February 1, 1997 Issue
by Ronny F. Wade

Question: Please explain James 5:14-15. Is this for the church today? 

Answer: "Is any afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. 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: 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. "The word "afflicted" or "suffering" in the preceding verse (13) translates a word meaning to "suffer evil." It is a comprehensive word, broad enough in meaning, to embrace every type of affliction including both physical and mental anguish. Just as then, so today, the people of God are confronted on every hand by illness, disease, sadness, and various losses. When so confronted, we are commanded to pray, (literally:) "keep on praying." God is the source of our comfort and relief in these types of situations. What a blessing we have here promised and provided. Unlike those in the world, we have someone to whom we can go for help, relief, and encouragement. We are not left alone to confront the obstacles in our pathway, but are given the assurance that "he will never leave us nor forsake us." "Trust in him at all times, ye people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us" (Psa.46). We should never doubt the power or necessity of prayer. In verse (14) James advances the question: "is any among you sick?" The word sick means literally "to be weak, without strength" and is often used in the N.T. for illness (Woods). J.W.Roberts points out that James has moved from the general terms for "suffering" or "trouble" (Vs. 10 and 13) to the more specific word for suffering bodily ailments. Commentators are divided over whether this word (sick) should be taken literally or figuratively. It seems to this writer that the context favors a literal interpretation since the sickness is mentioned in connection with literal suffering, praying, cheerfulness and singing. Also in verse 15 it seems clear that physical illness is under consideration since it is mentioned along with, and in addition to, spiritual illness. Such a person, is to "call for the elders of the church;" literally "Let him call (at once) for the elders of the church. "Since the local congregation has elders, we understand that to be the significance of "the church", i.e. let him call for the elders of the local congregation. The elders are to then pray over the sick man. The meaning is they are to pray in his behalf. They are to beseech God for him. "Anointing him with oil" (v. 14). The act of anointing was to be performed either before the prayer or in connection with it. Olive oil was used in Bible times both in a medicinal and symbolic sense. Its medicinal use can be documented in such passages as Luke 10:34, Isa 1:6, Jere 8:22 etc. Examples of ceremonial or symbolic use may be found in I Sam 16:13. Oil also seems to be used in connection with miraculous healing such as Mk 6:13. In such cases, the use was evidently symbolic, calling attention to the miracle which accompanied its use. James 5:14-15 appears to be an instance where oil is used in a symbolic rather than medicinal sense, serving as a token of the power of God, by which the healing was accomplished. Trasker notes: "It is probable that the mention of oil in this passage is to be regarded as one of the accompaniments of that miraculous healing which was no infrequent occurrence in the apostolic age, and is regarded in the NT as a supernatural sign vindicating the truth of the Christian gospel in the early days of its proclamation" (p.130, Tyndale Commentaries). We are told by James that the "prayer of faith" shall save the sick. The "prayer of faith" is one prayed by those who have faith i.e. the elders. It is noteworthy that it is the "prayer of faith" that saves the sick. Not prayer and oil, not prayer and medicinal treatment, not prayer and laying on of hands, but the prayer of faith. Saving the sick refers to making him well, hence a physical healing of the affliction possessing the man under consideration. "And the Lord shall raise him up No if's, and's, or but's, about it. The Lord shall raise him up. No failures to explain away. In the situation under consideration, when the instructions were followed the sick man was "raised up" i.e. he got well. In the light of the foregoing, it seems obvious to this writer that the passage under consideration was applicable to the period of miraculous gifts in the church and limited to it. J.W.McGarvey remarks"…every reader of the New Testament should know that this was written when many elders of churches possessed the miraculous power of healing, which was imparted to them by imposition of the hands of an apostle. To argue from this that elders of the church, or anybody else, can do the same thing in the present day, is to leave out of view the one thing that enabled them to do it then; that is, the imposition of apostolic hands with prayer for this gift" (The Christian Standard, Oct.8, 1898). Had this healing been the result of medicinal or natural means, the scripture should have said, "let him call for the doctors, who will diagnose and then prescribe proper treatment. "Such, however, were not the instructions. The elders were called and their prayer of faith saved or raised the sick man, a result which we feel must be attributed to the miraculous power they possessed. Burton Coffman says "James in this remarkable paragraph plainly has under consideration the charismatic gift of healing, one of the special gifts that attended the early propagation of Christianity for the purpose of confirming the word of God." The statement "and if he have committed sins, it shall be forgiven him" is in addition to the healing of the body. Since the Lord only forgives those who repent, we can only conclude that such was the case here. Guy N. Woods in his commentary on James says "Evidently, for a limited time, and for special purposes, God ordained that the foregoing instructions should be followed; and in every case the promise was realized. That it was not widely followed, or intended to be a universal practice during the apostolic age, follows from the fact that not infrequently saints were sick and often died (Acts 9:32-43; Phil 2:19-30; 1 Tim 5:23; 2 Tim 4:1-8). While those to whom this passage particularly applied received, without exception, the blessing of healing and forgiveness, others of the apostolic age were often afflicted without relief. Paul had a thorn in the flesh; Timothy had a stomach disorder, and Trophimus was by Paul left in Miletus sick." But what about today? Should we pray for the sick? Of course we should. Will God hear our prayer? Yes, He will, He has promised to do so. Will God answer our prayer? Yes, if we pray according to His will, and in faith He will answer our prayers. Does God heal people today? Yes He does. How? Through means i.e. the various techniques of healing with which we are blessed today. This may be explained in much the same way that God feeds us. He at one time miraculously, and independent of means fed multitudes. Today he still feeds us, but does so through means i.e. seed, sower, soil, rain, sunshine, harvest, baker etc. People who fail to see the help and expertise of a doctor, claiming that God will heal them, overlook the fact that God no longer operates in that way. Others who rely solely upon doctors and fail to pray deprive themselves of God's providential power and the blessings He promises to His children. If I am sick, I want the best doctor, medicine, and medical technology available for my particular condition. I also want the prayers of the faithful everywhere in my behalf.



Other OPA Article Links:

Querist Column
Illness & Disease - Physical

Ronny F. Wade   1997    OPA Main Page    HOME 





Hit Counter