James 5:13-15


Bible Study Notes
Pray for the Sick
James 5:13-15


The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh, Senior Pastor at Indian Hills Community Church in Lincoln, NE. The text has been edited and condensed by IHCC staff for use as a Bible Study aid.

Intro. - Biblical Christianity provides something unique and special: a personal relationship with the living God. It was for this purpose that Jesus Christ was born, died on the cross and rose again. Faith in the person and work of Christ provides forgiveness of sins and makes one a child of God.

One of the greatest privileges this new relationship brings is the privilege of prayer. Because of the work of Christ and our new relationship with God, through Him we are given the right to come directly into the presence of God in prayer (cf. Heb. 4:14-16. Note the contrast with Prov. 28:9).

It is to this important subject of prayer that James now turns our attention. In 5:13-18 the word for prayer occurs at least once in each verse.

Sometimes this emphasis on prayer is missed because of the confusion that exists in determining the significance of the sickness and healing that James talks about here.

In the midst of difficult situations that demand patience (5:7-11), rather than complaining (v. 9) or resorting to oaths (v. 12), the believer should turn his attention to his God. Pressure ought to drive us to prayer.

James will look at the general situation (v. 13) and then deal with a specific area relating to sickness (vv. 14,15).

5:13 -
(kakopathei) refers to difficulty or hardship of any kind. Whatever trial and heartache the believer might be going through could be included here.

Let him pray - Whatever type of suffering the believer is experiencing, he is commanded to turn to God in prayer. This is given as a command (present imperative).

We are to turn to God our heavenly Father for strength and help in time of need. James begins his letter by exhorting believers to find wisdom for handling trials by turning to God (cf. 1:2-5).

The word cheerful (euthunei) portrays the opposite of suffering. This person is "trouble-free," so to speak, one who is experiencing joy and happiness.

Let him sing praises - Again, our attention should be centered on God and on praising Him for His goodness. The center of our life and attention, in good times and in bad, is to be on our God.

James proceeds to give more detailed instructions for those who are sick (astheneo). This word is often used in the New Testament of those who are spiritually weak or immature (cf, Rom. 14:1,2; 1 Cor. 8:11,12). Some feel that James is talking about those who are spiritually weak and discouraged and thus in need of spiritual strengthening.

This word is also used on numerous occasions for those who are physically ill (20 of the 34 usages are in this category. Cf, John 4:46,47; 11:1,4,14; Acts 9:37). This is the more common understanding of James' use of the word and seems to fit the context better. This does not mean that the other application is not true, just that it is not the emphasis of James in this passage.

Let him call for the elders of the church - Again, this is given as a command (aorist imperative). The person who is ill takes the initiative in this case.

Consistent with the rest of Scripture, there is a plurality of elders in the local church (cf, Acts 14:23; Phil. 1:1). The word church is used both of the universal Church, comprising all believers everywhere (cf. Matt. 16:18; Eph, 1:22; 3:10), and also of the local church, made up of believers in a specific location meeting together (cf. Acts 5:11; 1 Cor. 4:17; Phil. 4:15). James is talking about the local church.

The local church is the overwhelming emphasis of the New Testament epistles and is the focal point of God's program for His children today.

The elders are commanded to pray over the sick person (aorist imperative). This is the prime ministry they perform on behalf of the one who has called them.

anointing him with oil - While the basic command is to pray over him, they are also to anoint him with oil. This has occasioned much discussion as to exactly what is happening.

Some make much of the distinction between the two words used for "anointing" in the Scriptures. The word chrio is used of sacred or religious anointing, while aleipho, the word used by James, is a more mundane word. This is taken to indicate that James is recommending the anointing as a medicinal practice. Thus we have a combination of medicine and prayer.

It is true that anointing with oil was used medicinally in biblical times. However, we should note that it is the prayer that brings about recovery, not the anointing with oil (v. 15)

There is the question of why the elders would be involved in giving the man an oil rubdown or bath if indeed this is a medicinal use of oil. Physicians were available.

Some see the oil as symbolic, representing the Holy Spirit and picturing His ministry in bringing healing through the prayers of the elders.

The Bible makes reference to the common practice of using oil in connection with grooming and bestowing honor.

  • In Matthew 6:17 it is used to express good grooming and joy (cf. Ruth 3:3; 2 Chron, 28:15).
  • In Matthew 26:7 and Luke 7:38,46 it is used as a mark of honor (cf, Ps. 23:5).

(Each of these passages except Matthew 26:7 uses aleipho for "anoint.")

This seems close to what James had in mind. It seems fitting that the anointing with oil in the name of the Lord pictures the joy and happiness of this occasion (cf. "oil of joy," Ps. 45:7; "oil of gladness," Isa. 61:3; Heb. 1:9).

5:15 -
James has already stressed the importance of faith in our prayers (cf. 1:5-8). The prayer of the elders offered in faith is effective in restoring the health of the sick person.

The word translated "will restore" is the normal word for salvation (sozo) and is translated "will save" in 5:20, It is used often in the gospels of restoration to health (cf, Matt. 9:21,22; Mark 5:23,28,34; 6:56; John 11:12; etc.) and that is the idea here.

if he has committed sins (third class condition) - This is the first indication that sin may have been the cause of the illness, This does not say that sin has clearly been the cause, but raises the possibility, While these sins may have been a pattern or repeated, they have been stopped - although the consequences are now being experienced.

they will be forgiven him - God stands ready to forgive, In this case the forgiveness seems related to the healing. The first part of verse 16 seems to support this.

5:16 -
ties this to what has preceded and summarizes what he has just said. Two things are prerequisite for healing: confession of sins and prayer.

If this sickness is the result of sin, it would explain why the elders are called to pray and anoint with oil. There is a recognition of the consequences of sin and a desire to deal with it.

The anointing with oil expresses the joy and gladness that accompanies this occasion of reconciliation.

The rest of the passage will support this conclusion, as we will see in future studies. James is going to deal with the two matters he mentions in verse 16a, but in reverse order: the effectiveness of prayer and the importance of confession.

Note: There is nothing in this passage to support the Roman Catholic doctrine of extreme unction. The activity here is with a view to the restoration of the sick person, not his death.

Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977. All quotations used by permission.

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Permission was received from Indian Hills Community Church for the posting of this file on Bible Bulletin Board. Our gratitude to the Holy Spirit for leading Pastor Gil Rugh to preach/teach messages that are bold, and doctrinally sound—they are so needful to this generation.

Tony Capoccia
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