Short Teaching on James 5:13-16
This short article was written on request by someone who was seeking an understanding of a familiar, but commonly misunderstood and misapplied passage of Scripture. I hope the Lord will speak to your heart through it.
Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing psalms. 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. 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. Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. [James 5:13-16]
I'll break this down in sections, but also keep in mind the complete thought as they are connected...
James asks, Is any among you afflicted?
First of all, "affliction" in this case does NOT refer to sickness as James addresses what do to with anyone who is sick in the next verse. Being afflicted means to be attacked or persecuted for the sake of the gospel. It can also mean afflictions that are the byproducts of poor choices we have made that are against the will of God, which as the Scripture says, Do you not know that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey, whether of sin unto death, or obedience unto righteousness? [Romans 6:16] Some afflictions can therefore be simply that we are reaping what we have sown.
In either case, the remedy is to pray, which doesn't necessarily mean to petition God, but prayer is the vehicle of our relationship with God--whether it be asking for wisdom, studying/reading His word, or simply enjoying quiet time with Him, meditating without saying a word. All of this is prayer (or fellowship), and so I conclude that the relief of any affliction is through your relationship with the Lord. If these afflictions are a result of the gospel or if you're being persecuted for the gospel's sake (or for Jesus' sake) then prayer will give you the peace and assurance to rejoice in these things because we have not been redeemed from persecution for the gospel's sake.
I think the part about being merry speaks for itself... Make a joyful noise unto the LORD. (Psalm 66:1; Psalm 81:1; Psalm 95:1-2; Psalm 98:4-6; Psalm 100:1) and could be related to rejoicing in the afflictions for the gospel's sake as Paul did (Acts 16:25).
James asks, "Is any sick among you?" James asks if "ANY" are sick, which means ANYONE who is sick. A remedy (and I say "A" remedy because the Scripture teaches other means by which healing is brought to a person) for the sick person is for THEM to call the elders of the church (assuming the elders believe in laying on hands to heal any sickness) and have them pray over the sick person anointing them with oil. And the "prayer of faith" SHALL save the sick.
The word elders isn't necessarily referring to the position of elder within a local body, although it is likely that during the years of the early church when everyone believed in healing, this would be so. However, most churches don't make a regular practice of laying on hands to heal the sick. They simply refer people to the doctor today. An "elder" was translated from the Greek word "presbuteros" which in English is "presbyter" or senior member of the church. I believe it is NOT the fact that a person is an elder that fits this requirement, it's whether they know how to pray the "prayer of faith". Often this prayer is a prayer of petition "asking" God to release His power with the faith-killing disclaimer "If it be Your will..."
This is NOT the prayer of faith--it's a prayer of unbelief!
The prayer of faith is taught by Jesus in Mark 11:22-24, And Jesus answering said unto them, 'Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, 'Be removed, and be cast into the sea'; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he said shall come to pass, he shall have whatsoever he said.
Therefore, the "prayer of faith" is to speak to the mountain--(in this case sickness is the mountain) and command it to be removed (healed) in the name (authority) of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it SHALL (in either verse the word "SHALL" is used to declare an absolute certainty) save (heal) the sick. Using the word "SHALL" declares an absolute certainty that if the sick person has actually "called for" or requested the elders of the church to come to him to be healed of his sickness, and the prayer of faith is made, then the person SHALL BE HEALED!!! There is NO asterisk or disclaimer saying "If it be God's will". God's will is clear that His desire is to heal ALL or ANYONE sick.
Therefore, if the person is not healed, either one of two things occurred (and neither of them have to do with God or His will): either the sick person did not "call" the elders in faith but by a religious practice or at the request of others who were believing; OR the elders present did NOT make the prayer of faith.
The word translated "saved" here is from the Greek "sozo" which is translated saved, healed, delivered, made whole all throughout the New Testament. The words are interchangeable because all of these things are contained within the salvation or atonement of the Lord Jesus. (You may read my article Healing is Part of the Atonement of Jesus Christ for further elaboration)
We know that this passage is NOT dealing with forgiveness of sins because James deals with forgiveness in the next verse: and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. I think that is self-explanatory and yet is also related to what Jesus taught in Mark 11:22-26 where, after Jesus teaches the prayer of faith, He deals with forgiveness of sins as well. Unforgiveness on the part of the recipient and/or person praying can hinder the power of God from flowing because most people who have unforgiveness (at the heart level) are not able to receive from God because they are not forgiving to others.
This is NOT God withholding His power until a person decides to forgive. This is a spiritual law through which the power of God flows--much like the law of electricity--electrical current flows best through copper. Therefore, in order to get the best results, you must use copper wires and not something like bailing twine.
So, if you want the best results from God's power, you must forgive others as you have been forgiven for Christ's sake.
James continues, Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.
Here, James deals with relationships... that if there is a conflict between people, he says to "confess YOUR fault" one to another, which means that you confess what YOU did wrong--and leave the other person's mistake or fault to them--for THEM to confess. Too often, we confess the other person's faults instead of our own. He says, "confess your faults" and pray for each other "that you may be healed." This "healing" is not referring to healing of sickness as James has already dealt with this issue in verse 14. Rather, this "healing" refers to the reconciliation of relationships and healing of any conflict among people.
Finally, James sums up the entire teaching with these words, The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails (or accomplishes) much.
Again, James is NOT referring to someone who fervently petitions God for things and for things to change, but rather, through a person's fervent and dynamic relationship with God, he (or better yet the Lord through him) is able to accomplish much in terms of making an impact in people's lives.
I know that James relates the earnestness of Elijah the prophet of the Old Testament to his previous statement; and this does not contradict what I'm teaching here. It was because of Elijah's relationship and faith in God that things happened in his ministry. If we understand that prayer is simply relationship with God as the Scripture says, Pray without ceasing… (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and Jesus said that men ought always to pray, and not to faint (Luke 18:1) then these passages become much more obvious.
It is the dynamic relationship with God that is produced by diligent seeking of His will which accomplishes much in this world.