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Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

Above All

This is the biggie.

James 5:12–20

But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No,” lest you fall into judgment.

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.

James begins his wrap-up with the superlative, “But above all.” This is strikingly strong. The Greek words translated as "above all" (πρό πάντων, pro pahn-tone) literally mean “before everything.”

In other words, this takes precedence. After all the things James has covered, it’s surprising for him to declare that this is more important than everything else.

But that’s what he does. Swearing oaths, which was a common practice back then, is not okay. Jesus strongly condemned it in Matthew 5:33–37. James’s condemnation is strong too, threatening, “lest you fall into judgment.

But the condemnation isn’t directed simply at oath swearing. It’s reserved for people who lie. They’re the ones for whom “yes” wasn’t “yes” and “no” wasn’t “no.” The oaths magnify the sin.

Oaths are especially offensive as a part of a strategy of deception.

Lastly, James gives two examples of mature Christian behavior. First, he makes the case for constant prayer and praise, coupled with the advanced koinonia of confessing our sins to one another.

Christians should strive to get to this level of spiritual maturity.

Then James concludes with a curious instruction. Turning back someone who has wandered from the truth is a great victory. It will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.

But there’s a twist. James doesn’t just say this. Instead he says to his readers, “let him know that” all this good will result. In other words, rather than simply teaching this truth, James tells his readers to use it in shout-outs. This isn’t doctrine; it’s a special case of encouragement.

Someone who turns a sinner from the error of his way has done a mighty work, and we should say so.

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These weekday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. Saturdays' by Matt Richardson. Subscribe here:

The weekly study guides, which include questions for discussion or meditation, are here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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