May I speak and may we listen in the name of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
‘Are any among you suffering? They should pray.
Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.
Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the Church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.
The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.’ (James 5: 13-16)
Today, our final morning of Bible Month looking at the letter of James, brings us to the end of chapter 4, and to the final chapter, chapter 5 which ends the letter. And today our focus is on ‘Living for the Lord’.
James 4 ends with the challenge to us, to remember that we do not have complete control, that our life is, if you like, in the hands of God as well, to a certain extent in our own.
Then Chapter 5 begins, and again we have a very stern warning given to the rich – we get that also in Chapter 1. For James, there is a special and particular danger in wealth see chapter 5 v 1-6 and chapter 2 v 6-7. It seems that to James, wealth wraps people up in false security, it deludes and shrouds them in falsehood – it enables them to lean on their own understanding, and trust less and less in God. The rich become so well-insulated that they cease to feel for those who are cold and hungry, because life is so pleasant that they forget about the day of judgement – yet, James says God sees and hears all.
And, in the style of an Old Testament prophet, James denounces those who pile up riches yet pay out no wages. Like last week, we might hear echoes of Proverbs again in those phrases, or echoes of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel: ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’.
Chapter 5 progresses then as James begins to think and reflect on the day of judgement. He tells us that Christians need patience in the waiting time, the patience of the farmer, the patience of the builder, the patient endurance of suffering that we see in the prophets and in Job. Remember for Job, all was well in the end, and so James suggests it will be for us also.
The answers to difficulty seem quite sorted for James:
Are you suffering? Pray.
Are you happy? Sing.
Are you ill? Call for the priests of the Church and have them pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord.
For God responds to the prayer of faith.
We might think of the power of Elijah’s prayer in 1 Kings 17 and 18 the first when, Elijah raises the son of the Widow with whom he is staying and the son comes downstairs and is alive and well – seemingly because Elijah had the prayer of faith. Then James finishes his letter by giving a warning to backsliders, those who wander from the truth – another must go and bring that wanderer back, and in doing so a soul is saved from death, and a multitude of sins are forgiven.
So you’ll see that in a very real way, there is nothing in Chapter 5 which hasn’t at least been touched upon in other parts of the letter – we have already touched on:
The Rich and the Poor,
Pride and Humility,
Wisdom, Patience, Prayer,
Controlling the Tongue,
And Faith and Action.
Today, all of those come together as we think about Living for the Lord.
James 4 vv 13-17 reads:
‘Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money’. Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.’
More than any other time in recent history, I think it’s fair to say that we don’t need a reminder of the fact that we, as people in 2017, don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Nor do we need a wake-up call to the idea that we are just a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes – It’s very difficult to live in our present age and not have a clear awareness of our own mortality and vulnerability.
That reminder comes daily,
That reminder comes through all sorts of avenues,
That reminder is start and clear and evident.
We do not know what tomorrow will bring, either as individuals, or as a nation, or as a church. We can hazard a guess – but the past five weeks in our country have shown us that that would be very foolish.
Whenever we have a period of what appears, at least to me, as some stability some normality, some peace – all of a sudden something else seems to come along and mess up the tranquility we so long to enjoy.
And what is James really saying – is he saying that thinking about the future is bad in and of itself? No.
Is he saying that we shouldn’t be people who are forward looking and who contemplate the things of tomorrow? No.
What he’s saying – is what I reminded us of in a previous week – that we are not God.
And to remind us of that, he says in Chapter 5 v2-4;
‘Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten.
Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days’.
In other words, look! All that you have considered to be of worth and of value, all that you considered to be the things that made you you, all the things that you have built your life upon and have spent your time, money and energy into treasuring – all that has come to nothing and has disappeared. And in the process, it’s taken your flesh along with it.
When Jesus said those words:
‘where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’
Jesus is really making the same point that James is trying to get across – that what you love you become.
And if you love things,
And if you simply desire things,
And if you simply store things up for the future – you lose sight of what life is actually about, as a Christian.
And also, I would suggest you begin over a period of time to treat people like things, and things like people. You over-invest in your own accumulations and you forget the One by whom all things are made.
Life becomes all about me, and my wants and my happiness – and not about my love of God, or my love of neighbor, and that isn’t life at all.
So this warning, to the rich – is a reminder of the judgement of God.
The judgement which no matter our wealth, we can’t avoid.
The judgement which every human being must face.
The judgement of the one who knows all truth, because he himself is Truth.
And we too, must be reminded of the judgement of God.
When we think of the rich, who are not mindful of the judgement of God, who are not mindful of how their riches impact their lives and values, and the lives of others – when we think of that – we might think of those who lost their lives in Grenfell Tower Fire, just over a week ago.
All of that, as we knew and as we are having confirmed for us day by day – is what happens, fundamentally in a world where someone decides that the situation of the poor no longer matters.
That’s what happens when – an individuals and a society’s
Love of money, is greater
Than their love of neighbor.
Some of us, are so busy laying up treasure for the last days – that we forget about the present. Some of us are so concerned with tomorrow and what it will bring, that today becomes of absolutely no significance – but God is a God of the past, the present and the future – and we too must be people with that same sensibility.
Having an eye to the past, and to the present and to the future – causes us to be people who can endure, who can hope, who can embody patience in suffering – because our eyes are fixed on the Lord!
James tells us in verse 7 to: ‘be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord – the farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You must also be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.’
James also tells us in verse 12 to: ‘let your ‘Yes’ be yes and your ‘No’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.’
So the key question for this morning –
What does Living for the Lord look like?
Actually, in a way over these past four weeks, James has given us a pretty good hint….if we look back at the themes we have had. Living for the Lord is about:
Being Doers of the Word.
Being people of both Faith and Works.
Being people of right Speech and Wisdom.
It’s also about
Submitting to God,
Having Control of our Tongues,
and not clinging onto what we consider Riches.
What does living for the Lord look like?
Well, again remember what I said in previous weeks – when I said that in relation to James’ challenge to us to submit to God, that if we are not submitting to God – then who and what are we submitting to, because we all live our lives in submission to something….the same can be put to us, today – that if we are not living for the Lord, then who and what are we living for?
James suggests that the next best thing to God for most people is riches – and he is right.
Whatever we consider to be our treasure, is going to be that thing that we live for.
And how can we live for One that we do not consider treasure?
How can we live for Jesus, if we do not consider him to be the most priceless gift to us in all of creation?
In a world where a multitudes of truth’s are offered to us,
And infinite possibilities for happiness are thrown at our feet.
In a world where every lifestyle and every personal choice,
Seems not only possible, but encouraged.
In a world where we are defined by what we own and where we live, and how we look –
What James says to us is:
Choose Jesus Christ.
Be shaped by the pattern and life of Jesus.
Be changed by the pattern and life of Jesus.
Be transformed by the life, death and resurrection of the Son of God.
Submit to Him…
Because for James, there is one truth,
And that truth is a person,
And that person is Jesus Christ.
And Jesus Christ is Lord.
And those who follow that Jesus, and seek to live for him,
Must be doers of the word.
Must be people of faith and action.
Must be people of right speech and wisdom.
Must be people of endurance, and prayer, and faith.
We live for the Lord, so that we might die in the Lord.
And in dying – we might rise through him and in him and with him – to eternal life.
What does living for the Lord look like?
it is a life changed and utterly transformed by the deep knowing in our hearts that God loves us.
It is a life centred upon Jesus Christ and his word – not because they are good things, but because they are our treasure, and because Christ and his word bring us eternal life.
It is a life lived with a heart for the poor and the dispossessed, a life lived for God and for others.
The letter of James can be summed up in a single sentence:
‘If you love the Lord, then act like you do’.
That is a challenge for each and everyone of us –
Do we love the Lord, and His word?
Do we consider the Lord to be our most priceless treasure?
Because he loves us, and we are his treasure.
We are so pricelessly precious to him – that he came into our world.
We are so pricelessly precious to him – that he became one of us.
We are so pricelessly precious to him – that his love for us took him – to the cross.
He calls your name.
He seeks your face.
He reaches out to your heart in his power and love and grace,
And asks you to love him that little bit more –
And in loving him, to live for him.
That you might become more like him –
And know the power of his word and his cross in your life.
When our riches have rotted,
And our clothes are moth-eaten,
And our Gold and silver have rusted
And our flesh is wasting away –
Might we still have Jesus in our hearts, and might he be the one thing, and the only thing in our lives which truly matters.
For our love of the Lord and our faith in him, is what shall save us,
And that love is proven in our love for eachother,
And it is that that God longs to see – it is in that that he knows our desire to live for Him.
What does living for the Lord look like?
If you want to know, then just look at the life of Jesus. And see there, inspiration, mercy, truth, and eternal life.