Chapter 5:12-19 Prayer and Confession of Sin
12. But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but let your yes be yes and your no be no, that you may not fall under condemnation.
13. Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise.
14. Is any 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 sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
16. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.
17. Elijah was a man of like nature with ourselves 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 the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit.
19. My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back,
20. let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
We have come to the end of our study on the Book of James, but these final verses are some of the most dynamic and exciting verses in the entire work. You have probably noticed this letter doesn’t end like Paul’s letters with an outline of his travel plans and greetings from his fellow ministers in the Gospel. This makes us wonder where exactly the conclusion of this book begins.
Verses twelve through twenty do have a consistent theme that reinforces the rest of the book and they revolve around speech. James addresses oaths, prayers, and the admonition to persuade or encourage people who have drifted away from God to return. Though we can’t be sure where the conclusion begins it would seem verse twelve is a natural break from the first eleven verses of chapter five.
Verse 12 But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but let your yes be yes and your no be no, that you may not fall under condemnation.
The Old Testament doesn’t prohibit oaths, in fact when a person makes an oath they are encouraged to keep it. (See Lev. 19:12) Of course we can’t read verse 12 without being aware of the similarities with Jesus teachings regarding oaths in Matthew 5:34-37 “But I say to you, do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is His footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘yes” or ‘no’; anything more that this comes from evil.”
Both Jesus and James are saying that the life of a Christian should be so honest that their word is their bond. It doesn’t seem that James is addressing legal demands for Christians who must take oaths in court cases, but is instead dealing with aspects of daily life. If you say you will do something for someone then do it seems to be the bottom line.
Verse 13 Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise.
Hellenistic letters usually have a health wish as their conclusions while many of the New Testament letters leave their readers with prayer for their ministry. (See Rom. 15:30-32; Ephesians 6:18-20) James combines the two in presenting the necessity of prayer, especially when it relates to physical ailments. This was important for James’ readers who faced persecution and opposition, not only from the wealthy, but also from the communities to which they had moved.
In Ephesians 6:18 Paul writes, “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18a he writes, “pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances.” James thinking parallels Paul in verse 13 that the Christian who faces trials can only face them through prayer. We are not sure what the sufferings are that the Christian community was facing but they are probably consistent with the problems alluded to in the earlier chapters of the book.
It is important to notice that throughout the book of James his readers are encouraged to endure the suffering and persecution that has come their way. (See 1:2-4, 12; 5:7-11) We are encouraged to face the storms of our lives with the proper attitudes and with the right spirit.
The verb translated in the RSV as cheerful is rendered happy in the NIV, but regardless of the translation the meaning of the Greek euthymeo relates to a persons state of emotion. The verb is used also in Acts 27:22 and 25 where it denotes peace of mind that Paul encourages his fellow passengers to have regardless of the storm tearing apart the ship.
James has put together a very interesting relationship between the idea of suffering and cheerfulness in the verse. When we face problems we seek God in prayer, but we should also seek God in praise and worship when things are going well for us. All our emotions should be lifted upwards to God and as a result, whether in trouble or in good times, we will find peace of mind and security in the wonders of God.
Verse 14 Is any 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;
Just as when we suffer persecution or setback we should not forsake prayer, the same is true when we face sickness. The interesting aspect of this verse is that when someone is sick the emphasis is upon calling the elders of the church to come and pray. In verse 16 James encourages the church to pray for each other’s healing so he is not being exclusive in verse 14. It seems that the leaders of the church were to be spiritually in tune with God and have the experience to pray for the sick as representatives of the congregation. In a sense they stood as mediators on behalf of the sick and their prayers were directed heavenward in intercession on behalf of their ill brothers and sisters.
The verse also mentions that the elders are to anoint the ill with oil in the name of the Lord. (See Mark 6:13) There are numerous thoughts on what the anointing stood for, but it would seem from much of the literature on the subject that the anointing is symbolic. It represents the setting apart of the person for special attention and care on the part of God. Verse 14 is the only verse in the N.T. letters that combines anointing and prayer for the sick and the fact that many people were healed without anointing shows the practice is not necessary for healing.
Verse 15 and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
Please notice it is the prayer of the elders that is being talked about in this verse. We are never to doubt that we are not good enough for God to answer our prayers if they go unanswered. The role of the elders is to pray for God’s will to be done. If it is God’s will that a person be restored to health at this time then it will happen. If, on the other hand, God sees fit to not restore the health the person he still has the assurance that he will be raised up at the Last Day. Even more important, however, than physical healing is the need for forgiveness of sins.
Verse 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.
This is the only verse that encourages the congregation to confess their sins to each other as well as pray for each other. In verse 15 it is imperative for us to remember that it is prayer of faith and not the elders that will save the sick man. James now jumps from the elders to the entire congregation entering into prayer and confession of sin so that there may be healing within the congregation. Whatever this illness is that has infected parts of the congregation James believes it has entered into their midst through sin and the believers need to corporately denounce it and confess openly their role in the sin. The prayers of those who stand with God and trust in His saving grace have great power in their prayers because they are praying people.
Verse 17 Elijah was a man of like nature with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.
Verse 18 Then he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit.
What impresses James is the fact that Elijah was a man just like his readers and yet God could use him in a mighty way. Every believer has the ability to draw on the power of prayer just as Elijah had done. Elijah’s prayers were fervent and non-wavering in the assurance that God would hear him and answer. Once again it is important for us to remember that Elijah wasn’t making this stuff up as he went along but he was praying that God’s will be done. The greater good that he was praying for was that the people who had rebelled against God would see the miracles of God and return to him in repentance and asking for forgiveness.
Verse 19 My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back,
Verse 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
If any one of the congregation should apostatize then the church should go after him or her to restore them to the body of Christ. How different with our own churches in our modern day. Often the only care a wayward Christian receives from his home church is a letter or visit from the pastor asking to take their name off the books. We carry out evangelistic series and scour the city for new members and willfully ignore so many brothers and sisters that once fellowshipped amongst us. I have a friend that lives practically next door to his home church and no one from that church has visited him and his wife in ages in spite of the fact my friend stopped going to the church years ago. We talk a good fight about caring for each other, but do a poor job of carrying through with our swagger.
As Christians it seems strange that we can sit back and enjoy our own salvation while others drift away from God and we do nothing to try and prevent it. Verse 20 couldn’t be clearer. If a Christian is successful through the work and leading of the Holy Spirit to encourage a person who has left Christ in returning to Christ then that Christian has pointed the wayward person back to salvation. The result is that the wandering Christian has his sins covered and forgiven and forgotten. They have been delivered from death to eternal life.
Thank you for studying along with us and in the next few weeks I will be starting a new study. If you have any suggestions on a book you would like to study together please drop me an email at ladd @thebeggardanced.com