Father, You are so patient with us. Help me be patient as I wait for Your coming. And for any who have wandered from the truth, use me to bring them back. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Read James 5
James 5:1–12 After previously warning businessmen in the church, James now railed against the rich who exploited and defrauded people in the church. Storing up earthly treasure at the expense of eternal treasure will testify against the rich man in the last days. Living in luxury and self-indulgence is like fattening oneself for the day of slaughter, and the riches’ corrosion will one day testify against and burn the rich man.
In light of this inevitable corrosion, Christians should be patient like farmers, waiting for precious fruit. We should have steadfast hearts, and we shouldn’t grumble against one another in times of trouble. Instead, let’s patiently wait for the imminent coming of the Lord. The prophets suffered and were patient, as did Job. Now, James wrote, we can see the purposes of the Lord and His compassionate mercy in their suffering.
As Jesus taught in Matthew 5:33–37, we shouldn’t take oaths but should answer with a straightforward “Yes” or “No.”
James 5:13–20 Pray when suffering. Sing praise when cheerful. Call the elders to pray and anoint with oil the person who is sick. (This oil is likely medicinal, like the oil used by the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:34. See also Mark 6:13.) The sick person can still be forgiven if he prays in faith.
In fact, as Christians, we should confess our sins to one another and pray for one another. God may choose to use our prayers to heal the sick or bring someone to repentance and faith. James writes, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (5:16). In the Old Testament, Elijah is an example of the power of prayer. He was just a man, but God used his prayers to change the weather (1 Kings 17–18).
If anyone in the church turns from the truth of the gospel and begins to live in sin, we should go after him and bring him back. What a privilege to be used by God to save souls and cover sins.
James’ letter is focused on relationships in the church. In James 1, he encouraged those who are suffering to ask God for wisdom and count it joy because their faith was being perfected. He then spurred them on to practice true religion, being doers of the Word and caring for orphans and widows in the church.
In James 2, he warned the church against partiality and called them to love one another. He also expected them to show their faith by their works.
In James 3, he warned against bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. He wrote at length about the power of the tongue and how Christians must avoid using speech that tears others down. He encouraged the church to seek wisdom from above that results in peace.
In James 4, he urged the church to examine their selfish desires and their quarrelsome worldliness. He exhorted them to draw near to God in humility and to refrain from speaking evil against a brother.
In James 5, he encouraged the church to persevere without grumbling, to pray and confess sins to one another, and to bring those who are in sin back from their wandering.
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.
- Do you have this kind of love and concern for the church? How can you sow peace and exercise wisdom in the church? How can you help others be patient when they are struggling through various trials? What will you do when you perceive that someone is wandering away from the church in sin?
James gives us many things to go and do. So, listen again and decide those you need to do today.
- “You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
- “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.”
- “Let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.”
- “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.”
- “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.”
- “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him.”
- “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
- Singles: Spend time thinking about what situations are most difficult for you. Create a plan for those times, and share it with an accountability partner. [Healthy Relationships]
CHURCH DISCIPLINE AND THE LOVE OF GOD
by Jonathan Leeman
Do the words “church discipline” seem like they don’t belong together, like “painful friendship” or “conditional grace”? In fact, church discipline builds healthy churches and vibrant gospel witnesses.
What Is Church Discipline?
Broadly, church discipline is one part of the discipleship process. As in many areas of life, Christian discipleship involves both instruction and discipline, just like soccer practice or math class.
Narrowly, church discipline is correcting sin. It begins with private warnings. It ends, when necessary, with removing someone from church membership and participation in the Lord’s Table. The person will generally be free to attend public gatherings, but he or she is no longer a member. The church will no longer publicly affirm the person’s profession of faith.
A number of sins might call for loving warnings in private. But formal public discipline typically occurs only in cases of sin that meet three further criteria. A sin must be outward—it can seen or heard (unlike, say, pride). It must be serious—serious enough to discredit the person’s verbal profession to be following Jesus. And it must be unrepentant—the person has typically been confronted but refuses to let go of the sin.
Is Discipline Biblical?
Church discipline first shows up in Matthew 18, where Jesus says concerning the person in unrepentant sin, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (v. 17). That is, treat him as outside the covenant community. The person has proven uncorrectable. His life does not match his Christian profession.
Another well-known passage on discipline, 1 Corinthians 5, helps us see the purpose of discipline.
First, discipline exposes. Sin, like cancer, loves to hide. Discipline exposes the cancer so that it might be cut out (see 1 Cor. 5:2).
Second, discipline warns. A church does not enact God’s judgment through discipline. Rather, it stages a small play that pictures the great judgment to come (v. 5).
Third, discipline saves. Churches pursue it when they see a member taking the path toward death, and none of their arm-waving causes him or her to stop. It’s the device of last resort (v. 5).
Fourth, discipline protects. Just as cancer spreads from cell to another, so sin quickly spreads from one person to another (v. 6).
Fifth, discipline preserves the church’s witness. Strange to say, it serves non-Christians because it keeps churches distinct and attractive (see v. 1). After all, churches are to be salt and light. “But if salt has lost its taste…” Jesus said, “It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (Matt. 5:13).
Why Is Discipline So Challenging?
The challenge of discipline is, sinners don’t like to be held accountable for their sin. No matter where you are on the planet, people find an excuse not to practice discipline. In East Asia, they argue that the shame culture makes discipline impossible. In South Africa, they refer to the role of tribal identity, and maybe Ubuntu. In Brazil, they claim family structures will get in the way. In Hawaii, they talk about the laid back culture and the Aloha spirit. In American, they say you will get sued!
In short, sinners have found rationalization to not correct sin ever since the Garden of Eden. But obedience and love call us to practice church discipline.
Is Discipline Really Loving?
Church discipline at its core is about love. The Lord disciplines those he loves (Heb. 12:6). The same is true for us.
Today, many people today have a sentimentalized view of love: love as being made to feel special. Or a romanticized view of love: love as being allowed to express yourself without correction. Or a consumeristic view: love as finding the perfect fit. In the popular mind, love has little to do with truth and holiness and authority.
But that’s not love in the Bible. Love in the Bible is holy. It makes demands. It yields obedience. It doesn’t delight in evil but rejoices in the truth (1 Cor. 13:6). Jesus tells us that if we keep his commandments, we will abide in his love (John 15:10). And John says that if we keep God’s word, God’s love will be perfected in us (1 John 2:5).
How do church members help one another abide in Christ’s love and show the world what God’s love is like? Through helping one another obey and keep his word. Through instruction and discipline.