Just as a reminder, the picture above is an old painting of James.
The second topic of James' final three instructions is prayer.
The Prayer of Faith
The second area of James’ closing thoughts is prayer. Our response in all phases of life is prayer. If we suffer, we pray and ask God for strength and endurance. (13) This takes us back to verse 2 of chapter 1, “meeting trials of various kinds”.
If things are going well, and we are cheerful, we should sing praise to God. (13) Give God credit for the good things in life just as you cry for help in the bad things of life.
But what if we are sick? In that instance, James says to call for the elders of the church to pray for him and anoint him with oil. Oil was used for physical healing for the sick, but is also a symbol of anointing, the transfer of God’s power to an individual life. (Mark 6:13) It is a sort of symbolic act of consecration. The healing comes from the prayer, not the oil. (15)
Why call for the elders? Elders were to be men who were older and wiser. They were to be appointed to shepherd and instruct the church. (1 Peter 5:1-4) Paul instructed that elders should be appointed. (Titus 1:5-9) He gave a list of qualifications. He gave his final instructions to the church in Ephesus by speaking to its elders. (Acts 20:17) So the idea is that the elders would be mature in the faith, spiritually sound, wise in the Word and charged with ministering to the flock. Interestingly, Paul did not call say to call for someone who has the “gift” of healing, as is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:9. (Another question is, must these be appointed elders or just older men?)
The elders must pray in faith. (15) No faith is required of the sick person here. If the elders pray in faith, the Lord will raise up the sick person. The idea seems to be that the sick person has been too weak to get out of bed, but now is raised up in healing.
James says the prayer of faith will “save” the one who is sick. (15) The NIV says “make the sick person well”. The word translated save is the Greek word “sozo”, which may mean physically healed or delivered from sin. I would still say that God has the final say in who is healed and who is not, in his sovereignty. But I would also say, if you are asked to participate in this kind of event, as an elder, do not do it unless you can pray believing that God can and will heal. Do not pray in qualifiers to give God an out. He can take care of himself. Just ask God to heal the person. James says it is the “prayer of faith” that brings healing.
James also says, if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. While all sickness is not the result of sin, the Bible certainly allows for the connection. In Mark 2:1-12, Jesus not only heals the paralyzed man, he forgives his sin. James allows for the possibility, because he says “if” the person has committed sins he will be forgiven, not “since” he has committed sins.
James also encourages us to confess our sins to each other and pray for each other so we can be healed. There seems again to be a sense here that sin sometimes causes sickness. One example of this situation regards the Lord’s Supper. Paul said that some in Corinth were sick because they participated in the Lord’s Supper without discerning their sin and brought judgment on themselves. (1 Corinthians 11:27-30)
Certainly we are not to keep our sins secret. They will destroy us. Psalm 51 testifies to this, as David acknowledged his sin with Bathsheba made him feel that his bones were broken. (Psalm 51:8) He lost the joy of his salvation. (Psalm 51:12) Although we do not like to share our failures with others, confessing your sins brings greater accountability and allows another person to pray for you. And 1 John 1:9 tells us to confess our sins to the Lord for forgiveness and cleansing.
James goes on to say that, when a righteous person prays, that prayer has great power as it is working. (James 5:16) He appears to have moved on from the elders to any members of the congregation. James gives us the example of Elijah, who prayed and God stopped rain for three and one half years, then prayed again and it rained. (17) Elijah’s power here was God given, and subject to the sovereignty of God. Although Elijah made the proclamation to Ahab that it would not rain, we would assume he did so at God’s command. (1 Kings 17:1-7) And God certainly directed Elijah to go and pray for rain. (18:41 et seq)
But I do not want you to think that my belief in God’s sovereignty means I do not believe in prayer. God has chosen prayer as the means through which he will work in our lives on many occasions. We are told repeatedly in the Bible to pray.