Praying for the Sick – A study of James 5:14-18 (28 Apr 2013)

In James 5:14, the sick person is asked to call for the elders of the church to pray over him. This indicates that the person is very ill (i.e. too ill to go to the elders, so presumably he sends friends or relatives for the elders), and that the office of elder was already established in the church.

The elders are to pray over him, after applying oil on him in the name of the Lord. The “elaion” is olive oil. Olive oil was a very useful household remedy. The Good Samaritan in Luke 10:34 poured oil and wine on the wounds of the one he was  trying to help.

The word used here for applying the oil, ”aleiphoo” is a general term for applying oil. It is used in Luke 7:38,46 to indicate the woman putting perfume on Jesus’ feet. A different word, ”chrioo” is used for anointing of religious significance, such as God anointing Christ for his ministry (Luke 4:18).

Therefore, I am inclined to believe that James is saying that besides praying, the elders should also give practical help on the Lord’s behalf. In those days, it was applying olive oil. In the present day, it might be arranging for the sick man to see a doctor or giving some other practical help.

What is “the prayer of faith?” All prayer should be offered with faith in God. This is faith in God’s boundless love and wisdom and omnpotence. The one who  prays believes that God has the best interests of the patient in mind . God has not promised to heal every time. If He decides to heal, both the pray-er and the sick man will rejoice. If He delays healing or decides not to heal, they should continue to have complete trust in God’s love.

James has mentioned in 5:11 “the steadfastness of Job and… the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” Every prayer  is qualified by “If the Lord wills” (4:15), whether these words are uttered or not.

If the patient is healed, is it the oil that heals or the prayer? It could be either or both. James’ emphasis is that the healing should be finally attributed to God. The Lord can choose to heal by the medicines that He has enabled mankind to discover or manufacture or He can do so by direct intervention.

While we employ the tools of medical science, we also pray for God’s direct intervention, just as Elijah (v.17,18) prayed for God’s intervention in climate conditions.

“And if he has committed sins, it will be forgiven him.” Sickness entered the world because of the sin of Adam and Eve. However, an individual sickness may or may not be directly related to the patient’s sin. However,  if he has sinned, he should confess to God, and it shall be forgiven him (I John 1:9).

“Therefore,  confess your sins to one another and pray for one another in order that you may be healed.” The command words here are in the plural, referring to the church members at large. Not only the elders should pray for the sick, but church members are to pray for one another.

Sins should be confessed to God, but where others have been wronged, their forgiveness should also be sought. It is through such confession and forgiveness that bodies and relationships are healed.

Seeing that God is ready to heal and to forgive in answer to prayer, “therefore” church members are to confess their sins to one another and pray for one another.

“The energised prayer of a righteous man is very powerful.” The participle “energoumenee” can be either taken as in the middle or passive voice. I prefer the passive voice which implies God or the Holy Spirit at work in or energising the prayer warrior. The prayer is heard, not because it is uttered by an official of the church, but because the one praying is “righteous”, i.e. in a right relationship with God.

Elder Ng Hwee Hin