Imagine this scenario…
- I pray you are doing well. 2. As I told you when you were preparing to leave for college I would help you pay for school as long as you maintained a 3.0 average. 3.I was very proud of you the first semester, you did well. 4.Good job, I am happy to continue to help.
Son: Son has Dad’s letter in one hand and his spring semester report card that shows he has a 2.0 gpa for the second semester in the other hand.
Let’s put verse numbers to Dad’s letter.
The on is not the least bit worried…as he quotes Dad, verse 4 to his friends…”Dad said in verse 4…’Good job, I am happy to continue to help.'”
So “No worries” he says to his friends as he goes off to the party…”Dad promised, I’ll get the money.”
The son is going to be disappointed.
But what if Dad sent his son 66 letters over the course of his college career, some describing dads activities so the son could get a better picture of what is valuable and important to him.
Some are short, witty sayings that are meant to teach the son what is wise.
Some are poems the dad has written to communicate feeling and emotion to his son.
Some are direct “dos and don’ts” others are indirect commands and promises.
Then what if the son went through his dad’s 66 letters looking for stuff he really wanted to be true, or taking individual sentences or even parts of sentences from the letters and concluding that his dad had promised this or that thing?
What would be the likely result of his dad’s wisdom passed down to the son?
It would be lost or mostly lost because the son did not use language in its normal and natural way.
Communication always has content and context…they are irreducible tied together to create meaning.
If he takes dad’s content out of its context then it no longer communicates Dad’s intent.
This obvious misuse of language demonstrates a common approach to the Bible and an ongoing source of frustration and loss of confidence in what God has given in his word.
God has told us the most important things we need to know…but we must deal with that knowledge carefully and as accurately as possible.
“Bible” is a word that means “books” it is the 66 books that make up the Bible.
They were written over thousands of years; by many different people on several continents…but the books have a continuity that is amazing.
They are meant to be read/applied/understood as a whole.
There is an important principle of interpreting scripture that is sometimes called the “Scripture interprets Scripture.” (analogy of faith)
This principle states that since all scriptures are harmoniously united with no contradictions, then every proposed interpretation of any single passage must be compared with what other parts of the Bible teach.
So the son instead of quoting “Dad” verse 4 to determine his Father’s promise…should have read and understood his dads intention in the context of the entire letter.
The whole of the Bible is used to determine what is true in regards to what God has promised and what he has not.
Think of the Dad’s letter to his college son…if the son wants to understand the dad’s purposes, promises and warnings…then he must have a working knowledge of all the letters together.
They form a body of work that describe and prescribe his father’s mind and will on things related to his son.
“Come on Terry, this is way to complicated…we should just be able to read the Bible and understand and apply it.”
This is true of children’s books…they are very easy to understand but they also do not fit the whole picture of reality.
“See spot run, run spot run.”
“Got it…a dog named spot is seen running, the dog named spot is exhorted to continue to run.”
“See, how hard is that?”
But what if we want to understand where dogs came from, why dogs exist at all…or what is the relationship between humans and dogs supposed to look like?
“See spot run” just won’t do it, will it?
The Bible is about reality…what has always been, why we are here, what happens when life is over, how we can know what we know, what is good/bad/valuable/important to do with our lives.
So how complex are these issues?
Since the Bible is about reality and applies to all people of all times…its was not given to us simply as rules or principles 1 through 1 million.
It is given as historical narrative, poems, sayings, prophecy, gospels, letters, commands, promises…all of it put together seamlessly for God’s purpose and our good.
2Tim. 3:15-17 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
- Scripture is scalable: children can understand and apply it. But adults will spend their lives plumbing its depths.
- Its purpose is to reveal the gospel so that we can be saved.
- It’s all God-breathed (a single word in the Greek used only here)…God is the mind and will behind the words though he used human agents to write them.
- Its all useful for every possible thing we need to live life God’s way.
It doesn’t tell you how to fix a computer, or how to create antibiotics, or how to throw a football in a perfect spiral.
It does tell you who God is and who you are, why you are…and how to live in line with the reality of those things.
This introduction applies to today’s passage…but its an important lesson or reminder for all our engagement with the Bible.
We want to get this right…its important.
Because we are never going to have a better idea about how to live our lives than God does…so we really need to understand his actual intent regarding our lives.
Next week we are entering into our summer season, a season of “conversational relationship with God.”
A focus on prayer: Prayer is talking with God about the things we are doing together.
This summer will be a chance for us to grow in walking with and talking with God as we move through life together.
“Summer is the perfect time to grow in faith and love…though it is often used as a season of spiritual apathy.”
Today is the bridge between the “one anothers” and the summer season.
The connection between relationship with God (effective prayer) and relationship with one another (confess your sins) is evident in today’s passage.
Summary: Here is where we are going this morning:
- Look at this passage as a whole
- Prayer at all times
- Who the effective “pray-er” is
- Look specifically at “forgive” one another
How it demonstrates how good relationships with one another are crucial to good relationships with God.
- The Passage as a Whole:
- Possibility of Prayer at all times in all things 5:13-16
-Do you have troubles?…pray
-Are you happy?…pray (songs of praise is simply prayer with a melody)
-Are you sick?…get seasoned Christians from your church to pray over you.
Very similar to what Paul wrote:
1Th. 5:16 Be joyful always;
1Th. 5:17 pray continually;
1Th. 5:18 give thanks in all circumstances
Continual joy, continual prayer and continual thanks…all tied together.
This is not “trying to be joying and thankful”
This is how you train to be joyful and thankful.
*How might you train to be joyful always?
-How do you train to cook or drive a golf ball?
-Do you wait until you get a certain feeling?
-Stand over a golf ball until you feel the drive or a cookbook until you feel the recipe?
You do it…you hit the ball, you try the recipe, and you get better the more you do it…practice.
These exhortations to joy, prayer and thanks are a training plan not a finished state of being.
If we were already there…why would he be encouraging us to go there?
Likewise if we could not get there…why would he encourage us to go there?
This is a training plan…one that is doable and has real results when put to practice.
*To train for joy…you choose to set your minds on true and valuable things (like God’s glory and purposes and love)
*To train to pray…you pray…You pray through the day rather than merely mentally fretting or complaining your way through it.
*To become increasingly thankful rather than grumpy and demanding…You open your mouth and say what you are thankful for rather than all the things that are messed up and bothersome to you.
*When you fail to do those things…you tell God you are sorry and you enter back into training.
Prayer at all times is training to trust.
Prayer is real interaction with God about things that are important to the both of us…but the goal is primarily to align our will with his not the other way around.
If we knew what he knew we would always want what he wants.
How does this work?
How is that God has his will and he wants us to pray for things we want as well.
In this passage, we are told to take our requests to God and to one another and believe that God will heal the sick.
But taken along with all of what God has given us in the Bible…we know that sometimes sickness is part of his plan for us, not healing.
There are those who believe it is never God’s will for us to be sick…but Scripture, common sense, and life itself do not bear this out.
Paul prayed for healing, and was told “no”…so he submitted to God’s larger will for his life.
Jesus prayed to escape suffering if possible…but submitted to his father’s larger will.
Death is the ultimate “disease” and unless the Lord returns in our lifetime we will all die…death is not a lack of faith.
John Wimber who was a part of hundreds of supernatural healings(I show firsthand how God used him)…died at age of 63 with multiple health problems…some, by his own admission were his own doing…eating and traveling too much and resting and exercising too little.
He said “I have suffered physically with health problems, and I have also struggled with depression during my battle with cancer…the temptation is to withdraw from practicing God’s commands (prayer for healing) or, at the other extreme, to drum up false bravado to convince God to do what we thought he ought to do.” (demand he always heal)
So what do we do with this passage in James?
Well, we apply it…but we do our best to apply it in line with all of what God has given us.
If you are sick, it would be good to get others to pray for you.
If you are sick…you should ask God to help you see if there is sin involved.
James doesn’t say that sin is always involved in sickness…he said “If he has sinned, he’ll be forgiven.””
Paul’s affliction was not sin related, of course neither was Jesus’
But it does indicate sin is sometimes involved in sickness…so it’s worth asking…searching your heart…is God using this to get my attention?
But sometimes you are just sick…even still sickness can cause us to see more clearly what is valuable.
Read, understand, apply the Bible as a whole: content+context=intent
It is possible to apply all of the Scripture to life: We don’t have to have all the facts or complete understanding to do so.
I’ve prayed many times for sick people.
Some people I’ve prayed for have gotten better, some have not…of course my understanding is incomplete on this and most subjects…but I still pray.
One time I had a sense that God wanted me to take some friends and go pray for a very sick person.
-We went and this man had a fever, was not fully conscious…I almost dialed 911 when I saw him…but prayed first.
-With my hands on his forehead as I prayed, I felt his temp go down immediately, I watched his eyes open…then he suddenly sat up on the bed and wanted dinner.
Another time I prayed for a man we had met on the streets who had been addicted to alcohol for decades.
As I prepared to pray for him he was shaking violently from the withdrawal symptoms he was experiencing…he had not gone a day without drinking in a long time.
Then I as put my hands on him prayed and asked him to pray he said “Oh God, take his from me.”
Then he shook again in his body and then out his arms to his hands and then suddenly he stopped…that was that.
Other times people have gone through long withdrawal and I’ve prayed for them…nothing instant happened…but they became better over a long period of time.
Other times people have remained ill and some have died.
How do you figure it all out?…you don’t really.
You just determine to not try and outsmart God…do the best you can to do what he asks you to do…in line with all of his word…all of it.
Not just “Dad, verse 4”
Many have lost confidence in God because they believed something God had not promised them…this is unfortunate because his actual promises are so good.
- The powerful and effective “pray-er” 5:17-18
The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective…a guy like Elijah is used as his example…he was said to be just like us and he saw amazing answers to his prayer.
When I read about Elijah…I personally don’t see much resemblance…he was way beyond me.
The point, I think, is that his life of faith and submission to God need not be way beyond me or you.
Who is the “righteous” man or woman? We want to know…because they are the powerful and effective “pray-ers.”
Righteous means “right with God.”
In right standing with…or in relationship with.
The follower of Christ is declared “righteous” as in “not guilty” because of his or her faith in what Christ has done for them.
But it is more than just a legal term here; it has relationship elements in it as well.
It implies a person who is living in close, connected relationship with God.
Does it mean that if you live in a certain way, he is more likely to say “yes” to your prayers than if you don’t?
For me trying to unravel some of these mysteries is like trying to make sense out of time travel movies where people are meeting themselves.
I don’t know how it all works…but unlike time travel movies…this is real and it does work.
So I assume, based on Scripture, like the Lord’s prayer before his crucifixion…that part of what happens for the righteous person…who is living close to the Lord in mind and life…is they know what God wants more and more and they want what God wants more and more.
So to know and to want what God wants…certainly would lead to powerful and effective praying.
Okay, let’s look at confess your sins to one another.
This ties together the “spring season” and the “summer season.”
- Confess your sins to one another
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
Remember, this is no formula…the principle is “right relationships with one another are essential to right relationships with God.”
Jesus taught this principle very clearly himself.
Matt. 5:23 Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
What we have here is someone who is coming to God in worship…the gift at the altar was an act of moving towards God in repentance and relationship.
There he remembers, or God brings to mind…someone he had sinned against.
Stop…leave your gift and go make things right with the person you have sinned against…then come and continue to move towards God.
The principle is: Our relationship with God is directly connected to our relationship with each other.
It makes sense that having clear relationship with God is important to our relationship with one another.
But it also true that having clear relationship with each other is vital to our relationship with God.
John is very direct and clear about this.
1John 4:20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.
He uses the word “hate”…you cannot hate people and love God…it is simple not possible.
Earnest told me last night that as a boy in Alabama he would see signs on churches that said “Whites only.”
-This troubled and confused him…how could they say they loved God and live like this?
-They could say it, but they could not do it…it clearly impossible to not love people and to love God.
If you love God, you will want to and you do your best to keep clear relationships with one another.
When I began to walk with God as a college student:
-God began to give me clear direction regarding going to people I had sinned against in the past.
-It was humbling and hard…but it became easier as I went because I liked what was happening in my life.
-Some thought I was strange when I called them to confess a sin…but, I liked what was happening in me.
-It took some time…pre-internet and cell phones…but as best I could I spoke to all I knew I had sinned against
-It felt like freedom to me…it still does.
One of our church’s heart attitudes is to maintain clear relationships with one another.
Why is this so important?
It is bottom line essential to clear relationship with God, which is bottom line essential to living life itself.
In terms of community together…we simple cannot harbor grudges and bitterness and survive as a community.
We cannot hide or deny our sins and experience life together…it is simply not possible.
III. Application (look back, look around, look forward)
- Look back:
-Are there people from your past you need to confess sins to?
*It may not be appropriate in some cases to go in person to certain people, and likewise it may not be helpful to detail your past sins electronically…email or text.
*But if there are people you need to confess your sins to, if God brings them to mind…then figure out how you should go…it must be a settled fact that you will go.
*Get counsel on how to proceed, but determine to proceed…the freedom is worth the price of humility and effort.
*They sinned against me as well…”Okay…but you can only control your choices not the choices of others.”
- Current situation, recent past…today, past week, month: Humble yourself, take responsibility for your part
-“They will think I am weak”
-“They will think I was all wrong and they were not”
-“They will not respond well”
-“It is hard and embarrassing”
-“I don’t know what to say”
There are lots of potential issues and problems…the most important thing is determine if you should do this, then work out the how…even if its messy and doesn’t turn out like you would hope.
- Going forward: practice keeping short accounts…don’t let them stack up.
-“Mess up, fess up, move on”…applies to relationship with people not just God.
When God has moved in powerful ways in people’s lives in the past…without exception it has included him moving them to confess their sins to on another.
Great Awakenings…included people going to God and to one another in confession.
This opened up God’s power in their lives in new ways.
Prov. 28:13 He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.