Sermon on James 5:13-20 – “Instructions for Life’s Ups and Downs”

Sermon for Sunday, May 29th, 2022 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Pro 15:16-33 ESV] 16 Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it. 17 Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it. 18 A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention. 19 The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway. 20 A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish man despises his mother. 21 Folly is a joy to him who lacks sense, but a man of understanding walks straight ahead. 22 Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed. 23 To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is! 24 The path of life leads upward for the prudent, that he may turn away from Sheol beneath. 25 The LORD tears down the house of the proud but maintains the widow’s boundaries. 26 The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD, but gracious words are pure. 27 Whoever is greedy for unjust gain troubles his own household, but he who hates bribes will live. 28 The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things. 29 The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous. 30 The light of the eyes rejoices the heart, and good news refreshes the bones. 31 The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. 32 Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. 33 The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.

New Testament reading:

[Jas 5:13-20 ESV] 13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. 19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Gospel reading:

[Mat 17:14-20 ESV] 14 And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, 15 said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” 17 And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” 18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Introduction

James has given us much practical advice in his epistle. And here, in the very last passage of it, he does not disappoint. He provides instructions for life’s ups and down. And that is what I’ve titled today’s sermon. Instructions for Life’s Ups and Downs.

While the movies, and media, and even just people you know, may try to display life without struggles, the reality is that life is much like a roller coaster. It goes up and down, and even in loopty-loos.

We saw in the last passage that James encourages us to have patience, especially in the coming of the Lord. And we are to have patience—to cultivate the virtue of patience—throughout our lives.

But patience is not the whole story. Patience tells us not to be angry or upset. But we could also use some positive advice of what to do instead.

James then provides this advice—or really it is greater than advice, it is a command for all Christians—in four particular situations in life.

These situations may not cover everything, but they do cover quite a lot.

James specifies them with questions:

1. Is any among you suffering

2. Is any among you cheerful

3. Is any among you sick

This has been summarized with the alternative phrase: “Suffering, sunny, or sick?”

And there there is a fourth and final one:

4. What to do when someone is wandering from the faith?

So we have

1. Is any among you suffering

2. Is any among you cheerful

3. Is any among you sick

4. What to do when someone is wandering from the faith?

James then gives instructions for what the Christian should do in each of these situations in which we find ourselves in the Christian life.

For it indeed is a roller coaster.

We might think of Ecclesiastes 3: There is a time for everything.

And that was written by Solomon, not The Byrds.

So there is a time

for suffering

for cheerfulness

for sickness

and for wandering from the faith

These are prone to happen to the Christian. But we don’t have to just “take it” without any response. We are to respond in the ways that James specifies.

Lets look at them one by one.

And in each case, we’ll want to note

(1) What we are to do

and

(2) What the Lord does

First is suffering.

I. Suffering

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.

There is a lot about suffering by persecution in the Scriptures. Suffering because you are a Christian.

But here were are looking at suffering more broadly. Yes, you suffer because you are Christian, but you also suffer because this is a fallen world. We feel the effects of sin.

And when we’re suffering, perhaps we feel helpless. Things are out of our control. Aren’t we helpless? No, we can always pray.

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray

Let us never underestimate prayer.

The Lord has called us to pray and promises to work through prayer.

Many years ago I attended a church service in the Netherlands. And I always remember what the preacher said. He said “Bidden is praaten met God” which means “Prayer is conversation with God” or “Prayer is speaking with God.”

So prayer is what we are to do when we are suffering.

This contrasts drastically with the response of the world today. There is a tendency in our world to respond to suffering with claims of injustice, blaming others for your problems, and looking for a handout to alleviate your problems. “I’d feel a lot better if I had a bunch of money.”

You see the problem? The world relies on government, not on God. But, when the government provides something, it must first take from someone else. They don’t generate wealth, but transfer it. But God is the creator of all things, and gives generously to those who ask.

Suffering comes in a variety of forms. It is not only physical, but could be mental, emotional, or financial. In any case, we are to pray … to God.

Suffering is one of those downs in life, but next James adresses an “up”: cheerfulness.

II. Cheerful

“Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.”

When you are cheerful, sing praise—sing or say good thing about God.

Again we drawn to God. In the low, we pray. In the high, we praise.

We are not to direct our cheerfulness to the circumstance we are in, or the object that has made us cheerful, but we are to respond in thanks and praise to God.

For we worship Him.

We worship the Creator, not the creature.

So when you are happy about a new car, don’t dwell on the car, but dwell on God and his grace,

Or if you’re happy about a great accomplishment, focus not on that accomplishment, but thank the Lord,

for He provides all things. Thank the Lord. Praise the Lord.

We sing:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

ALL blessings. No thing comes from another. All things come from God.

So we are to sing praises to Him.

See, singing praise is not optional for the Christian. It is an instruction that we receive in God’s word. And it grows to be natural for us. Yes, singing can be hard at first, especially singing at home with your family, but praising God knows no limits. We are to sing his praise in Church and in the Home, and wherever we can do so.

Singing praise to God has two purposes in Scripture. To instruct and to praise.

To Instruct:

[Col 3:16 ESV] 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, TEACHING and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

This is why it is so important that our hymns have Biblical content. We are to learn from them. You can’t learn from music without words, and you can’t learn about God and His ways from songs without words about Him. So we sing Biblical songs to “Get God into our heads.”

And I hope that just as you might have radio songs stuck in your head, you will also have hymns stuck in your head so that you repeat the things of the Lord.

Then, praising God is not only about instruction, but it is also about praising. We praise God with hymns.

That is what James says: “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.”

What do we sing? We sing praise. We honor and worship God in words set to music, to show our appreciation to God for all that He has done.

The roller coaster in James then goes back down. (And, granted 3 of 4 the four topics in this section of James are “downs,” which I suppose makes for a good rollercoaster, though it might be difficult to consider so many downs with only one “up”)

So we had suffering, then cheerfulness, and now sickness. What is the Christian to do when he is sick, when he is seriously ill?

III. Sick

14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

Like “suffering,” this down also calls for prayer. But now it is the prayer of the elders of the church.

This tells us a number of things

1. The importance of membership in a church. If you are a Christian who is sick and you’re suppose to call the elders, but you don’t have elders because you are not in a church, then you’re not able to fulfill James’ instructions. It is crucial that you be part of a church or you’re out of accord with this and other Biblical commands.

2. Note that “elders” is plural. A church is not run by a dictator. There are always elders plural. (and a pastor is a type of elder; one who teaches) This is why we call ourselves Presbyterian, from presbuteros, meaning elders. Unlike the Catholic and Anglican churches with their hierarchies or the rock-n-roll church with its charismatic leader, we seek the Biblical method of all things, including church leadership.

3. And we see something of the role of elders and their importance. There are other tasks elders have, no doubt. But here we find they are to pray for the seriously ill.

4. The sick person is not sending for a single person, some faith healer, but for faithful men, the elders of the church. That they may pray to God for healing, for all blessings flow from the Lord, even healing.

Matthew Henry:
In the times of miraculous healing, the sick were to be anointed with oil in the name of the Lord. Expositors generally confine this anointing with oil to such as had the power of working miracles; and, when miracles ceased, this institution ceased also.

We see that prayer is powerful:
15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

We must understand however, All prayer is subject to God’s will.

[1Jo 5:14 ESV] 14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.

So not all of our prayers will be answered. Paul long prayed for relief from the thorn in his side, but the Lord, for His reasons, did not relieve Paul of that suffering.

[2Co 12:7-9 ESV] 7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

IV. Wandering

The last “down” then in James has to do with wandering.

19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

While in the other cases of “downs” the person is to pray or call for prayer, here they have wandered away from the Lord and so are not praying. Therefore, another person needs to intervene. It doesn’t tell us how we are to intervene, but just that we are to do so.

This could be with prayer, or with comforting them, listening to them, challenging them with the Word. We must work to “bring him back.”

In this, like all the “downs” in life, there are things we are to do, and then there is what God does.

God hears our prayers.

God answers prayer.

God heals the sick.

And

God brings back the lost sheep.

But he has so designed the world that he does this alongside us. God can certainly do all things without us, but he calls us to pray, and he calls us to go after those who wander. We are part of his plan. Our lives are not meaningless, but integrated into God’s world and overall plan for all things.

And, even when we don’t do our part, God does His. He is faithful to His covenant promises.

Let us then follow His instructions, praying to Him, and trusting that He works all things together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.