October 14, 2012

MUTUAL AID.

(James 5:13-20)


Part of the Saxon Pericope Gospel list series, preached at a Sunday Morning service

James 5:13-20

Dear fellow redeemed believers, redeemed by the precious blood of God’s only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. The epistle of James speaks much about faith. It is essential to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved. Our deeds simply cannot accomplish that work. The emphasis in James is that such living faith shows itself in a wide manner of fruits (2:18). In our earlier Scripture reading this morning (Eph. 4:22-28) Paul urges essentially the same thought. We have an exhortation in the closing verses of our sermon text for Christians to exercise –
MUTUAL AID.
I. Aid in physical adversity,
II. Aid in spiritual anxiety, and
III. Aid in religious apostasy.
I
We begin with aid in physical adversity. James asks, Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. It is a fact of life that we face afflictions. All people occasionally face some troubles at times in this earthly life. Admittedly, if life were always smooth, then most would not likely worship or thank God. Why do anything when all is going well? We automatically expect things to continue so. Then afflictions come and they awaken people. James admonishes people with afflictions to pray. Prayer shall alleviate the situation. In the even someone should be experiencing an absence of problems, then do not intentionally seek trouble! James advises instead that such sing psalms, thanking the Lord for our present rest.
James goes on: Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up. Afflictions are a fact of life. They are the effects of sin in the world, ultimately ending in death. Between now and then God often allows a temporary reprieve. By His assistance He aims to lead us closer to Him. So the Gospels report many people who approach Jesus for bodily healing. Later they also plead to the apostles to heal them. James advises the assistance of the “elders,” those we commonly call pastors today. Call them to pray and anoint the sick. Pray and anoint. Pay attention to the order. First prayer and then medicine. Thus Jesus once said to a paralytic brought on a stretcher, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee,” and then, when the scoffers looked on, declared, “Arise!” (Matt. 9:2, 6). If the man had died with his sins forgiven he would have gone straight to heaven. But since Jesus wants him to live on as proof of Jesus’ divinity, He commands the man to rise restored in body. He picks up his cot and returns home joyful and completely healed of his previous paralysis. Nowadays there are a few “pious” people who pray yet refuse to take any medicine. That is simply tempting God. Consider: three patients suffering from the same ailment enter the hospital and the staff administers the same medicine: one shows recovery within minutes, is soon healed, and released; one remains the same, not responding to the treatment; and the third one dies in moments from anaphylactic shock in reaction to the medicine. Same problem, same medicine, but God is the deciding factor. Several times in recent years a so-called healing church in Portland made the news. In both cases the parents were arrested because a young child had pneumonia and they refused to take him to the hospital. They prayed and prayed until the suffering child died. But consider my cousin’s elderly husband who likewise contracted pneumonia. They prayed, of course, but checked him into one of the finest big city hospital in the Aurora/Denver area. He died. Should we declare medicine and doctors a danger? Of course not. God rules and makes the final decision in each case. We certainly need take our medicine and ask God that His wise will be done. But we must also be prepared to accept His decision whatever it may be.
II
We exercise mutual aid In spiritual anxiety. If he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Our problems do not always have some physical basis. Sometimes we are tormented by the anguish of sin. Our conscience accuses us. Such a conscience serves an important role. A dead conscience is actually an awful thing. Just as pain alerts us to a physical wound and we examine the problem and treat it, so our conscience awakens us to a spiritual problem. As dead nerves fail to call attention to the nail in our foot, so a dead conscience allows one to go in ignorance possibly to judgment and damnation. When someone suffers attacks of conscience, then Christians come with mutual aid and give assurance that God forgives, has paid the sin, loves, and wants to help that person. Obviously none of this is because of the individual’s perfection. It is all because of God’s grace, because of Christ’s work, because of the complete atonement of our sins by God’s own Son. He is not only a major help but He provides complete and full propitiation or payment on our behalf (1 John 2:2; 4:10). This comforts us when nothing which man may say brings needed relief. We can have absolute confidence of God’s pardon.
Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. First we have the admission of sin. If there is no acknowledgement of sin, then there is no desire for forgiveness. If we are sure that we do not have rabies, then we certainly do not want the series of painful shots it needs. Only if we know we are going to die an agonizing death from rabies do we choose the live protecting shots. If someone has wronged us or we witness them do something wrong, then we privately approach that person directly. We either bring blessed absolution to them or they absolve us. Behold the ability to forgive. It is our authority and power as part of the priesthood of all believers (1 Pet. 2:9). We regularly allude to it in the Lord’s Prayer, promising, “as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matt. 6:12). We can pronounce immediate forgiveness. Thus the prayer and benediction of a righteous man avails much.
Lest we hesitate, James goes on: Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit. He cites here the amazing example of Elijah in the Old Testament. He emphasizes that Elijah was just an ordinary man, although God chose to use him for some extraordinary things. It was all God’s power accomplishing the miracle. Look what wonders God accomplished also through the apostles and disciples in the New Testament. This is likewise the assertion of Paul after healing a cripple, astonishing the witnesses at Lystra, who fell down before him, crying that the pagan gods Zeus and Hermes were visiting the city (Acts 14:15). He had to cry, “We’re just plain people, people like you. God’s Son Jesus has done this mighty work” We are to “ask in faith” as James admonishes in the first chapter (1:6f), rather than crying, “Testing, Lord. One, two, three. Testing!” Christians ask confidently and do not waste God’s time. The action of stopping the rain and restoring it was the work of God alone. The Lord would not give the priests of Baal any appearance of being heard. After the abject failure of the pagan priests praying in vain all day (1 Kings 18:29), Elijah simply spoke and the Lord at once sent down fire upon his sacrifice in answer. This citation of a righteous man praying to God should arouse us to believe and encourage us.
III
Finally, Christians exercise mutual aid in the case of religious apostasy. “Apostasy” means falling away, falling away from the true faith. “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, …” If any of you err! Some exclaim, “Nonsense! Such a thing cannot happen” Alas, this is an all too real possibility. “Once in faith, always in faith” is a fallacy. Thus Paul similarly admonishes, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall (1 Cor. 10:12). People can and do fall away from the faith. As Christians our hearts are filled with agony over the loss of someone who once was a brother or sister in the faith. This is especially true when that person is a beloved family member or close friend. But we also have a welcome alert. We do not abandon all hope. Reconversion is also possible, even as Peter returned to the group and helped his fellow disciples (Luke 22:32). By God’s efforts many people have been brought back to faith, but that is a dangerous position and not intentionally taken. We are to admonish him as a brother (2 Thess. 3:15), thereby showing him that we care enough to bother. Repeated attempts are listed by Jesus in Matthew 18. This is by no means convenient for us, but we are motivated always to gain the fallen brother or sister. We love them! In turn, we should appreciate it, if, God forbid, we fall, and any one comes to us and confronts us in order to save us. This takes considerable courage on the part of our fellow Christians. We ought to accept this as genuine, well-meant concern.
James ends our text, this chapter, and his epistle: Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins. What an amazing assignment God gives each of us through James. Human agents rather than angels are employed by God in helping one another. He gives this ability to “plain” Christian people. This is illustrated in a parable by the woman who swept and searched for a lost coin (Luke 15:8, 10). That coin is the sinner, and she is the church at work regaining that lost person. God assigns people to plow, plant, water, etc. (1 Cor. 3:9). Of course, He is speaking about a spiritual crop with this example. It sometimes takes much effort. It is absolutely important work. At stake is the eternal soul for whom Christ suffered so greatly as to give His life on the cross to redeem each individual. By these words from James God aims to encourage us in exercising such Christian mutual aid. We look at the awesome results. God blots out the sins of all the repentant (Ps. 51:1, 9). Micah pictures how God drowns all our sins in the sea (7:19). Paul in the New Testament pictures how Christ covers us with His own perfect righteousness (2 Cor. 3:9), that we may stand holy before God. What an amazing thing. Through our efforts He saves a soul from eternal death by bring God’s Word to that person: Law and Gospel, accusation and absolution of the same.
This is the application of Jesus’ directive in the Gospel of John to “love one another” (13:34f). James reminds his readers about this. All may assist. Also little children are able to pray for others. God hears their requests every bit as clearly as those of the oldest and wisest professors. He intends to arouse our hearts, that whether physically or spiritually we act to help everyone, but especially fellow believers in whatever need. Again this morning we ask God to hear our prayers, to aid us to do as He here earnestly instructs. Through our Christian aid we share God’s own amazing spirit. May He assist us to the welfare of others and His own eternal glory. Amen.
HYMNS: 418,, 377 (1, 8-10), 324, 321
GLORIA DEI – HOOD RIVER, OREGON
October 14, 2012