First of all, James 5 begins abruptly with a brutal punch in the face, a no holds barred rebuke of the rich. “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.” (James 5:1 NIV) OUCH!!! Did James get up on the wrong side of the bed that morning or what? While he undoubtedly is taking a page from his brother Jesus’ teaching on the rich, this onslaught has a little hotter sauce added for greater effect. Almost a third of James 5 is dedicated to this topic so it’s important. However, my primary focus for the next two weeks will be on James 5:19-20 which we’ll get to in a minute, so let’s jump back to the beginning.

James has undoubtably witnessed as we all do the injustice and oppression that can be inflicted by those who abuse power and wealth. However, I don’t believe that this passage is referring to the rich who are fair minded, humble, and take care of their employees because James gets a little more specific in verse 4 when he says, “Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you.” (James 5:4 NIV) He’s clearly talking about rich oppressors who fail to treat their workers justly and have “lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.” Yikes! This is just another Biblical example of God’s justice. God loves all of creation whether they are rich or poor, but abuse, oppression, and exploitation of others by any means is and always will be sinful.

James 5:7-12 is another exhortation and a reminder, like James 1:2-18, to persevere when we encounter suffering, hardship, and trials. James tells us to be patient not allowing our suffering to affect our behavior. James 5:9 says, “Don’t grumble against one another, brothers, and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” While James encourages us to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:2-3 NIV), it’s not always that easy. The stress and anxiety that comes with trials and testing are anything but joyful and can produce negative behaviors that are harmful to ourselves and others, so we need to be careful.

James 5:13-18 is a reminder of the importance and power of prayer. Verse 16 says that the “prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective”, so we should never neglect this spiritual discipline. But before we go on, I just want to camp out on verse 16 for a minute.

The first part of the verse says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed”. I’ve always struggled with this verse because it has so much potential for good and for bad. Of course, we can always confess our sins to God, but wouldn’t it be great if we could really confess our sins to one another? The “good” part of being able to confess our sins and failures to each other is the incredible potential for healing and freedom. With the loving support of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we would be in a much stronger position to overcome those sins, bad habits, and failures that continue to hold us hostage, but on the other hand the “bad” part about confessing our sins to each other is the potential or opportunity for those confessions to be used against us in ways that could do more harm than good. It’s quite the conundrum, isn’t it? Anyway, moving on.

Another spiritual discipline is addressed in James 5:19-20, which is the central core of our conversation for the next two weeks. James says, “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” The Greek word he uses for “truth” is ἀλήθεια (alétheia). It is the same word that Jesus uses in John 14:6 when He says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” It’s the same word that is used by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:18 when he says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness”, and it’s the same word he uses in Romans 1:25 when he says, “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.” 

This truth or ἀλήθεια (alétheia) that James is referring to is not merely truth as spoken; truth of idea, reality, sincerity, truth in the moral sphere, straightforwardness, but divine truth revealed to man by God Himself. He’s being specific. This is not a human worldly version of truth or the “my truth” that is so popular today. This is God’s truth, word, or what He Himself has spoken and revealed to us throughout the Bible.

The Greek word for “wander” in James 5:19 is πλανάω (planaó) and it means to go astray, get off-course; to deviate from the correct path, roaming into error, wandering, to be deceived, or misled. According to James this wandering away from the truth of God or ἀλήθεια (alétheia) requires correction. It doesn’t please God and is not according to His will for our lives.

When we are deceived, led astray, or deviate from “God’s truth” or what He says, it leads to sin, death, and destruction. Therefore, we need to be brought back to the correct path of truth, God’s truth or ἀλήθεια (alétheia). This is why it’s so important for those who believe in the truth of God to continue sharing it with the world. We don’t just have “a truth”, “my truth”, or any other cheap imitation of the truth. We have THE TRUTH and nothing but the truth so help us God.

Furthermore, we are commanded by Jesus to take this truth and go “make disciples” all over the world. We have the greatest gift known to mankind. This truth is the “power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16 NIV) It has the power to save us from sin, death, and destruction. Just like the Blues Brothers, we’re on a mission from God. It’s a rescue mission, but we have to be very careful how we do it because not everyone thinks they need to be rescued. God’s truth or ἀλήθεια (alétheia) is not the preferred source. Sure the world can tolerate a watered down or mild version of it, but not the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Okay, I know I’ve said that twice now and promise I won’t use it again. Maybe.

In 1 Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” This is from the New International Version of the Bible, a translation. Other translations, including the New American Standard and English Standard versions for example, use the phrase “make a defense” instead of “give an answer”. The Greek word regardless of translation is ἀπολογία (apologia). Since this is where we get our English word “apology” or “apologetic”, it would seem to suggest that Peter is telling us to admit we’re wrong or sorry about the hope that we have which doesn’t make sense. Why would Peter want us to admit we’re wrong or say we’re sorry about God or the “hope” that we have? Why would he say, “always be prepared to apologize to everyone for the hope that you have”?

Well, as we all know words have more than one meaning. In this case ἀπολογία (apologia) is not referring to an apology, but rather to a verbal “speech in defense” of the “hope” that is in us or the truth of God. This is where we get the word “apologetics” which is the practice or religious discipline of defending religious doctrines through systematic argumentation and discourse. An “apologist” is a person who offers an argument in defense of something, so Peter is not making an apology, but encouraging us to defend the faith, truth of God, or the ”reason for the hope that you have”.

Unfortunately, this practice of apologetics or defending the faith is used by some believers as a justification for being heavy handed and aggressive, even using it like a weapon to get people back in line. That’s why I said we need to be careful how we give a defense or reason for the hope that is in us.

Okay, I’m going to stop here. I thought this week would be the end of this series, but as usual I get carried away with it and end up with a lot more than I expected. Isn’t that how God usually works?

Happy Easter and spring break everyone! Love y’all! HE IS RISEN!!!

Robby Morris
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC