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When the apostles first began to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom of God, led by Peter at Jerusalem after the ascension of Jesus, there was a tremendous response. Some 3,000 were baptized in one day, and they were all imbued with a wonderful spirit: “And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people” (Acts 2:44-47).

Some forty years later, however, the picture was very different. Paul, writing to Timothy, not only told him that “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world” (2 Tim. 4:10), but complained of opposition: “Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil” (:14). There were also problems in relation to belief, as is demonstrated by Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul wrote to them: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” (1:6). It seems that it was being taught that it was necessary for believers to keep the Law of Moses, an idea which Paul vehemently opposed.

James, however, in his letter, was more concerned about the conduct of the brethren and sisters. As we read his letter we see a great contrast between the situation in the ecclesias at the time when he wrote and that in Jerusalem perhaps forty years earlier, when they “had all things common”. Now, it seems, there were both rich and poor brethren and sisters in the ecclesias. Seeking to console the poor, James exhorted them: “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: but the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away” (1:9,10). The poor can rejoice in the riches of the Truth and all its blessing, but the riches of the rich will do them no good; they “pass away”. It seems that the rich trusted in their riches, respected those that were wealthy, and despised the poor. This is the theme of chapter 2 of the letter, and James pointed out that such conduct meant that they were failing to fulfill the royal law: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (:8).

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thess. 5:16-18

We also have to realise that there is no guarantee in riches, and that the future is completely uncertain for all of us. As James warned: “Go to now, ye that say, to day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (4:13,14). Of course, we today live in a world where the rich prosper; and this seems to have been the case also when James was writing, since he went on to speak against rich men in general: “Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you… ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton” (5:1,5). This is, I think, a condemnation of all the rich, not merely the rich brethren and sisters in the ecclesias.

It can, of course, be very disturbing to watch the wicked prosper, and making themselves rich, but what one needs to do is to bring to mind their ultimate destiny, and compare this with the glorious future that lies ahead for the faithful children of God. James recognised this, exhorting us to patience: “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord” (:7). Psalm 37 also takes up this theme: “Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb” (:1,2). By contrast, “the meek shall inherit the earth” (:11). So we should not be upset at what we see around us: it will all come to an end. As the Psalmist says: “I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not” (:35,36).

The letter of James is full of practical advice concerning our day-to-day life in the Truth, as indeed are all the letters of the apostles. Most of this advice is very clear and easy to understand. We can all appreciate, and should heed, the warning to keep our tongue, to seek peace with one another; but there is one aspect of his advice which we may find rather difficult, and that is his advice concerning prayer.

James adopted a very positive approach to prayer, asserting that “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much”. In support of that statement he quoted the example of Elijah, who was “a man subject to like passions as we are” (5:16,17). God listened to Elijah, and his example shows that He will also listen to us; but this does not mean that every request we make will be granted. Whilst James says, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much”, and we know that the Apostle Paul was a righteous man, yet when he prayed to God, God refused to grant his request. So he says “…there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:7-9).

We are not privileged, as Paul was, to have a direct, Divinely spoken, response to our prayer, but the principle remains. God most certainly listens to His children, but He does not always relieve them of the problems that face them. These problems have their place and their purpose. James, for instance, exhorts us: “count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations [or trials]”. Why? “The trying of your faith worketh patience” (1:2,3). This we see above all in Jesus himself, of whom it was written that he “learned obedience” (Heb. 5:8).

We have to learn to trust in our heavenly Father. We have to believe that He is ever watching over us and caring for us - day and night. What is more, He will never put on us a burden that we cannot bear, and we must believe that. As Paul wrote: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

So, despite the fact that our prayers are heard, we may yet be beset with many trials and difficulties. We have many examples of this in the Word, but perhaps it is Job, the example given by James, who stands out above all the rest. When he was in great trouble his wife said to him: “curse God, and die”. Job answered her: “Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:9,10). Job, as the record shows, was not tried above that which he was able to bear, and neither shall we be.

(The late) Bro Ernest A Stallworthy

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