We turn to our last week on the book of James, which we have explored through the angle of it being the wisdom of Jesus’ brother. Our next study will be on the Book of Acts, and we will be exploring Acts through the lens of missional praxis and theology. To facilitate that discussion, I recommend you purchase and read Beverly Gaventa, The Acts of the Apostles (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries).
Now back to James. Some folks think James finishes off cleanly; I’m one of those who doesn’t agree with that judgment. Instead, I think the book ends on various ideas, some of which bear slight resemblance to what precedes in the letter. Here are the last verses (5:13-20):
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to
pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make them well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so
that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful
Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it
would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half
years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring them back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the way of error will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
Many suggestions of how these verses connect back to others are clever, some ingenious, but very few help us understand these verses unless we subsume them under those themes. James talks here about prayer and healing and welcoming back the wanderer.
I like how James begins. It’s as if he is saying “let’s do things together or alike.” Or, “let’s be a fellowship.” Or, “Let’s share and care.” If people are suffering, we care and carry. If people are joyous, let’s share in their joy. So, if a person suffers — that person should pray. If the person is joyous — the person should sing songs of praise.
What unites these folks, then, is that whether good or bad, sad or glad, they look to God — in prayer or in praise.