James 5:12-20: Sermon Notes

Right Use of Speech in Healing the Effects of Sin

Big Idea: Above all, we are to use our speech for truthfulness, living lives of worship, and spiritual recovery

Proverbs 18:21 “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”

Human speech carries extraordinary power.

Paul taught about Alexander, along with Hymenaeus (1 Timothy), both of whom he had handed over to Satan, and how Alexander (likely the same Alexander in 2 Timothy) had done him much harm. Paul warned Timothy to avoid him. 

Alexander used his words and actions to hurt, and in the end, he needed to be avoided because his speech did harm not good. 

James has taught clearly the destructive nature of the tongue. 

James closes out his epistle with instructions on some beautifully right uses for speech that will do good in healing the effects of sin.  

James begins by saying “Above all…” when introducing these three right uses of speech. 

  1. We should take this to mean that in light of everything he has said, the correct use of speech can be a healing agent, and we should strive to use our speech that way. 
  2. James is going to give us three big ways we can use our speech well. 

Above All, Use Speech for Truthfulness v. 12

In the OT, there were two instructions on oaths or vows. 

  1. They were encouraged – Deuteronomy 10:20; Jeremiah 12:16
  2. Making a vow and NOT keeping it was discouraged – Leviticus 19:12; Numbers 30:2; Deuteronomy 23:21
    1. Vows were part of a holy life, but they were to be taken and kept. 
    2. 2 Corinthians 1:23 Paul calls on God as his witness, so oaths are not inherently evil or sinful. 
      1. Over time, the use of oaths degraded, like other good practices, into something sinful. 
  3. By the time we get to Jesus’ day, vows and oaths had turned into a deceptive art. 

“In effect, the swearing of oaths had degenerated to a system…The results were disgraceful. There was an undying epidemic of frivolous swearing. Oaths were continually mingled with everyday speech: “By your life”—“By my beard”—“May I never see the comfort of Israel if …” There was a trivialization of everyday language and a devaluation of integrity. Evasive swearing became a fine art.” – R. Kent Hughes, James: Faith That Works, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991), 246.

  • People’s integrity had degraded to the point of needing to prop up their word with trivialized oath taking. 
  1. Jesus addressed this breakdown of the practice of proper oath-taking in Matthew 23:16-22: 

Matthew 23:16-22 (ESV) 16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

  1. Jesus gets to the heart of the issue in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:33-37:

Matthew 5:33-37 (ESV) 33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

  1. So, James quotes his big brother Jesus from Matthew 5:33-37 here in order to address how they were to speak with truthfulness. 

What is the instruction here? Are we to shun any oath-taking? What was Jesus saying that James is instructing here?

  1. Jesus and James take us to the heart of oaths, and that is the oath should represent the truthful yes or no of the heart. 
    1. In other words, our oaths are only as good at the actual truthfulness of our speech. 
  2. Oath-taking, for these Christians, had become what Jesus addressed in Matthew 5 and 23.
  3. James is calling these disciples to a life of truthfulness in the right use of the tongue that supersedes the taking of oaths to prove their truthfulness.
  1. Real truthfulness is rooted in our integrity and does not need to prove itself with oaths.
    1. Our integrity should be sound enough that my yes counts and my no counts without having to add, “By my goatee.”
  2. Real truthfulness is not afraid of being who we really are in Christ. 
  3. Real truthfulness does not have to embellish our experiences.
  4. Real truthfulness is humble and quiet. It does not need to draw a crowd or defend itself because we know that God knows and we don’t have to prove anything with an oath or self-defense.  
  5. Real truthfulness can be honest about our needs and how we are really doing. 

Above All, Use Our Speech For Lives of Worship v. 13-18

I say “lives of worship” because James mingles praise and prayer for one another and confession of sin all together as right uses of our speech. 

Since we believe worship is the life we live (Romans 12:1-2), we should use our speech for lives of worship in these glorious ways James teaches. 

How does James instruct us to do that?

  1. Prayer In Suffering
    1. James instructs the person suffering to pray. 
      1. The emphasis is to give oneself to prayer. 
      2. Because the prayer of righteous people is powerful. 
    1. We can assume that we should also pray for one another in our suffering.
      1. Verbalized prayer for one another and presence with one another and transparency in working through suffering are acts of worship and corporate fellowship all at the same time. 
  2. Praise from a cheerful heart
    1. Don’t you love it when God has granted a cheerful heart to us or someone else and we hear them break out into some song of praise or some fun song? 
    2. That is a good, holy, and life-giving use of our speech. 
  3. Healing Prayer and Confession of Sin

NOTE: This instruction from James is different for many of us, and a foreign idea. That is no one’s fault but our own for not teaching it and learning to walk supernaturally with the Holy Spirit and receive from the Lord Jesus all the gifts a good Father may have for us. 

  1. The sick person takes the initiative to call for the elders to pray over them. 
  2. The elders anoint the sick person with oil as symbolic of the presence of the Holy Spirit. 
  3. The elders and the sick person and any family members pray for healing. 
    1. The Lord may give supernatural faith to believe that he will heal, and this is “the prayer of faith” that is said will “save the sick person”. 
    2. The Lord may not give supernatural faith to believe for healing. 
    3. We can still pray for healing anyway. 
  4. Prayer for healing must be accompanied by confession of and repentance of sin in case sin is the cause of the sickness. 
    1. Sin may actually create sickness, so that has to be dealt with in light of John 9. 
      1. In John 9, Jesus is addressing the assumption on the part of the Pharisees and the people that the man born blind is that way because of his parent’s sin or something he did himself, when in fact, it was not. 
      2. Jesus is not discounting the fact that sin causes sickness. He’s just rejecting it in that specific instance. 
    2. 1 Corinthians 11 lets us know this because there are sick people at Corinth due to sinful practices of the Lord’s Supper. 
      1. Jesus said to the paralytic at Bethesda in John 5:14 (ESV) Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”
      2. 1 John 5:16-17 (ESV) If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.
    3. Sin may actually cause sickness, but sickness is not necessarily an indicator of present sin. 
      1. This requires discernment from the sick and those ministering to the sick person and honest evaluation in the midst of sickness from the sick person. 
  5. Why do we engage like this? 
    1. Because the prayers of people walking in holiness are powerful and have great effect for seeing the supernatural work of the kingdom of God.

Above All, Use Our Speech For Recovery from Spiritual Shipwreck v. 19-20

“Wanders” is a word that we get the word “planet” from. It’s the idea of leaving the mooring of truth and going off into nowhere good. 

“Brings him back” is one word and it means to cause a person to change their belief.

1 Timothy 1:18-20 (ESV) This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made a shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander (probably the Alexander of 2 Timothy 4:14), whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. (they shipwrecked their faith with their thoughts that led to their words of blasphemy and they wandered from the faith)

  1. People can wander and shipwreck their faith which will lead to death and destruction.
    1. NOTE: it is possible for a person whose faith is constructed on faulty grounds, and who calls those faulty grounds “gospel”, to walk away from that shifting sand. 
      1. See Hebrews 6
  2. We can use our speech for spiritual recovery to help a person leaving the truth to change their beliefs and actions to come in line with God’s word. (It is important to note that this is not a command. The “if” introduces possibility. It’s possible, and it might not always be the correct course of action for everyone, and our efforts might not be successful.)
  3. We can use our words, logic, and reason all constructed on God’s word, to do our best to snatch people who wander from the truth from the fires of destruction. Be careful in these attempts to not allow yourself to get caught up in sinning also. Galatians 6:1b “…keep watch on yourself lest you too be tempted.”
  4. Spiritual recovery results in life and the justification of sin for the wandering person. 


Why can we use our speech in redemptive ways? 

Because Jesus has come. He has broken the curse of sin in his gospel work. 

If we are in Christ, we don’t have to be subject to the curse of sin and all its effects. 

Jesus has purchased for us all the good we can possibly store up if we will but obey his word. 

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