Resources » The IVP New Testament Commentary Series » James » The Encompassing Instructions (5:12-20)

The Encompassing Instructions (5:12-20)

I have heard Christians facing difficult trials say, "I need to know how great God is." A recent occurrence came while my wife's parents were visiting us for Christmas. Dad became ill, and I had to take him to the emergency room. We all spent a couple of anxious days while he was in the hospital. It is bad enough to be ill; it is worse when one is a thousand miles from home and the doctors are unable to diagnose the cause of the severe pain. On one of those anxious days, Mother was telling me about her quiet time that morning. She said she had thought about interrupting her current reading, which was in a section of Scripture about God's supremacy and authority, to look for some comforting passages about God's faithfulness and healing. She decided instead to stay in the section she'd been reading. She said, "This is what I need now. It doesn't answer all my questions, but I need to know how great God is."

I have experienced it myself. In the midst of still-unresolved trials, I need to submit my life consciously and deliberately to the greatness of God. That does not give me all the answers to the questions of why things are happening or what I should do, but it is what I need in order to deal with the fear and pain.

The original readers of James's letter are themselves in difficult circumstances. They are suffering under economic, legal and even violent persecution. Their trials are very much unresolved and current. In love for them, James has driven home the point of the greatness of God—that God is great in righteousness, unchangeableness and most of all faithfulness to give good gifts in compassion and mercy. Now, in the final section of the letter, James concludes his message with three particular things to do in light of the greatness of God: do not swear; instead, pray; and finally, keep bringing each other back to the truth. These are his three encompassing instructions.

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