In the Midst of Suffering
“Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned” (v. 12).- James 5:1–12
James returns to this theme of tribulation as he brings his letter to a close. He begins by issuing a warning to the wealthy apostate Jews of his day. They had hired laborers and then refused to pay them. These poor people had no legal recourse because the wealthy had bought the judges and had them in their pockets. James tells the rich that their destruction is near at hand, and in a.d. 70, it came to pass as Jerusalem and Judea were destroyed.
Many of those who were being oppressed were true believers. James tells them to be patient and await the Lord’s coming, which was near at hand. They would be vindicated at the destruction of the Jewish nation. What James says here applies to the church of all ages: When we suffer we should be patient, because we learn from the destruction of Jerusalem that from time to time, Christ will come into history and vindicate His people. Most importantly, He will do so at the end of history (James 5:7–9).
If we look back at the law, we find God Himself speaking to the poor and the oppressed. He tells them to cry out to Him, and He promises to hear (Exodus 22:27). Immediately He warns them, “Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people” (Exodus 22:28). Intense pain causes us to use intense speech. We are to cry to God like the psalmist, yet not fall into cursing and swearing.
James makes the same point in James 5:10–12. He has written about suffering and about the use of the tongue, and here he brings them together. When suffering, we should be like Job, who continually cried out to God for vindication, and who finally was vindicated before his friends. We should not fall into the sin of cursing and swearing when we suffer.
In addition to crying out to God in prayer, the sick or suffering person should call out to God’s representatives, the elders of the local congregation. (Contrast Exodus 22:28, cited above.) The elders have been given authority to anoint with oil, not as medicine but as a sign of blessing from God. Such anointing consecrates a person in his distress, and either heals him or else confirms to him that he has a special calling from God to suffer for Him for a season.
Look back over the book of James. Notice how he weaves together the themes of suffering and the tongue. Observe how he brings them together. Consider carefully what this means and what changes you should make in your life. Recommit yourself to simple honesty.
Passages for Further Study
1 Thessalonians 4:18
2 Timothy 1:13