Preached on: Sunday 8th March 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-03-08-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-morning.
Bible references: James 5:10-20
Location: Brightons Parish Church
Let us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the
meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight,
O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Parenthood is a funny thing. My daughter Hope’s
favourite TV programme is Peter Rabbit, and there’s only
so much of that which any sane adult can watch, so I
thought this past week that I might expand her horizons
and put on a kids Bible TV programme, which I found on
Amazon Prime. Hope has watched a few episodes now
and is thankfully asking for it not just Peter Rabbit, so at
least there’s a bit variety! I guess there’s a bit of me that
also thought a Bible programme might be a little
educational as it might help her learn more about God, so
after each episode I’ve tried to chat with her about the
content, to see what she has gleaned.
But I guess I keep forgetting that Hope is only three years
old and so she misses things or doesn’t understand much
of what is said – instead she often focuses upon
something else completely or some little detail that isn’t
really part of the lesson being taught.
That experience with Hope, this past week, has reminded
me that when we are young we can easily miss the
deeper things. It is as we mature that we begin to
understand things on a deeper level, whether it be a TV
programme, or a story or even what is being taught about
God in church. It’s with maturity that we begin to have
the ability to see beyond the surface of things and see
past the distracting things.
So, what does this look like in the spiritual side of life?
What does it mean to be spiritually mature? There could
be several answers to that question but in relation to our
passage today, and the letter of James as a whole, I think
John chapter 5, has something for us to be mindful of in
relation to spiritual maturity: ‘Jesus [said]: ‘Very truly I
tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only
what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the
Father does the Son also does.’’ (John 5:19)
It’s a startling and somewhat bewildering line from Jesus
– after all, He is God in the flesh, so what does He mean?
Likely, there are multiple ways of correctly understanding
these words from Jesus, and one such idea is this: that the
Father defined Jesus’ reality. The Father’s works,…
the Father’s purposes, the Father’s very existence
defined and guided Jesus’ life and ministry. It was the
love of the Father who said, ‘This is my son, whom I love;
with Him I am well pleased’ (Mark 3:17) – it was such love
that saw Jesus through the temptations. It was the
purpose of the Father that allowed Jesus to say in the
Garden of Gethsemane, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this
cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ (Luke 22:42)
The Father defined Jesus’ reality. Jesus lived in such close
relationship with the Father that He could say: ‘…[the
Son] can do only what he sees his Father doing, because
whatever the Father does the Son also does.’
Now, let’s remember that Jesus is our example, He is our
teacher, our Lord, so He is the one we model ourselves
upon, we should seek to become more like Jesus…
So, if Jesus allows His life to be defined by the Father, if it
is the Father who defines reality for Jesus, then that
should be the case for us as well. This means that spiritual
maturity is equal to the degree that we allow Father God
to define our lives; defining how we see the world, how
we respond to issues, and what choices we make.
Spiritual maturity is the degree to which God defines our
And it’s this idea of spiritual maturity that seems to
underpin the letter of James as a whole. James began his
letter this way: ‘James, a servant of God and of the Lord
Jesus Christ…’ (James 1:1) For James, his whole life is
wrapped up with Jesus; it is God who defines his identity
and what James is about.
Then later in the letter, he writes: ‘My brothers and
sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must
not show favouritism.’ (James 2:1) Here he wants them
to understand who they are in Christ and live that out.
Again, James sees spiritual maturity as the degree to
which God defines our lives: defining our choices, our
priories, the things we give our time to, defining how we
understand ourselves and understand the world.
Again and again, James has to take them back to this core
understanding, because it’s all too easy to make God
abstract and distant; it’s all too easy to forget God, as easy
as forgetting the air we breath – we forget His priorities, we
forget His ways, and when we do that we focus on the
wrongs things or see things the wrong way.
It’s like with Hope – because of her immaturity she
focuses on the thing which gets her attention, rather than
what the programme is trying to tell her about God.
Likewise, spiritual maturity is the degree to which God
defines our reality so that we are aware of Him and
partner with Him, focusing on what truly matters.
One way of gauging this is to ask ourselves: do I really
believe the Scriptures? Do I really believe this stuff about
Jesus? Am I confident about the Christian faith? If you’re
not, then one idea be might for you to come along to the
Breathing In event this Saturday. You can sign up today
on the sheets at either door. The focus of input at the
event is how we can be confident in our faith, and coming
along to that event might give us some ideas. So, sign up!
But coming back to James, throughout this letter he has
been taking this principle, modelled by Jesus, taught by
the Scriptures, that part of spiritual maturity is the degree
to which God defines our reality. This maturity is not
dependent on age, it is not dependent on how long
you’ve been a church member or even the length of time
as a Christian, and to finish off his letter, James now gives
a final flurry of input on what this would look like in
practice. He touches on suffering, on honouring God, on
prayer and on sin, and we’ll briefly look at each of these,
though they all could do with a sermon each.
So, first off, patience in suffering and James exhorts us to
this, referencing the prophets and Job as examples. He
draws on these personal, often difficult, stories because
they all showed patience and perseverance because God
defined their reality.
The prophets knew they were called by God, often with a
difficult message, and so even when hard times came and
opposition rose against them, they persevered in their
task; God defined their reality.
The story of Job is a bit different, it’s about personal
suffering, about suffering when we don’t know why, and
not because of our choices or the task God has called us
to. What we see in the account of Job is a man whose life
is defined by the reality of God and when tragedy strikes
his picture of God is shaken, he’s faced with questions he
never asked before. On the surface, it can look like Job’s
faith withers and dies, but in actual fact, his complaint to
God was a complaint born out of faith – God defined his
reality and to that God he called out…
Job never gets the answers that he wishes for, but he
reaches a place where he can still hold on to faith. God is
still defining his reality at the end of Job’s story.
James raises the issue of suffering because he is well
aware that life, including for the Christian, is one in which
we experience trouble – and in such a way that we may
feel tempted to call into question the goodness of God.
James is asking, even in the midst of suffering, will we
allow God to define reality? Will we hold on to Him and
what the Scriptures teach of Him? Or will we allow the
difficult times to drive a wedge between us and God? Will
we allow the whispers of the enemy to sow lies about God
into our hearts and minds, such that we push God away to
the periphery of our lives? James wants us to be mature,
such that God defines reality even in the midst of suffering.
James then, in verse 12, seems to shift topic abruptly
once more. But as we’ve seen, speech is very important
to James, because our speech reveals what we hold in our
hearts, including about the reality of God. James here
may be referencing rash or unrealistic vows that were
most likely going to be broken and so to make an oath
with God’s name would be to involve God in falsehood,
and as such it would discredit rather than honour the
person of God, because a name was symbolic of the
I suspect that few of us are making any vows, particularly
involving God or heaven, so what relevance is this verse for
us today? Well, how about that underlying principle, that if
God is defining our reality, then we should seek to honour
the person and name of God in all we do. The application of
this principle is so very broad, but for a moment, let us stick with speech. Are any of us ever
using God’s name in vain? Are we using O.M.G. even
accidentally? Or, let’s remember that the Scriptures
forbid any swearing or course language – are such words
heard from our tongues? Because if God is truly defining
our reality and we are taking onboard what He says in the
Scriptures, then we are not honouring the person of God
when we take His name in vain or when we swear. We
are choosing at those times to use language that
dishonours Him, because He has said not to do so.
We could take examples beyond speech: do we get drunk?
Do we dishonour God by not honouring Him enough to have
devotional time in the Bible and in prayer during our week?
If God defines our reality, it is seen in how we honour the
person of God, both in speech and in action.
The third and largest issue in this final portion of the
letter is with regard to prayer, and prayer in all
circumstances. I wonder if any of our elders got a bit
twitchy as we read through these verses because
obviously elders are meant to have a particular task
based upon the words of James. But we’ll come to that in
a moment as we work through these verses line by line.
Verse 13 read: ‘Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them
pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.’
(James 5:13) This verse is directed to anyone, to
everyone – we are meant to be a people of prayer, and
prayer in all the circumstances of life, the bad times but
also the good. Because if God defines our reality then when
times are hard we turn to Him, and when we are thankful
for something, we are quick to give Him the honour,
because as James reminded us earlier: ‘Every good and
perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father
of the heavenly lights…’ (James 1:17)
In my preparation this week, I came across a really
striking line from one commentator: ‘We should view
prayer as [a] revolutionary tactic, not a passive
resignation to a situation. In prayer, we enlist the aid and
ear of “the Lord of Hosts” [“the Lord Almighty”] (if we
recall James 5:4)…’ (Craig Blomberg, James)
What is your view of prayer? Is it like this? Or, do you see
it as something ineffectual? Do you see it as simply
speaking to the four walls, or only a moment of quiet
inner reflection? Because James, along with the rest of
Scripture, calls us to understand God as revealed
in His Word, and His Word reveals Him to be the Lord of
Hosts, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the Lord Almighty. To
engage in prayer, is not passive resignation, but
approaching the throne of Almighty God.
So, are we allowing God to define our reality such that we
approach Him in prayer? Are we a praying people? Now,
if you would like to grow in your prayer life, then why not
come along to one of our many opportunities for prayer:
Thursday evening or Sunday morning prayer times; the
monthly evening service which has a focus on prayer; or
join a Fellowship Group where you can pray for one
another and hopefully the life of the church as well; or for
elders and deacons, come along to the prayer times
before our monthly meetings. We should all be praying
and in all circumstances.
James then raises the issue of praying for those who are
ill. He says such persons should call the elders and they
will come to ‘…pray over them and anoint them with oil
in the name of the Lord.’ (James 5:14)
The anointing of oil is symbolic in the Scriptures of a
person being set apart for God’s special attention and
care, as well as a symbol of God’s presence with that
Should we always pray with anointing? Not necessarily –
the overall teaching in the New Testament does not
consistently pair healing prayer with anointing, and so we
should not see this one verse as mandating oil to
accompany all prayers for the sick. A number of
commentators highlight that the words…
‘…the Lord will raise them up’ (James 5:15) could signify
people who are lying down, restricted to bed because
they are so ill, maybe with a chronic or life-threatening
And that matches reality, does it not, because a number
of us here do have stories about God healing where no oil
was involved. Just last year, one of our congregation
members shared with me after the service that they had
considerable pain in their shoulder, so I offered to pray
with them. I laid a hand on their shoulder and prayed
quite simply and succinctly.
At the time I wasn’t really aware that anything had
happened, because I forgot to ask what I would usually
ask, “has there been any change?”
So, it wasn’t until some months later, when I was
speaking with this individual at the Alpha Course that
they shared with me of the warmth they felt, not just of
my hand but in a much stronger manner, a warmth
working through their shoulder and of their shoulder
then becoming better.
Now, I can also share the other end of the spectrum,
because in this past year I have also prayed for another
individual’s shoulder and nothing seemed to happen on
that occasion. But too often, too often, we let the
negative define reality – and so somehow, we need to
need to find a balance within our prayers: of never
expecting God to heal and on the flip side, requiring God
to heal on demand, rather than remembering He chooses
how and when He heals….
Because complete healing never occurs in this life; any
healing is only temporary, our bodies will fail us, and it is
only in the new heaven and new earth that we will have
a fully perfect body.
But still, will we allow God to define reality? He is the God
who says that He heals, and that all healing – natural,
supernatural, medical, physical, psychological or spiritual
– is of His hand.
Now, I’m not saying we implement this straight away –
healing prayer is something we grow into, but we should
grow into it with intentionality, rather than putting if off
or giving excuses.
One idea might be for you to go through the Alpha Course
after the summer break, where one of the weeks is on
healing and it is an excellent week in particular. But
equally, I am willing to pray for healing and pray with the
anointing of oil – all you have to do is ask.
Often we do not think we can pray such a prayer,
probably because we do not feel up to the task. But as the
passage reminds us, it is ‘in the name of the Lord’ (James
5:14) that healing comes, it is not upon our own merit or
the eloquence of our words which achieve such an
outcome. As such, James reminds us that ‘the prayer of a
righteous person is powerful and effective…’ (James
5:16) and then he goes on to speak of Elijah, who James
says was ‘…a human being, even as we are.’ (James 5:17)
Elijah was that Old Testament prophet who could rise to
the heights of faith, and then fall into the depths of
despair. He could be brave and resolute sometimes, and
then fly for his life at the whiff of danger. He was an
ordinary person, but what set him apart for James, is that
Elijah was right with God.
Elijah was in right relationship with God, he was a
righteous person, because of his faith. For us, we come
into a right relationship with God by putting our faith in
Jesus, it is by Him we are made righteous. And so, if you
have done that, if you are in right standing with God then
James says your prayer is powerful and effective, because
your prayer is coming before the throne of God in the
name of Jesus, because You are in Jesus, Jesus is in You,
and through Jesus you stand rightly before Almighty God.
So, let’s not make excuses, that we can’t pray or that our
prayers aren’t good enough. Instead let us allow the
reality of what God has done for us in Jesus to define our
lives, because if we do we will then be a praying people,
praying in all the circumstances of life, both the bad and
The final example of spiritual maturity that James
highlights is the peril of sin. James actually mentions sin
in verses 15 to 16, with regard to prayer and healing, and
the reference there is not suggesting all illness is related
to sin, because Jesus debunked that theory Himself.
Instead, in verse 15, there is that simple assurance that
any known sin can be forgiven and then in verse 16
the encouragement to own up to our faults and failings
by practicing vulnerability with one another. By engaging
in vulnerability through confession and prayer, James
again seeks to help us live in the reality of God.
In my own life, I have a friend that I meet up with once a
month, and we’ll not only talk about how things are
going, we’ll also ask the hard questions: how’s your walk
with God, how’s your purity? I also know I can message
him if I’m struggling with something and often reaching
out to him, being vulnerable, is enough to break the
power of temptation and enable me to keep living in the
reality of God by honouring God with my choices.
James also points out the peril of sin in the final two
verses, where a person is wandering away from the truth.
Now, truth for James is more than just right beliefs, it also
includes right practice, because as he’s shown again and
again, the truths of the faith should impact our living. So,
to wander here could include both wrong belief and
wrong practice and for such individuals, James exhorts us
to get alongside them, to enter that place of vulnerability
and seek to draw them away from the peril of sin.
Friends, I think the letter of James has brought a timely
message for us, for along the way his writing has given us
principles, ideas and concrete actions to take onboard
both individually and collectively so that we might have a
faith which is more than mere words.
Key to this is the degree to which we model ourselves
upon Jesus, particularly the degree to which
we live in the reality of God, and perceive the deeper
things of God. This will be seen in the type of wisdom we
exercise, in the way we treat one another and speak to
one another, it will be seen in both our actions and in our
My prayer is that this timely word from God might help
us all to mature in faith and in character.
To God be the glory, now and forever, amen.