As we are near the conclusion of James’ very practical epistle, James returns to the topic that he began in chapter 1 verse 2 – facing “trials of various kinds.” This final section also includes the topic of right speech, which he has been addressing throughout the letter. He addresses both topics first with a call to prayer.
To begin, James’ first exhortation for prayer is directed toward the individual, as seen in verse 13: Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Here James contrasts two spectrums in a believer’s life. The first is trouble or suffering, something that both his original hearers as well as believers throughout all ages, know all too well. Every one of us experience trouble and suffering in our lives to some degree. James says is anyone suffering “He should pray.” While trials and adversity present a Christian with the conditions wherein he is most likely to pray fervently, James continues to contrast this, saying that we should also rejoice, singing songs of praise when we are happy. In other words, it’s not only in suffering, but in joy, that believers are presented with an appropriate occasion to turn to God.
In verses 14 and 15 James moves to a second group, the church elders, again calling for prayer. 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. 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. This is one of the most controversial texts in James’ epistle, often used by the “faith-healers” to support their teachings and aberrant practices. The word sick in the original can have various meanings. One way it is used (18 times in the New Testament) is to refer to physical illness; but it also is translated as weak (14 times) and can refer to spiritual weakness. However we understand the meaning of the word sick, James says we are to call the elders of church, not the local “faith-healer or anyone else for that matter,” to pray and to be anointed with oil! The verse concludes in verse 15 with the ultimate healing – salvation manifested in forgiveness of sin.
The third section on prayer in verse 16a is directed to the congregation: Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. At times it is very difficult to confess your sins to each other, but this practice can set you free as you confess your sins to one another before God, and to pray for each other. Prayer for one another in the local assembly is one of the most unselfish and beautiful aspects of the church. Knowing that your brothers and sisters are praying for you is a beautiful and humbling experience that ought to characterize our local church.
James concludes this section generally, with the prayer of a righteous person. This ought to encourage both elders and Christians in general, that intercessory prayer is necessary and effective. James does this by appealing to Elijah as an example. Overall, this section of James instructs us that the trials and joys that we face in this life should lead us to the throne of grace in prayer – individually, through the elders of the church, and together with our church.
Brethren, please pray that the Lord would be pleased to use this message so that we all would grow in our dependence on Christ through prayer.