Calvary Road Baptist Church


James 5.13-18

Most of you are not first century Jewish people living in the region of the Mediterranean Sea a few years after your conversion to Christ in and around Jerusalem, who were then scattered by intense persecution. Your exposure to the gospel message did not come from the apostles of Jesus Christ shortly following His indisputable resurrection from the dead, nor have most of you walked the short distance to the empty tomb to see where the body of Jesus Christ was laid before His conquest of death. However, the gospel you have heard is the same truth preached in those early days of Christianity, because the gospel is true and truth never changes. It is sadly possible for people to depart from the truth, and for people’s understanding of the truth to be distorted, but the truth does not change. “For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven,” Psalm 119.89.

That understood, allow me to remind you what the 21st century child of God has in common with the first century Christians, like those James was writing to: First, you, like they, were born sinners, utterly incapable of delivering yourself from your own sins. Second, you were somehow exposed to the gospel message, that the eternal Son of the living God miraculously left heaven’s glory to become a man, to suffer punishment for sins on behalf of men, after which He conquered sin, death, Hell, and the grave by rising from the dead, and then ascended to heaven where He is presently enthroned.[1] Surprising to many, knowledge and acceptance of the gospel as true is insufficient to save anyone, because historically accurate facts are wholly inadequate to deliver sinners from their sins. God’s gracious means whereby sinners are saved from their sins is by means of faith.[2] When the sinner hears the gospel preached, and faith comes to the sinner by means of hearing the Word of God preached, as faith is imparted to the sinner by the Holy Spirit, that same sinner by faith believes in Jesus Christ to the saving of his eternal and undying soul.[3] What you have in common with those to whom James wrote 2,000 years ago is as follows: You have the same sinful condition, the same Almighty God, the same glorious Savior, the same Holy Spirit, the same gospel truth, the same faith response of trusting Jesus Christ, resulting in the same eternal life, the same forgiveness of sins, the same indwelling Holy Spirit, and the same access to God’s throne of grace by prayer with Jesus Christ serving as the same Advocate for you as He did for them. Many of your problems are different than theirs, but many are the same. Many of your hopes, dreams, and aspirations are the same as theirs, but a number are certainly different. However, in both their case and yours life is overwhelming and cannot be successfully negotiated apart from prayer. For that reason, turn in your Bible to James 5.13-18 and stand for the reading of God’s Word:

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.

We previously examined the first portion of the text just read and saw that prayer is related to the child of God’s emotional health. We saw that whether you are afflicted and must deal with feelings associated with difficult times, or you are merry, prayer should be an important part of your life as a Christian. At this time we will look at the remaining four verses that show the other kinds of a believer’s well-being his prayers are related to.


James 5.15b-16:    15b       . . . 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.

First, there is mention of sins being committed, in the last half of verse 15:

“and if he hath committed sins they shall be forgiven him”

Here we see James suggesting the possibility of sickness being related to the committing of sins. An example of this possibility is found in First Corinthians 11.29-30:

29     For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.

30     For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.

Consider what today’s text says about the forgiveness of those sins. He indicates they shall be forgiven him. Of course, the question is, Who will forgive these sins? Granted, most respected Bible teachers are of the opinion that this refers to God’s forgiveness of sins committed by the sinning and now sick Christian, but I have two ideas that I believe challenge that notion of forgiveness. First, turn with me for consideration to Hebrews 8.12 and 10.17:

8.12      For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.

10.17    And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.

These two passages show that the person who is a recipient and beneficiary of the new covenant, who has his sins washed clean through the shed blood of Christ, is a person whose sins and iniquities God will remember no more. If they are not remembered, in my mind that means they are already forgiven. Are you agreed? Next, consider First John 1.7: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” I see nothing conditional in this verse. I see nothing about this verse that suggests someone who has been washed in Christ’s cleansing blood at the time of his conversion is in need of some work or act to benefit from the continual sanctifying effect of Christ’s precious blood. This verse, I believe, shows that a Christian’s sins are continually cleansed by the blood of Christ.[4] Lastly, consider First John 1.9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This greatly misunderstood verse in God’s Word does not refer to the practice of rehearsing every single sin committed. “Rather than focusing on confession for every single sin as necessary, John has especially in mind here a settled recognition and acknowledgment that one is a sinner in need of cleansing and forgiveness (Eph. 4.32; Col. 2:13).”[5] For these reasons, I am not persuaded the forgiveness referred to in James 5.15 is God’s forgiveness (which the Christian already possesses), but refers to the forgiveness of those the believer has sinned against. Though Bible teachers are not in agreement with me, I am persuaded this is what God’s Word teaches and is consistent with other portions of scripture, since one does not need what one already has, forgiveness in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.

Then, there is mention of sins confessed, verse 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.”

Here we see what I think is corroboration of my view about verse 15, referring to the forgiveness of others you have sinned against. What does this verse reveal to us? Containing two directives, to confess your faults one to another and to pray for one another, it reveals four straightforward things: First, it reveals that there can be a connection between your physical health and sins that you commit. I am not referring to the relationship between lung cancer and smoking. I am referring to God’s chastisement of the Christian who sins against other believers and does not properly deal with those sins. Second, it shows that Christians have a responsibility to pray for other Christians’ needs, most especially for the need of sick Christians to be healed. Third, it shows that sick Christians who are sick because of sins they have committed can be healed when they deal with their sins by openly acknowledging their wrongdoing as here directed, and when other believers ask God to heal them as directed. Finally, so there will be no escaping the fact of it, we are flat out told that prayer gets things done. God does not always answer our prayers immediately, but He promises to answer our prayers eventually. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” Let us keep Luke 18.1 in mind: “And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” In other words, do not give up when your prayer is not answered straightway. Keep praying.


James 5.17-18:

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.

Do you have personal doubts that the prayers of righteous people avail much, that prayer really accomplishes anything? This example from the life of Elijah should put your doubts to rest.

First, we are reminded of Elijah’s passions. Verse 17 begins, “Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are.” “Elias,” of course, is simply the New Testament spelling of the name of the Hebrew prophet Elijah. The phrase “subject to like passions” actually translates a single Greek word that refers to someone having like feelings, having like circumstances, and having like experiences to us. “The word indicates that the power of Elijah’s prayer did not lie in his supernatural greatness, but rather in his humanity and the prophet was only a human being like we are.[6] James hereby shows to us that Elijah’s effectiveness in prayer had nothing to do with him being a super spiritual guy, or somehow being cut from different cloth than you or I am. Elijah’s greatness did not lie in Elijah’s greatness, but in the greatness of the God he asked to do things through prayer. That same God is the One Who you have access to when you pray. Do you have a problem with your temper? So did Elijah. Do you find yourself dealing with fear and timidity? Remember how Elijah was put on the run by Jezebel? Are you sometimes overwhelmed by discouragement? So was Elijah. Remember, God does not use great men. God uses men greatly.

With those things in place in your thinking, we are reminded of Elijah’s prayers:

17b   . . . 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.

Is exposition really needed at this point? Must we turn to the Old Testament to review what happened when Elijah prayed to stop the rain and then prayed on top of Mount Carmel, after he had slain the prophets of Baal, that the rains commence again? I don’t think so.[7] To enable him to accomplish God’s purpose for him as a man of God, Elijah asked God to stop the rain. As a result, Israel, totally dependent upon rainfall for their needs, experienced a three and one half year drought. And they knew that the God of Elijah had stopped the rain. Then, when Elijah asked God to send the rain, it rained. Just one example of God’s willingness to answer the prayers of His man. Recognition that God uses ordinary men in extraordinary fashion, men subject to like passions as we are, is a serious key to effective praying. Get hold of that and it will change your life.

Do you know why the emotional health of so many Christians is haywire? Because you don’t pray. Because you choose to worry instead of asking God to carry your burdens. Because you’d rather grumble about your afflictions than seek a Christ-honoring solution through prayer. When things get good in your life, even though you may stop complaining, you too often forget to praise God for His mercy. You’re too busy enjoying life to praise Him and pray, you see. That is the emotional aspect of your life. Prayer is vital in this area. And it’s vital in the area of your physical and spiritual health, as well.

We have seen in the Word of God that prayer is God’s primary avenue for the Christian’s physical healing, and for spiritual wellbeing, but so many, many Christians completely forget their prayer life during rough times, and they almost never call for the elders of the church to come to their side. That is wrong. Christian, when you are bad sick, though there is no scriptural imperative for me to be the first person you call; it is your responsibility to call me and the older Christian men in the church to pray for you. Of course, when you are in spiritual trouble you should immediately fall on your face before God in prayer.

Before I close, allow me a few moments to answer some questions in advance that you ought to have on your mind. I was minded to rehearse these to you last week, but time was limited. Let me ask myself the question that you might be considering. “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.[8] 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.

So, 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] Psalm 16.11; 110.1; Matthew 26.64; Mark 12.36; 14.62; 16.19; Luke 20.42; 22.69; John 3.13; 14.2-4; Acts 2.33, 34-35; 7.56; Romans 8.34; Ephesians 1.20; Colossians 3.1; Second Thessalonians 1.7; Hebrews 1.3, 13; 8.1; 9.24; 10.12-13; 12.2; 1 Peter 3.22; Revelation 19.11

[2] Habakkuk 2.4; Romans 1.17; Galatians 3.11; Hebrews 10.38

[3] Mark 16.15; 1 Corinthians 1.18, 21; Romans 10.17; 2 Corinthians 4.13; Acts 16.31; Romans 4.1-4; 5.1

[4] As indicated by the present active indicative form of the verb kaqarizw, Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 785.

[5] See footnote for 1 John 1.9 from John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), pages 1964-1965.

[6] Rienecker, pages 741-742.

[7] 1 Kings 17.1; 18.1-45

[8] Philippians 2.25-30; 2 Timothy 4.20

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