Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, & 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, & the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another & pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working (James 5:14-16).
The word “sick” does not necessarily exclusively refer to physical illness. The word literally means “to be weak.” Though it is used in the Gospels for physical maladies, it is generally used in Acts and the Epistles to refer to a weak faith or a weak conscience (Ac 20:35; Ro 4:19, 14:1-2; 1 Cor 8:11-12; 2 Cor 12:10, 13:9).
James was not referring to the bedridden, diseased, or the ill. He wrote to those who had grown weary, who had become weak both morally and spiritually in the midst of suffering. These are the ones who should call for the help of the elders of the church. The early church leaders were instructed (1 Thess 5:14) to “encourage the timid” and “help the weak.” This is the proper context for understanding James 5:14-16.
For the fallen, discouraged, distressed weary believer, restoration is assured and the elders’ prayer offered in faith will make the sick person (lit., “weary one”) well (i.e., will restore him from discouragement and spiritual defeat), and the Lord will raise him up.
That the restoration is spiritual, not physical, is clarified by the assurance, if he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Many physically ill Christians have called on elders to pray for them and to anoint them with oil, but a sizable percentage of them have remained sick. This fact suggests that the passage may have been mistakenly understood as physical restoration rather than spiritual restoration. (Read this paragraph again)
Therefore James is not suggesting a ceremonial or ritual anointing as a means of divine healing. Instead, he is referring to the common practice of using oil as a means of bestowing honor, refreshment, and strength.
Thinking About Illness, Healing, and Miracles…
Illness: Why do people get sick? Several reasons. First, we live in a fallen and broken world. With that being the case, we all will get sick… and one day we will die unless Jesus comes back first. As written, “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment” (Heb 9:27).
Second, it can be the result of sin as found in 1 Cor 11:30, “That is why many of you are weak & ill, & some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.” The “that” in vs 30 was people causing dissension and problems in the church over the Lord’s Supper. NOTE: This is another reason why we all must be very careful how we conduct ourselves in dealing with the Bride of Christ!
Thus… whenever I pray for a believer who is sick, I always request healing “according to God’s will and in His time.” The reason is because God may have the person in that condition for a reason and I don’t want to get in the way of what God is doing in their life. Think through that…
Last. Eventually an illness is going to get us all. Eventually we will not be able to reverse the effects of an illness and we will die. However, there are some things worse than death. Sometimes the ultimate healing is to leave this life and be with Christ. “To live is Christ, to die is GAIN!” (Phil 1:21).
Healing: There is no doubt that God heals physical and emotional problems. one of the ways God heals is through medicine. We are to pray for healing… AND go to the doctor… AND take medicine. Then if God so chooses for a person to be healed, they will. But eventually doctors and medicine will not reverse the process our sickness… which is also known to us as dying.
Miracles: We need to be careful how we use Biblical terminology so as not to negate it’s meaning. Thus…
As Christians pray, is it a miracle when a person with cancer goes into remission while taking chemotherapy? Is it a miracle when a baby born several weeks premature survives in an incubator then goes home completely healthy? Is it a miracle when a person who can’t hear well begins to hear with a cochlear implant? Conversely…
Is it a miracle when a person with a withered hand immediately has it straightened? Is it a miracle when a person who is crazy suddenly is restored to mental health? Is it a miracle when a person blind from birth immediately receives their sight? Is it a miracle when a person who’s been cripple for decades suddenly gets out of bed and walks? Is it a miracle when the doctor says, “I looked at the X-Ray… we did all the tests… there is no doubt there was a tumor… but it’s not there now and I can’t explain why!”
My point: It is unfortunate that we use the term miracle to describe things that don’t fit the Biblical context of miracle. In my opinion, Christians use the term miracle too flippantly. There is a difference between God healing and performing a miracle. The result may be the same, but the way it happens is significant. God does still perform miracles just as He did as recorded in Scripture… we’re just a little too quick to attach the description to things that don’t fall into that category. Just a thought…
Praying For Those Who Are Sick…
So how are we to pray for those who are sick? It is right, proper, and important that we pray for those who are weak… both physically and spiritually. There is a distinct possibility that we are missing a great opportunity to pray and intercede for people who are not sick physically, but are in need of spiritual and emotional healing.
Praying Regarding Physical Sickness:
Lord God… ruler of heaven and earth. I come to you on the behalf of my friend who is dealing with this malady. As the great physician and healer… the one who fashioned us from the dust of the earth… You have the power to heal my friend. You alone hold in your hand the power to restore health to them. My prayer today is that you eliminate this sickness according to your will and in your time. Give the doctors wisdom to properly diagnose what is wrong and the ability to do what is necessary that they may be healed. Give the nurses and others a keen eye to notice things the doctor might miss without them. And if You choose to restore their health, we will give You the honor… praise… and glory!
Praying Regarding Spiritual And Emotional Weakness:
Father, I come to you as The Creator God of the universe. By Your word life is granted and by Your hand life ends. All things are under Your direction and control as the only good, loving, and merciful King. On the behalf of my friend I ask you to restore the joy of Your salvation. You know the circumstances that have brought about her current condition of struggling and weakness. And regarding these things You have the power to bring the healing and restoration she needs. Give her the joy that comes from being in Your presence. Fill her heart and soul with the comfort that is everlasting. Infuse her spirit with the peace that comes from being sheltered under your wings. On her behalf I ask that you bring repentance that restores… confession that heals… and obedience that strengthens. In your will and time God may my friend know once again the joy of worshipping in Your house… with Your people… for Your glory.”
Prayer is not powerful… but the God who answers prayer is all powerful. There is no disease He cannot cure… no sickness He cannot heal… no condition He cannot correct! Our call is to take all our requests boldly to the Throne of grace to find help in time of need. We take our requests to God and then trust Him for the outcome… regardless of what it is.