Book of James Lesson Thirteen
by Dr. Michael Cochran
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BOOK OF JAMES BIBLE STUDY (CONCLUSION)
LESSON #13 - (James 5: 13-20, NIV)
TITLE: THE PRAYER OF FAITH
DR. MICHAEL COCHRAN
APPLICATION: How I live affects my ability to intercede for others.
JAMES 5: 13-16
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.
James inquires as to whether some of his audience might be suffering for the Lord. If so, they should pray. The tense of verse indicates that they should keep on praying—persisting in prayer, prevailing in prayer.
Of course, prayer is not a magical formula that will make suffering go away. Perhaps God will remove the trial, but that is not the main concern. By his emphasis on prayer, James shows us the needs, the faith, and the patience of the Christian community. This ideal is suggested by the parallel admonitions, “trouble? He should pray” and “happy? Let him sing.” These suggestions show us that a Christian's highest privilege is communication with God.
The church is also to care for the physically afflicted. Those who are sick should call for the church leaders. The Christian faith is one of concern for the whole person. The spiritual gifts Paul lists in 1 Corinthians 12 include “gifts of healing.”
Just as Jesus was concerned about the sick and suffering, His church is to carry a burden for their needs. Asked what the greatest Commandment was, Jesus replied: “ 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40). The two loves cannot be separated. They are the basis on which the whole revelation of God rests.
The elders are to anoint the sick and pray over them. In Judaism the elders were the men who made up the Sanhedrin, a civil government body. The elders James writes about are religious leaders. They are in charge of worship and discipline. As representatives of the Christian community, they are depicted as standing over the bed of the sick one to pray for that person and to anoint him or her with oil in healing love and ministry.
We should not assume that James is speaking against medicine in this passage He nowhere hints that its use would be contrary to faith. The Bible does not put a tension between medical assistance and divine assistance. Prayer does not replace the use of God-given knowledge; it supports it. When Paul exhorted Timothy not to drink water, but “use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Timothy 5:23), he was offering medical advice for Timothy's physical problems.
As to whether it is God's will to heal every sick person, there is much debate. Some feel that it definitely shows a lack of faith to pray “if it is your will.” Some believe that the 39 stripes Christ received represent the 39 major diseases that afflict people. That is why Isaiah said “by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5), these people say. However, even if someone dies for whom prayer has been offered up, if they are Christians, healing has taken place in the ultimate and best sense. Through Christ's atonement that person has been completely restored.
Still, others object to the whole emphasis on physical healing. They say that Isaiah did not speak of physical healing, and that when Peter quoted the above verse from Isaiah he did so in a completely spiritual sense (1 Peter 2:21-24). Furthermore, spiritual giants like Paul suffered (11 Corinthians 12:7-9), Timothy had infirmities (Timothy 5:23), and Trophimus was left at Miletum sick (11 Timothy 4:20). In addition, many of God's saints throughout history have suffered physically—Charles Spurgeon, Francis Asbury, David Brainerd, and Fanny Crosby, to name a few.
What seems certain in this confusing dispute over healing is that ultimately the sick will be made whole: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
As if it isn't enough that there is division over healing, scholars are divided as to what the anointing oil means. A. T. Robertson interprets this reference in verse 14 as indicating a standard medical treatment. Olive oil was often used in the practice of ancient medicine, both internally and externally. This usage appears in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
The verb “anoint” is used in medical tracts to mean “rub.” According to Robertson, the elders were to apply medicine and pray.
However, others have pointed out that olive oil could not be a medical prescription for all sickness. Besides, there is an additional precedent for the ceremonial use of oil. When the disciples went on their preaching mission, “They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them” (Mark 6:13). Oil is frequently used as a symbol for the Holy Spirit in the Bible and may be understood as representing such a use here. If this is true, James is prescribing a ceremonial act by which the Spirit's ministrations are entreated.
Whichever view we accept, both ideas are Biblical and acceptable. All means of healing should be used, and especially should the church intercede for divine help and blessing; and nowhere can that divine help and blessing be found more readily than through the act of confessing sins to each other.
JAMES 5: 17-20
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. 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.
Lest someone think that such power in prayer belongs only to the elite or superhuman, James reminds his readers of Elijah, a person subject to the same passions as the rest of us. How human he was! Though he prayed that the rain be withheld and it was (1 King 17, 18), he also prayed to die when the wrath of Jezebel was kindled against him (1 King 19:4). God said no to that prayer! But in any case, Elijah did pray, and that was the secret of God's moving in his life. Whatever may be our human failings, if we pray, our faith can endure.
This matter of endurance is a vital part of the life of faith, as James shows in verses in 19 and 20. The verb translated “to wander” has several different meanings. However the primary idea is “straying,” suggesting the gradual alienation from spiritual truth. Another meaning is that of “being deceived.” Jesus warned that “false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible” (Matthew 24:24).
The point is that a person who is kept by the power of God through a vital, active, well-disciplined faith is in a position not only to save him or herself from error but to rescue others also.
Such is the benefit of the fellowship of the church—a saved and saving community. It is in the spirit of this caring community that James fittingly concludes his letter: “Remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”
QUESTIONS TO PONDER:
1. Over the years, what has encouraged you the most to be persistent in prayer?
2. According to verse 16, how can you make your prayer life more effective?
3. Do you keep a list of answered prayers? What are the benefits of doing so? Are there any dangers?
4. How do you personally deal with unanswered prayer? How do you explain it?
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