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James 5:13-15: Effective Prayer

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. 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. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”

Prayer is the theme of verses 13-18, with the noun or the verb occuring in every verse.

Here James begins a series of separate admonitions making up the final section of the epistle. “He sets out before us certain dominant characteristics of the early church.” –William Barclay, compiled and edited:

1. This was a healing Church. “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray…” “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” (Verses 13,14).

The early church inherited its tradition from Judaism. When a Jew was ill, it was to the Rabbi he went rather than to the doctor; and the Rabbi anointed him with oil which Galen the Greek doctor called “the best of all medicines,” and prayed over him. Few communities can have been so devotedly attentive to their sick as the early church was. This was, and is, the general rule for suffering of all kinds. In a sense, all healing is divine. Over the main portal of the great Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan, New York, are engraved the words: “All healing is of God; physicians only bind up the wounds.”

2. This was a singing church. “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms” (Verse 13). God’s true church is a singing church! “…singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts” (Ephesians 5:19 NLT).

“The early Christians were always ready to burst into song. In Paul's description of the meetings of the Church at Corinth, we find singing an integral part (1 Corinthians 14:15; 1 Corinthians 14:26). When he thinks of the grace of God going out to the Gentiles, it reminds him of the joyous saying of the Psalmist: ‘I will praise thee among the Gentiles, and sing to thy name’ (Romans 15:9; compare Psalms 18:49). The Christians they ‘speak to each other in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in their hearts to the Lord’ (Ephesians 5:19). The word of Christ dwells in them, and they ‘teach and admonish each other in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in their hearts to the Lord’ (Colossians 3:16). There was a joy in the heart of the Christians which issued from their lips in songs of praise for the mercy and the grace of God.” –Barclay

3. This was a praying church. “Pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (Verse 16).

No worthier comment can be found than Montgomery’s hymn:

“Prayer is the burden of a sigh, the falling of a tear,

The upward glancing of an eye, when none but God is near.”

Long petitions, or many, cannot be always made; mind and body may be too weak and ill; but, “Arrows of the Lord’s deliverance,” as Augustine called them, “shot out with a sudden quickness”—these are ever in the power of the beleaguered Christian. And as Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote

“More things are wrought by prayer

Than this world dreams of.”

Now to the exposition of this passage:

Verse 13a: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.”

The primary Greek words for “Suffer” are pathema and its root pascho.

“The experience of physical pain and/or mental distress. To feel or bear what is painful, disagreeable or distressing, either to the body or mind; to undergo. [sic] We suffer pain of body; we suffer grief of mind. The criminal suffers punishment; the sinner suffers the pangs of conscience in this life, and is condemned to suffer the wrath of an offended God. We often suffer wrong; we suffer abuse; we suffer injustice.” –KJV Dictionary

Why does God allow suffering? Every doubter, Agnostic or Atheist asks the same question, “If there is a God, why does He allow suffering in the world?” All of the skeptics of history asked the same. “If there is a God why is He so unfair with His distribution of pain and suffering in the world?”

2 Corinthians 1:3-11, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation. For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does[a] deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our[b] behalf for the gift granted to us through many.

That we may be able to comfort others (Verse 4). Schools do not have courses about how to comfort others. But every believer has the Paraclete, the Comforter living in him. John 14:26, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” John 15:26, “But when the Helper (Comforter) comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.”

Who can understand what it’s like for a parent to gradually move into the darkness of dementia or Alzheimer’s than one who has seen it in their own mom or dad?

Who can understand the anguish of seeing a marriage and a family fall apart, than one who lived through it and survived?

Who can understand the loss of a child than one who has laid their most precious possession to rest?

Who can understand what it’s like to live with and alcoholic parent, than one who was made to suffer as a child watching a parent they loved slowly deteriorate into oblivion?

Who on earth understands? The person who has been through these situations wrapped in the blanket of God’s comfort. God’s choicest counselors are the ones who have endured the stinging experiences of life and made it through!

That we may not trust in ourselves (Verse 9). When Paul hit rock bottom, he knew he could sink no lower than the everlasting arms. Deuteronomy 33:27, “ The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Pain and suffering reduces us to dependence on God or dependence on self. Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God…” Job 13:14,15, “Why do I take my flesh in my teeth, and put my life in my hands? Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him.” Proverbs 28:26, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but whoever walks wisely will be delivered.” Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” James 4:8, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”

That in everything we might give thanks (Verse 11). You will never be able to handle this until you come to grips with the first two, comforting others and trusting in God completely, not yourself. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Verse 13b: “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.”

God wants His people to be a happy, joyful people!

Ephesians 5:17-20 NLT, “Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Colossians 3:126 MSG, “And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.”

God’s people have always expressed their joy through singing:

•Exodus 15:1-18, The song of Moses after the exodus. “I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea! The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation; He is my God, and I will praise Him; my father’s God, and I will exalt Him.”

•Judges 5:1-3, The first duet in history. “Then Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying: ‘When leaders lead in Israel, when the people willingly offer themselves, bless the Lord! Hear, O kings! Give ear, O princes! I, even I, will sing to the Lord; I will sing praise to the Lord God of Israel.”

•Exodus 15:20,21, The first women’s chorus, a refrain from Moses song of redemption. “Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. “Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!”

•1 Samuel 10:5, The first male chorus, “After that you shall come to the hill of God where the Philistine garrison is. And it will happen, when you have come there to the city, that you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with a stringed instrument, a tambourine, a flute, and a harp before them; and they will be prophesying.”

•1 Chronicles 13:8, Congregational singing. “Then David and all Israel played music before God with all their might, with singing, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on cymbals, and with trumpets.”

•1 Chronicles 16:4-7, David’s choir. “And he appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, to commemorate, to thank, and to praise the Lord God of Israel… with stringed instruments and harps, but Asaph made music with cymbals; Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests regularly blew the trumpets before the ark of the covenant of God. On that day David first delivered this psalm into the hand of Asaph and his brethren, to thank the Lord…”

1 Chronicles 25:1-7, 288 prophets were trained in music. ”All these were under the direction of their father for the music in the house of the Lord, with cymbals, stringed instruments, and harps, for the service of the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman were under the authority of the king. So the number of them, with their brethren who were instructed in the songs of the Lord, all who were skillful, was two hundred and eighty-eight.”

In Solomon’s Temple 38,000 Levites were appointed to the work of the Temple. Of these 4000 were singers and musicians.

•When Zerubbabel led a small group of Jews back to Jerusalem after the captivity, of these 200 were in the choir.

•In Nehemiah at the dedication of the wall. Nehemiah 12:40-42, “So the two thanksgiving choirs stood in the house of God, likewise I and the half of the rulers with me; and the priests, Eliakim, Maaseiah, Minjamin, Michaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah, and Hananiah, with trumpets; also Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malchijah, Elam, and Ezer. The singers sang loudly with Jezrahiah the director.”

When we become a Christians, the Spirit of God comes to live in us and when the Spirit of God fills us, we become joyful. A Spirit-filled Christian is going to be happy, it doesn’t matter what’s going on in his life or in the world around him, he still has a song.

Verses 14,15a: “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. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.”

Mark 6:13, “And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them.”

Anointing oil is mentioned 20 times in Scripture. The anointing oil in the Bible is the physical representative of a spiritual reality. Oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, who lives in us, “But you have an anointing from the Holy One… But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you” (1 John 2:20;27).

“The use of oil, both by the disciples of Jesus (Mark 6:13) and as recommended by James, was supplementary aid for awakening faith. The healing work is done by God's Spirit, offered freely to man's need and appropriated by faith, but material aids may sometimes prepare the way.” –Mitton

The act of anointing with oil is not intended to replace doctors, medical assistance, or healing procedures, we still have an obligation to work with health care or mental health professionals. God uses doctors in His healing!

So should the church follow James’ admonition to anoint with oil today? Could it be that the anointing oil, as a representative of the Holy Spirit, who is the divine agent in healing, causes the one being anointed to be made more aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence?

But also note that it is not the oil that heals, James says, “…the prayer of faith will save (make whole) the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” It is the prayer that moves God's hand, not the observance of the ceremonies.

This passage in James says nothing about the preacher calling the sick to come to church for prayer and anointing. It says that the sick person is to call for the elders of the church, and they come to him! In my years of ministry I have had people get mad and leave the church because I didn’t visit them when they were sick. Pastors are not omniscient! Don’t expect them to know when you need prayer! Tell them!

Verse 15b: “And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”

If it was the sin that caused the sickness, it also will be healed.

Disease and sin are two separate things, in other words, if something is a disease, it is not at the same moral level as sin or just because something is a disease, doesn't mean it's a sin. For example, calling drunkenness a disease or a sickness rather than a sin may seem to be a kind or gracious act, but it is just the opposite. You can’t be more gracious than God. To call drunkenness a sickness is to take away hope. Acknowledging that you sin is a huge step. A lot of people sin and don’t think there’s anything wrong with it while some people finally come to see how destructive sin can be. There is no pill that will cure alcoholism, but if, as the Bible says, drunkenness is a sin, then there is real hope, because Christ Jesus came not only to free us from the penalty but also from the power of sin.

God hates sin, but He loves the sinner. God does not simply overlook our sin and say, “You’re forgiven.” God’s forgiveness is not a disguise to hide our sins. It is complete! He takes away our sin, condemnation and guilt. God sees our sin and is ready to forgive us because Jesus fully took our sin on Himself and paid for our sin by his death on the cross. And God forgives all sin! Drugs, alcoholism, sex, pornography, and gambling, all sin will be forgiven when the person acknowledges the sin, admits the sin and asks God to forgive. By the way, all of the aforementioned is sin, these addictions are not diseases, they are sin, and only God can heal.

Psalm 103:12, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”

Isaiah 38:17, “For You have cast all my sins behind Your back.”

Isaiah 43:25, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.”

Micah 7:19, “You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”

Hebrews 10:17, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

God has so completely forgiven every believer, that He refuses to see or remember our sins. He has buried them, hidden them, cast them away, removed them from His presence, and blotted them out. We are completely forgiven for every sin we have ever committed, past, present and future.

Psalm 32:1,2, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”

Romans 10:13, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” 1 John 5:11-13, “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.” John 1:12, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.”

Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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