Whether Life is Good or Bad, Go to God
1. Recognize the Context: Previous context-James 5:12 In one sense, verse 12 appears a little odd and maybe even out of place. However, we often see a final list of behavioral instructions in the closing paragraphs of Paul’s letters. Additionally, these imperatives, one positive and one negative, concern speech ethics and judgment, two themes covered by James from numerous perspectives. So, it is not as unusual as initially thought.
James encourages the believing community not to swear. This verb means “to affirm the veracity of one’s statement by invoking a transcendent entity, frequently with implied invitation of punishment if one is untruthful.”* Here, James echoes the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:33-37).
This behavior was happening in informal conversations. People were invoking heaven or earth (and by doing so invoking God) to affirm their statements' truthfulness. James instructs them merely to confirm or negate their statements with a simple yes or no. Since the Christian community is called to be truthful and careful with their words, nothing else is needed. To be careless with one's words in this way is to bring about God's judgment.
So again, we see the instructions in this verse are consistent with James’ content and message.
* Definition of swear from a Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature, BDAG, p. 705).
2. Read the Scripture: James 5:12
13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.
3. Reflect on the Scripture:
Verse 13 presents two contrasting situations and two responses. James asks if anyone is experiencing “trouble.” The word trouble indicates suffering misfortune or enduring hardship. Back in verse 10, he used a form of this word to describe the suffering endured by the Old Testament prophets. He followed their examples with the misfortunes experienced by Job.
This person suffering misfortune, for whatever reason, is instructed to pray. The content of the prayer is not specific. However, James has already considered asking for wisdom from God in hardship (1:5-8) and asking God with the right motives (4:2-3).
In the second situation, James asks if anyone is happy. The word happy refers to being cheerful and encouraged. This person is instructed to praise. The call for praise is found most frequently in the book of Psalms. However, we see the encouragement to praise and rejoice in the New Testament, no matter the situation (Acts 5:41, 16:25). The form of praise could be singing a Psalm or something more spontaneous (Eph 5:19, Col. 3:16). It could be with or without instruments. The emphasis is on rejoicing and expressing thanksgiving to God.
For James, whether life is good or bad, our focus should be on God.
4. Relate to life:
Now it's time to get specific and respond today. Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message. To pray:
Today, if you are troubled, offer your troubles, hardships, and difficulties to God.
Today, if you are cheerful and encouraged, offer praise and thanksgiving to God.
To do: (work produced by faith with the Holy Spirit’s help) Given the prayer suggestions above, how do you need to respond today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, and co-workers.
To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the given passage.)
Read and study the verses above.