Sermon of June 30 2013 – James 5
A little bit of a twist when I was working on this one which made me go sideways a bit. May all just be rambling, but also may be useful. You be the judge.
3400 words with the beginning scripture being read.
It has been my desire in the month of June to make sure we read through James. There’s just too much packed in here to preach on everything, but I at least wanted to read everything. Please follow with me as we read through the first couple sections of James 5.
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. 4 Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.
7 Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
Last week at the Men’s Breakfast Jeff mentioned one of his “4 pillars” of ministry was expository preaching. This resonates with me on many levels. Being a good evangelical, I think the Word of God needs to be central in our lives and preached whenever possible. However, having the privilege to be able to do that preaching, I also know the preparation and study of the word for this moment sometimes takes you in a direction you wouldn’t have anticipated. Today is one of those days.
Let’s continue on by reading the last seven verses of James.
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 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. 15 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. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 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.
19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
I hope we’ve established so far that the letter James wrote is all about faith. He warns us of the blessing of having our faith tested in many ways. He gives many examples of putting our faith into practical action, whether that means how we treat one another or how we work with those physical needs. He addresses how faith works in our speech and language and how faith changes our perspective on our futures. James now concludes with how our faith affects our community and our prayers.
In James 5:13–18 we see at least three kinds of prayers, not just one. Each of these three ways of praying is for people who are sick or suffering in some way. You can’t use this text to say there is just one biblical way to pray for the sick. There is a great deal of flexibility possible here.
First, there is praying for yourself. James 5:13, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.” There is no order of magnitude mentioned here. James does not say “if you are really suffering” or “if you are suffering so much you cannot bear it”; here the suffering may be of any kind. We are not told that only in some kinds of suffering you should pray for yourself. “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.”
Are you like me?
Honestly, I’d rather put up with a little suffering than bug God about it all the time. My sufferings are nothing compared to most of the world. Should I complain? I have a beautiful wife, healthy kids, food, shelter and a job. What sort of suffering could I really be going through? “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.”
Let him pray.
All too often we try to go it on our own. We only call on God when we think the situation is outside our comfort or control or ability or potential. We’re willing to put up with suffering when we thing we can or should be able to do something about it. We suffer because we are able to. Maybe we suffer because we think we deserve it, or maybe even want to a little…
Yes… maybe we even want to a little. A little suffering lets us share those sufferings with one another. We have reason to bring others into our issues.
I need to backtrack a little. I’m not saying we shouldn’t pray for each other in times of need and suffering (as you will soon see). I do think we forget the proper place to start in those times of need and suffering. Pray. If you’re suffering, even a little bit, pray. Start there. Pray. Don’t go it alone. Pray. Don’t try to soldier on through. Pray. It’s not too little for God to care. Pray.
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.”
Second, there is the praying of the elders over a sick person. James 5:14–15, “Is any 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.”
In contrast, I believe that here James is speaking of a case where the person is so weak and bedridden that they can’t get out easily to the gathered church. We see this condition in the phrase “pray over” (probably signifying their being on a bed with the elders around); and we see it in the statement, “the Lord will raise him up” (implying that they are laid low). So the situation when the elders are called probably involves a physical condition that keeps a person from getting out to the fellowship of the Body.
So in the first part we’re being told that for suffering, starting with the really small, we should pray. When things get dire, we should call for the elders to pray the prayer of faith. Before we get stuck on that phrase (‘cause I did) let’s talk about the last type of praying James mentions in this chapter.
Thirdly, there is the praying for each other. James 5:16, “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another that you may be healed.”
This is very general. It could include what we know as a prayer meeting. It could include private prayer at home for a friend. It could include teams of people praying for others in their presence or at a distance. But notice that the issue is still healing in verse 16: “pray for one another that you may be healed”—not necessarily limited to physical healing but in this context surely not excluding it either.
So in cases of suffering we are to start by praying for ourselves.
In cases of dire infirmity we are to call on the elders to pray for us.
In all cases we should also come to the community of believers to pray for one another for healing.
So, this is where a sermon on faith and prayer went a little sideways on me and becomes a sermon on spiritual gifts and healings. Bear with me.
The more I looked at this passage, and the more I studied the words James was using, the more and more I became convinced this was the emphasis James was getting at; he was referring to supernatural healing from God through prayer and through faith. In the case of calling the elders, even the Gift of Faith.
Without getting into a church splitting, denomination creating discussion on sign gifts and healings in this modern age, let me merely state where my understanding on scripture is. You are welcome to disagree or even challenge me on any of it, and I believe I can back up my thoughts scripturally.
I believe that Gifts of the Spirit manifest in all sorts of ways, not only those mentioned in all the lists we reference in scripture, but in however God needs us to be empowered in order to edify the church. I also believe that is the purpose of such gifts; the CHURCH is to be built up through them and God’s name is to be glorified.
I believe the manifestation of these gifts is not just for a specific period or time, but rather encompasses all of time and humanity. I certainly don’t believe we can pick and choose which gifts are active when; that’s God’s territory.
I also believe that we have created a lot of inventories, books, descriptions, lists, explanations, categories and whatnot in order to feel comfortable with and define how these supernatural manifestations of a living God indwelling us work. Instead we will always fall short and create confusion when we try to explain the inexplicable.
We need to make sure not to lean on our own understandings of God’s supernatural intervention and gifting, but rather always go back to any scriptural description to test any gift or supernatural intervention we experience in our lives.
So with that, let’s return to scripture, and see if we can discern how James feels about healing and miracles. Some very smart, theologically sound and admirable preachers would argue that signs and wonders erupted at three times in history and during the rest of the time they were not available. For example, one respected popular pastor says (MacArthur),
“According to Scripture, miracles occurred in three major periods: the days of Moses and Joshua, the time of Elijah and Elisha, and the time of Christ and the apostles. Each of these periods lasted something less than one hundred years, but in each period there was a proliferation of miracles. Miracles were the norm. God can interject Himself into the stream of history supernaturally any time He wishes. But it seems that He chose to limit Himself essentially to these three periods.”
So the direction of thought in this argument is that Elijah and Elisha were extraordinary and therefore cannot serve as a model for us insofar as they prayed for miracles to occur. The argument would be that we shouldn’t expect the same results from our prayer.
James seems to think in the exact opposite direction in verses 17–18. ” 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. ”
Now what’s the point of saying, ” Elijah was a man with a nature like ours “? I believe the point is to block the objection that says he was somehow extraordinary and cannot serve as a model for our praying. The point is just the opposite of those who say Elijah and Elisha experienced miracles because they were unique spokesmen for God. The point is: Elijah was just like you so that you can be encouraged that YOUR prayers will have great effect—like stopping the rain for three and a half years.
Let me say that again. We are just like Elijah so we can be encouraged that OUR prayers will have great effect – like stopping the rain for three and a half years.
Furthermore, notice that the example of Elijah was brought in by James to encourage all of us who are referred to in verse 16 to pray for each other that we may be healed. After he says, “Pray for each other that you may be healed,” he says, ” The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Then he gives Elijah as the example and stresses that he is not in a class by himself when he prays for a three-year drought. The logic of the passage seems pretty plain: All of us should be praying for each other and our goal in praying should be to live and pray in a way that would have the same kind of healing effects as Elijah had when he prayed for rain after a three-year drought.
In other words, this text does not limit powerful praying for divine healing to the elders, and it encourages us rather than discouraging us to think of our praying in the same category with a great miracle worker of the Bible.
Actually, there’s the difference we should always have in our minds. Technically Elijah was not the miracle worker, he was the conduit. God was the miracle worker. Elijah just asked for drought and then rain, God provided it. In the same way, there are not “healers” among us, as God is the healer. We ask, and then God heals, assuming we have faith in what we are asking for.
The “prayer of faith” will heal the sick person. James 5:15, “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. ”
The text does not teach that everyone the elders pray for will be healed. It teaches that if the elders pray “the prayer of faith,” the sick person will be healed. This is stated so absolutely that it seems to me that a gift of faith is meant here which assures the elders the healing will be done.
In other words, I think this phrase (“prayer of faith”) puts us right firmly into the sphere of spiritual gifts. The elders seek God’s gifting for faith so that they might pray “the prayer of faith.” That gift is referred to in 1 Corinthians 12:9, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one [this] . . . to another faith by the same Spirit.” There is a faith that comes as a special gift to pray for something extraordinary.
I highly desire the Gift of Faith. I have prayed for it for both my children as they grew while they were still being “knit together”. I may even put too much emphasis on it, but in my understanding, the Gift of Faith is the best one I could ever hope for someone. You see, I lack the sort of faith I want and should have. All my faith is hard earned, thought through, applied from promises and the experience that has come in trusting my way through life with God. I delve deep into God’s word because the more I have hidden his word in my heart, the closer I draw to him, the more I persevere, the more faith I develop, but I really do still lack the sort faith I really want.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t lack faith in the triune God or even specifically in Christ and his gift of eternity for me. I have complete confidence in scriptures and everything they say. I am a fully devoted follower of Christ and try to mold my life after everything I understand his Word to say. However, if something depends on my “prayer of faith” in order for it to happen, well… that mountain is probably staying put right where it is and I’m probably swimming in the lake instead of having a nice stroll. I am fully convinced God can do it. I lack faith believing he will do it because I asked. I doubt in my heart.
1 Corinthians 13:2 says, “if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. ” There is a gift of faith that can remove mountains. This goes back to what Jesus said in Mark 11:23–24, ” Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
It seems to me that what we have in Mark 11:23–24 and 1 Corinthians 12:9 and 13:2 and James 5:15 is an unbroken line of teaching about a gift of faith that enables a person to pray a completely assured prayer because God has given extraordinary assurance. This is why the “prayer of faith” in James 5:15 WILL heal the sick person. It is certain because this faith is God’s special gift of assurance about what he intends to do.
So the picture I have of the elders at the bedside of the sick person is not of a group of men who think gifts of faith and healing are past, but of a group of men who earnestly desire a spiritual gift of faith so that they might pray the prayer of faith which in this case would amount to the same thing as a gift of healing.
God definitely heals, and for some reason often limits himself to our choice to participate and our openness to also receive an unwavering gift of faith from him as well. This has staggering implications on how we live our lives and interact with our society. I’ll let you struggle through those in your own life with the aid of the Holy Spirit.
So from our look at James, I can see nothing but a man driven by faith trying to explain how that faith works itself out in day to day life. James has only defended faith and not undermined it. James is talking about a level of faith that is so assured of God and His dominion in this world that it moves mountains, heals and changes us forever. Of course that sort of faith will be evidenced in everything we do (and by extension be proven “dead” if it doesn’t). Of course that faith will change how we perceive who is actually in control in our lives. Of course that faith will insulate us from wanting the things of this world or treating those that have them preferentially. Of course that faith will affect our speech and even every thought we have. Nothing James says makes any sense if it is not in the context of a deep growing faith. James is just spelling out the practical steps, and encouraging deeper faith in us.