Lesson Thirteen – The Church Family

The Church Family

Lesson Text:  James 5:13-20.

A.    Word Study.  From Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical words.

 1.       5:13.

a.  “Afflicted” (KJV) and “in trouble” (NIV) has been translated from “kakepatheo.”  This is a combination of “kakos,” evil, plus “pathos,” suffering; it  signifies “to suffer hardship.”

b.  “He should pray.”  NIV.  “Let them pray.”  KJV.  Also see pray in verse 14.  The Greek verb proseuchomai is the base for both English phrases.  It is the most common word for prayer to God.  The noun is proseuche.  It means to pray earnestly to God.

2.    Verse 13.  “Merry” (KJV) and “happy” (NIV) is from “euthumeo.”  A combination of two words, “eu” well, plus “thumos,” the soul, thus the principle of “feeling,” especially strong feelings; therefore, “to make cheerful.”

3.    Verse 14.  “Sick” has been translated from “astheneo.”  It means to be weak or feeble.

4.    Verse 15.  “The prayer.”  Greek, euche, a prayer.

5.    Verse 16.

a.  Pray (for each other) has been translated from euchomai.  It is sometimes translated “wish.”

b. Prayer (of a righteous man).  Prayer is from the Greek word deesis, primarily meaning “a wanting,” an asking, entreaty, supplication.  Deesis stresses the sense of need.

6.    Verse 17.  “He prayed earnestly.”  The Greek phrase is “proseuche prosauxato.” Literally, “he prayed with prayer.”


B.    Reading James.

1.  We know why James wrote this letter.  This is to say, we have developed our own hypothesis and we believe we can defend it with the material in this document.  Or, perhaps, some students have not developed their own hypothesis.  Indeed, some Bible readers appear to fear to do “hypothetical thinking.”  Perhaps they fear it would make them a “false teacher” if they were wrong.  At this point let us think of ourselves as students.  Later, we will be concerned about our role as teachers of God’s word.

James’ message is truth because he received it from God.  We are students who are attempting to understand what he said.  The forming of a hypothesis is one step in our learning process, but a very necessary step.  We will do no wrong to the truth of James’ letter if our hypothesis “falls short,” or misses altogether.  However, we must be “forever willing” to check our hypothesis in our future studies.  Of course, we will make adjustments and even “throw it out” if necessary.

The following is the hypothesis of the author of these lessons about why James wrote this document to the churches:

a.  The recipients were members of the church of God in Christ who may have been functioning as the body of Christ for 20-30 years.  They could have been taught the gospel of Christ orally by men who had been inspired by the Holy Spirit (Heb. 2:3).  At the time James wrote, the church appeared to have been functioning as autonomous congregations under elders (I Tim. 3:1-11; Jas. 5:14).  The elders may, or may not, have enjoyed the gifts of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 12:1-11).  James, who was not an apostle, would have had the help of the Holy Spirit.  In other words, his wisdom about the topics and issues on which he commented came from God.

b.  Please note James did not claim authority over the churches.  He did not elaborate on new theologies, ethics or practices.  He appealed to what “they already knew.”  These are also the things we must know in order to follow the train of thought in this letter.

c.     Although the church had been taught properly, they, like the recipients of the Hebrew epistle, appeared to have been in need of “exhortations” about the ethics of the new covenant (Heb. 13:22).  The following were some notable weaknesses of some, if not most, members:

(1).     The laws of life of the new covenant were not embedded deeply enough in their hearts and minds to be consistently evident in their behavior.  This led to an inadequate personal identification as children of God (1:19-25).  Christians’ habits are our own “mirror” for personal identification (2:14-26).

(2).   They were guilty of the sin of showing status favoritism because they were practicing discrimination.  (1:9-11, 2:1-13).

(3).     The culture of the kingdom of God had been overshadowed by the kingdom of Satan in their world views; consequently, they had begun to use the wisdom of the world instead of the wisdom of God (1:26, 27; 3:1-18; 4:7-12).

(4).     Drifting away in the foregoing manner from what they had originally been taught about the kingdom of God and their eternal roles would have led to other problems (1:12, 16-18; 2:5).  The following were some possible problems noted by James:

(a).  The hardening of their hearts toward people in need (1:26; 2:16; 5:19, 20).

(b).  Their choice of leaders and teachers (3:13).

(c).  Failure to depend on God for the satisfaction of their inherent needs (4:1-3).

(d).  Becoming humanistic – self dependent (4:13-17; 5:12).

(e).  Blaming their problems of failing their “faith test” on “someone out there,” rather than examining themselves (1:13-15; 4:1, 6).

(f). Since sufficient patience was not being produced by God’s faith testing exercises, self-discipline may have become weakened (1:7, 19, 20; 2:22; 3:3-6; 5:7-11).

2.    After we have done our historical analysis and developed our hypothesis, we are ready to do our “literary analysis.”  Of course, we must be willing and able to defend our hypothesis from the content of James’ letter. The quality of historical analysis will affect the quality of our literary analysis.  Now we are ready for the good part.  In our literary analysis we are concerned with what the author said to the “twelve tribes scattered” – the church.  We are ready to hear God speak to them and finally to us.  The principles set forth for the solutions of their problems are what we want to learn.  We can solve our own problems with these divine principles.  It is very important for us to understand their problems and tribulations before we do literary analysis.  Most, but not all, of the New Testament letters were written to solve problems.

Now for our assignment:  We need to make a general statement, or write a short paragraph, about what God said to help the recipients of this letter grow spiritually.  We are looking for principles of life.  These principles serve us to overcome similar weaknesses and sins in our lives today.  Since James introduced so many topics and issues in this letter we would need to review all the lessons in Part I to adequately do this assignment.  In fact, this has been the intent of our previous lessons.  However, let us make some observations about James’ intent for writing this letter:

 a.  He started his discourse with a statement that brings a peculiar smile to the face of many Christians.  A smile like; “Yeah, I know, but James is just preaching, right?”  No, he may have been getting directly into their, and our, problem when he opened with; “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trails of many kinds.”  1:2.  The failure to experience joy in our faith testing exercises may be because we have fallen victim to the wisdom of men about, “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless.”  1:27.  James’ “pure joy” approach can be better comprehended when we consider some hopes set forth by him as the focal points of Christians’ faith.  Consider these two:

(1).  We will receive a “crown of life.”  1:12.  The Christian religion set forth by Jesus Christ is not a “carrot and stick” kind of religion.  This crown of life is the only description of the life of mankind.  Anything less is death.  Christians have passed out of death and into life by grace through faith; however, grace merely gives us a “justified life.”  John 5:24; Rom. 5:18.   Faith testing is how life, as in eternal life, begins to develop in Christians (II Pet. 1:3-11).  The result of spiritual growth is joyous.  We are happy when we achieve worthwhile goals that strengthen our individual character.

(2).  God has chosen those who are rich in faith to “inherit the kingdom” as His sons, eternally (Rev. 21:7).  The Christian religion James speaks of is not a cheap ride to heaven on the back of the cross as so many religious business people are peddling for their own gain (II Cor. 2:17).

b.  We do not find it unusual or “funny” when it requires thousands of tests to acquire a certificate to enter the work force in this life.  Therefore, if we find it odd James would start a letter to Christians in this fashion we need to examine the focal point of our faith.  When our faith is in the crown of life and the inheritance of God’s kingdom, the joy of developing patience for waiting on the return of Jesus does not sound like James may be joking.  The joy in our present lives, which is the treasure we are laying up in heaven, is the work of patience (Matt. 6:20; II Pet. 1:3, 4, 10-12).

3.  The foregoing exercises will aid us in our attempt to follow the style, or train of thought, of the writer.  To make sure we are reading James as he wrote it we need to give careful attention to these principles of Biblical interpretation:  First, why did the author write the letter, then what did he say to that situation and finally where is he going next with his thoughts?  The latter will be our first exercise in this lesson.  Where did James lead the thoughts of the recipients in Jas. 5:13-20?  In order to consider his “train of thought” we need to ask some questions:

a.  Did James begin the close of his letter in 5:7?  Or did his close begin in 5:13?  Or, perhaps, it began before these points?

b.  One reason we need to determine the “beginning of the close” involves the function of the thoughts, or paragraphs, in our text.  Is he still “making his case” in verse 13 for his intent of the letter, or is he just “winding down?”  Our hypothesis will affect our interpretation of the text.  Perhaps we will be able to check and improve our hypothesis from our actual study of the text.

C.  Study of Text.

  1. The Greek word “makarios” is often translated blessed.  In Acts 26:2 and Rom. 14:22 “makarios” has been translated “happy” in the KJV.  This is not the Greek word translated “happy” (NIV) in verse 13.  Euthumeo is the Greek word and it means to “make cheerful.”
  2. James has commented on issues such as faith, faith testing, faith perfected and then the patience produced from these disciplines.  These issues involved patience’s work in spiritual growth and other issues such as socialization on an eternal relationship level.  How do the three questions in verses 13 and 14 relate to these issues?  Perhaps James had finished the body of his letter and these remarks were general thoughts meant for closing out his letter.  Therefore, we may not want to make these rhetorical questions say more than what James meant for them to say.   We may want to ask ourselves:  “Which one of these three categories best describes my present mental condition?”  After we decide, what we will do is simple.  We do what James told us to do.  This may have been James simple message to the recipients of this letter.  However, we will want to keep our mind open for how his close related to issues introduced in the letter.
  3. James has given the proper response for Christians who are afflicted, happy and sick.  What are some alternate responses that would not come from the wisdom of God?
  4. At the time James wrote this letter he and the Apostle Peter may have been elders with spiritual gifts.  See Acts 15:6, 13; 21:18; I Pet. 5:1; I Cor. 12:4-11.

a.    Assuming James intended to set forth a principle for sick members of the church to follow today, what would the elders be expected to do when they are called?  Of course, they would do what they could.  Christians are always aware of God’s presence; therefore, we would seek His help in prayer.

b.    Assuming the oil James spoke of was natural oil with healing qualities, how might elders follow this principle today?  If the case was an emergency, the elders would call for an emergency health crew.  Otherwise, they would do the next best thing for the healing of the brother or sister.  This is the point for calling the elders.  If the elders had the healing powers some of the first Christians were endowed with they would no doubt use this God given power over nature (I Cor. 12:10).

c.     James was positive about the prayer of a righteous man in verses 15 and 16.  The principle James declared in Jas. 4:15; “if the Lord wills,” applies to a prayer concerning physical healing as well as the forgiveness of sins (I John 5:14).

5.  In the paragraph, verses 13 to 16, we have a mature church functioning as the body of Christ.  The quality of communication mentioned in verse 16 contributes immensely to the intimacy of the church family’s fellowship (Rom. 12:9-21).  What Peter said in I Peter 1:22, “love one another deeply,” could not happen unless Christians are willing to discuss our own sin problems with our brothers and sisters.

6.    How do verses 19 and 20 contradict the doctrine of “once in grace, always in grace?”  Of course, we should know this is a false doctrine used by many preachers to gather disciples for themselves (Rom. 16:17-19; II Tim. 4:3-5).  The main aim of James’ letter was to keep the Christian recipients from the devil’s clutches now and eternally; therefore, these last two scriptures make a fitting close of this great document.

D.  Closing thoughts. 

Although this letter was formerly addressed to “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations,” our exegesis has not disclosed any evidence it was written for the benefit of physical Israel or specifically for Christians with a Jewish background.  Neither did our historical and literary analysis indicate the recipients were not Christians; howbeit, some appeared to have been number three soil (Matt. 13:22; Jas. 5:1-6).  The attributes of Old Testament characters were used to support specific teachings.  Abraham, Job and Elijah are well known characters.  Christians with a Gentile background would have been taught about them by the time James wrote.  Consequently, we understand James thought of the “twelve tribes” as the true spiritual Israel of God – the church of God in Christ (Rom. 11:7, 13-21; Gal. 6:15; Phil. 3:3; I Thess. 2:13-16).  “And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:   ‘The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.  And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.’”  Rom. 11:26, 27.

The people, both Jew and Gentile, who accept God’s new covenant, are the Israel of God who will be saved on Judgment Day – if they remain faithful.  These are the people James addressed.  Today, Christians make up the church Jesus is building for God (Matt. 16:17-19; Rom. 16:16; I Cor. 1:2).  We have been transferred to the kingdom of Christ and God (Col. 1:12, 13; Eph. 5:5).  The saved people, the ones who are rich in faith and love God, will inherit this very same kingdom (Jas. 2:5).

There is another identification with which we will want to identify in order to appreciate the manner in which James closed his letter in the text of this lesson.  We are the family of God.  We are in the family of Abraham (Heb. 2:10-18).  This is why James often used the term “brothers.”  He did not intend to leave out the sisters because our spirits “in Christ” are neither male nor female (Gal. 3:26-29).  Our bodies are male or female but our spirits are all in the “likeness of God.”  Jas. 3:9.  All who will be saved will be sons of God eternally.  The gender of our bodies, which includes our brains, belongs to this world and time.  This should solve the “women’s liberation” concern for Christian women who accept our roles in time by faith.

The church family functions as the body of Christ.  The next Part of this book will be a study of I and II Peter.  Part III will be a study of I, II and III John.  All of these studies will be a continuation of how members of the church function in the body of Christ.  The reason Christians are in Christ’s body is because this is where God has provided all spiritual blessings for our development as His sons (Eph. 1:3-14).  All who have membership in this realm are continually cleansed by the blood of Jesus and our faith in His sacrificial atonement (I John 1:7).  This is why the Holy Spirit can do His work of sanctification with us (I Pet. 1:2; Rom. 8:5-27).

A church is made up of individual members; therefore, Jesus’ role as King and Priest is for each member’s benefit and growth (Acts 5:31, 32).  Our relation to God is presently sons and daughters (II Cor. 6:18).  This relationship requires our faith in the blood of Jesus because we are still “in Adam, in Christ.”  I Cor. 15:22.  However, because our broader relationship with God is family, we need to have a family relationship with each member of the church we encounter in our respective congregation of brothers and sisters.  Thus the program of God for mankind works like this.

  1. Our spirits came from God and have been designed in the likeness of God (Heb. 12:9; Jas. 3:9).
  2. All people have been created with inherent needs.  Some pertain to the time we live in our bodies on earth, but others belong to our eternal spirits (Matt. 6:25-34; Rom. 2:6-10).   All people have been seeking ways to satisfy these needs since birth.  We have been, and will continue to be placing our faith in whomever and whatever we think will offer us satisfaction.  People become very upset when they do not have hope for satisfaction for their inherent needs (Jas. 4:1-3).
  3. God’s secret wisdom before He created the world was that all people should be His children (I Cor. 2:7; Rom. 8:28-30).
  4. Through one man sin came into the world and death passed to all men because all sinned (Rom. 5:12).  This is because we have the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:22).
  5. God is now offering reconciliation to the entire world through Jesus Christ (II Cor. 5:16-21).
  6. Mature people who decide to place their faith in God’s word about the foregoing can be immersed into the body of Christ (I Cor. 12:12, 13).  This happens while we are being immersed (baptized) into the death of Christ in water baptism (Rom. 6:3, 4).
  7. The church Jesus purchased with His own blood for God functions as the body of Christ and the family of God (Acts 20:28; I Cor. 12:25-27; Eph 4:14-16).  This is the only type church spoken of in the word of God.

James, Peter and John all wrote to this church which was meeting in different parts of the world.  There was no other church.  They addressed the common weaknesses of spiritual growth in each member.   Most of their weaknesses mentioned by James were their failure to “get along” with one another.  They were dependent on one another for the satisfaction of their inherent needs of security and social acceptance in their achievements.  Church life functions on an interdependent level of living.  Of course, their deeper problem was their faith in God.  God designed the needs in them, but God also designed the church as He did so they could have the satisfaction for many of their innate needs.  Some of our needs cannot be fully satisfied by the membership of the church, but it will work for us until Jesus comes to fully satisfy our need for “glory, honor and peace.”  Rom. 2:10.

The forgoing has been offered as the “window of faith” through which we can read and appreciate the text of this lesson.  Please note the turmoil in the church in James 4:1-6.  This type of disintegration causes anxieties within the members of the church.  It will “spill over” and destroy the function of the body of Christ.  James graciously closed his letter with a peaceful scene.

Each member was functioning in their “own universe,” but they were also living on an interdependent level of life.  For some of their “unsatisfied needs” which James categorized as “trouble,” they sought the wisdom and grace of God, their Father.  They went to Him in prayer, without doubting (Jas. 1:5-8, 17).  In the times when all was going well with the satisfaction of their needs, they spoke to one another in “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.”  Eph. 5:19.  They came out of their own “ego boundaries” and joined others in a healthy social relationship.  They did not need to wait for ten o’clock on Sunday morning to sing and be happy.

Since the mature church Jesus built for God uses elders for its guiding and steering, based on the wisdom of God, the members call on them when they need emergency physical help (Jas. 3:13; 5:14; I Tim. 3:1-11).  They also call on them and other righteous members to pray to God on their behalf in all matters.  An asking prayer has three parts (John 17:3).  We need to tell God where we stand in this matter before we ask Him for what it is we desire.  We also need to tell Him what we will do with what He does for us.  Consequently, when Christians ask others to pray for us we need to “open up” our life to them.  This is called a primary relationship.

A church without primary relationships cannot function as the body of Christ.  Christians who understand “justification by faith” are willing to talk about our sins of weakness and ignorance to other members who also understand this doctrine (Jas. 2:23).  The Lord’s people know God does not count us as guilty when we confess our sins we are trying to overcome.  This includes our sins of which we have not yet become aware.  Justification gives us peace with God, ourselves and other members who accept the doctrine (Rom. 5:1).

Happy Christians want to help other people find happiness and so we are motivated to join Jesus in His evangelism program of the world.  We are also concerned with members of our church family just as we are our physical families.  This is the note upon which James finished his letter.  Surely it was not just a passing thought.  We are responsible for our family of God.  He has given us this stewardship (Jas. 5:19, 20).

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