An Exposition of James 5:13-18
While other things are mentioned in this context, the over-all theme is prayer. In fact, prayer is mentioned in each of the 6 verses in this thought block. The rest of this series will be an exposition of this passage in a verse-by-verse format.
James 5:13 “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” [All Scripture is taken from the ESV unless otherwise noted]
There are 2 ideas in verse 13 for the Christian to consider. This first idea is for the one who is suffering to pray. So many times the Christian avoids prayer. It may have something to do with what was discussed earlier about the ignorance of how prayer works. It may have something to do with a lack of faith in the power of God. Maybe it is a lack of faith in the existence of God in general. So many people suffer without turning to God, and then turn around and blame Him when things do not work out. This Christian should ask himself “if I believed that God had the power to help after the suffering, why did I not ask for that power during the suffering?”
Granted, no individual understands the full will and purpose of God in detail. Some may pray during their suffering and never clearly see God work. This may discourage continual prayer in said suffering, and it also may discourage prayer in future suffering.
Jesus was all too familiar with this reality in the moments before He bore the cross. “In this dark moment, with His life slipping away, Jesus turns to the only resource He has. He prays. Like us when we are overwhelmed by disastrous events, Jesus also turns to God when facing the hardest challenge of all” (David Thurman, Gospel Minutes).
However, this does not mean that Jesus turned to prayer as a last result. He turned to prayer because He had a relationship with the Father, and He knew that God would guide Him to what is right and best in that situation. Prayer is a declaration of one’s faith in God, not a ritualistic fix to one’s problems. If a Christian sees someone who is suffering, He should encourage them to pray. No trial or temptation is or will ever be bigger than the God, who is over all creation.
Secondly, verse 13 suggests that if anyone is happy and cheerful that they should sing praises to God. The word used here for “happy” is not the way Americans usually use the word. It is used with a different semantic understanding. David P. Nystrom says in The NIV Application Commentary that, “The word he uses (euthymeo) conveys something far more than the superficial happiness dependent upon circumstances. Rather, it refers to a deeply rooted happiness, a contentment of heart” (pg. 304).
In Matthew 5 Jesus said that the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the gentle, those who long for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the persecuted are all blessed. The word blessed means that no matter the circumstance, there is a peace that passes understanding that brings inner joy. James is not saying “if you feel emotionally happy you should sing.” He is saying “If you are suffering, pray, and while you are waiting on the Lord, realize that He gives you inner joy. Sing praises to Him for this!”
James 5:14 “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.”
The first question that might come up concerning this passage is “why are so few (if any) elders anointing the sick of the congregation with oil anymore? The Scripture explicitly states this as something that needs to be done.”
If it was to be something that was to carry on as a spiritual command, we would see more in the context. Here are two points that better explain this:
First, it ought to be noted that this reference to “anointing with oil” (James 5:14) is extremely abbreviated. Nothing is specifically stated in the context as to the design of the practice. Second, there are no contextual indications that this anointing with oil had any sort of spiritual basis that would make it universally applicable or perpetually obligatory. If this was to be a requirement for the universal church for all time, it would seem to be a reasonable expectation that some foundation for the practice might have been supplied. (Wayne Jackson)
However, it should be noted that prayer and seeking help from elders is a principle that can and should be carried over from the first century forward. Elders are righteous men who should pray for the suffering of their flock. Many attempt to suffer alone instead of seeking help, but there is so much to be said for one who believes they can be healed through prayer.
James 5:15 “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.”
It is obvious that the Lord would forgive the sins committed by the sick individual if they are a Christian who is repentant. It is also obvious that the Lord is more than capable of healing someone of a sickness. The question in this passage is concerning raising him up.
The conjunction “and” certainly combines the prayer of faith to the previous context of elders praying over the sick. However, “and” also combines the sick and raised up to the forgiveness of sins in this verse. Some struggle to see if “raised up” is concerning a physical or spiritual thing It seems that if one takes in the context that it is directly speaking of physical healing, and indirectly speaking of spiritual healing. The point is that a prayer of faith in God can do amazing things.
James 5:16 “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.”
The word “therefore” should be considered here. It is combining the previous few verses with the verse that is at hand. There still seems to be 2 points here just like in the last verse. First a physical point, and second a spiritual point. If Christians confess their sins to one another and pray for one another if they are struggling physically or spiritually, they will be healed.
Also, the Christian must acknowledge that if he is indeed a Christian, he is also righteous. God will do what is best according to the prayer of the righteous, but the wicked should not expect such a blessing. “The Bible writers stress throughout the text, from the Old Testament to the New, that sinful, rebellious people should not expect to have God answer their prayers in a positive way. Only penitent, obedient followers of Christ are promised God’s listening ear and His active hand in their lives” (Kyle Butt, Apologetic Press).
Verse 17 & 18
James 5:17-18 “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. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.”
Elijah was one of the great prophets of the Old Testament. He is found primarily in 1 and 2 Kings. He was a man of great faith and righteousness. This is so much so that people even confused John the Baptist and Jesus with him.
His faith was so great that God even ceased the rain when asked, and let it come when he asked again. This is the power that a righteous man has through God. This is the power of prayer. Douglas J. Moo says in Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: James that, “It is not Elijah’s special prophetic endowment or unique place in history that interests James, but the fact that, though he was a man of like nature with ourselves, his prayer had great power in its effects” (pg. 188).
There is much that could be said about the book of James. There is much that could be said about verses 13-18 of James 5. There is so much that could be said about prayer in general. However, when taking these 3 ingredients and studying what God’s will is concerning them, we learn so much about His, power, love, and knowledge. A prayer of faith is surely a precious and amazing thing. – Jesse
Suggested Reading Before This Article: Prayer and James 5:13-18 Part 2