This passage opens with the words, “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters…” (James 5:7a) and to really lock our understanding of it up, we should look at the word “then.” The Greek word here is oun which means “then, therefore, accordingly, consequently, these things being so”. King James translates it “therefore” and both KJV and NIV have it right. You might wonder why I’m going to such lengths for “then” since I usually avoid this sort of discussion in these posts, and there is a solid reason. You may recall that in the last post, I spoke of keeping it in context and mentioned both the verses beginning at 4:1 and today’s section in asserting an overall context, something very difficult to do in this letter as I pointed out at the beginning of our review of James. Verse 5:7 is where this is tied together in context, and atypically, it sets context backwards in the text by demonstrating that James is now summing up the prior lessons he has taught.
So, in light of all of this, James is telling us to be patient. In light of his discussion of favoritism, not loving the world, etc., we need to be patient until the Lord returns for this life here on earth isn’t always easy and can lure us off the path of our faith. See it?
He uses an example of a farmer patiently waiting for his crops to grow before he can bring in the harvest (5:7b) He urges us not to grumble against one another, and equating “grumbling” with “judging” he warns that we will be judged if we do, for the Judge is near at hand. (5:9) In verse 10 he cites the prophets as an example of patient endurance, urging us to do likewise and in the next verse reminds his readers that they count those who have persevered as blessed, pointing out that the Lord used these people for great things, and reminding them of His mercy. Finally, in verse 12 he tells his readers that they must not swear:
Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.
“Above all” why “above all”?
“Above all” is used by other New Testament writers to introduce their final point, and it would appear that James is doing the same here, where he is referring to taking oaths.
James is mirroring what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:33-37, where Jesus said almost the same thing James is saying here. Jesus was tracing the Law of Moses which also prohibited oaths that were sworn by God that what a person was saying was true. This is taking the name of the Lord in vain and profanes God. Swearing by something on the earth is idolatrous, so this is a “catch 22” situation: No swearing. As a consequence of this, US law allows one to “affirm” rather than “swear” a legal oath. In fact, Harry Truman “affirmed” rather than having sworn for his oath of office, the only president to do so to date.
The next and concluding section of the letter is a prayer, and we will see that in the next post.