Your Amazing Faith, Part 6

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Last time, we learned that your amazing faith is what makes you an amazing person as you allow the Holy Spirit to empower you and motivate you:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23a | NIV84)

That faith that results in your life producing the fruit of the Spirit was deposited into your heart by the Holy Spirit through the ministry of the Word of God:

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17 | NIV84)

But your amazing faith isn’t in yourself or other people. It has nothing to do with your dreams or aspirations or your hopes. Your amazing faith has nothing to do with the circumstances of your life, good or bad. Your amazing faith is in a specific Person:

So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. (Acts 27:25 | NIV84)

Faith isn’t a mysterious, impersonal force. Paul discovered the secret of faith:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 | NIV84)

And lack of trials in your life is no indicator that you’re doing anything right. In fact, as we found out, the struggles and trials and persecution we work so hard to avoid are actually the very tools God uses to cause our faith to grow and mature:

These (trials, struggles, and persecutions) have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7 | NIV84)

Talking about faith in an “academic” environment like this is easy. But in real life, many of us find that there is a disconnect between what the Bible says about faith and what our own experiences seem to teach us. Nowhere is this apparent disconnect more glaring than when sickness is involved. When a close friend or a loved one is hurting physically, and we do what good Christians are supposed to do and that person gets sicker, we shake our heads in confusion and frustration. Here’s the verse we put into practice during situations like that:

And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. (James 5:15 | NIV84)

James, the man and his letter

We call this letter “James” after the man who wrote it:

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ… (James 1:1a | NIV84)

Throughout the New Testament, there are several prominent men named James. But based on things Paul wrote and on Luke’s history of the Church as recorded in Acts, it is probable that the James who wrote this letter was James, the half-brother of Jesus.

James was an interesting character. He is mentioned twice in the Gospels (Matthew 15 and Mark 6) but he was not a follower of Jesus until after the Resurrection. He was one of the 150 believers gathered in the Upper Room when the Spirit fell. He rose quickly through the ranks of the early Church in Jerusalem due to his ability and faith. He became a prominent leader in that Church and the apostle Paul spent some time with him after his conversion and James was one of the leaders of the Church who dispensed Godly wisdom in dealing with the Gentile influx when the Gospel spread beyond the Jewish community.

To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. (James 1:1b | NIV84)

James wrote to Christians, who had been Jews, who had probably been living in Jerusalem but were forced to leave their homes when the heat of persecution got turned up. But other Christians would have read this letter; converts under the ministry of Paul and other missionaries.

It’s hard to know when James wrote this letter, but we can be sure it was written early in the history of the Church. Some conservative scholars would say it was written as early as 45 AD, other put it a little later, but for sure it was written before its author was martyred in 63 AD.

His letter concerns practical Christian living. You won’t find a lot of heady, doctrinal, and theological philosophy in it. As you read it, you’ll discover what a lot of us have: it’s the most “Jewish” book in the New Testament. With its emphasis on godly behavior some scholars see it as the New Testament Christian parallel to the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. James is a lot like the Old Testament prophet Amos, who like James, was concerned with things like social justice.

Some prominent Christians had problems with James’ letter. Martin Luther called it “an epistle of straw.” Well, he was wrong about other things too. The great value of James is that he addresses what we might call “real life.” Paul’s letters soared to the heights of theological discourse, but James writes about putting what you believe to work. You are saved by grace and faith, but once you’ve been placed on the highway to heaven by God’s grace, it’s up to you navigate your journey. James is all about that journey.

An odd fact about James and his letter is that he says less about Jesus than any other New Testament writer, yet he sounds more like Jesus than any other New Testament writer.

How you live says more about your faith than what you say

And that’s really the value of James’ letter. Intellectual types may love Romans and Galatians, but when the rubber meets the road, it’s James that gives the most practical advice in the New Testament. For example, here’s what James thinks is important when a believer faces affliction in life:

Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. (James 5:7 | NIV84)

How you act and react during times of stress says everything about your faith. James tells his readers to “be patient.” And you have to be patient when times are tough. James is very practical about this; he knows believers will face problems in life:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. (James 1:2-5 | NIV84)

That’s the most common sense thing you’ll read today. James doesn’t sugar coat anything here. He assumes believers will face “trials of many kinds,” but he knows that those trials – whatever they may be – serve a very distinct purpose: they test the believer’s faith, and that in turn makes them stronger, mature, and complete. But the thing is, when you are in the midst of the trial, you won’t have the proper perspective, that’s why no matter what you are going through, you must ask God for wisdom. And God will give it to you. God won’t judge you. If you lack wisdom during a trial – and you will without question lack wisdom – have the presence of mind to ask God for it. Couple that with being patient, and we a good idea about how you should conduct yourself when times are tough: be patient and pray. The thing you shouldn’t do during trials and times of stress is freak out and and behave in an unseemly way. That kills your witness faster than anything. Be calm and cool; be patient and pray.

That brings us to chapter 5, where James compares believers going through a trial to farmers waiting for his crop to grow. The farmer knows it will happen, but he can’t make a seed grow faster than it can grow. Similarly, when you’re in the midst of a trial, it will run its course, and all you have to do is be patient and pray.

James adds a bit to that with verse 13:

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. (James 5:13 | NIV84)

“In trouble” is a funky Greek word, kakopathei, and it means “afflicted.” When you as a Christian are afflicted – when you are “in trouble” – or when life is treating you well, your highest duty and your greatest blessing is to fellowship with God. In trouble? Go to God in prayer. Feeling good? Praise God. That’s what James is saying here. No matter what’s going on, acknowledge God’s presence in your life by either asking Him for help or by praising Him.

One of many types of affliction is sickness. James could have picked any kind of trouble people find themselves dealing with, but he chose sickness.

Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. (James 5:14-15a | NIV84)

Prayer in times of sickness is your duty and your privilege as a believer. It’s unfortunate that most believers don’t have the presence of mind to exercise it as often as they should. James’ advice here is so simple, we usually miss it. As J.B. Phillips put it, “If anyone is ill,” then believers need to take certain steps:

Call the elders of the church. Call your pastor or other church leaders. Let them know what’s going on. This isn’t spiritual advice; it’s practical advice. Your pastor can’t read your mind. He’s not some kind of psychic who knows when you or your loved one is sick! Let him know what’s going on.

But there’s another reason for making the call: It’s exercising your faith. It’s stepping out in faith believing that when the pastor and/or elders get there, they will pray and God will answer that prayer.

Pray over the sick person. That’s actually an interesting phrase. It means literally to “pray standing over the sickbed” and to “pray about” the sick person, referring to intercessory prayer. All that means is simply this: It’s up to the sick person to let the pastor know, and therefor the church, that he or his loved one is sick. Members of the Body of Christ are entitled to know when a fellow needs help and/or prayer. It’s a courtesy, first of all. And second of all, it’s the responsibility of believers to bear one another’s burdens. That can only happen when we know about them.

Anoint the sick person with oil. This is one of those things in the Bible that most Christians don’t understand. It’s so misunderstood, some believers actually think that the “oil” is the Holy Spirit and that when the sick person is rubbed with the oil, the Holy Spirit is at work. I’ll disabuse of that notion right away. Only two times – 2 times – in the New Testament is oil associated with healing. The other reference is Mark 6:13. The word “anoint”  as it is used here in James, refers to a medical anointing, not a spiritual one. During New Testament times, oil was looked at as a medical treatment for all kinds of ailments. It was the aspirin of the day. Headache? Not feeling up to par? Take two aspirins and call your doctor in the morning. That’s the sense which the word is used here. In fact, Moffatt thought James meant to “smear the patient’s body with oil.” That being the case, James’ advice is practical and spiritual. Pray for the sick person and make sure he takes his medicine.

Yet at the same time, there’s a bit more to it than that. “Anoint him with oil,” says James, adding, “in the name of the Lord.” That’s important. Even as you are doing what your doctor tells you to do, don’t stop trusting the Lord! Medicine and faith do NOT cancel each other out! Truth is, no man has the power to heal another. Only God heals. Or put another way, all healing comes from God, whether the healing comes instantly, or from a pill.

So why do I anoint the sick, sometimes, when I pray for them? There’s nothing in the oil at all. It serves as a symbol of God’s presence and of our obedience to His Word and as a point of contact between my faith and the faith of the person being prayed for. It’s an encouragement, that’s all.

And then there’s this:

And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. (James 5:15 | NIV84)

First things first. James has already said this:

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17 | NIV84)

I’m sure we’d all agree that medicine and surgery are good things. Thank God for modern medicine! But pity the poor unbeliever who only has that. Believers have more: we may enjoy the blessing of medicine, but we also have the power of prayer: the prayer of faith. Divine healing is taught in the Bible; it’s a doctrine we hold to. But, second, notice something important here about the prayer of faith. First, it’s referring back to the prayer made by the pastor. He’s to pray in faith believing that God can heal the sick person. Second, the prayer of faith is made in response to the faith of the sick person and his family. Here’s the thing people miss. It’s fine for the pastor to have faith, but the one being prayed over needs faith too. Now, the fact that they called for the pastor in the first place teaches us that. Third, the result of this prayer of faith is, as the NIV84 says, “make the sick person well.” That’s from all-purpose Greek word meaning to “restore.” That covers any kind of illness, physical or otherwise.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking James is giving us a formula here. There is never, ever any guarantee given anywhere in Scripture that healing will take place. Consider, there are certain laws that govern prayer:

• It must be offered in Jesus’ Name, John 14:13;
• It must be offered in faith, Matthew 21:22;
• It must be offered according to God’s will, 1 John 5:14;
• It must be offered with sincerity and earnestness, Matthew 7:7 – 11.
• Sin can hinder our prayers, Psalm 66:18;
• Disunity can hinder our prayers, 1 Peter 3:7;
• Wrong motives can nullify a prayer, James 4:3.

Then too, God uses natural and human instruments for healing. Remember, Luke was a doctor and Paul suggested that Timothy not pray for his stomach problems, but drink some wine (1 Timothy 5:23).

And then, there are all kinds of people who went unhealed in the New Testament:

• Paul prayed to be healed but God wouldn’t heal him, 2 Corinthians 12:7 – 10;
• Trophimus was not healed, 2 Timothy 4:20;
• At the pool of Bethesda, there were all kinds of sick and diseased people gathered, but Jesus only healed one, John 5:2 – 9;

And, as unpleasant at this sounds, God sometimes allows sickness so that He may be ultimately glorified, which was the case with the blind man in John 9:3 and with Paul, 2 Corinthians 12:9, 10. Truth be told, sometimes God can be glorified more as that sick believer remains so, yet in the midst of his condition he seen praising and worshipping God in spite of it.

Yes, your faith is amazing and it can accomplish anything amazing, if it’s God’s will. And that’s the key. Faith never demands that God heal. Faith always bows in reverence in God’s presence, seeking His Will, mind, and purpose. If it is God’s will to heal that sick person, the the Holy Spirit will lead His servants to pray that prayer of faith. But if it’s not His will to heal, then the prayer of faith becomes “thy will be done.”

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