James 5:13-16 (NASB) “Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises.14Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;15and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins,they will be forgiven him.16Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”
Introduction: As a pastor I often experience the direct impact illness and suffering has in the lives of church members, my own family and in my own life. The subject of God’s healing power and will to heal has been an issue that I have found to be both encouraging and mysterious. Oftentimes when reading anything on the subject, one will encounter one of two extremes: either God wills all Christians to be healed or He is in a general sense no longer performing miraculous acts of healing in the church. To offset these two extreme positions, this blogger has found James 5:13-16 to be very helpful in shedding light on this very personal, emotionally charged and what can be spiritually liberating subject.
Main point and plan of this study in James 5:13-16: In order to encourage the study and application this text, a fresh exegesis on James 5:13-16 will be offered, along with life applicational headings and commentary. Along the way we will to do the necessary spade work of digging into the Greek text of James 5:13-16. In order to insure the maximum benefit to the most readers, ample English commentary will be given. Any comments made will aim at shedding as much light as possible on the text and lead out its meaning – which is the goal of exegesis. Pertinent cross references, word studies and background remarks will also be presented to aid insight and study.
The motive in taking the time to work through James 5:13-16 is to provide a resource anyone can use to apply the discovered truths either to themselves or in the teaching and preaching of the text. In the course of preparing this particular posting, this author discovered that several shorter posts would achieve more than one long posting. Hence, the next several posts aim to achieve the following main point: to better understand God’s will and purposes in the healing of Christians who submit themselves to the prescribed rite of anointing with oil. The reader is urged to pray and ask the Holy Spirit for illumination prior to study. The Spirit is the One who makes the text plain to the believer’s understanding and application. (see 1 Corinthians 2:10-13; 1 John 2:20,27)
A Quick note on the identity of James: James was the half-brother of Jesus according to the flesh and was likely the author of this earliest of New Testament letters. The Book of James (or as it is called by its Greek title: “The Book of Jacob”) predates the Gospel of Matthew by at least five years, making it the first composed canonical book of the New Testament. James’ letter gives insight into what the early church practiced and believed in what was less than 15 years after the birth of the church on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. One of the areas James enables us to sort is what the early church believed on the subject of healing, confession of sins and prayer. James would had witnessed first hand the healing ministry of his famous half-brother Jesus. Even though James did not believe on Jesus as the Messiah, Savior and Lord, he did believe on Him following a post-resurrection appearance by Jesus to him according to 1 Corinthians 15:7. James’ Epistle is valuable in that it has many parallel statements and teachings similar to Jesus, including healing. This brief background aids in us seeing how important James 5:13-16 is in enhancing one’s understanding of physical healing in the scriptures.
With our introductory remarks made, we will begin by considering the necessity of prayer when dealing with sickness.
The Necessity of Prayer when dealing with sickness. James 5:13
James 5:13 Κακοπαθεῖ τις ἐν ὑμῖν, προσευχέσθω· εὐθυμεῖ τις, ψαλλέτω·
Commentary: James begins with the question: Κακοπαθεῖ τις ἐν ὑμῖν; (Is anyone among you suffering affliction?) The verb Κακοπαθεῖ (ka-ko-path-ay) according to Greek Scholar William Mounce refers to “suffering evil or afflictions, to be troubled, dejected and to show endurance in the face of trials.” The verb here in James is a present active indicative verb, meaning that James is addressing those readers whom are currently experiencing not just mental, but also physical afflictions. The context of the passage suggests physical ailments being experienced in the congregation.
To see where this particular verb is used elsewhere in scripture, Paul writes to Timothy In 2 Timothy 2:9 : “for which I suffer hardship (ἐν ᾧ κακοπαθῶ) even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned.” Paul was in a dungeon and undoubtedly was facing physical difficulties due to exposure and deteriorating conditions. In the one other place we find this verb in the New Testament, 2 Timothy 4:5, the context suggests more emotional difficulties found often in ministry: “But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship (κακοπάθησον), do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” Clearly there were people in the church who were sick, otherwise James would not had raised the question. What is his suggestion? Keep on praying, which literally translates the present middle/passive deponent verb προσευχέσθω in the text. We sometimes pray once or twice for people and then give up. In the text of James 5:13, whatever praying was begun, it must not cease. We should not give up whenever we don’t see immediate results to our prayers. As preachers of old have often noted: “God’s delays are not God’s denials”.
In typical Jewish style (James of course was a Jew, writing to Christians who came from Jewish backgrounds), James expresses the exact opposite scenario of people who are experiencing joyful, relatively problem-free seasons: εὐθυμεῖ τις, ψαλλέτω· (“is anyone experiencing cheerful times, then let him sing”). This Jewish device of stating extreme contrasts of human experience served to represent the wholeness of life. The point of James is to focus on how the Lord’s presence is just as necessary in difficult seasons as delightful ones. (See Ecclesiastes 3 for example). Singing the praises of God and being thankful enables one to cultivate a life of prayer, which in turn makes praying for healing a natural (albeit a supernatural) part of the Christian life! Hence prayer is a necessary pre-requisite when it comes to preparing oneself for what could be a supernatural response from God.
By the grace of God I was converted to saving faith in Jesus Christ at the age of 10 and called into the Gospel ministry by age 17. Through the Lord's grace I completed a Bachelors in Bible at Lancaster Bible College in 1996 and have been married to my beautiful wife since that same year. We have been blessed with four children, ranging from 7-18 years of age. In 2002 the Lord enabled me to complete a Master of Arts in Christian Thought at Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield PA. For nearly 25 years I have been preaching and teaching God's Word and have been studying the original languages since 1994. In 2016 God called my family and me to move to begin a pastorate at a wonderful Southern Baptist Congregation here in Northern New York.