Calvary Road Baptist Church


James 5.13-18

We are coming close to the end of the letter written by James, coming to the end of a New Testament book that seems to be dedicated to encouraging and exhorting Christians to live by faith in their daily lives, as well as talk by faith when they worship and are around other believers. Today’s text, James 5.13-18, deals with one of the consummate acts of genuine faith, which is prayer. Though we will not be able to get through all six verses today, all six of these verses deal with prayer. Please stand and let’s read these verses together:

13     Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.

14     Is any sick among you? 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 shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

16     Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

17     Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.

18     And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.

It is James’ purpose in this passage to show the child of God that prayer is an indispensable part of the Christian lifestyle, to show that prayer is a vital function of living faith, and to show that prayer is important in the well-being of the Christian’s whole person, whether it be physical well-being, emotional well-being, or spiritual well-being.

May I interject a comment at this point before proceeding? The Lord Jesus Christ left heaven’s glory to be born of a virgin, to be fully man yet without sin, and to die on the cross for the sins of others. He was buried, rose from the dead three days later, and then ascended to heaven, where He is presently enthroned until He returns again in power and great glory. From His throne in glory, Jesus Christ saves sinners who come to Him by faith, who trust Him. Let me say that although many Christians pray at the time they trust Jesus Christ, a sinner does not have to pray in order to be saved from his sins. What he must do, whether he prays or not, is believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, Acts 16.31. Therefore, without further delay, examine with me the first two ways James exhorts his readers to prayer:


Verse 13 reads, “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.”

Pastor James breaks the believer’s emotional well-being down into its two relative extremes, affliction at one extreme or a merry heart at the other extreme. First, the extreme of affliction. The word “affliction” simply means to suffer misfortune, to suffer hardship.[1] It was a word that applied to most Christians in James’ day, as it does to many believers in foreign lands today, and perhaps even to you here this morning. You can well imagine the kind of emotional state you or I might be in as a result of affliction, as a result of oppression and persecution, or mental anguish that seems as though it will never let up. The resultant emotional states that come from being afflicted range all the way from rage to deep depression, and everything in between. We know that emotional reactions are a natural and a God-given part of our lives, but too often the child of God is governed by his or her emotions rather than governing them. So, it seems natural to me, considering these people’s already existing spiritual problems, to assume that their emotions, while they were afflicted, were getting the best of them. Therefore, to the afflicted person, James commands prayer. What kind of prayer? It depends on what is ailing you. Maybe affliction is your lot only until you ask God to take it away. If that’s the case then pray according to Matthew 7.7-11:

7      Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:

8      For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

9      Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?

10     Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?

11     If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

Or perhaps affliction is what God’s plan is for your immediate future. Turn to First Peter 4.12-19. If this is God’s will for you, then you should pray that God will grant you the grace to endure:

12     Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:

13     But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.

14     If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.

15     But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.

16     Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.

17     For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?

18     And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?

19     Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.

Or, maybe you are a worrier. Then Philippians 4.6-9 applies:

6      Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

7      And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

8      Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

9      Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.

Lay your burden at the Lord’s feet and let Him deal with the situation as you commit yourself to doing right. Whatever your situation in life, prayer to God in Jesus’ name is the answer for you.

However, you may not be down and out when you are afflicted. You may feel like you are on top of the world. What should you do then? Look with me at a couple of representative examples of how you should act when you are merry. First, Acts 5.41. Here we see the response of the apostles after being beaten for preaching Christ and refusing to be silenced: “And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.” Or how about the Apostle Paul? When he and Silas had been beaten and imprisoned for the cause of Christ they responded with praise, according to Acts 16.25, which reads, “and at midnight Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.” “Is any merry?” James says, “Let him sing psalms.” Psalms are hymns of praise and thanksgiving to God. They extol His grace, His mercy, His wisdom, and His omnipotent power. Are you merry? Then whether you are being afflicted or not, sing psalms.

This, then, is the response of a genuine Christian’s living faith to emotional problems, to problems which may plague your thought life and problems which affect your attitudes. Why does it show faith to pray about such problems as these? Because faith has for its object the Lord Jesus Christ. And when you pray, you simply go to your Father in heaven through Jesus Christ and in His name to deal with these problems which afflict you. Maybe it is His will to remove the problem. Maybe it is His will to give you grace to endure the problem. Maybe your problem is your thought life. In any case, the solution is found by going to Him in believing prayer. Believing that He hears you. Believing that He loves you enough to respond to your prayers. Believing that He has the power to respond in a way that will glorify Him.


James 5.14-15a:

14     Is any sick among you? 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 shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up

We first have an inquiry from James, and then he proceeds to give explicit instructions. His inquiry is very informative. “Is any sick amoung you?” What is the practical significance of such a question? It is this . . . James realized that from time to time Christians become ill, much to the chagrin of many television preachers, I might add. How about the doctrinal significance of such a question? It is this . . . For James to ask such a question, and to ask it without condemning those who might be sick, teaches us a very important lesson which is supported by other portions of scripture. What it teaches is this: When Jesus Christ died on the cross and shed His blood for our sins, He did not take away every physical illness and problem which Christians suffer from time to time. Those who teach that He did take away all disease and infirmity are simply wrong. Some professing Christians become very upset when this error is pointed out. They seem to think that it is wrong to point out errors such as these. They think it is unspiritual for some reason to be very picky and particular about the truth. Did not John the Baptist strongly condemn and correct the error of the religious leaders of his day? He sure did. And he was filled with the Spirit from his birth.[2] Did not the Lord Jesus Christ cry out against the sin, rebellion, and the alterations to divine truth He witnessed in His day? Did He not drive men from the Temple with a whip when He observed them practicing error?[3] And He was God.[4] But you say, “Those men were not Christians who were spoken out against.” What about Paul, in Galatians chapter 2, when he publicly rebuked the Apostle Peter for doctrinal error?[5] And in First Timothy 1.20, when he actually named Alexander and Hymenaeus. Folks, to criticize for the sake of criticizing is surely to commit sin. However, to correct error so that it will not lead God’s children astray is called obedience. I cannot help it if some may not want to do their duty as Christians or as pastors. I cannot help it if they are afraid to call sin sin. However, I can help it in my own life and ministry, as you can in yours. Therefore, if you do not want a man of God who calls things the way he sees them, if you want a preacher who is more interested in not making waves among the brethren than in faithfully preaching the Word, then you have no room in your life for a real pastor. Further, you would not have a brother in Christ ignore Galatians 6.1, would you? “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.

Having made inquiry regarding sickness and having aroused their attentions, James now proceeds to give instructions for dealing with sickness in the church. Instruction #1 - “let him call for the elders of the church” When a Christian is sick he is to summon the elders of his church. Lord have mercy on the believer who will not bring himself to join a church, who will not make that commitment to serve Christ in the church (who loved you and gave Himself for you). Church member, this passage instructs you to call for the old men in the congregation, certainly not excluding the pastor. This command does not direct me to actively snoop around trying to find out who is sick. The responsibility for taking the first step is yours. Your calling the elders shows that you have faith in God, at least enough to follow His instructions. What if a nonmember calls me? I will come anyway, of course. However, to be in the perfect place of blessing at such a crucial time, you will join a church and be serving in it. It is God’s plan for every one of His children, without exception. Instruction #2 - “and let them pray over him” Once the Christian church member has demonstrated his living faith by calling the elders in obedience to the Word of God, the elders demonstrate their living faith by praying over the sick brother in Christ. That the faith of others is sometimes honored by the Great Physician is shown in Mark 2.1-5:

1      And again he entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house.

2      And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them.

3      And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four.

4      And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay.

5      When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.

Notice verse 5 again. “When Jesus saw their faith, He said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” And the man was healed. Another example is found in Mark 9.23-24, where our Lord cast out a demon from a boy because of his father’s faith. If you cannot bring someone into Christ’s physical presence for physical healing, you can take up their trouble to the Lord by means of fervent and effectual prayer. However, how can such things as these happen in the lives of people who will not call their church elders to their bedside when they are ill? When you are sick, call the elders of the church. Instruction #3 - “anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” This final instruction is the most controversial of the three. The question is, “Just exactly what is meant by anointing him with oil?” Some people anoint the forehead of a sick person with oil in response to this verse and some people do not. In this situation, as in every situation, we must let the Word of God speak for itself. This the Word of God will do if we will be careful students. In the King James Bible, the single English word “anoint” translates two entirely different Greek words. I will simply label them Greek word #1 and Greek word #2. Greek word #1 is a verb pronounced criw. Notice its similarity to the Greek noun cristoV, the Greek word for Messiah, the anointed one. In the Greek language, Greek word #1 always has a symbolic, a religious, or a sacred significance to it. If you were to anoint the high priest of Israel, this would be the Greek word you would use to describe the act of pouring oil on his head. Greek word #2 is pronounced aleifw. This word is never used in the Greek language, or at least almost never used, in a sacred or a religious sense. The literal meaning and mental picture that this word conveys would fit the following examples: When a woman applies lotion to her rough and chapped hands and feet, this Greek word #2 is the word which would be used to describe her act. When a man is applying shaving lotion to his face, prior to his morning bloodletting, this word would fit what he is doing with the shave gel or cream. And for those of us old enough to remember, when our moms rubbed mentholatum or Vicks VapoRub on our chests before putting us to bed when we were sick, is descriptive of Greek word #2, the word used by James in our text. Additionally, we must not forget to interpret the Word of God in light of the way words were used in the days when the Bible was written. In a wide variety of illnesses and ailments during apostolic times, application of olive oil, or anointing with olive oil, or some other ointment, was considered the best medical treatment available at the time. Therefore, we must draw conclusions from all of this information. Taking into account the meaning of the word anoint in this passage, and taking into account that the context is dealing primarily with James’ exhortation to prayer, plus what we know about the culture of James’ day, I feel compelled to interpret James’ three instructions in the following manner: Instruction #1, which is the calling of the elders to the bedside of the sick Christian, is an act of faith and obedience which sets in motion God’s mechanism for the physical healing of His children. Instruction #2 is the command for the elders who have been summoned to pray for the sick Christian’s ailment. This demonstrates their faith in God’s mercy and power to heal. Instruction #3, anointing with oil, is a directive that medical attention be provided for the sick Christian, and is used in two ways by God. He will either use the medical treatment as a means by which to bring about healing, or when medical remedies reveal the situation is hopeless, God gets the glory for the healing. Either way, it is the prayers of God’s children which moves our heavenly Father to action. Prayer is what gets things done, though medical efforts are not to be discounted.

We have had the inquiry from James, then the instructions. Now we take note of the implications of what he has taught us to do. The first part of verse 15 says, “and the prayer of faith shall save the sick.” Having just commanded three steps to be taken, James indicates that physical salvation or restoration will occur as a result of this prayer of faith. You may say, “But not everyone that I’ve prayed for was raised back to health again. Does that mean that I didn’t have enough faith?” The answer to that question is no. Don’t begin to convict yourself of some horrible sin should someone you pray for not recover from an illness. We must understand that God will do what He wants to do, regardless of what we want. That is where this term “the prayer of faith,” literally “the prayer of the faith,” comes in. Prayer here is different than the usual Greek word for prayer, in this case translating a word that is more of an expression of one’s wish or desire.[6] Thus, it refers to expressing a desire which is in accord with the will of God. God is not going to raise someone off of a sick bed when He has already determined that that person’s time has come. The prayer of the faith realizes that. For this reason, the elders may sometimes be reluctant to strongly pray for the physical healing of someone unless they are satisfied it is God’s will for them to pray for that person’s recovery. Sometimes the elders will pray, not that the sick person will necessarily recover, but that the sick person will be a great testimony during the final hours of his life in the flesh. When God comforts experienced and seasoned Christian men with the assurance that it is His will for that sick person to recover, you can rest sure that God’s answer to your prayers will come through.

I know that it may seem as though I have dealt with several matters this morning, but let us not get away from the main thought of this passage to pray. Have you considered why the emotional health of many Christians is out of whack? Because they do not pray. Because they choose to worry instead of asking God to carry their burdens. Because they had rather grumble about their afflictions than seek a Christ-honoring solution through prayer. When things get good in our lives, even though we may stop complaining, we too often forget to praise God for His mercy. We are frequently too busy, you see. That is the emotional aspect of our lives, and prayer is vital in this area. It is also vital in the area of our physical health. We have seen in the Word of God that prayer is God’s primary avenue of healing for the Christian, but so many, many Christians completely forget their prayer life during such times, and they almost never call for church elders to come to their side. Of course, that is negligent. Christian, when you are bad sick, elders should be quickly called to pray for you.

Before I close, allow me a few moments to answer some questions in advance that you ought to have on your mind. Let me ask myself the question that you should be thinking about yourself. “Pastor, what about faith healing on TV?” In answering, let me say that the Bible is our only guide to answering such questions as these. We know and realize that God gave certain men the power to heal others, but we also know that this occurred for a very short period of time in human history. It was nearing the end of the Apostle Paul’s own life that he remarked about Epaphroditus being sick unto death, and then mentioned Trophimus who he had left sick at Miletus.[7] Why would Paul send Epaphroditus back to Philippi to get well, and why leave Trophimus behind because he was sick, unless by this phase of his ministry Paul’s miraculous powers had ceased? In addition to this, James specifically instructs Christians what to do when they are sick. They are not directed to seek out a faith healer. Rather, they are to call for the elders of their church. To do otherwise is to commit sin. James has already written, “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin,” James 4.17.

God’s plan for a sick Christian is not a healing line. “But what about the people who are healed in those things?” Three possibilities for you to analyze yourself: First, the ailment that is supposedly healed was actually a psychosomatic matter and wasn’t really a physical problem. The great M. R. DeHaan, a physician before entering the ministry, estimated that 85% of all physical problems were actually psychological. This could explain many so-called healings. The second reason for such healings can be found in Second Thessalonians 2.9. In that verse, Paul ascribes supernatural powers and wonders to Satan. Satan does have the power to heal people if it helps his cause. Third, I suppose people can be healed in response to the prayers of sincere but ignorant Christians. They want God to receive the glory, but they do not realize that He is most glorified when His people pray and when they are obedient such as complying with James 5.14. You have a choice as to how you will respond when you are sick and maybe even close to death. You can respond to the personal magnetism and appeal of a dynamic television personality who appears to have tremendous results, or you can, with simple childlike faith, obey the infallible Word of God.

[1] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 741.

[2] Luke 1.15

[3] John 2.14-16

[4] John 1.1-3

[5] Galatians 2.11-21

[6] Spiros Zodhiates, The Behavior Of Belief, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1973), Part Three, page 137.

[7] Philippians 2.25-30; 2 Timothy 4.20

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