#158 “THE PRAYER OF THE RIGHTEOUS” (JAMES 5:13-18)
In this episode, Jason tackles the many interpretations of James 5:13-18 and offers up some clarity on prayer, anointing, and healing.
13 Is anyone among you suffering (kakopatheo, to suffer misfortune; hardship; distress; physical pain)? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful (euthymeo, to be encouraged; good spirits)? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick (astheneō, to be weak or weary; faint-hearted; to be incapacitated; ill; to be plagued)? Let him call for the elders (presbyteros, a person of authority; teacher; counselor) of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing (aleipsantes, to rub or massage with oil) him with oil in the name of the Lord. In the place of ‘swearing’ oaths, James affirms Christians to pray and sing praises to God no matter the testing or trial. Negotiating with God is never the answer (5:12). Praying in faith is (2:18; 5:15). Tasker writes, “The habit of prayer should be, and indeed is, one of the most obvious features which differentiate a Christian from other people.” Suffering—Grief is unbearable at times. It can make you feel that God doesn’t care, and therefore, lose hope in prayer. However, that is far from true. Let him pray—James’s first imperative to suffering is to pray. Cheerful—It’s easy to lose sight of God when you are blessed and free from trials. Sing praise—James’s second imperative is to offer God praise when you are blessed and free from trials. Among you sick—Some scholars think the ‘sick’ that James is referring to has only to do with physical illness. The same Greek word (astheneō) in the Gospels means physical illness/disease. Others make the case James is mainly dealing with someone who is spiritually depressed. Let them pray over him—James’s third imperative is to have others pray on your behalf. Calling upon the elders (mature believers in Christ) to pray in faith to God over a troubled individual is the primary act for healing, not the anointing of oil. Notice, in verse 15, James writes, “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” NIV Application Commentary, “The sick person should call the elders of the congregation to come, to pray over him, and to anoint him with oil. Proskaleomai (“to call”) suggests that the situation is dire and requires measures that are somewhat extreme.” Anointing him with oil—In the OT, oil was used to set someone apart for God’s services (Ex. 28:41), to appoint kings and priests (2 Kgs. 9:12; Ps. 45:7), and oil was heavily used for medicinal purposes (Lk. 10:34). Accordingly, “rubbing oil” is a metaphorical act that implies the need for elders to refresh and encourage the fainthearted.
15 And the prayer of faith will save (make well; restore from discouragement) the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. James gives further clarification that he is addressing weary Christians in need of spiritual restoration. Heb. 12:3, “so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” Lord will raise him up—One of the Names for God in the OT is Yahweh-Rapha, “The Lord That Heals You” (Ex. 15:26). Committed sins—Sometimes sickness can be caused by sin (1 Cor. 11:30). James not only promises the Christian will be restored by his/her sins will be forgiven.
16 Therefore, confess (to admit fault of bad behavior publicly) your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed (cured). The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. It is also necessary for the weary Christian to seek out forgiveness of any wrongdoing toward another and to pray for one another. Jesus said, “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” (Matt. 5:23-24). The word for ‘healed’ is referring to the soul being cured. A spiritual healing. The same word, iathēte, is used in 1 Pet. 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” Prayer of a righteous person—James is not saying that every righteous person who prays for healing will be healed. Some have little faith and are healed (Ac. 3:4-8) and others, like Paul the apostle, had great faith—and yet, he wasn’t healed (2 Cor. 12:7-10). At the end of verse 16, James provides three insights to prayer: (1) Prayer is to be honorable. (2) Prayer is to be fervent. (3) Prayer is to be powerful.
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. James reminds the readers of how God used Elijah and answered his prayers in miraculous ways (see 1 Kgs. 17:1; 18:42-45), and yet, Elijah was a simple man—not a superhuman. NRSV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, “Judeans and Galileans prayed for rain, but only exceptional holy men were thought able to secure it miraculously (and the legends about them securing rain were sometimes told centuries after they lived). These holy men modeled themselves after the prophet Elijah, whom James cites here as a model for all righteous people.”
- Psalm 107:6, “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.”
- John 14:13-14, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”
- Ephesians 6:18, “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints…”