Lesson Focus: In times of joy and pain, we are called to live in patient solidarity with those around us.
Lesson Outcomes: Through this lesson, students should:
Understand that we should learn to be patient in our belief that God is working in the world.
Be encouraged to pray for the needs of others.
Be encouraged to genuinely live in patient solidarity with those around us.
Catch Up on the Story From the first word, James’ letter has aimed to help believers live out an authentic Christian faith in genuine community with other believers while situated in a context that was generally hostile towards those who believe.
While it has not always seemed like the various sections of James’ letter flow together, they all point to this end.
James has encouraged us to gain wisdom so that we might know from where our temptations come and how to overcome them. All that we have, including each other in the believing community, is a gift from God.
The wisdom we receive from God necessitates that we develop Spirit-empowered self-control in our dialogue with each other. We are to be quick to listen and slow to talk and get angry. Our anger does not advance God’s kingdom mission in our world!
A little later on, James reminds us that mere belief, much like talk, is cheap. It’s all good and well to believe that God is God, but we demonstrate our faith through our actions and behaviors.
We can demonstrate our faith in Jesus through works of mercy and compassion. In the same way, we can disprove our faith through an uncontrolled tongue.
Specifically, in the church, the uncontrolled tongue, though a small part of the body, can utterly destroy all that God has worked to build in our midst. James reminds us that when we seek God’s wisdom, we are empowered to control our tongue for the entire community’s benefit.
Chapter 4 serves somewhat as the crux of James’ argument. The conflicts and disputes that arise within the body of Christ are the results of members of the body not humbly submitting to Jesus and each other.
Instead, we have chosen to seek our own good above the good of the community. James calls this being double-minded. We say we have faith in God, continually confessing so with our mouth, all the while we’re taking whatever we can get and spend it on our pleasures.
In James’ language, this makes us friends with the world, and we cannot be friends with the world and God at the same time. Of course, this doesn’t mean we can’t participate in the world. We can, so long as we understand that, above all else, we belong to God as humble servants.
Patience in Suffering James begins the final chapter of his work still very much concerned with how the community acts toward each other. Verses 1-6, which we won’t look at in-depth, warn against those who are oppressing those who have not.
James is not arguing against wealth, but rather the hoarding of resources when others in the community, perhaps because of the persecution rampant at the time, found themselves destitute and in need of help. The rich in the church sit by and watch their brothers and sisters suffer. I think it’s safe to say that kind of behavior does not characterize a genuine Christian community.
After having addressed rich oppressors in the community, James turns his attention toward those who are suffering. It may be that James has in mind those who are suffering at the hand of affluent community members, but it is not limited to that. Either way, James highlights our need to have a patient faithfulness and hope that Jesus is coming back soon to set all things right.
What James does not want us to do in our suffering is to take matters into our own hands. Can you remember a time when you were suffering in some way, and instead of allowing things to work themselves out, you pressed and made things worse?
This is a lesson I have not yet learned. In my impatience, I am forever pressing to resolve an issue only to make it worse. I think I do this, especially with people, because I can’t stand having a broken relationship. Whenever my wife, Lori, and I argue, I do this. We’re very different in the way we process and resolve things. I’ll say something stupid or argue about what we should do in a given situation, making Lori upset. Because I don’t like when anyone is mad at me, I want to resolve the problem quickly. I want to talk it out. Lori approaches things differently. She needs space and time, and not an unreasonable amount either. In my impatience, I take things into my own hands and press for conversation. I talk, and I talk, and I only make Lori more upset. My impatience makes things worse!
My example is insignificant compared to what James is talking about. In James’ day, people were seriously suffering from persecution that resulted in a loss of property, social standing in the community, beatings, and loss of life.
In the early church, the belief was that Jesus was going to return sooner rather than later, but as time wore on and Jesus did not return, people began to get impatient. They began to wonder where Jesus was. They began to wonder if Jesus wasn’t ever going to come back, and so they should fight back; they should take matters into their own hands.
In the same way that our anger does not help the mission of God’s Kingdom in the world, neither does our impatience. Indeed, it only serves to make things worse. I’m sure that James doesn’t encourage his friends and us to be patient lightly. The point is, however, to trust that God will eventually put things right.
Faithful Prayer Patience without a community of friends surrounding us is impossible. Even more, so is this true for those in the believing community. From the beginning, James understands that the believing community is the place where followers of Jesus can endure all that is going on around them, all that is happening to them, in faithfulness to God.
This section of the letter starts with a question, “Are any among you suffering?”
As we have already discovered, there are plenty within the community to which James is writing who are suffering, be it poverty, hunger, or persecution.
James quickly answers his own question, “They should pray.” Another question follows, “Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.” Still another question, “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.”
In James’ mind, all three activities, prayer, worshipping in song, and anointing for healing, are all activities that are done in and with the community of faith. Sure, James would have encouraged his friends to pray alone, but the communal nature of the letter will not let us argue that James is speaking about individual actives. No, the entire reason James has written this letter is so that Christians might live in a faithful and mutually supportive community with each other.
If there is suffering in our midst, we must pray not just for them. We must pray with them, gathered around praying for God’s will to be done. It is an act of solidarity in the middle of suffering that is empowered by the Holy Spirit, leading to patient endurance.
If there is a reason to be cheerful or celebrate, we must celebrate among the church body. Indeed, we can celebrate with someone alone, but it is better to come together and proclaim the gracious provision of God through worship. Our worship is always a grateful response to the good gifts of God. If there is sickness, James encourages us to gather together with the church’s leaders and anoint the person with oil. In the Old Testament, oil often signified the presence of God’s Spirit. People were anointed with oil to signify that the Spirit of God was with that person.
So What? James is convinced that when we participate as faithful members of an authentic community of faith, all manner of healing might be experienced. James believes this is true as far as physical healing is concerned.
I don’t think, however, that physical healing is the end, but only a part of the healing that can be had for participants in a community of faith. James’ concern is wholistic. He is concerned for the body, what can be touched, and the soul, which is harder to define. Sometimes we get focused on one or the other, on the body or the mind and soul, seeking only to be whole in one of those areas. But to be fully what God has created us to be, we must seek the healing of both.
While we may not always bring about complete healing in either body or mind, James is calling us to be a faithful Christian community where we can patiently endure with each other in solidarity. Only in the context of this Spirit-directed and empowered community can we find the true healing that Jesus Christ has brought.
The question becomes, how do we do that? How do we patiently endure with each other in solidarity? I think it begins with becoming well acquainted enough that we feel safe sharing our joys and pains with each other. That means that we must spend some time together in fellowship and service.
In the context of our relationships with each other, we become aware of each other’s struggles and triumphs. When there is a cause for joy, say the birth of a baby, we celebrate with the family.
When there are times of struggle, sickness, and heartbreak, we can do various things: We can sit with someone in solidarity. We don’t necessarily offer words of comfort. We don’t necessarily try to fix the issues. We sit and empathize. Those who suffer should not suffer alone. Be with them for the long haul. We can offer words of wisdom and counsel when appropriate. We must rely on the guidance of the Spirit to help us know what to say and when to say it. We can provide material support. What does the person or family need? Do they need money to pay medical bills? Do they need transportation? Do they need food? What are the tangible actions that can help ease the person or family’s burden?
Specific Discussion Questions: Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.
Do you ever feel as if God isn’t present and working in the world? If so, what makes you think that way? If not, what makes you think that way?
Describe a time when you were not as patient as you needed to be. What did your impatience cause you to do? Did it help or hinder the situation? What could you have done differently?
Why does James tell his readers to “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord?” Do you think James’ readers thought Jesus was going to come back sooner or later? What makes you answer as you do?
How are patience and endurance connected?
James assumes that suffering and persecution are happening among his readers. Does that change how you might read verses 7-12? If so, why?
In verses 13-15, James offers a list of suggestions that his readers might do in certain situations. In addition to the things James tells his readers to do, what might you add to the list? What specific things might you do in response to other’s suffering, joy, or sickness?
James makes a connection between physical healing and the forgiveness of sins. Why does he do that?
Overall, James is concerned that we live in an authentic and faithful Christian community. How does patience, endurance, solidarity with the joyful and those who suffer, and the forgiveness of sins fit that theme?