The theme this week is what God’s grace looks like in our world.
Our sermon text, from James chapter 5, emphasizes the value of community, especially in response to suffering (our own and others’). James helps us understand the role of prayer in a world where beautiful and terrible things can and do happen, as well as the importance of leaving judgmental attitudes behind.
As Christians, we wonder about our role in being “with” people as God’s hands and feet. Our scripture reading from James 5:13-20 helps us understand our role as participants in extending God’s grace and comfort to ourselves and others.
What can we notice about this passage?
- The context of the book of James: This passage falls near the end of a book written to encourage God’s people to live together in peace, supporting each other and refraining from the usual worldly attempts at domination, including favoritism and lying. This last section offers practical ideas for how we can live together and support each other in a world that is often filled with difficulties.
- 13-14: We can see that suffering is a part of life in the first part of v. 13.
- The question “Are any among you suffering?” does not label those who are suffering as “bad” or “deserving” of their difficulty. The verse simply goes on to suggest that prayer, as a communal exercise, can be an encouragement during tough times.
An interesting point is that olive oil was not always available to the poorest of Christians, and so James may be emphasizing the need for wealthier Christians to make oil (known for its healthful properties) available to those who could not afford it.
- The first part of verse 15, if misread, sounds like it is our faith through prayer that saves the sick. However, sometimes healing happens and sometimes it doesn’t. There is no “formula” that offers a guarantee. And this is part of the mystery of the way God moves in our world. It’s as if James and other biblical writers wanted to emphasize that the process was more important than the outcome. Praying for one another, comforting one another, and offering support are what we can do …. how we participate in God’s grace as it is expressed here on earth … we see ourselves as the hands and feet of Jesus as we minister to those who are hurting. Whether or not healing comes, the person who is prayed for feels loved and supported. The mystery of healing is not ours to control, but building loving relationships falls within our domain and responsibilities.
- The last part of v. 15 can also be confusing, making it sound as if sin and illness are connected. If we stop to think about it, we can all think of instances where illness just happens, and assigning blame is never productive or helpful, especially to the person who is suffering.
- The second part of v. 15 can make it sound as if we are the ones to forgive to sins. This part is closely tied to v. 16 in that James encourages us to “confess [our] sins to one another.” The idea of prayer and confession being closely linked is not a new one. How can you pray for someone if they are not being honest and authentic about their struggles? However, one must use discretion and approach the practice of confession with caution, as not every Christian is able to shoulder another person’s struggles. We all at times have more to bear than we have capacity for, and it is not fair to ask someone who is already weighed down to support our struggle, too. Consulting with a church pastor, a licensed counselor, or therapist are all appropriate steps to take, depending on the issue.
At the end of v. 16, James is acknowledging the power of communal prayer while emphasizing that our own personal relationship with God must not be neglected. Unless we are centered and clear about who we are in Christ, we lack the depth of connection we need to effectively intercede on behalf of others.
17-18: The example of Elijah is provided as an example of asked and answered prayer. While it seems straightforward, it can make us feel hopeless and discouraged when our own prayers are not answered in the way that we had hoped. When we remember that our perspective is very limited, it helps us to see that the “no” answers or the seemingly unanswered prayers often end up holding a greater meaning than we knew at the time.
19-20: James’s encouragement to “bring back a sinner from wandering” can be easily misconstrued. “Wandering” is often subjective, so caution must be exercised, and a nonjudgmental attitude should be present at all times. Due to human nature’s temptation to compare oneself with others, we have a proclivity to minimize our own flaws when considering others’ choices and struggles.
James is reminding us to love and support each other. Loving and listening to a sinner is often the thing that brings them back. We can stand by and support the person without supporting the behavior or attitude. We can offer advice when it is asked. The best advice is that which is asked for (not simply offered) and spoken with a humble and caring attitude. Most of us want to be the “savior” or the person who brings the wanderer back, but few realize that we all wander more than we are willing to admit. Sometimes sharing our own wandering helps. Even as the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years, so sometimes our faith journeys take a more circuitous than direct path.
Being transparent with each other helps everyone grow together. Our own journey allows us to share that God is faithful as our faith evolves and grows.
- See prayer as a way to build community, not just a solitary activity. James encourages us to pray for one another and be available to offer support as we are able. Building relationships is the goal, and prayer is one avenue Christians can use to meet one another in the midst of suffering to offer support.
- See prayers for healing as an important part of the process of expressing God’s grace on earth, regardless of outcome. We don’t understand why some are healed and some aren’t. What we do understand is that a) every person is precious and loved by God, b) there is nothing we go through that the Father, Son, and Spirit do not endure with us, c) prayer allows us to express love and care for one another. By valuing the process more than the outcome, we can support one another through difficulties.
- Maintain a humble, vulnerable, and authentic attitude to ensure effective prayers on behalf of others. Recognizing how far short we fall while still knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are loved helps us keep an open and aware perspective. It makes us open and honest about our struggles in an appropriate manner to engage and support one another.
Suffering and loss are best handled in community. James emphasizes the importance of prayer as a means of building strong relationships and expressing God’s grace in this world where “beautiful and terrible things” happen.
While we can’t always explain why terrible losses and suffering occur, we recognize our limited human perspective and trust in God’s continuous presence and goodness, knowing we’re supported by our community of faith.
What is our Christian mission?
- Jesus’ life and ministry provides the motivation for every aspect of our life, including our participation in mission and ministry with Jesus.
- The love of Christ compels us to take part in what Jesus is doing in the world through the Spirit. Out of love we declare the gospel and invite all people to receive and embrace it.
- In doing so, we hope what is true of them already in Christ will be experienced by them personally in faith.
- Like Jesus, we desire all to participate and receive all the benefits of Christ now.
- Then they, too, can join in Jesus’ ongoing mission to draw others into a living relationship with their Lord and Savior. What greater joy and privilege could there be?
- Our participation now in Jesus’ love and life bears good fruit and personal joy that stretch into eternity.
- As we welcome the truth of the gospel, we can’t help but worship our Lord and Savior!
What’s the Difference between Calvinism, Arminianism and Trinitarianism?
In comparing and contrasting Christian theologies, we are talking about different approaches among Christian brothers and sisters who seek to serve the same Lord. Thus, our discussion should reflect respect and gentleness, not arrogance or hostility.
- Calvinism is a theology that developed from the teachings of the Protestant reformer John Calvin (1509-1564). Calvinism emphasizes God’s sovereignty in election and salvation.
- Most Calvinists define God’s “elect” as a subset of the human race; Christ died for only some people (“limited atonement”). Those he did die for, however, were truly and effectively saved in the finished work of Christ, long before they became aware of it and accepted it. According to Calvinist doctrine, it is inevitable that those Christ died for will come to faith in him at some point. This is called “irresistible grace.”
- Trinitarian theology’s main disagreement with Calvinism is over the scope of reconciliation. The Bible asserts that Christ made atonement “not only for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). And while Trinitarian theology rejects the restrictive extent of “limited atonement” and the determinism of “irresistible grace,” it agrees with Calvinism that forgiveness, reconciliation, redemption, justification, etc. were all accomplished effectively by what Christ did. These gospel truths have nothing to do with what we do or don’t do.
- Arminianism derives from the teachings of another Protestant reformer, Jacob Arminius. Arminius insisted that Jesus died for all humanity, and that all people can be saved if they take necessary, personal action, which is enabled by the Spirit. This theology, while not ignoring God’s sovereignty, tends to rely on a person’s human decision and free will. Its premise is that salvation, forgiveness, reconciliation, redemption, justification, etc. are not actually effective until a person has faith.
- Trinitarian theology differs from Arminianism over the effectiveness of the reconciliation. Atonement (at-one-ment) between God and humanity, is only a hypothetical possibility for Arminians; it does not become an accomplished actuality until one’s decision of faith. Trinitarian theology, however, teaches that the atonement and reconciliation is objectively true even before it has been subjectively accepted and experienced.
- While Calvinism and Arminianism emphasize different aspects of salvation theology, Trinitarian theology has attempted, as did Church Fathers Irenaeus, Athanasius, and Gregory, to maintain in harmony the wideness emphasized by Arminians with the effectiveness emphasized by Calvinists.
The eternal communion of love that Father, Son and Spirit share as the Trinity involves a mystery of inter-relationship and interpenetration of the divine Persons, a mutual indwelling without loss of personal identity. As Jesus said, “the Father is in me, and I in the Father” (John 10:38) … Early Greek-speaking Christian theologians described this relationship with the word perichoresis, which is derived from root words meaning around and contain. Each person of the Trinity is contained within the others; they dwell in one another.
Key Points of Trinitarian Theology
Following are some basic precepts of the theology presented in the booklet, THE GOD REVEALED IN JESUS CHRIST …
- The Triune God created all people through the Son of God, who also is known as the Word of God.
- We were created so that we could participate in the love relationship enjoyed by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
- We are enabled and qualified to participate in this relationship of love through Jesus Christ.
- The Son became human, the man Jesus Christ, taking on our human nature.
- He did this to reconcile all humanity to God through his birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension.
- The crucified, resurrected and glorified Jesus is the representative and the substitute for all humanity.
- As Savior and Lord of all humanity, Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father, and he draws all people to himself by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- In Christ, humanity is loved and accepted by the Father.
- Jesus Christ paid for all our sins — past, present and future — and there is no longer any debt to pay.
- The Father has in Christ forgiven all our sins, and he eagerly desires that we receive his forgiveness.
- We can enjoy his love only as we believe/trust that he loves us. We can enjoy his forgiveness only when we believe/trust he has forgiven us.
- When we respond to the Spirit by turning to God, believing the good news and picking up our cross and following Jesus, the Spirit leads us into the transformed life of the kingdom of God.