. It has been a theme in every chapter of this epistle. In chapter 1, James instructs us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger” (1:19). In chapter 2, James comes down hard on those who are hypocritical with their words – they speak words of comfort and help, but they do nothing to back them up (2:14-16). He draws an analogy between the emptiness of these words of comfort and a profession of faith that has no accompanying works (2:17ff.). In chapter 3, James speaks directly to those whose speech impacts the lives of many – those who desire to be teachers. In chapter 4, we see the abuse of the tongue in the strife within the church (4:1-2), in the way some saints spoke against others behind their backs (4:11-12), and in the vain boasting of some about the future (4:13-17). In chapter 5, James contrasts the words of some in this life with their weeping and wailing in the Day of Judgment because of their abuse of wealth and of the poor (5:1-6).

  2. Verses James 5:7. When James calls for patient endurance in 5:7-12, he gives two negative commands regarding the tongue: (1) Don’t grumble – verse 9; and, (2) Don’t swear – verse 12. James calls upon his readers to patiently wait for the coming of the Lord. This patience seems to have a two-fold outworking. First, it is the kind of patience that does not seek to retaliate for wrongs committed against us as believers. We leave the judgment of the wicked to our Lord when He returns. Second, patience has a positive element, which works itself out as endurance and perseverance. It means that we do not grow weary in well doing and hold on until our Lord returns (Galatians 6:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:13; Hebrews 12:3).

    1. James gives us an example of this kind of patience by using the illustration of the farmer, who patiently waits for the early and late rains, which will produce the precious fruit of the ground (verse 7b). This illustration would be especially forceful with the Jews. Consider this passage in the Book of Deuteronomy 11:8-25. In Egypt, farming was done very differently from farming in Israel. The difference is between land that is irrigated and land that is watered by rain. God reminded the Israelites that in Egypt farming was facilitated by irrigation from the Nile River. There is an irrigation ditch nearby that is filled with water, and all one has to do is to push some dirt with his foot to start the water flowing along a particular trench. Thus, as God said, they watered the land with their foot. That’s how easy it was. It was too easy for God’s people in Egypt, agriculturally speaking. They could farm without having to exercise faith in God. God wanted His people to learn to trust Him for their daily bread and for their every need. And so He took them to a land that was not watered by irrigation, but by rain. He promised that if His people would abide by His law, He would give them the rains they needed, in their proper time. The farmer went about his labors, trusting in God to bless his efforts, but not seeing the rain while he worked.

    2. These displaced Jews are not farmers in the land of Israel, but James exhorts them to practice the same kind of patience. As God promised to provide the necessary rains at their proper time, our Lord promised to return, also at the proper time. No doubt the farmers’ faith was tested if the rains did not come as quickly as they would have liked. In the same way, we might wish that our Lord’s return would come sooner, too. But we must trust in Him and continue to obey His Word. We must trust that when He comes He will judge the wicked and reward the righteous.

  3. Verses 8-9. Now if we have patience it should show up in our conversation. When the Israelites failed to trust God when he did not give them what they wanted when they wanted it, they grumbled. James wants us to not fail the test like our ancestors did in the wilderness between Egypt and the promise land. James now gives two negative commands related to the use of the tongue. Two specific forms of speech are forbidden: (1) grumbling; and, (2) swearing. first prohibition is against grumbling. Why would James choose to focus on this particular use of the tongue? Notice that it is grumbling against one another (verse 9). James has already forbidden speaking against one another in James 4:11-12. Grumbling is virtually the same thing. Not only is doing so an act of arrogance, of playing God (4:11-12), it is a sin against brotherly love and Christian unity. We know from Israel’s grumbling against Moses that their grumbling against God’s leadership was really grumbling against God (Numbers 14:2, 11, 22-29). It is hard to eagerly await the return of the same God against whom you are grumbling. Speaking against one another brings judgment, and the Judge is “at the door” . There is a difference between the Christian’s relationship to the second coming and that of the wicked. The wicked store up wrath by continuing in sin, while the righteous store up blessings by following the Lord. The righteous seek to correct their lives knowing judgment is coming, while the wicked see no need to change not taking God’s coming seriously. If you knew a policeman was sitting around the corner with his radar out, you would slow down, but the person who doesn’t heed the warning and continues speeding gets a ticket. God has flashed his lights and if we don’t “slow down” in sin judgment awaits.

  4. Verses 10-11. James calls our attention to two examples of the kind of patience he is encouraging. First, he reminds his Jewish readers about their heroes, the prophets. These were men who spoke God’s truth to a sinful generation and paid a high price for doing so. They were ignored, rejected, abused, and even killed because of their words. The Jews looked upon them as heroes, and rightly so. Second, James calls our attention to Job, who suffered greatly at the hand of God (ultimately), of Satan (directly), of his wife, and even of his friends. Job suffered much and his responses to his affliction were not always what they should have been. Nevertheless, Job did not abandon his faith in God. He may have wanted God to explain what was going on, but Job did not cease to trust in his God. James seems to be calling our attention to the outcome of Job’s sufferings. First, God vindicated Job as a righteous man. He also rebuked Job’s friends for being wrong. It was they who had not spoken rightly of God (see Job 42:7-9). Then God restored Job and granted him even greater prosperity than he had before his testing began (Job 42:10ff.). Job endured in the midst of adversity, and God both vindicated and blessed him, at the proper time. Though God may have appeared to be harsh during Job’s afflictions, He proved Himself to be “full of compassion and merciful” (James 5:11).

  5. Verse 12. James employs the words, “above all” (verse 12) to indicate that this is the most important thing he has to say about the use of the tongue. There are many cruel and wicked things that can be said with the tongue, but the most dangerous is falsehood. First and foremost, we must be people of truth. That is what James is saying as well. There is no place for falsehood in the faith. The second prohibition is against swearing. The issue here seems to be that of telling the truth. We can see from Matthew 23:16-22 that legalistic Jews (the scribes and Pharisees were the culprits here) had developed some very specialized oaths. This kind of oath taking was hypocrisy because it gave the appearance of a most solemn promise, but the reality was that the oath taker had no intention of keeping his promise. Jesus (and thus James as well) forbade this kind of technical oath taking.. Our word should be our bond. When we say, “Yes” we should mean yes. Others should not need some further affirmation of truthfulness than our words themselves.

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