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The Book of James

Lesson 11 December 6-12

Getting Ready for the Harvest

Sabbath Afternoon

Read for This Week's Study: James 5:7-12, Rom. 13:11, 1 Cor. 3:13, Luke 7:39-50, Col. 4:6.

Memory Text: You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand (James 5:8, NKJV).

In Greco-Roman times (as in some places still today), a flurry of activity preceded the coming of a visiting dignitary. Streets were cleared, shop windows cleaned, flowers planted, and crime prevention increased. Every effort was directed at making sure the place looked perfect when the official arrived.

The Greek word parousia, which is used throughout the New Testament for Christ's coming as well as in James 5:7-8, is a technical expression for the arrival of a king or dignitary. If such preparations preceded the arrival of earthly rulers, should we not make every effort to make our hearts ready for the coming of our Lord and Savior?

But how do we make such a preparation when we do not know of that day or hour (Matt. 24:36)? What does it mean to be patient and to establish our hearts? How does this relate to the idea of the early and latter rain (James 5:7)? Though in the texts for this week the context appears to be the end of time, the basic message is so relevant to believers at any time. Throughout our history and even in our own lives now, we face trials and suffering that call for us to stand firm in the faith, as did the prophets of old.

*Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, December 13.

Sunday December 7

Waiting for Rain

Farmers are directly dependent on the weather for their livelihood. If the weather is too dry or too wet, too cold or too hot, their produce will be adversely affected. In drier countries, such as Israel, the margin of safety is even less, and the importance of plentiful rain at the proper times is significantly greater. Whether grown on a small family farm or a large estate, the crop and its subsequent value are directly dependent on rain.

The early rain, which generally falls in October-November, moistens the ground and prepares it for planting and germination. The latter rain, around March or April, ripens the crops for harvest.

Read James 5:7. (Compare Deut. 11:14, Jer. 5:24, 14:22, Joel 2:23.) What point do the Old Testament passages make about the rain? Why do you think James uses this image in connection with the coming of the Lord? See also Hos. 6:1-3; Joel 2:28-29.

Under the figure of the early and the latter rain, that falls in Eastern lands at seedtime and harvest, the Hebrew prophets foretold the bestowal of spiritual grace in extraordinary measure upon God's church. The outpouring of the Spirit in the days of the apostles was the beginning of the early, or former rain, and glorious was the result. . . . But near the close of earth's harvest, a special bestowal of spiritual grace is promised to prepare the church for the coming of the Son of man. This outpouring of the Spirit is likened to the falling of the latter rain; and it is for this added power that Christians are to send their petitions to the Lord of the harvest in the time of the latter rain.-Ellen G. White, Our Father Cares, p. 212.

Jesus refers to the harvest at the end of the world (Matt. 13:39). Mark 4:26-29 presents a very similar picture to that of James 5:7. The farmer waits for the grain to ripen: first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come (vss. 28-29, ESV). Only at harvesttime is it possible to distinguish the wheat from the tares (Matt. 13:28-30; compare Mal. 3:17-18).

What should that fact that we can distinguish the wheat from the tares only at harvesttime tell us about how we must live out our faith now, before the harvest?

Monday December 8

How Near is Near?

James 5:8 affirms that Christ's coming is at hand or near. But, after nearly two thousand years, how are we to understand this promise?

Jesus described the coming kingdom (Matt. 4:17, 10:7, 24:33) by means of parables to teach the unfamiliar heavenly things in terms that are understandable. A close study of these parables reveals that the kingdom has two aspects: a present, spiritual reality and a glorious reality still to come. All the apostles fixed their hope in the imminent coming of Jesus (Rom. 13:11, Heb. 10:25, James 5:9), but they never identity exactly when that would be. Like us, they wanted to know when, but Jesus explained that this information was not best for them to know (Acts 1:6-7). After all, how zealous would they be in sharing the gospel with the world had they known that the work would not be finished for almost 2,000 years-and counting?

What does James mean when he says establish your hearts (James 5:8, NKJV) and why do you think the awaited fruit is called precious (timios; vs. 7)? (See 1 Thess. 3:13, 2 Thess. 3:3, 1 Pet. 1:19, 1 Cor. 3:12.)

The word establish (sterizo) means to fix firmly or strengthen. Our heart is to be so wedded to the Lord that it cannot be moved despite the pressures brought against it. Becoming settled in the truth (2 Pet. 1:12), withstanding temptation, and enduring trials and suffering for our faith (Acts 14:22) all contribute to this work. Spiritual growth is a process that is not always easy but that bears precious fruit. Believers, redeemed by the precious [timios] blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:19, NKJV), are of infinite value to the heavenly Farmer. The word timios is also used to describe the precious stones that symbolize believers who are built on Christ, the foundation stone of God's spiritual temple, the church (1 Cor. 3:11-12). Paul likens unstable believers, on the other hand, to wood, hay and straw that will not last and will ultimately be consumed by fire when Christ comes (1 Cor. 3:12-15). It is important, therefore, to ask ourselves on a regular basis whether our energies are really directed toward what we value most, toward what and who is most precious to us!

Each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is (1 Cor. 3:13, NKJV). Look at your life. What sort of work is it?

Tuesday December 9

Grumbling, Groaning, and Growing

When is the Second Coming? Why are we still here? It's not surprising that now, in the 21st century, we have doubters and scoffers. In the history of the church, this is nothing new. The most dangerous threats to Israel throughout its history came not from their enemies but from within their own ranks and from within their own hearts. Likewise as the coming of the Lord approaches, we have far more to fear from within than from without. . . . The unbelief indulged, the doubts expressed, the darkness cherished, encourage the presence of evil angels, and open the way for the accomplishment of Satan's devices.-Ellen G. White, Last Day Events, p. 156.

Therefore James 5:9 warns us, Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door. What grudges or grumbles against others, or even against the church, have you had (and maybe at times with good cause too)? The question is, How have you handled them? With meekness, humility, and forgiveness, as you have been forgiven by God (see Luke 7:39-50) or by worldly standards? Be honest with yourself!

From what we have read earlier in this epistle, it seems that there were serious challenges among the believers, including favoritism (James 2:1, 9), evil surmising (2:4), and evil speaking toward one another (3:10, 4:11), envy (3:14), quarrels (4:1), and worldliness (4:4, 13-14). Consistently, James directs us to deep solutions to these problems: faith (James 1:3, 6), the implanted word (James 1:21, NKJV), beholding the law of liberty (James 1:25, 2:12, NKJV), single-mindedness and godly wisdom (James 3:13, 17), grace (James 4:6), and clean hands and a pure heart (James 4:8). He also insists that there be outward expressions of God's inward workings (James 2:14-26), including visiting the afflicted and forgotten (James 1:27), showing mercy (James 2:13), and sowing peace rather than discord (James 3:18).

Ultimately, we are accountable to God; the One to whom we must give account is the Lord who is the Judge and who will give to everyone according to his work.

As we wait for the Lord's return, what are positive ways you can encourage and uplift others? Why is it important that you do so?

Wednesday December 10

Models of Patient Endurance

Read James 5:10-11. What do Job and the prophets have in common? Why do you think these examples are highlighted? What personal lessons can we take away from these stories for ourselves amid our own trials?

The prophets of Israel were faithful in preaching the word of the Lord without altering or compromising it. Hebrews, in extolling the prophets' fidelity to God, paints a clear picture: they stopped the mouths of lions [Daniel]. Quenched the violence of fire [Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego], escaped the edge of the sword [Elijah and Elisha],. . .had . .. imprisonment [Jeremiah and Micaiah],...stoned [Zechariah, son of Jehoiada],... sawn asunder [Isaiah] . . . [and] slain with the sword [see 1 Kings 19:10] (Heb. 11:33-37). Of course, Job's sufferings are also proverbial, as is the patience he exemplified despite derision by his own wife and the censure of those who came to commiserate with him. What set these heroes of faith and many others apart from the normal or average follower of God? James mentions several qualities: patience, endurance, and, above all, hope and trust in God.

One of the attributes is patience (makrothymias), also translated as longsuffering or forbearance. It refers to the capacity to stand up under difficult circumstances and trials, to weather whatever life (or the devil!) throws at us. The prophets endured all their suffering for the word of God patiently (James 5:10). The word is used frequently in the New Testament, including in a reference to Abraham waiting patiently during his many years of sojourning for God to fulfill His promise to give him a son (Heb. 6:12, 15). It also describes Jesus bearing up patiently through all His sufferings and death on the cross (2 Pet. 3:15).

Endurance (hypomone), on the other hand, focuses on the end goal of this process, looking forward to the finish line. Job is put forward as the epitome of this quality. Despite all he suffered, Job looked steadfastly toward the final vindication he expected to receive (Job 14:13-15, 19:23-27).

What are you struggling with now? What have you prayed for that has not yet come? How often have you even felt a sense of hopelessness? Think through the trials of some of the Bible characters listed above (or others); imagine how helpless they must have felt at times. What can you draw from their suffering that could help you work through your own?

Thursday December 11

Transparent as the Sunlight

Read James 5:12. Commentators have puzzled over why James seems to make such a major issue out of swearing solemn oaths. Even if the intent were to prohibit all speech of this kind, why would it seem to be urged as important above all that he has spoken about in this chapter or perhaps in the entire letter? Is it really that big of an issue? We need to keep in mind what we have seen throughout our study of this epistle: that James is not content with a superficial faith or form of religion, despite the caricatures of him that we sometimes hear. James is thoroughly gospel-oriented, so much so that he sets standards too high for us to reach without God's forgiving and empowering grace. Our words reveal what is in our hearts: Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt. 12:34, NKJV). The theology of James is permeated with the thinking of Jesus, who commanded us: Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King (Matt. 5:34-35). Some people apparently even placed the hairs of their head in pledge to guarantee their words (vs. 36). But Jesus said all of this was evil: Let your Yes be Yes, and your No, No. (Matt. 5:37, NKJV).

Everything belongs to God, including every hair on our head (even if, in some cases, there aren't many!), so "there is nothing that we have a right to pledge, as if it were our own, for the fulfillment of our word. . . .

Everything that Christians do should be as transparent as the sunlight. Truth is of God; deception, in every one of its myriad forms, is of Satan.-Ellen G. White, Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, pp. 66, 68. Clearly, Christ was not prohibiting judicial oaths because He Himself, when placed under oath by the High Priest, did not refuse to answer, nor did He even condemn the process despite numerous deviations from sound jurisprudence (Matt. 26:63-64).

Several things need to be kept in mind when speaking the truth, first and foremost being that we seldom even know all the truth, even about ourselves, and so we must be humble. Second, when we do speak the truth, it should always be spoken in love and for the edification for those who hear.

Read Ephesians 4:15, 29 and Colossians 4:6. Dwell prayerfully on the powerful message of these texts. Think how different (and better!) your life would be were you, through God's grace, to strictly following these admonitions.

Friday December 12

Further Study: Read about the experiences of Elijah and Job in times of testing and its significance for us in the last days in Ellen G. White, From Jezreel to Horeb, pp. 155-166; What Doest Thou Here? pp. 167-176; In the Spirit and Power of Elias, pp. 177-189, in Prophets and Kings.

"To wait patiently, to trust when everything looks dark, is the lesson that the leaders in God's work need to learn. Heaven will not fail them in their day of adversity. Nothing is apparently more helpless, yet really more invincible, than the soul that feels its nothingness and relies wholly on God. . . .

Trials will come, but go forward. This will strengthen your faith and fit you for service. The records of sacred history are written, not merely that we may read and wonder, but that the same faith which wrought in God's servants of old may work in us.-Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, pp. 174, 175.

Discussion Questions:

  1. We all know the parable about the wheat and the tares growing together until the harvest (Matthew 13). But what does that mean in terms of church discipline? What does that mean in terms of dealing with outright rebellion or apostasy in our ranks? Are we just to sit by and do nothing, saying that it will all be taken care of when the Lord returns? Obviously not. How-in light of this parable, but also in light of examples in which discipline was needed in the early church, such as in Corinthians and Galatians-are we to deal with the tares, especially those whose sole purpose seems to be choking the wheat and nothing else?
  2. Temptations and trials come to all of us. What promises from the Bible and the writings of Ellen G. White have been comforting to you and have helped you to persevere in your faith? What Bible characters have been most meaningful to you in difficulties and/or in view of what lies ahead?
  3. James tells us to grudge not one against another (5:9). Yet people, even other Christians, can do things that bother and annoy us. How can we learn to love, to forgive, to endure, and to rise above many of the petty things in life that can make us moody, irritable, and, really, bad witnesses?

Trail of Death, Part 2

Joel Sandoval

Joel realized it was Sabbath. His parents would be in church, praying for him. In the midst of the chaos in the house and outside, Joel knelt in a corner and prayed. He was sure that death was near. He opened the New Testament to the book of Psalms and began reading. Joel again prayed, "Lord, You rescued David from his enemies. If you get me out of this situation alive, I will give my life to You and tell others what You have done for me. Please save me, God!"

One of the locals saw Joel kneeling in the corner, praying and reading his little book. He thought Joel was performing some sort of witchcraft and became frightened. Meanwhile, the youth searched for a way to convince their captors that they were not guilty. One of them remembered the name of the man on whose property they had slept the night before. He told the guard at the door the man's name. "Please find him! He will tell you where we were last night!" Soon the men returned with the man who could verify their story. Within minutes the youth were set free.

One man told Joel, "We would have killed you hours ago, but when we saw you kneeling in the corner doing magic, we became afraid." For a moment Joel was confused. Then he realized that God had used his tears of repentance and his Bible reading to strike fear in the men's hearts and eventually set them free.

The youth left the village, but they were later caught by Mexican authorities and returned to the border of Guatemala. When Joel arrived home, he told his parents what had happened. He learned that on the day he was captured, his mother had sensed a special need and had spent the day in earnest prayer for him.

That night Joel lay awake thinking about everything. He couldn't believe that he had survived. Then he remembered all the other times he should have died but had been rescued. He knew that God had been by his side, even when he rejected God's influence in his life.

Joel kept his promise to God and returned to church. He shared his testimony with the church and asked the members for forgiveness. A few months later he was baptized.

Although he didn't go back to his gang, he did meet some gang members from time to time. When they commented on how he had changed, Joel shared how Christ had saved his life and set him free from drugs, hatred, and Satan's hold. Now he leads a small group in his church and serves as a deacon. He loves to give Bible studies and to share his testimony.

"One thing I wish I could change," Joel says. "I wish I could take off the tattoos that mark my body. But when Jesus comes, He will make my body new and pure and clean. I regret the years I wasted honoring Satan instead of Christ. I want to spend the rest of my life redeeming that time and influencing others to turn to Jesus, who saved my life more than once. He turned my life around, totally around."

Joel Sandoval lives with his parents in northern Honduras. He works in a clothing factory and spends his free time sharing his faith with others.

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