What kind of Church?

James 5:13-20

For the next few weeks you’ll be able to listen to this sermon HERE

What kind of Church are we called to be? This is a key question for any local Church.

Here, right at the end of his letter it feels as though James is offering a powerful vision of what the local church of scattered and persecuted Jewish Christians ought to be like. To me, it is also a magnificent vision of what any and every local church should be aspiring to be.

As we think through this passage today, the focus will be on us corporately as a body of believers. In that case, what should each of us as individuals be listening for? We should ALL be listening to hear the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit about what part each of us is called to play in us all together becoming the kind of Church James describes.

A Church does NOT exist apart from its individual members. If anything is to be done by the local church in its surrounding community … or if anything is to be done within the local church … it will be done by individual members working either alone or together. Today the Lord is calling you to listen for His voice. As we speak about what kind of Church we are called to be … may the Lord speak to each of us about what we are called to do to make it that kind of Church. Agreed? Amen!

So here we go. Let’s jump right in. Let’s be full of faith and take this as a direct word to Claremont Methodist Church for 2019. What kind of Church must we be? James 5 says that that CMC must be:

  1. A Praying Church

Prayer runs like a golden thread through every other characteristic James will name. But it is right at the very start of this passage, in verse 13, that he lays down the marker: Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray! The word used here “kakopathei” refers to suffering evil of any kind; it means to be afflicted by sickness, bereavement, disappointment, persecutions, loss of health or property. If any of those things are happening … PRAY!

Then he carries on:

  • In v.14-15 he says, if someone is sick … pray.
  • In v.16 he says “Pray for each other”; and
  • In verse 18-19 he holds up Elijah as an example to make his point that by prayer a mere human being can change the course of a nation.
  • He says in v.16, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

Aha … but are any of us righteous. Brother … sister … if you have accepted Jesus Christ you are righteous no matter how much you still fall into sin. To be righteous is not to be sinless. To be righteous is to have been restored to a right relationship with God. By the grace of God and through our faith in Jesus Christ we have been made righteous. Romans 3:22 says that “this righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”

If you are in Christ you have been made righteous. Together we are a community of the righteous … not because we are without in … far from it … but because we have a perfect Saviour and a gracious and forgiving God.

So our prayers are powerful and effective … and James leaves us in no doubt that one major characteristic of any local Church should be that we are a praying Church … a Church where prayer is central to everything we are and everything we do.

Claremont Methodist Church is NOT yet a praying Church.

  • Sure, a LOT of us pray very faithfully as individuals.
  • Sure, a number of us respond whenever there is a call to a special day of prayer for a particular need, and a few of us respond when there’s a prayer walk on a Saturday afternoon.
  • Yes, we send out prayer pointers monthly in the calendar and daily via our Prayer Blog and Facebook Page.

But when Claremont Methodist has truly become a praying Church we will:

  • not have one prayer meeting attended by literally 1% of our membership but many prayer meetings attended by MANY
  • find MANY people coming to Church early (of their own accord) not to chat but to pray fervently to the Lord for His power to be made manifest in the worship service
  • find our members praying spontaneously for each other before and after Church; and according to James we will
  • find ourselves astounded by the powerful effectiveness of our prayers as a Church.

What kind of Church must we be? A Praying Church!

  1. A Singing Church

“Is any one of you happy? Let them sing songs of praise,” says James 5:13

James is really just adding his voice to the loud New Testament chorus calling for the local Church, the weekly gathering of Christ-followers to be a people of SONG! Listen to some other voices in that chorus:

  • 1 Corinthians 14:15: “I will sing with my spirit and with my understanding!”
  • 1 Cor. 14:26: “When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a tongue or an interpretation.”
  • Ephesians 5:18-19: “Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.”
  • Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”

Now it’s not just that the old saying goes, “Methodism was born in song.” The Church of Jesus Christ has always been a singing people. When Pliny, the governor of Bithynia wrote to Emperor Trajan of Rome in AD111 to tell him about this new group called the Christians, he said: “They are in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day of the week before it is light, when they sing in alternate verses a hymn to Christ as God.”

The hearts of us Christians are meant to be so filled with wonder at the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ that we cannot help but burst into song when we are together.

Now, it’s true that we sing every time we gather on a Sunday at CMC. But I feel we can give ourselves so much more fully to each and every song we sing … to applying our minds with absolute focus to the beautiful meaning of the words we utter … to emptying our lungs with abandon … to raising the roof with the outpouring of praise to our glorious, magnificent, wondrous God and King! And I long for the day when there are more singers in the worship team than there are microphones.

What kind of Church must we be? A Singing Church!

  1. A Healing Church

James 5:14 says: “Is anyone among you ill? Let them call the elders of the Church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the ill person well; the Lord will raise them up.”

Now, we know by experience and by every testimony of Church history that NOT EVERY sick person a Christian elder prays for IS healed physically in this lifetime. And that is a source of great wrestling and deep heartache for many. But we also know by experience that EVERY single person for whom we pray will be touched by the Lord in some way which the LORD has decided. And ultimately we know that for the one who fully trusts in the Lord Jesus to whom we pray will be healed for eternity.

So I can’t get too side-tracked by that today. Remember the question is what kind of Church are we called to be. This 3rd answer is: A Healing Church. And James makes it very clear where the onus lies. If YOU are ill and in need of healing YOU are to call the elders of the CHURCH to come and pray over you and anoint you with oil in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Friends if any, I repeat, any one of you … no matter where you live or what your life situation is … calls or emails the Church office and says: “I am not well and I desire the elders to come and pray over me and anoint me with oil in the name of the Lord Jesus in accordance with James 5:14” … I will personally make sure that that happens.

If you are ever in the worship service and you come forward and say: “I am not well and I desire the elders to pray over me and anoint me with oil in the name of the Lord Jesus in accordance with James 5:14” … I will personally make sure that that happens … no matter whether I am rushing off to preach somewhere else or not. If I cannot do it myself I will appoint some of the other elders to pray with you.

But James also says in v.16: “Pray for each other so that you may be healed.” It is not ONLY the elders who are to pray for healing. Pray for each other. Oh for the day when those drinking coffee at the back after the service are outnumbered by those huddled together in the chairs or at the rail praying for each other!

Glory hallelujah! Revival will have come!

What kind of Church must we be? A Healing Church!

  1. A Forgiving Church

Remember, when we read James 5:16, that he is writing to Jewish Christians, who had grown up with the fundamental belief that my sickness was caused by my sin. Healing and forgiveness went hand in hand.

He says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.”

Now both they and we know full well that Jesus Himself in John 9:3 undid this connection … when he said that the blind man was not born blind because of either his sin or his parents’ sin.  There is no such connection to be made in many, many instances.

But forgiveness does bring healing every time. How so? Every time one person forgives another, the relationship is healed. When I ask your forgiveness and you forgive me and you pray for me – like James said we should do – there is surely a beautiful healing of our relationship.

Equally, if I come to you and confess my sins against God … and you hear me and remind me of the awesome promises of the Word that when I repent and confess my sins, God always forgives … and then you pray for me for the assurance of the Holy Spirit that I have been forgiven … MAN I will leave that encounter feeling deeply spiritually cleansed and healed.

So whether James meant us to confess to each other our sins which we have committed against each other … or … to confess to each other our sins which we have committed against God … makes no difference. Either way we will receive deep healing.

One thing is clear … What kind of Church must we be? A Forgiving Church! A Church where we have the kind of relationships in which we can be honest with one another about our failures … and rather than judging and condemning one another … we extend the forgiveness and gracious acceptance of God to each other.

What kind of Church must we be? A Forgiving Church!

  1. A Saving Church

I suspect that when James wrote verses 19-20 he might have been thinking of his brother Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep. “My brothers and sisters,” said James, “if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way WILL save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”

When last did you look around this church and say to yourself, “I wonder where so-and-so is?”

What kind of church should we be? A Church where we all care enough and love enough that our immediate response to wondering where someone is, is NOT:

  • to wonder judgmentally why they are backsliding …
  • to express our scandal at their absence to others …
  • to ask our neighbour in the chair next to ours if they have heard any gossip that might inform us …
  • to ask the minister if he has been to see them …

BUT INSTEAD:

  • to take the responsibility upon ourselves to go to them and
  • to express that we miss them and
  • to invite them back and
  • to pray with them (if they will allow us) and for them (whether they allow us to or not)

We are called to be a Saving Church!

Conclusion

James has been an amazing book to study from start to finish. Now we have finished. But it will only have had value if we have been transformed by it. If nothing else, I pray that today all of us will find a fresh determination rising up within ourselves to do everything within our power to cause CMC to become the Church we are called to be:

  1. A Praying Church
  2. A Singing Church
  3. A Healing Church
  4. A Forgiving Church; and
  5. A Saving Church.
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