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James 5:13-20: Ministering to Each Other Print E-mail
James
Sunday, 31 May 2009

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There are many today who feel that involvement in the local Church is not important.  They might ask this question: ‘Where does the Bible tell me to be involved in the local Church?’  How should we respond to such a question or to a person who professes to be a believer but does not see involvement in Church as something that is important?  One of the ways that we can respond is by pointing them to passages that give us commands that necessitate community involvement.  For example, think about all of the passages that call us to encourage one another and exhort one another.  Or the passages that call us to love and care for one another.  Someone might try to claim that they can do that without the Church, but my argument would be that you cannot do that without relationships to other believers and those relationships are best built and cultivated within the local Church setting.  Thus, in order to be faithful to these ‘one another’ commands we need to be involved in the local Church.

As James brings his letter to a close, he gives us some commands that necessitate Church involvement.  As Paul pointed out last week, he has exhorted us to be patient in our suffering.  He gives us even more direction this week concerning dealing with difficulties.  There is some overlap in these commands and in one way or another they all demonstrate our need for relationships with other believers, or local Church involvement.  I want to identify three ways from this text that we should minister to one another as followers of Christ.

First, we should pray for healing (v. 13-18). 

In verses 13-18 there are several imperatives that James mentions, but the focus is prayer.  He actually exhorts three different groups to prayer in these verses.  Let’s consider these. 

First, the one suffering should pray.  Look at verse 13.  Although James is primarily dealing with sickness in this passage, that does not mean that sickness is all that he tells us to pray about.  He has already called us to have patience when we suffer and one of the ways that we can continually do that is to pray.  Physical sickness may be a part of that suffering, but it can cover other difficulties as well.  When we face such suffering, James tells us to pray.  Not only that, but James also exhorts us to give God praise when we are cheerful.  How are we to do that?  James tells us to sing.  And think about it, James has already told us to count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds (1:2), so when should we be joyful?  Thus, when should we be singing?  Singing is just not optional for the Christian.  Whether we are suffering or cheerful, James tells us to look to the Lord.

Second, the one who is sick should call for the elders to pray.  Look at verse 14.  Although we cannot unpack everything that is being said here, let me just offer a few comments.  First, if you are still wondering why I believe in a plurality of elders, then maybe this text can help.  James says that the sick person should call for the elders (plural) of the church (singular).  Granted, he could be speaking of the Church universal, but that seems unlikely here, especially when you look at Paul’s practice of appointing elders.  Second, along with praying the elders are to be anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  Some see this as medicinal and disregard it.  Others view it more ritualistically and think that anointing is necessary for healing.  I do not agree with either approach.  I do think it is appropriate for elders to anoint with oil today.  Oil was certainly used for medicinal purposes, but it is not the oil that is doing the healing here, which leads to my next thought.  Since the anointing is not the focus and the oil is not what heals (not to mention the fact that others are healed without anointing in the New Testament), I do not think that anointing with oil is absolutely necessary.  Rather, anointing symbolizes our faith and trust in God, which is the focus here (see v. 15).  Thus, it is valid, but not always necessary.

Third, the community should pray for healing.  Look at verse 16a.  The elders are called to pray over the individual, but they are not the only ones to be praying.  James commands us to pray for each other.  Again, without Church involvement it is hard to call elders and hard to know how to pray for each other.  We need to be praying for healing for one another as a Church.

Yet, how are we to pray?  James does not give us words but he does tell us to pray with faith.  Look at verse 15.  Look also at verse 16b.  James wants his readers to know that there is power in prayer.  He wants us to know that prayer can do amazing things and even gives us the example of Elijah in verses 17-18.  Look at those with me.  Prayer is powerful.  Elijah prayed and the rain stopped.  He prayed again and it returned.  And lest we think that he was some kind of super-human prophet, James reminds us that he was a man with a nature like ours.  So, does all of this mean that every time we pray for healing people will be healed and that if they are not, then we just do not have enough faith?  No, although many make those conclusions, they do not take into consideration what all the Bible has to say about healing and prayer. 

The Bible teaches us to believe that God can always heal, it does not teach us that God will always heal.  There are times when God gives individuals (or communities) a gift of faith that He is going to heal an individual.  Yet, the Bible does not promise healing in every situation.  Our bodies wear out and we die.  Of course, even death for the Christian is ultimate healing (and some see the reference to the Lord raising us up as pointing to this).  Let me just tell you how I try to bring this together in my thinking and practice.  As the elder in this Church, I will pray for any who ask for healing (anointing them with oil when appropriate).  I will pray believing that God can heal and I will ask for the gift of faith (see 1 Corinthians 12:9) and the gift of a healing, submitting myself to and trusting in His sovereign will over our lives.  I will use (and encourage others to use) medicine and procedures when appropriate and applicable, knowing that God can and does use these to heal at times.  More could be said, but let me stop there.

Second, we should confess our sins (v. 15-16).

In the middle of James’ instructions about prayer, he also calls us to confess our sins to each other.  Look at verses 15-16.  Once again we see the necessity of relationships because confession involves a speaker and a listener.  I don’t think James is calling us to confess all of our private sins in all of our public meetings.  Rather, in light of other passages (see Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 5), I think we should confess public sins publicly and private sins privately.  Thus, we have to use some wisdom here, but we must avoid the conclusion that says confession is just unnecessary.  James will not allow that. 

One issue that comes up when considering these verses is the connection between sickness and sin.  Does all sickness come from sin?  Jesus actually tells the disciples that that is in fact not the case (see John 9:1-3).  Likewise, James’ inclusion of the conjunction ‘if’ agrees with Jesus’ statement.  Yet, this does not mean that there is no connection at all between sin and sickness.  James obviously sees some connection.  Paul makes a connection in 1 Corinthians 11 when he points out that many of the Corinthians were sick because of their improper practice of communion.  Thus, we do not want to see every sickness as a result of sin, but we do not want to dismiss the idea altogether either.  Any sickness should remind us that death is coming and should therefore call us to confession and repentance.

Third, we should confront any wanderers or wandering (v. 19-20).

James offers one final way we should minister to one another in verses 19-20.  Look at those verses with me.  James knows that confrontation is not easy.  None of us get very excited about confronting someone over their sin (and if we do, we may have another problem altogether).  Yet, James encourages us by reminding us what is exactly at stake.  Sin is not to be trifled with.  Leaving the path of truth is not safe.  It is treacherous and can only lead to death, by which James means spiritual death.  The old hymn captures our struggle well: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.”  This is why the author of Hebrews warns us: Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall way from the living God (3:12).  Just because we have professed faith in Christ does not mean that we can dabble in sin and wander away from truth.  The writer of Hebrews goes on: But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (3:13). 

We are called to fight for one another that we might not give in to our temptations.  James writes to encourage those who are laboring in this hard work of confrontation.  And once again we see the importance of community implied in this command.  How can we fight for each other and confront sin if we do not have meaningful relationships with each other?  Unfortunately, we often take the stance: ‘Well, other people’s sin is none of my business.’  Although I understand the thought, we have to realize that we are called to watch out for each other and encourage each other to remain on the path of truth and righteousness.

The New Testament writers emphasize the fact that Jesus came and died to redeem a people.  Yes, we must individually repent of our sins and place our faith in Christ, but we do not do this in a vacuum.  No, we are called to community.  We are called to live out our faith in Christ together.  So then, in light of our text this morning, what plan do you have to pray for healing in this Church?  Let me encourage you to be involved in our corporate prayer on Wednesday nights, where we gather to pray for one another each week.  Also, take advantage of our prayer inserts and let people know that you are praying for them.  What plan do you have to confess your sins to others?  Are you involved in any kind of accountability group?  I have been meeting with Matt and Andy for a few years now and I am so thankful for that weekly opportunity to confess my sins to two brothers who love and pray for me.  I encourage you to find someone and build a relationship of confession and accountability with them. 

Finally, what is your plan for confrontation?  It’s an odd question, but let me state it this way: do you have the type of relationships with the people in this Church that you could go to a person and lead them away from sin or they could come to you and do the same?  If not, then work on that by being vulnerable and involved.  Jesus came to redeem a people.  He has called us to work out our salvation together in this place.  James has warned us against being double-minded and having dead faith.  May we be a people who avoid those errors by ministering faithfully to each other.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Saturday, 11 July 2009 )

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