Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 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. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.James 5:13-20
I am sure many people would consider James’ instructions for how to respond to your circumstances as being too simplistic, too reductionistic and simply naive. In reality, anyone who thinks that way indicates that they don’t know the God to whom James makes reference or the power available to those who trust him.
Is anyone among you suffering? The suffering referred to here isn’t suffering from bad health. James addresses that later. This word for suffering (kakopatheo) refers to experiencing a really hard time in life, enduring hardness, suffering trouble, enduring affliction or being afflicted. In other words, just having a really hard time in life. What is that person to do? Pray. Simple isn’t it? If by praying you think it is just tossing up some wishful thinking (sending good thoughts your way) then again, you don’t know what it means to pray. Prayer is James’ prescription to hardness in life. How can that work? Keep reading. I’ll show you what James sees in a minute.
Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Now, this makes more sense. Cheerful or happy seems to go well with singing. Sing a happy tune. Only here it isn’t just any happy tune, it is a song of praise to God. This kind of singing isn’t formal high church liturgical classical music dirges. With this kind of music, you just might want to clap your hands and tap your toes or maybe you might even get carried away like David and dance before the Lord. Be all in with your praise to God.
Is anyone among you sick? This fellow gets the longest exhortation about what to do about his sickness. This requires one to be a part of a local body of believers for you to obey James’ instructions. He says, “Call for the elders of the church.” If I am not part of a church, I don’t have any elders to call, so it is impossible for me to obey God’s word on this one. The elders have two tasks: anoint the sick person with oil (representative of the Holy Spirit-this is not a therapeutic massage as I read one commentator say recently) and along with this anointing, they are to pray a prayer of faith. That’s their job. Then what does James say will happen? The prayer of faith will save the sick and the Lord will raise him up. And…if he has committed sins they will be forgiven. This is a powerful passage and seems to make a very positive statement about the Lord’s desire to heal the sick when prayed for in this manner. But in some cases, there is a little more to it. Therefore, confess our sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed. This seems to indicate that part of the “formula” for healing through the prayer of the elders includes the confession of sin. Does this mean that the person is sick as a punishment because they sinned? No, not necessarily. But it does mean that when we harbor sin in our hearts we set up a barrier to answered prayer.
This principle is illustrated in the story of Elijah. The prayer of a righteous person has great power. What is a righteous person? First, everyone who trusts in the finished work of Jesus is declared righteous by God through faith. In that sense, every believer is righteous. But there is another dimension to being a righteous person, that is our lives, while not perfect, are characterized by righteousness in our daily living. We live in a godly manner and manifest God’s grace in how we live. We don’t harbor sin in our lives but confess our sins, turn from them and live in the freedom that is in Jesus. I believe this is the primary focus of what it means to be a righteous person in this context. How we conduct ourselves before God and man has an effect on our prayers.
There is another important point in the Elijah illustration. We generally have the idea that Elijah was not like us. He was special. He was God’s prophet and had special powers. Oh? Did he? James says Elijah was a man with a nature like ours. He was an ordinary man and he prayed fervently. We are ordinary men (and women) but do we pray fervently? Ordinary people who pray fervently are the ones who see the miracles and the power of God demonstrated around them. Prayer is a big deal. It isn’t sending happy thoughts, it is calling on the Lord of Hosts, the Creator God of the universe, it is leaning heavily on the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ who is ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of the Father. It is recalling before God his many precious promises in his word that promise deliverance and life. Prayer is a big deal. Do it!
James’ final declaration in this wonderful little letter is precious. If any among you wanders from the truth and someone (like maybe you) brings him back, you will have saved his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. Isn’t that great? This little letter that is thought by many to be legalistic and full of works-based religion ends with a marvelous declaration of grace. When you find a brother (or sister) who has wandered from the truth, bring them back.
I was very impressed by a statement my Pastor made in a recent sermon. The scene is a believer standing before the judgment seat of Christ, thrilled to be with Jesus, he turns and points to a group of his friends and says to Jesus, “Look who I brought with me!”
Bring someone with you.