13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them 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 them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. ~ James 5:13-15
Today, our study of the book of James brings us to a passage that has been difficult to understand down through the centuries. The key to the correct interpretation of any passage is always the context. Each section of Scripture must be interpreted in the light of the whole, the whole book, the whole chapter, and in light of the whole paragraph. Context is the environment of thought in which a given passage is contained.
One of the four half-brothers of the Lord Jesus, James, wrote this letter to a group of Jewish Christians who had been driven from their homes and were being severely persecuted for what they believed. And, through this wonderful epistle, James calls his readers to remain faithful to the Lord Jesus.
In today's text, James focuses us on prayer which is mentioned in every single verse in James 5:13-18. The endurance of the believer in Christ in the faith is dependent upon prayer. At the heart of our faithfulness to the God of the Bible is prayer. And, the primary focus of this passage is clearly the casualties of the battle: those whose faith had been seriously weakened by the trials they were experiencing.
In v.13 of today's passage we read, "Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise."
In v.13 the word "trouble" means to suffer evil treatment. When we suffer, we must turn to God for help. When we turn to God and we talk with Him, we pray. Prayer to the Christian is like oxygen to the lungs. Corrie ten Boom likened prayer to the steering wheel on a car.
In v.13, James addresses those who are happy and he exhorts us to sing to God songs of praise. The point is we should be living our lives out of our personal relationship with God, no matter how well or poorly life comes at us. Connection to God is the key to our faith, wisdom and ability to live the life the Lord Jesus died to give us.
In v.14 of today's text we read, "Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord."
James moves, next, to the one who has lost the ability to endure the suffering. Here, James introduces us to the fallen warrior. There are several terms, in the New Testament, that can refer to sickness or disease. The word James used in v.14 means "weak, feeble, or impotent."
In 2 Corinthians 12:10, the Apostle Paul uses this very same word. In context, Paul speaks of his thorn in the flesh which he prayed that God would take away, and He never did. God said, to Paul, according to 2 Corinthians 12:9, "My grace is sufficient for you; My power is perfected in weakness." Then in v.10, Paul wrote, "That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." The very same word James used in James 5:14 translated "sick," Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 12:10 for "weak" or "weakness."
So, the better translation of James 5:14 is: "Is anyone among you weak? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord."
This makes better sense since James has been addressing throughout this book those who are weak in faith rather than those who are sick. Then, James exhorts the weak to call for the elders of the church because they are spiritually strong. They are more likely walking with the Lord and they subsequently are aligned with His will.
The word used here in v.14 translated "anoint" means to rub with oil. This word was used of pouring oil over someone’s head and/or feet, rubbing them with oil. Oil was the base of soap, and it literally could refer to washing someone.
In Luke 10:34, the Good Samaritan put wine and oil on the beaten man. The fermented wine cleansed the man's wounds. So, to say "to anoint with oil" literally meant to pour oil on the wound of the weak believer.
In that day, when the shepherd would bring the sheep into the fold, he would check each sheep over to see if there were any wounds. And, if a sheep had a wound, the shepherd would pour oil on it and the oil would soothe the sheep. In v.14, James uses the practice of pouring oil onto a wound to describe the ministry of prayer that the elders of a local group of Christians have over believers under their care.
James exhorts us to pray "in the name of the Lord." That is, pray according to the will of the Lord Jesus, on the basis of His authority and power and in His merit. You see, it is only through Christ that God hears and answers our prayers according to His will.
In v.15 of today's text we read, "And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven."
The word James used here translated "sick" is never used in the scriptures to describe sickness. The word James uses here, κάμνοντα, means "to be weary." This word is only used one other time in the New Testament. It is used in Hebrews 12:3, which reads, "Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."
Here, κάμνοντα is translated "weary." This word is used by the writer of Hebrews to describe those, who in the midst of persecution, are learning to fix their eyes not on their trouble but on their Savior. This is the importance of prayer which is designed to enable us to focus on the Sovereign of the universe.
These to whom James wrote were struggling to endure because of their trials which had caused them to lose the intense desire that is needed to persevere in the faith. James reminds us the prayers offered in faith by those who persevere in the faith will restore those who are weary and have lost heart. The word "restore" means to deliver or to rescue. When we have lost our perseverance, we will be restored to perseverance through the prayers of faith offered up by godly people on our behalf. The idea here is that we must not suffer in isolation. God has placed us into His family in order to benefit from the spiritual gifts and abilities of one another.
At the end of v.15 we read, "If they have sinned, they will be forgiven." This word translated "forgiven" literally means "to send away." This means that if sin is involved in causing the weakness, whatever it is, it has been sent away and it is gone. The sin is to be sent away, but the sinner is not to be sent away.