by William J. Stewart
Last week, we considered Elijah, the wonderful example which James uses to demonstrate effective fervent prayer. This week, I want us to look at the context of James 5, and see this inspired man’s musings on prayer.
That it is a text on prayer is evident. Notice:
- v 13, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him PRAY.”
- v 14, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them PRAY over him…”
- v 15 “…the PRAYER of faith will save the sick…”
- v 16 “Confess your trespasses to one another, and PRAY for one another… The effective fervent PRAYER of a righteous man avails much.”
- v 17, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he PRAYED…”
- v 18 “…he PRAYED again…”
Prayer Is A Help In Times Of Suffering
There are numerous examples in Scripture of individuals who in difficult circumstances turned to God in prayer. Recall Paul and Silas, in the inner prison at Philippi, at midnight were singing and prayer (Acts 16:25). Jesus, in agony regarding the trial which was about to come upon Him “…prayed more earnestly” (Luke 22:44). The prophet Jonah “…cried out to the LORD…” from the belly of a great fish (Jonah 2:2). On many occasions, the Psalmist found solace in bringing his trials before the God of heaven (Psalm 18:6; 50:15; 118:5).
If we are suffering, we ought to bring our cares to the Lord, for He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). When we’ve laid our burdens before the Lord, then we can experience “…the peace of God which surpasses all understanding…” (Philippians 4:6-7).
Prayer Is A Help In Times Of Sickness
What sickness does James have in mind here? Is he speaking about physical ailments, or spiritual trouble? Certainly, either could work. If we are suffering physical infirmities, we ought to bring such before the Lord. He has the power to heal the body, and can affect our bodily health for good. If we are physically ill, then we ought to petition God’s favour.
However, it seems more likely the thought on the mind of the inspired writer was spiritual illness. In calling for the elders, one is calling for those who are charged with shepherding the flock (Acts 20:28). This, in conjunction with the mention of possible sin, and the need to confess sin and pray for one another in the following verses leads us to believe James had the spiritually weak in mind here.
If we are spiritually weak, we need to enlist the help of those who are spiritual to build us up. The Hebrew writer encouraged us to “…make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed” (Hebrews 12:13).
Prayer Of Faith Will Save The Sick
Again, the application in verse 15 could be either physical or spiritual, but given the context, spiritual seems to be the intent. If we are aware of one who is struggling in the faith, we should be praying for that person. “The prayer of faith will save the sick.” Recall Cain, who inquired of the Lord, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer is yes. And especially so for us, who are of the household of faith. Thus, when one is struggling or perhaps has turned from the faith, we should seek to turn such a one back (James 5:19-20).
1 John 5:16 says, “If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that.” If one has given in to temptation, if one has stumbled in the faith, we need to pray for that one. Both James and John tell us our prayers can affect the spiritual well being of others.
Confess Your Trespasses … And Pray For One Another…
This instruction demands that there be a great trust and confidence with our brethren. Many may shy away from sharing their struggles, fearful that such will be publicized or through shame, wanting to maintain a certain stature in the eyes of others. However, the intent of the command is so we might be helped and strengthened in faith; for we are enlisting the help of others who are focused on eternity to help us in our struggles.
The intent is not the pursuit of new topics for gossip. It is not to find information with which to blackmail an individual later. The purpose of the command is to help one another overcome sin. We see an example in Acts 19:18, where we are simply told, “…many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds.” They did not hide their faults, but confessed them. They sought the help of their brethren. Notice the end result:
“Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.” (Acts 19:19-20)
May we see the great power of prayer, and learn to be effective and fervent in prayer, so that God may accomplished great things in us and through our petitions.