As James finishes his letter he returns to the themes he opened with – how to endure, suffering and prayer. He gives us the encouragement of examples of endurance (the prophets in verse 10 and Job in verse 11) who he calls, blessed or happy. He then warns that our sins of the tongue can undermine our ability to endure (9 & 12). [Audio | Notes]
For further thought
Q: In verses 7 and 8 James describes the Christian life as a process of growth. What seasons of preparation and growth have you been through? What part did suffering play in that growth?
Q: James asks us to be patient for the Lord’s coming to complete his work in us (7,8, 9), patient with growth in ourselves (7, 8) and patient with God’s work in others (9). How do the sins of the tongue (9) undermine our patience with God’s work in these areas?
Be patient, the Lord’s coming is near… the judge is standing at the door (8,9)
James assumes that the Christians he wrote to were well aware of the promise of Christ to return to this earth to renew the creation (2 Peter 3:12-13) and bring about the judgement. (Matthew 24:3, 27). His second coming will be vivid and obvious to all – leaving no room for false messianic claims. The time it will occur is unknowable – leaving no room for false prophecies about the end times (Matthew 24:36ff). It will separate the people of God from others (Matthew 24:8ff, 1 Corinthians 15:23, 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 2 Thessalonians 2:1) who will be transformed to be like him (1 Thessalonians 3:13; 5:23). We expect others to mock this hope (2 Peter 3:3-4), but this hope is a call to endure (James 5:8; Revelation 13:10) and to prepare for Christ’s return by learning how to be holy (1 John 2:28).
Q: How does an expectation of the second coming of Christ affect your prayers and daily life?
The secret of happiness
In verse 11 James says the prophets and Job are counted blessed (literally: ‘Happy’) because they endured. This reflects the way the ancient world assessed the value of our lives – they did not declare a life happy until it was over. The reason is that someone may have been born into difficult circumstances or suffered set-backs in their life but the key question was whether a man or woman was constant as they faced their troubles and joys. In other words, did they maintain their integrity, values, purpose or calling and faith? If they did, in spite of what ever happened to them, then their lives were held up as an example for younger people to learn from. There is wisdom in this; our version of assessing happiness depends upon our success – which, in many cases turns out to be a cruel standard, as often things outside of ourselves determine whether we succeed or not. We are also prone to letting the modern idea of happiness undermine our values, integrity, purpose, faith or calling by setting happiness above our other human commitments.
Q: Thomas Jefferson, in the American Declaration of Independence made it a modern right for human beings to pursue especially economic happiness. How do you assess your happiness?
Q: Thinking about the hardships of the prophets and Job – how does our understanding of blessing (happiness) compare with James’?
Q: Are you happy? In what sense?
There is another sin of the tongue that can undermine our pursuit of happiness – the use of false oaths (12). In James’ day oaths had become a means of clever lying and often, in times of trial, we are tempted to do deals with God and make oaths to get us through. James’ point here is don’t even play the game. That is not only false religion and could get us into trouble (Matthew 5:33-37; 23:16-22; Ecclesiastes 5:4) but a sign that we lack the integrity needed to endure and truly be happy.
Q: Why do we need integrity to be happy in the way James describes?