Seeking Wisdom in Difficult Days
A Study of James
The Power of Prayer
James concludes his writing with one last big idea. “The main thrust of this section is the power of prayer and its appropriateness in every situation of life. Prayer is encouraged in times of distress (v. 13), elation (v. 13), sickness (v. 14), and sin (v. 15-16a) and in assisting fellow Christians in striving for righteousness and spiritual health (16a).”
My Response to Life Is to Pray and to Praise (vv. 13-15)
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? 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. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray” The word suffering does not just refer to bodily illnesses, but rather it means “adversity,” “suffering hardship.” It is the stress of a strenuous circumstance that leads to an action, or a reaction. Its when a person has experienced hardship and now they are affected by the situation. What is the first thing we do or say when hardship, stress, and adversity comes our way?
If we are the person suffering, we are told to pray, but not just one time but as an ongoing habit. “Prayer is a blessing to the heart and to the mental life. It is good to talk with God and our worry disappears in the presence of the Lord.
So, what should we pray for? There are times when we are so stressed and suffering so much we don’t even know what to say, or what to pray for. Often times we want to hardship and suffering to end and we pray for the pain to stop.
Paul prayed that the “thorn of his flesh” would be removed. It wasn’t. Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane “that this cup would pass from me.” It didn’t. You can pray for it to end, but sometimes that’s the season you are in. So, here are some things that you could pray for:
Wisdom (James 1:5) One of the things we will see later in the text is that people are watching how you are going to respond – so we need wisdom to respond and deal with the suffering appropriately. Many a foolish word and action has been done while people are under suffering, but God has promised to give you the wise words to say, and the wise action to take, if we ask Him.
Endurance – stress and suffering will over time take it toll on your spirit, your body, your health, so as God for strength to endure.
Reading and Studying the Word of God – as you read and study it, take God’s Word and pray it back to God. When you don’t know what to say, let God give you the Words to say.
“Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise” James starts with someone being low, and then turns to someone’s mood being cheerful. How then should we respond when things are good, delightful, and over all calm? Prayer and praise are the Christian’s emotional outlet. When we are troubled we pray, when we are cheerful, we sing. We also should avoid the temptation to pray less when things are good. If times are hard, we pray. If times are good, we pray.
“14 Is anyone among you sick? 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. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”
If the person is sick they are to call for the elders (plural) of the church. This was already a Jewish custom for the town elders to be called in for prayer when a person was very ill. The emphasis was on the praying, (not healing) and continues the theme from the earlier verses.
The same phrase for “anointing with oil” is used in the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:34 “He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.” Olive oil was thought to have medicinal properties and was used in a wide variety of ailments.
There is a lot of misunderstanding surrounding this verse. For example, Roman Catholics use this verse to support their idea of Extreme Unction – which prepares a person for death, but the intention of the text is to continue life. There are no miracle healers, no matter what they say, no one can lay hands on someone and miraculously heal them. It also is not a mandate to not seek medical attention.
“Some may wonder why James does not mention calling in the doctor! That is where it is needful to keep in mind the New Testament setting of the epistle. Doctors were few in those days; their skills very limited, and they were very expensive – as the woman with the issue of blood, who had spent all her substance in consulting them, in vain, so sadly experienced (Luke 8:43).” The sick Christian today calls the doctor, but James is emphasizing the power of prayer for the sick. It is both, not either or.
The spirit, the mind, and the body are one unit – all need healing, all are affected by our sin, our repentance, and our relationship with other believers.
So, while there may be lots to discuss about the anointing with oil, the basic idea is to surround yourself with leaders from your church who pray with you, when you are gravely ill.
So, the question then is why elders verses any other Christian? Why the pastors, verses people from your Sunday School class? This text is not easy to interpret, so I am going to give you my interpretation. This book was written to the persecuted church, who had been scattered – people had to leave their ancestorial homes, reestablish homes, businesses, and create new lives – while also having to live with the reality that as soon as you do this, you may have to do it again. They were beaten, many were slaves, and they still are living under persecution.
This person who is gravely ill could be sick from all this stress, perhaps abuse from persecution, and they may even be asking, “why is this happening to me?” What have I done to deserve this illness?”
What they need are people to say, “The Lord is with us, You made the right decision by following Christ,” to appropriately rub their wounds with care and concern, and to share Scripture with them, pray with them as they are working out this horrible time in their life.
Jesus in his healing ministry often touched those who were sick. “He touched the hand of Peter’s wife’s mother, and the fever left her (Matt. 8:15); when two blind men called upon Him to have mercy on them, He asked, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” and on their reply, “Yes, Lord” He touched their eyes saying, “according to your faith, be healed,” (Matt. 9:29). He touched the tongue of a deaf-mute (Mark 7:33); He touched the ear of Malchus (Luke 7:14); He touched the leper and made him clean (Luke 15:13); In none of these cases did Jesus need to touch them, He could have done this with a word.”
The sin here may be related to how he has reacted to the stress of the persecution the church is experiencing. They may have lost their temper, grumbled against another church member, got in a fight, who knows what the sin may have been, but they need help in navigating back to God and seeking forgiveness. (which in many ways brings a different kind of healing).
But the result of the elders prayers is two-fold, “(1) the sick person is made well (sozo)’ and (2) the Lord will raise him up (egeiro).”
God’s Response to Our Prayers (vv. 16-18)
16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
Whenever we see the word, “therefore” what follows is tied to what came before this word. We are to pray when are suffering, sing when we are cheerful, surround ourselves with fellow Christians when we are ill who are praying for us, therefore –
In order to confess our sins to one another there has to be a high level of trust and love.
Matthew 5:23-24 “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
The power of a righteous person is focused here on interaction with other people. A righteous person is asking forgiveness for sins (from others publicly that they have wronged), they are praying for the sick, for other believers, and a great amount of effort is going into praying.
“The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” This means that the righteous person is able to do, or is enabled to do (by the Holy Spirit) – their prayer has a powerful effect. “Such a prayer can have noticeable consequences on a person whose sickness is the result of sin, as long as (or especially if) the sin has been confessed.”
In the original language of James it reads, “prayer to pray” “The Scottish Covenanters used to speak of “gaining access,” – There is a difference between just saying a prayer, and in our praying really to pray: to know that we are not only communing with God, but are constrained to express in prayer the yearnings of the heart of God Himself. That is the “effectual fervent prayer.”
James then gives the example of Elijah, 1 Kings 18:42-45 “And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees. 43 And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again,” seven times. 44 And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’” 45 And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain.”
He had his weaknesses, as all humans do, but God heard the prayers of Elijah. James is emphasizing Elijah’s effort in prayer, that is why God sent the rain when he asked.
“with a nature like ours” The same man who is mentioned in 1 Kings 18, (a righteous man of prayer) is also the same man in 1 Kings 19 – who runs scared for his life from Jezebel.
He is emphasizing that what Elijah did was not “a magical performance of a superhuman being but the act of man in all regards exactly like ourselves, who simply used prayer as we can likewise use.” Elijah dared to take God at his word.
Elijah’s prayers “resulted in the refreshing rain coming down to the earth, so the prayer of the righteous believer can result in the refreshing and healing of a Christian afflicted by sickness caused by sin.”
Our Response to the Wandering Sinner (v. 19)
19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
The very last verse of the book of James deals with a brother in Christ who has wandered from the “truth.” They have believed the lie of the world and have been enticed away. The Greek word for wanders has the “picture of one who is lost in the mountains, who has missed his path. . .”
1 Peter 4:8 “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”
This last verse speaks of going after someone who has gone astray because you love them (not in judgement, or spite, or to show them that you are right), but simply acknowledging that they are headed into a dangerous area, and you love them enough to pursue them.
The verse is not saying to accept the person’s sin and flaws, but when the person repents the love for them is going to give you ability to see past their previous mistakes. Proverbs 24:24-25 “Whoever says to the wicked, “You are in the right,” will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations, 25 but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them.”
The church is not a country club, a fraternity or sorority, or Kiwanis – membership is open to all based on one condition, and it is one that everyone who calls themselves a Christian must hold to, repentance. All of us have sinned and fallen short, and we all must repent and turn to the forgiveness of Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:18 “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” Our collective ministry is to go after the wandering world and reconcile them back to God. In the instances of Jesus’ healing mentioned earlier, Jesus was going to them, or passed by them as “he was going.” Jesus took the initiative, we must take the initiative.
Also, there is no incentive to go after a wandering brother for you, the benefit is that the person may return. Love for someone else is the sole motivation, and this comes from our being aligned with the purpose and calling of Christ. James says, “will save his soul from death”
This life is filled with pain and suffering, and many times it is the result/consequence of our sin. When we reconcile a sinner back to the Lord, we are saving them from this eventual pain and suffering.
“James presents the joy of the winner of souls who throws the mantle of love over the sins of the repentant sinner, the joy of the Shepherd who has found the lost sheep out on the mountain and is returning with him in his arms, the joy of the Father who welcomes the prodigal boy home with the best robe and the fatted calf, the joy of the presence of the angels that one sinner has repented and turned unto God.”
The end result of the wanderer being restored to the Lord, and that he is not remembered, not branded, as the person who sinned and wandered away, the sin is remembered no more.
 Clifton Allen, Gen. Ed., The Broadman Bible Commentary, Volume 12 (Nashville, Tennessee; Broadman Publishing, 1973) 136.
 Pray is given as a present tense of durative action. Robertson, 186.
 Lehman Strauss, James, Your Brother (Neptune, New Jersey; Loizeaux Brothers, 1980) 208.
 “The expression “elder” designates persons entrusted with leadership and teaching in the church (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2; 16:4; 20:17; 21:28; 1 Tim. 5:17-19; Titus 1:5; 1 Peter 5:1,2; 2 John 1).” Pheme Perkins, Interpretation A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, First and Second Peter, James, and Jude (Louisville, Kentucky; John Knox Press, 1982) 136.
 Allen, 137.
 Ibid, 138.
 Herbert F. Stevenson, James Speaks For Today (Westwood, New Jersey; Fleming H. Revell Company, 1966) 95.
 Peter H. Davids, New International Biblical Commentary, James (Peabody, Massachusetts; Hendrickson Publishing, 1989) 122.
 Stevenson, 96.
 David P. Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary, James (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan Publishing House, 1997) 307.
 Nystrom, 307.
 Elijah’s prayer was for God’s people to turn back to Him, and he did this by praying for a drought. God’s people would suffer during this time. It is given as an example and is linked to other Christians who are praying for other sick or wayward believers. Therefore, one may pray for hardship to come upon someone in order to get them to turn back to God.
 George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 12 (Nashville, Tennessee; Abingdon Press, 1957) 72.
 Strauss, 222.
 Nystron, 308.
 Allen, 196.
 Ibid, 199.