By Randy Dillon
James 5: 13-20 “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 one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit. Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.”
This final passage in the book of James considers several independent topics around the theme of bringing fellow believers into a deeper understanding of man’s sinful nature and God’s redemption. The central focus is on the power of prayer to be effectual in its agency of healing and redemption. The opening two rhetorical questions seem to be complementary even though the moods are contrary.
The first finds someone in sickness, the second finds someone in happiness. The response to sickness is to pray. The response to happiness is to sing psalms or praises. In each case, one is to give to God the glory of our present condition, whether suffering or joyful in our circumstances. But hereafter the writer concentrates on the one who is suffering. If anyone is physically ill they should first pray for themselves. Then he is to call upon the leaders of the church to join him in his requests. It is the Christian’s solemn duty to offer prayers for themselves, but it is likewise the obligation of church leaders (and also fellow believers) to join in those prayers. The subject of anointing with oil is a Jewish concept that is carried-over into the Christian era. Recall that James is Jewish and often reiterates Jewish themes. There is no effective healing in the application of oil itself. However, oil is not only medicinal (remember the Good Samaritan) but it is also found in scripture as representative of the Holy Spirit. In essence, anointing with oil is an acknowledgement of man’s contribution in the physical realm and God’s total control of both the physical and spiritual realms. Oil is to be applied in the name of the Lord because it is only in His will that healing takes place.
The second portion of this scripture connects prayer not only to physical healing but also to the forgiveness of sin. Prayer cannot only bring about healing in the body, but God can use such a dependence on prayer to raise a sick person to health and to forgiveness of sin. Notice that it is the prayer of a righteous man that avails or is effective. The soul that prays for health or anything else while simultaneously in disbelief and rebellion toward the Almighty cannot expect his petitions to be rewarded. To illustrate this, James makes reference to Elias (Elijah) and the prayer that this righteous prophet of God submitted to God in punishment of King Ahab and the Israelite nation for their rejection of God’s laws and commandments. He prayed for drought and God withheld rain for some three years. When the time came for God to reveal his power, Elijah prayed that God would unleash the heavens with rain. Elijah’s effectual prayer in God’s name and in God’s will brought about the relief from the drought and many souls were saved as the people turned once again their hearts toward God.
The final portion of this marvelous book deals with the interactions of Christians when there is error in our understanding of scripture. While Christians may differ on small matters of scriptural interpretation, the fundamental doctrines of God’s Word must be followed. When a professing Christian is in deep error of understanding the Word, it is necessary to correct such a misled fellow believer by helping them with a correct understanding of scripture and the walk that emanates from that scripture. In doing so, James tells us that we will have saved a soul from spiritual death and assisted him in a greater acknowledgment of the truth. A soul will be saved and sins forgiven. This action must be taken in love, not arrogantly and self-righteously. It is also probable that this act is not only to the profit of the one deceived, but also to the one that “converts” or corrects the misled brother.