Wednesdays with James
Lesson Sixteen: The Pastoral Community
We have come to our final study in the Epistle of James. Here, once again, is our diagram of the entire letter, and as you see, it closes with a group of closing exhortations.
Are any among you suffering? Let them pray. Are any cheerful? Let them sing psalms. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over the sick person, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. Faithful prayer will rescue the sick person, and the Lord will raise them up. If they have committed any sin, it will be forgiven them. So confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. When a righteous person prays, that prayer carries great power. Elijah was a man with passions like ours, and he prayed and prayed that it might not rain— and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, the sky gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit. My dear family, if someone in your company has wandered from the truth, and someone turns them back, know this: the one who turns back a sinner from wandering off into error will rescue that person’s life from death, and cover a multitude of sins.
• James 5:13-20
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You may notice that I made one choice in identifying this section that differs from many commentators, who put James 5:12 in this final section, or as a standalone verse forming a transition to the concluding exhortations. I think it goes better as a conclusion to the preceding section, with its emphases on the speech believers use and the coming judgment.
Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear. Don’t swear by heaven; don’t swear by earth; don’t use any other oaths. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. That way, you will not fall under judgment.
However, verse 12 does also form an effective transition to what he says next, for James now concludes his letter with a series of appeals focusing on other, healthier forms of speech and action that the believing fellowship should practice.
James thus says goodbye by encouraging his friends to live in true community with each other.
This epistle, which has unveiled the various “stress fractures” threatening these congregations, concludes with appeals to practice love in simple, meaningful, down-to-earth ways.
- Pray and sing together. Commiserate and celebrate with one another.
- Visit and call for help from one another in times of sickness and trouble.
- Practice confession and forgiveness.
- Care and intercede for each other in ways that will promote healing.
- Reflect on the lessons of scripture together (as James does here on the story of Elijah).
- Love the “leavers” — don’t abandon those who have left the fellowship, but reach out to them.
As Patrick J. Hartin writes in his commentary, the letter ends with “a vision for true pastoral care.” He is not just referring to the work of those who are called “pastors,” but to a pastoral community, a fellowship of people that cares for each other, that seeks to be with one another through good times and bad for each other’s benefit.
We all know how dysfunctional such a community can be, how fragile and unsupportive, especially when under pressure. There is plenty of evidence of that in this very epistle.
In the end, James raises our sights to something better. But isn’t it interesting how simple and unsophisticated his counsel is? Pray. Sing. Visit. Confess. Forgive. Pray some more. Care.
Don’t make it any harder than that.
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Wednesdays with James
The Complete Series
- Lesson One: Background and Big Picture
- Lesson Two: To Whom Was James Written?
- Lesson Three: The Ongoing Teaching Ministry of Jesus
- Lesson Four: An Encyclical from James (1:1)
- Lesson Five: Eschatological Joy and Growth through Suffering (aka Life) (1:2-4)
- Lesson Six: Asking for Wisdom (1:5-8)
- Lesson Seven: The Great Reversal (1:9-11)
- Lesson Eight: Taking Responsibility, Receiving from God (1:12-27)
- Lesson Nine: Are You Not Discriminating among Yourselves? (2:1-13)
- Lesson Ten: The Old “Faith & Works” Debate — Completely Unnecessary (2:14-26)
- Lesson Eleven: Stressed-out Speech Sinks Ships (3:1-12)
- Lesson Twelve: Wise Up! (3:13-18)
- Lesson Thirteen: The Two Ways — Time to Choose (4:1-12)
- Lesson Fourteen: Business Ambitions and Rotting Riches (4:13-5:6)
- Lesson Fifteen: Those Who Endure Are Blessed (5:7-12)
- Lesson Sixteen: The Pastoral Community (5:13-20)