James 5:13-20 

He was the man reported as having knees like those of a camel, such was his devotion to, prayer. Not unsurprisingly it’s the subject of prayer that James bookends his letter. Why prayer? Because of everything we now know James was addressing and the church was facing, prayer is where all this culminates.

Theologian Daniel Hawk wrote “the basic human problem is that everyone believes that there is a God…and I am it”[1] This was the value of the ancient world into what James was writing, the value of “self-accomplishment and self-reliance” no matter the cost, is it any different today? (READ Job. 38:2-7)

Humility, the biblical value that counters this self-reliance, is the value behind why as Christians we pray, why we are prayers, why we must have a prayer culture…humility knows we, need, him! So it is out of our bent to independence we must discover again dependence, through humility, on the God who simply wants us to love him and love others. Prayer is the good gift he has given us and the means through which we accomplish this.

 

 James 5:13 Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.

14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.

15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.

16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

 17 Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

19 MY BROTHERS, IF one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

 

If we recall the opening words to his letter he was aware that even for Christians who are committed and faithful, we are not immune from the challenges life throws at us; life can be messy…

James says “consider it pure joy” when you’re facing into all those things, that will lead to maturity. We’ve learnt about faith, being doers of the word, humility…wisdom, what is the Lords will, stewardship of wealth, submission, godly perspective in suffering….patience. For the past couple of months James has been our mentor, urging us through his letter to look at ourselves in the mirror toward what authentic Christian living looks like for us today.

This final passage is about prayer (13-18) and (19-20) encouragement….

  • Let’s look first at Prayer…There are 4 aspects of prayer…

The first is…

Prayer of the individual 13. Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. 

Prayer and Praise are the go-to modes in whatever situation we may find ourselves. Much like Paul said in his letter to the Thessalonians (5:17) 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 

Here James is not suggesting prayer for the removal of the cause of trouble but rather for the strength to endure a difficult situation – through prayer [2] What prayer in the face of difficult circumstances does, is take’s our eyes off of the material, not ignorant of it, but onto God. Prayer defers our dependence onto God.

The hardest prayers to pray are the ones where we’re not asking God to take adversity away but to help us through it  (Paul (2 Cor 12) = “your grace…”; Jesus = “not my will…”)… but that’s where God wants us to be.

When James asks the question “Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise” he is asking Christians to not forget prayer and praise when we have come though the other side of difficult circumstances. This might also be that circumstances haven’t changed but our perspective and attitude has.

Prayer can tend to take a back seat when things have “returned to normal” (whatever normal is), James says express thanks and gratitude, praise to God in prayer…to sing songs of praise is not conditional on our circumstances. We praise because we trust in Him, whatever our circumstances.

 

…The 2nd type of prayer…

The prayer of the elders (vv. 14 – 15)[3] Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 

Here the person who is sick/ill is encouraged to seek prayer for healing, this is any form of illness where we’re not well, languishing emotionally, physically and spiritually. With calling in the elders James is talking about occasions when an illness is extreme enough to involve outside prayer assistance and support, but biblically there’s no universal principle for when elders should or shouldn’t be called in, or for that matter when others can be asked to pray for us.

Now at some point we’ll study eldership, but for now in the context of James remember eldership is a function, it’s not about status – these are people we trust and therefore elect because we see them as people of maturity in the Lord. Elders are not or ever spiritually superior to anyone else – “priesthood of all believers”. However sometimes a situation will require certain wisdom, and help from someone who’s confident, spiritually gifted, mature in faith and biblically skilled to deal with it…sometimes that won’t be an elder.

It’s important I say that whenever and whoever it is praying for the sick requires us to be wise, theologically sound, pastorally sensitive in what we say, and how, to those who are sick, and what promises we make.

We are reminded in the text that any healing that occurs is about God’s power, not human effort, because it is the “prayer offered in faith” that makes the sick well. We certainly pray in faith believing God can heal, at the same time trusting him with the outcome, whatever that is – best biblical response to healing.

Let me also be very practical…on the occasions we need medicine or medical intervention, the idea is, these are always coupled with prayer ,and focus on God as the healer and provider of these means…though we are asked to pray, to pray fervently and in faith, in the end God decides who gets healed and who doesn’t.

Although he can and does heal, he wants us to ask for him strength and grace (like Paul) to deal with it…

(READ 2 Cor. 12:7-10)

James goes on to talk about accompanying prayer with anointing with oil, he may have been referring to its medicinal use[4] – olive oil very common for that, however here it’s more likely a symbolic action for healing.

Why oil? Anointing simply means set apart for God. Although anointing with healing prayer only mentioned one other time in the NT (Mark 6:13) it was a very common practice in the bible, particularly the OT. Oil is symbolic of God’s hand on a person, in the same way water is symbolic in baptism.

Anointing with oil is never a guarantee of healing (our faith is not in the oil); it is a declaration of faith on the part of the elders. If the person recovers, God is glorified because He is the agent of healing. If the person does not recover, God is glorified because the person was set apart for Him as His. Either way God is honoured.

What God can do and what God does are 2 different things? Our faith is not in what we expect as an outcome, our faith is in God who will bring about his outcomes, his way in his time…It is the Lord that raises up!

…The 3rd aspect of prayer…

The prayers of friends and companions for one another (v. 16) Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

I’ve already mentioned prayer is a function of the whole body, for the whole body. James raises a couple of important components of healing prayer though, confession of sin, and the nature of the pray-er. James here is talking about sin against a ‘brother’ or ‘sister’, not necessarily about private sin that involves no one but God.

We know James bounces all over the place with his teaching; here he’s talking about the need for confession of sin between brothers and sisters for the purposes of removing any obstruction to healing. What do I mean? My sin or someone else’s sin can have a mutually physical, emotional or spiritual effect.

When I’m able to confess my sin of anger, or of gossip, hurting someone else to the person directly involved, there’s healing in that…now that requires a lot of courage…but James encourages us to put aside our pride and shoulder the responsibility to do what’s right! Healing of the Lord is at stake.

What makes our praying for others powerful and effective is not being sin-free, or sin-less, but sin-confessed… [5]

and 4thly, James used the example of Elijah to illustrate the effectiveness of prayer…

  1. Prayer of Elijah (vv. 17 – 18) Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. (See also 1 Kings 17:1; 18:1, 42)

 

Elijah’s work and faith is well documented. Note what James says though, “A man just like us”, human, yet used powerfully by God. In the same way the prayer of Elijah had the effect it did, the prayer of someone committed to God’s will, growing in Him and living right with God – not perfect – can result in the healing of a Christian afflicted by sickness.

  • (2nd main point) Pointing people (back) to Jesus – “Encouragement” (V. 19-20) MY BROTHERS, IF one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

 

James big crescendo…just one sentence that book-ends his letter, but carries a weight of teaching for the community of faith.

I want to suggest this verse is describing the person who knows the truth, and who has probably at some point lived out that truth, but then has deviated[6]– consciously or otherwise – from it…truth here is the person of Jesus, and all that the gospel represents. This truth is for following, hearing and doing.

For Christians the truth we believe in and follow (notwithstanding the bible) is represented in a person, Jesus (“I am…”)…when we wander from the truth, we wander from the person, Jesus!…and the church family has a responsibility to do everything we can to bring those sheep/people back, who have strayed…the teaching here is James is similar to that of the principles taught in Matt. 18

Both make clear that unrepentant sin is serious, because right relationship with Jesus must be taken seriously. In Matthew Jesus counsels the expulsion of an unrepentant sinner and instructs the community to treat that person as “a pagan or a tax collector” (Matt. 18:17) — that is, as a person who is now lost and in need of a Saviour.[7]

Can I say there is no conflict here in what James is teaching, and judging others. I appreciate the principle in both James and Matthew can be misconstrued as, “you’re judging me”!

Yes, we are not to “judge” but it is convenient to play that card, when we know the person speaking the truth in love, has a point!

What I’m suggesting today is that if you, we, I, wander from the truth, if I am engaged in sinful activity, there is a biblical principle to follow. We ought to be able to hold each other to account. I need that!

We are not to mistake following a biblical principle for judging others, because it may save someone from spiritual death! (see Deut. 30:19; Job 8:13).We are no less involved in urging others to stay with the Lord than we are in spreading the good news. We have a great responsibility!

Worth mentioning James is not confused here, we understand it is Jesus who ultimately saves and “covers” the cost of our sin and saves us from an eternal death. God himself is in the business of seeking and saving that which is lost. But when we carry out this ministry we are reflecting an action of God’s heart. Which means as we do, we do…seasoned with mercy, forgiveness and grace.

To summarise: we need to be vigilant about opportunities to pray for others, we need to be praying for each other, looking out for each other in terms of sin distracting us, doing our part in encouraging each other to keep on track with Jesus.

Conclusion

When we learn what the bible teaches us, we learn that loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, loving others as ourselves, and making disciples teaching them to obey Jesus’ teaching – consists of living out the truths and principles of the bible, of Jesus…these are non-negotiables – when we are followers of Jesus.

If nothing else James has shown us we do not ‘smudge’ or water-down, the living out and speaking of truth on the basis that we want to live a certain lifestyle…it is not playing around with something that suits us and conveniently fits in with what I want to do.

In James we have been confronted with a value system that sits in contrast to those that are worldly.

If we have listened, there can no sitting on the proverbial fence. We must “choose this day whom we will serve”

James is blunt, black and white, but a man who loved the Lord and loved the church. He has shown us that being Christian is a serious and unequivocal call to honour and love, God…and reach others, it is a call to, holiness! James calls us to that standard.

That journey is something filled with hope and grace and love and expectancy of a future life in eternity with God. …it is the cross before me the world behind me, it is death to self to live for him, salt and light, light among darkness…to become like Christ.

How do we get there? Not just hear, but do! How? We apply that which we learn in the bible; that which the Holy Spirit reveals to us. We submit to the necessary change/s….we…LOVE HIM!

 

TAKEAWAYS

Pray

Encourage

Hear and Do

Love the Lord

 

[1] Yancey, Prayer, 29

[2] Nystrom, David P. “Prayer (5:13 – 18)” In NIV Application Commentary, New Testament: James. By David P. Nystrom, 304. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, © 1997.

[3]The chief issue, then, is whether the future verbs “to save,” “to raise up,” and “to be forgiven” refer to eschatological and therefore spiritual healing, or to physical healing. While these verbs can be made to bear eschatological nuance, the weight of the grammatical and lexical evidence is on the side of a physical understanding of the passage. After all, the person about whom this is written is still alive! While it is possible that James has both in view, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that at the very least he is speaking of physical healing of an illness.

[4] Isaiah 1:6; Luke 10:34.

[5] *How? Because sin (particularly habitual unconfessed sin) dulls our attentiveness and sensitivity to God…

[6] wandered = planao (lead astray) lead GK. See also Ezek. 18:21-32; 2 Peter 2:20-22; Heb. 2:3; John 10:27f; Rom. 8:28

[7] Nystrom