In today’s passage James talks about how to respond to sickness.
Jam. 5:14-16 Is any sick among you? 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: (15) And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. (16) Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
James’ next instruction is for those who are sick. The Greek word here refers to physical illness, weakness, or infirmity. God doesn’t tell sick people to pray for themselves, though there is nothing wrong with that. Instead, He tells them to call for the church elders and have them pray. I think the fact that the sick person has to call for the elders says something about how sick the sick person is. That is, they’re too sick to go to the assembly and be prayed for there. It’s also interesting that the sick person is responsible to call for the elders. It is an act of faith and obedience on their part.
“The elders of the church” in this passage are recognized church leaders – most likely pastors. Though the word “elders” can also refer to people of advanced age, but the addition of “of the church” makes it clear that this is a position, not just older folks in general.
The elders are commanded to “pray over” the sick person. They are also supposed to anoint the sick person with oil. I’ve read one commentator who thinks this refers to the medicinal application of oil to help in the healing process. This seems unlikely to me. Oil was used medicinally, but it certainly wasn’t a cure all. The disciples anointed people for healing during the earthly ministry of Christ:
Mar. 6:12-13 And they went out, and preached that men should repent. (13) And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.
It’s clear that the healing of the sick was not accomplished in this case by ordinary application of common medicinal methods. It is mentioned here is something powerful and extraordinary – which wouldn’t really be the case if the disciples were just going around dispensing medicine. The fact that it is “the pray of faith,” not the anointing with oil that will “save the sick” speaks against the oil as medicine theory. I believe that the oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirit (1Jo. 2:20, 27), who actually does the healing.
It is obvious that not everyone we pray for gets better. If we could pray away every sickness and infirmity, no one would go to heaven. But this method is a powerful means of bringing God’s healing power to sickly saints.
Sins … Faults
James makes the connection between sickness and sin. We don’t like to talk about it, but we need to. The Bible makes it clear in several places that sickness can be the result of sin:
Joh. 5:14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.
1Co. 11:27-32 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. (28) But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. (29) For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. (30) For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. (31) For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. (32) But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.
That last passage makes it clear that God can use sickness to correct His sinning saints. It seems clear that the elders are to address this possibility with the sick person when they are called on to pray. The right response, if sin is a contributing factor to the sickness, is to confess it and pray so you can be healed.
This section closes with an encouragement about the power of prayer. The phrase “effectual fervent” is the translation of the Greek “energeo,” or energy. The righteous person who puts his energy into pray can accomplish great things by God’s power.
How Are You Doing?
- Are you sick?
- Have you considered the possibility that your sickness stems from unconfessed sin?
- Have you called for the elders of the church to pray over you If you did, would they come?
Read James 5:17-18 and 1 Kings 17 to get the background on Elijah’s prayer life.