In closing, James reminds us of the power of prayer. This truth could not have come at a better time for first century believers, or for the twenty-first century believers. There is power in payer. Power to bring relief to those who suffer, power to heal the sick, power to forgive sin, and power to turn the heart of the wayward back to the Lord. James tells us that we don’t have to be a priest, a prophet, or an apostle to pray powerful prayers; we just have to live right and know who to call upon. The words “pray” or “prayer” occur seven times in eight verses, so prayer is clearly the theme of James at the end the letter.
I think that for a number of reasons, this past year has been like that for many people. Between the COVID-19 pandemic, the non-stop negative news on the media featuring abuse, bombings, and burning cities, along with a culture determined to divide and conquer the community of faith, this has been a very difficult year. But like David in Psalm 138 we can keep singing.
Our verse is something of a summation of everything he has previously written. The Greek word oun, translated “therefore,” is a way of saying, “In light of everything I’ve said to this point, if you know to do good and you don’t do it, then to you … it is sin.” And we don’t want to be guilty of sin because apostle Paul warned that the “wages of sin is death” (Ro 6:23). Yet the Bible teaches that sin is both doing the wrong thing, and also refusing to do the right thing we knew we should have done.
In verse 13 James says, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit . . .’” The words “Come now,” are intended to draw attention to what he is about to say. It’s like saying, “Come on now . . . do you really mean that?” In this verse James highlights the presumptuous claims that follow. His illustration of foolish boasting is framed by a series of positive confessions about what a person boasts will happen.
Apparently, James heard that certain members of local churches were guilty of criticizing one another, slandering one another, and judging one another, so James writes in no uncertain terms that this is wrong. I believe James is telling us that it is wrong to think we know what another person is going through or understand the pain the drives their actions. It is wrong to assume we can see a person’s heart and know their motives. It is wrong to judge another person when we have never taken the time to talk with them, weep with them or pray with them. James addresses this issue head on in verse 11 and 12.
Have you ever been in a church fight? Church fights are the ugliest because we rightfully expect more from believers than we do from the world. I remember reading about a church fight in the Atlanta area a few years ago where the deacons changed the locks on the church doors and the pastor couldn’t get in on Sunday morning. Of course, the secular media love it when church people fight. It gives them the opportunity to mock Christianity and claim all Christians are hypocrites.
James is asking if any of them think they are wise and intelligent, and then he answers the question by saying, in essence, “If you are wise and intelligent, then show it.” He says, “Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.” Like I said, wisdom is as wisdom does. The truth is that there are a lot of smart people with no wisdom, and a lot of wise people who won’t impress you with their IQ. Wisdom is as wisdom does.
If ever our country needed a church united around the best of what it means to be an example of Jesus Christ, it is now. And in this atmosphere filled with bitter words and entrenched positions that revolve more around a political party than around biblical precepts, the church must speak truth in love, and as ambassadors of Christ, stand ready as ministers of reconciliation and restoration. Speak life and light in a dark and dying world. Speak hope and healing in a hopeless and wounded world. Speak truth and love in deceived and angry world.
In verses 14 through 16 James asks three rhetorical questions, followed in verse 17 with a conclusion. You know what a rhetorical question is don’t you? Men, it’s when your wife comes home with a new haircut and asks, “Do you think this haircut looks good?” That is not a real question. In a rhetorical question the answer is implied in the question. It’s like when a man asks his wife, “Don’t you think that ‘bigger’ flatscreen TV would look good in the family room?” It’s more of a statement than an actual question
In his epistle, James warns the church not judge people by how they dress. He tells us not to show favoritism to people whose attire would suggest they are rich, as compared to people whose clothing would indicate they are poor.