By Sam E. Stone
This month’s theme, “Learning to Pray,” helps us consider the topic of prayer as found in the books of Luke, John, Hebrews, and James. We have already reviewed Jesus’ model for prayer, his prayer for his disciples, and his intercession for us.
The letter of James is one of the most practical books in all of Scripture. The writer emphasized not just what one should believe, but how one should behave. Most scholars believe that the James who wrote this letter is the half brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). This James became a leader in the church in Jerusalem a few years after the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; Galatians 2:9).
Call for Prayer | James 5:13-15
The first category of people who should pray includes those who are in trouble. A. T. Robertson wrote, “What church or community does not have one or more of these occasional or chronic sufferers? The word has a wider meaning than mere bodily sickness. Paul used it for suffering hardship as a good soldier (2 Timothy 2:3, 9; 4:5). It includes any kind of ill of body or mind. It means, literally, having hard experiences, and it refers to natural depression as a result of such misfortunes.”
At the same time, there are those in another group—the happy. These folk display strong, positive passions. Such people have hearts filled with joy, optimism, and laughter. These folk need to express the feelings inside them too! “Cheerfulness in adversity can indeed be displayed by Christians,” as R. V. G. Tasker pointed out. Even in difficult times Christians can display joy (Acts 24:10). In every good situation, God is to be praised. Romans 15:9 quoted Psalm 18 in making this point. Ephesians 5:19 and 1 Corinthians 14:15 reminded believers to make melody in their hearts to the Lord.
James next mentioned what the sick should do. Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. Roman Catholics used this verse to develop their practice of giving “last rites” (extreme unction) to the dying. Their practice is different from what James commanded, however. The sick person is not to call a priest, but the elders; they come not to prepare the person for death, but recovery. Rather than having everyone confess their sins to a priest, James said to confess your sins to each other and pray for each other.
Sharing in Prayer | James 5:16-18
Prayer is appropriate in both private and public instances of sin (Matthew 18:15-17; Acts 19:18). In some cases the confession and forgiveness of sins may be directly related to healing. In every situation it is important that Christians pray for each other. “A righteous man’s prayers differ from the prayers of others by virtue of their earnestness and their fervency” (Tasker). The results of such prayer may include both physical healing and healing of the soul. The term heal is used in both senses in the New Testament (Luke 8:47; John 12:40).
The prayers of a righteous person are both powerful and effective, James explained. He used Elijah the prophet as an example to make his point. In his case a severe drought was sent upon the land as a sign to Israel’s wicked king (1 Kings 17:1). Elijah’s holy life made his prayers even more effective, both in the sight of God and with all who knew him. He provided a supply of food to the widow of Zarephath and even brought her son back to life. Here James alluded to Elijah’s dramatic contest with the prophets of Baal, and the deluge sent by God (1 Kings 18:41-46). Then the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
In the verses immediately following our printed text, James reminded his readers that it is not just the responsibility of the church elders to guide those who have sinned back into righteous behavior (James 5:19, 20). A special blessing is promised to the one who “turns a sinner from the error of their way.” By so doing, that person will both “save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” n
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.