The passage in James chapter 5 is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied scriptures used in the realm of faith healing today. There are many passages which are misunderstood and mistranslated in similar fashion, but our focus is on James chapter 5 for this particular topic study. We will list some of the common interpretations before proceeding with our study.
James writes his book to Jews of the dispersion and his method and style of writing parallels that found in the Old Testament. For example - - -
James 5:14 (KJV)
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:
James 5:14 (NKJV)
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.
At first reading, the book of James appears to be written by an Old Testament prophet. Compare James with the book of Romans and you would think that the Apostle Paul were possibly from somewhere in the Midwest part of the U.S. as far as writing Style is concerned.. The point of this is that interpretation of Old Testament writings requires that we look at these writings from a Jewish viewpoint and in a Jewish setting, and in a Jewish country. We Gentiles struggle with this to a greater extent than our Jewish Christian brothers who have a natural ability to grasp the interpretations more easily since their very roots and heritage are in Judaism.
I do not say this to undermine the work of the Holy Spirit. The revelation of Jesus Christ comes to us by the Holy Spirit, and our part in this process is to "Study to show Thyself approved . . ."
The entire book of James is centered around the PRACTICALITY of Christianity. It is a "Rubber Meets the Road" handbook if you will and is for "DOERS of the WORD".
Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
James gets to the root of issues concerning Christian living and Christian principles. So with this as a beginning point, we now take a look at the passages in question.
Attempts are often made by sincere Christians to apply the context of this portion of scripture to physical healing situations among church members. When requested healing by prayer is not experienced, often times the result is that the prayer partners suggest and perhaps even outright declare to the suffering member that the "sick member" does not have the required Faith. This is usually the first reason cited as to why our Lord will not provide physical healing to a specific Christian sufferer.
At other times it is suggested that the Christian prayer partners who are praying for physical healing for a specific church member are not exhibiting the required faith such that physical healing will occur.
Various Christian reasons which have been proposed as to why a specific healing request is not answered by God and based on James 5 is listed below, but is not limited to - - -
The result of such reasoning for unrealized physical healing is to produce doubt and insecurity among believers regarding our relationship and/or fellowship to Jesus Christ and His response to our prayer requests.
A verse-by-verse exposition of James is required in order to put the context in proper perspective. Actually, to view the context accurately, we must pick up our study beginning in James chapter 4.
Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.
The above verse is a warning about speaking evil and judging a fellow brother. We are forbidden to do this - -
Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.
12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to SAVE and to DESTROY. Who are you to judge another?
The Lawgiver is the Lord Jesus Christ and HE is the JUDGE ! So when does HIS judgment begin?
1 Peter 4:17
For the time has come for JUDGMENT to BEGIN at the house of God (the CHURCH); and if it begins with us (CHRISTIANS) first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?
The Judgment that is being referred to is IN THE CHURCH - - - This is an unpopular topic study today. It is much more pleasant and acceptable to speak and teach on Love, Joy, Peace, etc. Everybody welcomes the "Peace and Joy" aspects of Christianity, but it must be tempered with the discipline aspects. The LAW of Moses was not given without consequences for disobedience.
Someone says, yes, but WE are not UNDER the LAW. Rightly said, we are not under law, for we are under GRACE, but there is also a penalty to those Christians who are redeemed by the Grace of God and then turn and violate and treat with contempt HIS grace. For Hebrews says - - -
26 For if we SIN WILLFULLY after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
27 But a certain fearful looking for of JUDGMENT and fiery INDIGNATION, which shall devour the adversaries.
"which shall devour the adversaries" is a reminder to us is that it is THIS SAME aspect of Judgment which will destroy the Wicked eternally. However, his Judgment toward us will NOT destroy us eternally - -
28 He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:
29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
The writer of Hebrews is saying that under similar circumstances to a Law Breaker under the Law of Moses, we SHOULD incur a more severe Judgment BECAUSE of GRACE. If a Mosaic Law Breakers received the death penalty, COULD WE also receive the Death Penalty? We shall see - - -
This is what James chapter 5 is about ! ! !
James has a lot to say about JUDGMENT
Now, James continues with his condemnation of these Jewish believers and their points out their BOASTING - - -
13 Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit";
14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.
15 Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that."
16 But now you BOAST in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
17 Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.
James is making a charge of boasting against his readers and this charge is joined with NOT doing good when they KNOW to do it. These are not two separate charges but one charge is enfolded within the other.
The charges against these Jewish Christians just keeps on coming with respect to ill-gotten gains - - -
1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you!
2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten.
3 Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion WILL BE A WITNESS against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days.
4 Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.
5 You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter.
6 You have condemned, you have MURDERED THE JUST; he does not resist you.
James says there is a Day of Judgment coming for these folk.
You will notice throughout the scriptures that MURDER or SLAYING when used in a figurative sense and directed toward Believers, includes the aspect of illegally taking away MONEY or POSSESSIONS from a fellow believers. Literal Murder in not in view in the above passage. For example, you see the same thing in the Old Testament - -
12 In you they take bribes to SHED BLOOD; you take USURY and increase; you have made PROFIT from your neighbors by EXTORTION, and have forgotten Me," says the Lord GOD.
13 "Behold, therefore, I beat My fists at the dishonest PROFIT which you have made, and at the BLOODSHED which has been in your midst.
BLOODSHED => DISHONEST PROFIT BY RELIGIOUS MEANS
They were making MONEY by using RELIGION and misapplying the principles of God's Word. We have the exact same thing today in Churches who in subtle or not so subtle ways demand, "THE TITHE" from fellow Christians. This will be reviewed in another topic study.
The Jewish Christian readers this time are charged with - -
7 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain.
8 You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
Be patient for what? Be patient and do NOT JOIN your fellow Christians in DISHONEST GAIN. James is saying to the victims not to respond in like manner and suffer the fate (FUTURE JUDGMENT) that WILL befall these readers. Remember, although the charges to these Jewish readers are severe, James is addressing Believers.
9 Do NOT GRUMBLE against one another, brethren, lest you be CONDEMNED Behold, the JUDGE is STANDING AT THE DOOR!
Now James is stating that if YOU also act in such a manner, YOU will be judged. The judge in this case is Jesus Christ and HE will do the judging.
10 My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience.
11 Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord--that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.
You will recall from the book of Job that it was Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar who attempted to determine the reason for Job's plight. An argument ensues over what has prompted God to do such a thing to Job. This book contains perhaps the best Theological discussion ever recorded in the scriptures. Anyway, the three friends of Job bring charges against Job including sins that Job committed while in his youth. It is virtually a knockdown, drag out fight between Job and his three so-called friends. In the end, it was Job was PATIENT and did not render in kind to his adversaries. He was later vindicated by God, because He never retaliated with similar charges against his friends.
12 But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your ...
"Yes" be "Yes," and your "No," "No," LEST YOU FALL INTO JUDGMENT..
Here comes another charge against these Jews and we begin to lose count as to how many times James has brought up the issue of JUDGMENT among these Christian Jews ! ! !
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.
The BEST THING that can happen to a Christian on earth is that he have and maintain JOY in the Holy Spirit regardless of circumstances. Other Christians should respond accordingly.
The WORST THING that can happen to a Christian on earth is that he fall under JUDGMENT and judgment so severe that it leads to DEATH. Other Christians should respond accordingly and try to prevent this from happening. James will tell us how to do this !.
James is making a comparison by using two extremes to drive home is point of Judgment.
Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be LIKE-MINDED toward one another, according to Christ Jesus,
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.
Sick? What kind of Sickness? It is sickness as a result of sin and this is the SIN UNTO DEATH - - - Sick unto DEATH because this person has fallen under JUDGMENT. This is what James is talking about. This is what the Apostle John was also referring to - - -
1 Jn 5:16
". . . . There is Sin leading TO DEATH . . . "
First we should point out that the phrase "anointing him with oil" in not translated exactly right. The rendering of the phrase in English is a present past participle and should read - "him, HAVING BEEN ANOINTED with oil". The Elders are NOT coming to this man bringing a flask of oil. James is writing to Jews using Old Testament phraseology to refer to the fact that the sick man is righteous. We would simply say that the sick man is saved, is a believer, or is a Christian, etc.
They have come to this Sinner at the request of the Sinner as we shall see.
15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
First it should be pointed out that the phrase "if he has committed sins", can be and should be translated "BECAUSE HE HAS COMMITTED SINS". The reading of the word "IF" implies in English that he may or may not have committed sins. When the Church attempts to pray for a sick person by claiming the above verse, they are not bringing to the sick person's attention of their SPECIFIC SIN which is a SIN UNTO DEATH ! ! ! Their focus is on the fact that the member is sick and it is their PRAYER that the sick person be healed of whatever ailment they have. In fact they would NOT come and bring an ACCUSATION that the sick has committed a SIN of such magnitude that it has brought about Judgment from God - THE DEATH PENALTY -.
Most candidly, in real situations, our sick Christian patient would not generally be in a position of having committed some VISIBLE SIN which has brought reproach on the Church body or else the prayer requests would be one of repentance. The prayer may be for the patient's recovery, but would primarily focus on restoration for the one(s) offended and repentance of the sick, and NOT necessarily of healing - - -
Now we are in a position to examine the verse carefully. The prayer of faith is attributed to THE ELDERS and NOT to the sick man. Repentance on the part of the sick man is EMPHATICALLY IMPLIED but not stated. It must have occurred or the action of FORGIVING on the part of the elders would not be in order.
Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he REPENTS, forgive him.
16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
Confession and repentance on the part of the sick man is given as an EXAMPLE to us by saying "YOUR TRESPASSES". James continues with this example by saying - - -
17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months.
The reference to Elijah's NATURE is referring to his own unworthiness to invoke God's judgment upon the land of Israel. After the above event, he himself God's prophet, fled from the woman (Jezebel) for fear of his life. Where was his FAITH?
1 Kings 19
1 And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword.
2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time."
3 And when he saw that, he arose and RAN FOR HIS LIFE, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.
4 But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, "It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am NO BETTER than my fathers!"
Elijah's prayer was a prayer of JUDGMENT on Israel and wicked king Ahab. The three years and six months is of course 42 months and this is a direct correlation to the last 42 month period of the GREAT TRIBULATION described in Revelation. The tribulation period is divided into two Judgmental periods of 42 months each.
1 Kings 17:1 (Elijah Proclaims a Drought)
And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, "As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall NOT BE dew nor rain these years, except at my word."
Elijah has now issued THE JUDGMENT from his mouth. The JUDGMENT was ordered by God, but did not materialize until Elijah PRONOUNCED it.
18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.
1 Kings 18 (Elijah's Message to Ahab)
1 And it came to pass after many days that the word of the LORD came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, "Go, present yourself to Ahab, and I WILL SEND RAIN on the earth."
Elijah has now issued THE HEALING from his mouth. The HEALING of the land was ordered by God, but did not materialize until Elijah PRONOUNCED it.
19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back,
20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.
In other words, James says that if you follow the instructions I just gave you, the sick WILL RECOVER. The action by the Elders was an ACT of LOVE - - -
1 Peter 4:8
And above all things have fervent love for one another, for "LOVE WILL COVER a multitude of sins."
The same idea of Judgment is repeated several times in the Old Testament. With a proper understanding of James 5, other verses begin to make sense when we are aware that the issue is JUDGMENT - - -
For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this MOUNTAIN, "Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but BELIEVES that those things he SAYS will be done, he will have whatever he says.
The sick man in James 5 is the MOUNTAIN who has lifted himself up.
And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
11 The LOFTY LOOKS of man shall be HUMBLED, The haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, And the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day.
12 For the day of the LORD of hosts Shall come upon everything proud and lofty, Upon everything lifted up- And it shall be brought low-
13 Upon all the cedars of Lebanon that are high and lifted up, And upon all the oaks of Bashan;
14 Upon all the HIGH MOUNTAINS, And upon all the hills that are lifted up;
By piecing the details together and making correlation between Christ being the head of the Church as well as Judge of His people and the situation with Ahab, Israel and Elijah, we conclude from the above passages that the sick man was sick because
JUDGMENT IS PRONOUNCED ON HIM BY THE ELDERS OF THE CHURCH
The sick man was guilty of one or more sins as James has referred to ever since chapter 4 and James has NOT CEASED to warn US about immediate and impending judgment from God.
The sick man in this passage is dying "THE SIN UNTO DEATH" from his illness and realizes that this is JUDGMENT from God. He decides to repent and ask forgiveness of his Sin(s) and therefore HE calls for the ELDERS of the church. The Elders are very much aware of the situation because they are the very ones who PLACED the man under God's judgment. Upon the sick man's confession of his sin(s), the Elders accept his repentance, forgive him, and pray to God and ask that the man be restored. As a result of the Elders prayer and faith in God's restoration of the sick man, healing is pronounced on him by the elders of the church and as a result - - -
The man "WILL" recover - not "MIGHT" recover ! ! !
Now it becomes obvious as to how this passage in the Book of James is misunderstood and misapplied.
On the positive side, we are to learn how judgment is to be carried out in the Church for those members who commit sins that bring reproach on the body of Christ.
James is stating by picture example if you please that the Church is responsible to administer justice at the hands of the Elders.
1 Timothy 5:17
Let the ELDERS who RULE well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.
If Elders had no involvement with administering justice in the name of the Lord among church members, there could be no RULE. The very word RULER carries with it the idea of punishment for offenses committed..
1 Peter 5:5 Likewise you younger people, SUBMIT yourselves to your ELDERS. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble."
17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church (ELDERS). But if he refuses even to hear the church (ELDERS), let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.
18 "Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you BIND (for judgment) on earth will be bound (for judgment) in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth (forgive) will be loosed (forgiven) in heaven.
The idea of God's judgment being administered by men was first shown in the Old Testament with Moses, the Judge of Israel, and later his appointment of other Judges. Notice what he said to them, - - -
13 Choose wise, understanding, and knowledgeable men from among your tribes, and I will make them heads over you.'
14 And you answered me and said, "The thing which you have told us to do is good.'
15 So I took the heads of your tribes, wise and knowledgeable men, and MADE THEM HEADS over you, leaders of thousands, leaders of hundreds, leaders of fifties, leaders of tens, and officers for your tribes.
16 "Then I commanded your JUDGES at that time, saying, "Hear the cases between your brethren, and JUDGE righteously between a man and his brother or the stranger who is with him.
17 You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small as well as the great; you shall not be afraid in any man's presence, FOR THE JUDGMENT IS GOD'S. The case that is too hard for you, bring to me, and I will hear it.'
18 And I commanded you at that time all the things which you should do
The idea of Judgment being issued in the Church by Elders is completely foreign to most Christians. This too was also prophesied by our Lord in Luke 18:1-8