Yesterday I noted the connection between swearing and suffering. The book has come full circle. The application of the first principles he wrote about are fully realized in this context at the end of the book. Instead of swearing revenge upon others, or retaliating when we are mistreated, we are to pray.
Many circumstance, one reaction
Sometimes we don’t feel like singing songs of joy. When we are hurting, that is not usually a time of rejoicing. There is nothing wrong with allowing emotions to exist. They were created to benefit us (as long as they do not become our master).
There is a fine line between singing and praying though. James tells us to sing psalms. While that might refer to a particular genre of song selection, the point is not that the songs must be “psalms”. That kind of singing expresses the joyful emotion more, so he referred to it there. The point is, in both good times and bad, reach out to God.
It’s easy to forget God.
We forget Him when we suffer as we seek vengeance and retribution.
We forget Him when we rejoice because we do not appreciate what God did for us.
And we also forget Him when we are ill, because we might think nothing can be done to help us.
But James also tells us to call upon others to pray for us when we are ill.
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 (James 5:14-15).
Elders and prayer for the “sick”
There are two different words in these verses scholars translate as “sick”. In verse 14 the word literally means, “to be weak (without strength)” (Robertson’s Word Pictures). In verse 15, it means, “to grow weary”. They basically have the same meaning, but they could contain different applications.
Perhaps the meaning of verse 14 implies sickness or disease. The oils were probably medicinal oils used to soothe and help a body heal. In this case, the elders were there to administer oils, in care of the person. That is what elders do. They are shepherds, and sometimes that includes helping others through difficulties in life. Certainly this is not restricted only to elders, but there is a reason he chose to single them out. And that relates to the second application, in verse 15.
When we, Christians, face disease and the possibility of death from it, this is a dangerous time for us. It is more difficult to see how we can bring about joyous circumstances because we are facing the possibility of the coldness of death. It is easy to panic, to forget God, and even to allow the disease to overcome our faculties to the point that we become downtrodden and depressed.
Depression is devastating to a Christian.
People in such situations need others to come to them, to remind them of the pathway of life. People need leaders to show them that God is still there for them, and that even if they face death, they will see Him on the other side. They must offer hope!
The best healing is not of the body, but of the spirit. We need others to help guide us in those dark times, so that we will continue to pursue the processes of godliness. And who better to do that than our elders? These are the men who have grown in wisdom and clearly understand how to navigate the storms of life. These are the ones who are the wise instructors, who can see the paths of righteous decisions and have the faith to make those choices properly.
Some of this time spent with the sick in prayer is also time spent in instruction and edification of the spirit. Here’s why. It states at the end of verse 15, “And if he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.”
Obviously, the prayer of an elder cannot bring forgiveness to one who refuses to repent. Their prayers do not negate the truth of the Gospel and the need for the sacrifice of Christ to be applied to sins. But the GOAL is spiritual edification. If that means that the person is “healed” spiritually, then that is their aim. It may include discussion of sins as well.
It might seem harsh to bring up sins when a man or woman is on his sick-bed, perhaps facing death. But what better opportunity to help remind that person of his spiritual nature? How easily we get wrapped up in the pain of sickness and give up our spiritual focus. Instead, a leader will gently lead a person to remember his faith and the proper decisions of life he still faces.
And speaking of people who are facing sickness, there are others who are not physically ill who need help too. So we are to help one another. We are to confess our trespasses to one another, so that we may also be healed. This refers to spiritual healing (another reason to suspect that James 5:15 relates to the healing of the spirit). In this case, we are told to confess our sins. We are to be open and frank about sins we may commit. Not only will it lead to forgiveness, it will also lead to healing.
Healed or forgiven?
There is a difference between being forgiven and being healed.
Asking for forgiveness without identifying the root of sin and exposing it is worthless. If we don’t expose the root decisions that lead to sin, and work to correct those decisions, we will find ourselves walking back into those sins once we are forgiven.
Openness about sin allows others the opportunity to help us identify the causes of the sin, and allows them to guide us in finding solutions for meeting our needs in a godly manner.
And sometimes we just need help. We need the perspective of others. We need people to pray about our pathways and to ask God for that wisdom necessary to make the correct decisions.
This passage does not mean that the whole church should know every secret we hold. Surely wisdom dictates caution, because not every Christian can be trusted, and not every Christian is wise enough to help you. But don’t allow that reasoning to stop you from reaching out to others for perspective. Consider that there may be people in the church wiser and stronger than you. There might be some who have faced similar challenges and found the pathway of godliness through personal toil and struggle. Perhaps there are others who have greater faith and can more readily ask God for help.
Remember that James said we should ask God in faith, without wavering (James 1:6). You may have doubts and you may be wavering in your commitment to overcoming your sin, but others can be there to hold you up. Other people, righteous ones, can approach God with full confidence and faith. And they can do great things to help you as a result.
James reminds us that God listens to the prayers of the righteous. A great example is Elijah, and he is used to teach us that the power lies not in humans, but in God. Elijah was a man, just like all other men. But God heard him and responded. If you are hurting, wounded, and doubting the path of godliness, maybe someone can pray for healing rains to come into your life like Elijah did.
And perhaps you are righteous and faithful and you can be there to build up the weak and the faithless. Perhaps you are one who can pray and God would bring healing to others. This is a most noble work! You are not just saving a person from heartache, you are saving a soul from eternal destruction.
The point of these passages dealing with different states we face is simple: Maintain faith in God and His processes, no matter what situations you face in life. That’s really the point of the entire book.
Whether you face mistreatment, disease, depression, cheerfulness, sin, or even spiritual strength, never forget that the pathway to eternal joy can be found in every decision in this old world.
Grow your faith by learning to identify the processes of God.
Increase your faith by regularly making the right choices in life.
And if you are blessed enough to have strength in difficult times, reach out to others and help them. Your faith will grow exponentially when you do. Identify and walk that pathway, and your life will be enriched beyond measure.
Consider joy, my brethren, when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him (James 1:2-5).
See you tomorrow!