“Prayer Restores Spiritual Health” Part 2
INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of James 5.13-18 Part 2
James 5. George Müller was a 19th century Christian in England. He is known for directing orphanages in Bristol England. He cared for over 10,000 orphans in his life and established 117 schools offering Christian education to over 120,000 children. He was a Christian.
He did all of this, by the same grace of God you have access to, while never asking a dime from man. But as you may know, the life of Müller and his orphans wasn’t exactly predictable. They truly relied on God in prayer.
What is probably the best known incident in the life of George Müller is mentioned neither in his autobiography nor the Pierson and Warne biographies. It is mentioned in a biographical sketch called ‘The Adventures of Sister Abigail.’
Early one morning Abigail was playing in Mr. Müller’s garden at the orphanage. Mr. Müller took her hand, saying, ‘Come, see what our Father will do,’ and he led her into the long dinning room. The plates and cups were on the table. But there was nothing but empty dishes. There was no food and no money to supply the needs.
The children were standing waiting for their morning meal, when Mr. Müller said, ‘Children, you know we must be in time for school.’ Then lifting his hand, said ‘Dear Father we thank Thee for what Thou art going to give us to eat.’ A knock at the door was heard. The Baker stood there, and said, ‘Mr. Müller, I couldn’t sleep last night. Some how I felt that you didn’t have bread for breakfast and the Lord wanted me to send you some. So I got up at two o’ clock and in the kitchen baked some fresh bread and have brought it.’
George Müller thanked the man and praised God for His care, then said, ‘Children, we not only have bread, but a rare treat of fresh bread.’ No sooner had he said this then there came a second knock at the door. This time it was the milkman. He announced that his milk cart had broken down in front of the orphanage, and he would like to give the children his cans of fresh milk, so that he could empty his wagon and repair it.”
“Come, see what our Father will do,” Mr. Müller says. That’s an invitation to all of us, an invitation for prayer. Mr. Müller would say he was no one special, just a sinful man declared righteous in God’s sight and one who simply lived with God. He was a man of like nature as ours…Now…
If you recall from 2 weeks ago … James 5:13-18 is all about prayer. Let’s read it together …
James 5:13–18 13 Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. 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 earth for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.
George Müller was a man with a nature like ours and Elijah was too! Yet prayer through them … and men, women, and children like them, is effective.
Going to God in prayer isn’t attempting to twist the arm of an unloving, unwilling deity, but basking in the warm care of our loving Heavenly Father.
TRANS: [FUNNY!] Since it’s been two weeks, I’d like to spend a little bit of time to recapture the message from last time, like the escaped calf I put back in the Marcowsky’s pasture on Thursday night after church. Let’s chase down the meaning here again, shall we? OK …
Verse 13 gives us the commandment to pray. .. Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises.
The point of this is don’t forget God. No matter if you are suffering or cheerful, you must always go to God. The temptation when you are suffering is to forget God… “How could God do this” or you make excuses “I’m so sad” or something… And the temptation when you are cheerful is to forget God… “Everything is going well; why do I need God?” Suffering? Pray; Cheerful? Sing praises.
And then verses 14 to the first part of 16 we have dependence on others for prayer … dependence on others for prayer … and what is this all about? Sick, anointing with oil, healing?
The difficulty of interpreting this passage is at the beginning of verse 15 where it says, “and the prayer offered in faith [or literally the “prayer of faith”] will restore the one who is sick.”
We entertained two views. First, the majority view that says that this passage does not guarantee, but it allows for physical healing.
The passage doesn’t guarantee healing, the view says, but is limited by either the quantity or quality of the elders’ or the sick person’s faith, or the seeming promise is limited by the doctrines of the faith or the physical healing didn’t happen because God didn’t give the elder “the prayer of faith.”
Either way, this passage… this view says, isn’t promising healing, though it reads like it, “and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick.” It seems like a promise, but it’s really not.
Evaluation: And you remember we argued against this view by pointing out after the elders perform this supposed ritual in verse 14, there are actually not one, but three promises in verse 15. First, the “prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick.” That’s the first promise. The second promise is similar to the first promise … that “the Lord will raise him up.” The third promise is that if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.
It’s a package deal. You do the procedure in verse 14 and all 3 promises in verse 15 is the result. And so we noted that if one of those promises doesn’t happen, it calls into question all of those promises. If you limit one, you have to limit all of them. You can’t just pick and choose which promises you want to limit. In these verses what we see is that as result of faith [left hand THUMB], there is healing, and forgiveness [right hand finger].
And that’s the same with Matthew 9. In Matthew 9, as a result of faith, there is healing, and forgiveness.
In that chapter, Matthew 9, as we saw last time, there was a paralytic lying on a bed and first, Jesus saw their faith. So he can say to the paralytic … second, “your sins are forgiven.” And third to prove Jesus can forgive sins, He heals the man. As a result of faith, there is healing, and forgiveness. But what if there was no faith? Would Jesus heal? No. For even in his hometown, he didn’t do many miracles because of their unbelief (Matt. 13:58). If there was no healing for this man, we would expect there not to be forgiveness either. It was a package deal.
That would be the same in James 5. So, if this is supposed to be about physical healing, what if physical healing doesn’t happen? We can’t be sure forgiveness happens either. But we know forgiveness is guaranteed for all who confess. Therefore, this passage is not about physical healing. Because if physical healing doesn’t happen and that’s worded as a guarantee, we’d also have to teach that forgiveness may not happen even though that’s worded as a guarantee. But forgiveness is guaranteed if you confess, therefore the passage is not about physical healing.
So, the physical view has a serious practical and theological problem.
That’s why I preached the spiritually healing view. And indeed the context and the word meanings support this view.
2. Spiritual healing view
For example, verse 14. Is anyone among you sick? We noted that sick can mean weakness. You could translate this word weakness. In fact, the vast majority of times in the epistles, and James is an epistle … most times this word refers to spiritual weakness. And we saw some examples, like 1 Thessalonians 5:14.
That understanding makes verses 13 and 14 flow naturally. What happens if somebody who is suffering doesn’t pray or someone who is cheerful doesn’t sing praises? He becomes, verse 14, weak.
Or think of the larger context of James’ letter. It is very convicting. After having read this most convicting letter and searched your heart before the Lord and have been convicted of your sin, no doubt some would walk away and throw their hands up in despair thinking, “I can’t live up to anything that’s in here!”
Okay, James is saying, is any among you weak? Are you spiritually weak? Do you recognize that now after reading this letter?
What do you need? Well, you need prayer. But what happens? Often, you can’t pray! You’re spiritually weak, in despair… and can’t pray. So what do you need? You need others to pray for you and with you.
Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him. The spiritually weak call for the elders, who are presumably spiritually strong.
APP: I would encourage you then if and when you find yourself in a weak spiritual condition, you need to find someone who is spiritually strong and have them pray with you and for you. I am available for you. There are others who are spiritually strong in our assembly. But get with, James says, the elders of our assembly and have them pray for you.
This is dependence on others for prayer. We must be praying for each other and asking others to pray for us.
TRANS: So there, the calf is back in the pasture. Unfortunately, we won’t get through the entire passage this morning, but I think this calf will stay in, but let’s continue now…
Anointing with Oil
The spiritually weak call on the elders and they pray over the individual and “anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.” If this isn’t physical healing but spiritual healing, how does anointing with oil play into this?
There are two Greek words that are translated “to anoint with oil.” One refers to a ceremonial anointing. For example, the OT priests and kings were anointed with oil in a ritual or ceremony to indicate their instalment into that office.
But that’s not the word here. The word translated anoint with oil in James 5:14 has a mundane usage of the word; it’s a non-ceremonial word. Overwhelmingly the vast majority of the time, this word is used and it doesn’t refer to a ritual of some kind.
If you lived in the Middle East, this is the kind of word you would use to describe what you do when you fix yourself in the washroom in the morning. You refresh yourself. This word literally means to rub with oil; to rub or massage.
For example is used in Matthew 6:17. Jesus gives His teaching on fasting and teaches that we shouldn’t be like the hypocrites and put on a gloomy face. Instead, “but you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face.” In other words, look refreshed, pleasant, not gloomy and depressed.
It’s used in Luke 7:38 when a woman who was standing behind Jesus was weeping and she began to wet his feet with her tears and kept wiping them with the hair of her head and kissing his feet and anointing them with perfume. This is not a ceremony.
Then later in that same story, Jesus chides the Pharisee in whose house He was, saying, “you did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with perfume.” What’s clear from this passage is that anointing someone’s head with oil was a custom.
If you were with Jesus on that hot and dusty day in that part of the world, you would have walked in almost unbearable heat … the sun relentlessly beating down on you … and you would finally find relief at that Pharisee’s home if … they were to wash your feet at the door and anoint your head with oil to refresh you from your hot travel. That’s refreshment from the elements.
And when you study anointing with oil in the Bible, what you come away with is that using oil in order to heal physically sick people is nonexistent elsewhere in the entire Bible. There is no other verse in Scripture that explicitly teaches that anybody at all used oil for the direct purpose of miraculously healing a sick person.
The only other possible reference is Mark 6:13. You could turn there … Mark 6:13. Some use this verse to teach that anointing with oil was used in order to miraculously heal people. Mark 6:13 says, “And they [the apostles] were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil [same word in James 5:14…they were anointing with oil ] many sick people and healing them.”
You can see there are three things happening in the passage. The apostles were casting out many demons. And they were anointing with oil many sick people. And they were healing them.
We can’t conclude that anointing with oil was a ceremony in order to miraculously and physically heal somebody. This is the same word in James 5:14, a mundane usage. They were massaging them with oil, likely rubbing their heads with oil. There are simply 3 things going on in the passage. Casting out demons, anointing with oil, and miraculous healing. We cannot assume based on that kind of wording that anointing led to or caused the miraculous healing. We can only conclude that they were practicing the custom of the time and refreshing them with olive oil along with exorcisms and miraculous healings.
So what is James saying? We have to keep in mind the context. You remember that these believers are persecuted they may even have injuries. Spiritually, there are some who are weak. They themselves can’t pray, they need the help of the spiritually strong.
And in that culture, when the spiritually strong come to the weak and destitute and sometimes physically injured people, olive oil was helpful. You remember the good Samaritan who found the man beaten along the side of the road and in Luke 10:34 he came to him and bandaged up his wounds pouring oil and wine on them. Oil would soothe the wounds.
[FUNNY!] You say, “Hold on … Are you trying to say that if you are weak and need help, you go see the pastor and he’s going to give me a deep muscle oil massage? … No, as has been said before, we’re not supposed to start a Northlight Church massage parlour, I’ll can you that right now.
So what is James saying? He’s saying, “Be a good Samaritan.” Spiritually strong come alongside the spiritually weak and encourage them, refresh them spiritually and physically as you can. Just like Paul says in Galatians 6:1 Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness and verse 2 of that passage … “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.”
Care for others, help them. Have the savor of God in your life and like Psalm 23:5 may someone be able to say of you … “that you have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows.” In other words, your presence with me … your life before me, your words, are encouraging, strengthening, refreshing. If there is some physical help that’s needed, you meet that need to.
So in our part of the world, in northern Canada, we don’t have the extreme heat that those in the Middle East do … plus, we have more advanced medical equipment. To resurrect a middleeastern custom of anointing with olive oil and apply that today would be inappropriate.
And you anoint with oil James says in the name of the Lord. The elders are to refresh the spiritually weak. They are to encourage them physically or spiritually in the name of the Lord… on behalf of Christ… in a way that’s consistent with who Christ is and what He’s done.
So the procedure then is this: if you are spiritually weak or discouraged because of your circumstances, call for the elders of the church. Call for the spiritually strong. Have them pray over you. Listen to their encouraging words. Receive an elder’s spiritual wisdom and grace. They will refresh you in the name of the Lord, in a way that is in keeping with the person of Christ.
And so it’s no wonder then the promise in verse 15. The promise is indeed an unlimited promise. When the spiritually strong come alongside the spiritually weak in this way verse 15 the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.” You will know the spiritual refreshment and you will be restored, raised up spiritually, and forgiven of your sins.
This is a guarantee. And the word sick there in verse 15 is a different word for sick than the word in verse 14. The word sick here in verse 15 only occurs one other time in the New Testament in Hebrews 12:3.
And you could turn there to Hebrews 12:3. And we will see that this word does not refer to somebody who is physically sick, but to someone who is discouraged or weary of soul.
Hebrews 12:3 For consider Him [Jesus] who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not [here’s the word] grow weary and lose heart.”
And the phrase “grow weary” translates the same word that translates our English word sick in James 5:15. Why they translate it sick in James 5:15 is because outside the NT, in other ancient Greek literature, it can be translated that way. But in the NT we don’t have that meaning and it’s primary usage inside and outside the New Testament is to be or to grow weary.
But back in James 5, now you’ll see it, James 5:15…”And the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is weary and the Lord will raise him up and if he has committed sins they will be forgiven him.”
Spiritual restoration and forgiveness is promised. God will send away your sins in a time like this. No surprise. In a time like this, you are confessing your weakness to the elders and with you, the elders ask for your forgiveness and restoration and God restores you to spiritual health.
Receive that restoration! What a powerful and refreshing experience you could have if you’re spiritually weak! Come on, get refreshed!
So therefore, v. 16., James applies this to everyone … confess! Confess your sins to one another!
James 5:16 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed.
In other words, this kind of thing should be going on all over the church, not just with the elders. We should confess our sins to one another…
You know what, you don’t have it altogether! And those of you who are struggling need to see you who don’t seem like you’re struggling, actually confess sin. Find someone weak and confess your sin.
We ought to praise God when some brother or sister approaches us and confesses some sin to us! We shouldn’t mock them or discourage them. We shouldn’t think they are weird. We shouldn’t be angry with them … What should we do? We should pray for them James says here… “pray for one another that you may be healed.”
Bear their burden to the Lord in prayer! They confess to you, you pray for them. Pray for their healing.
And the word for “be healed” there in verse 16 can just as well be understood spiritually as well as physically. This is a word for the effect Jesus miracles have on those who were physically sick. But it’s also used spiritually to refer to spiritually healing. For example, in Matthew 13:15 Jesus says … “FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL, WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR, AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES, OTHERWISE THEY WOULD SEE WITH THEIR EYES, HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN, AND I WOULD HEAL THEM.’ Heal them spiritually.
Heal in Matthew 13:15 is the same word for healing in James 5:15. Confess sins and pray for each other. If you see someone in our midst who is spiritually weak, encourage them, pray for them, refresh them spiritually. If you are struggling spiritually, don’t run from us, run to someone who is strong spiritually and be refreshed, have them pray for you!
ILL: John Hyde was an American missionary who preached in India in late 1800’s. In 1902, John returned to America to regain health. He spoke where he could, and emphasized the necessity of united prayer so that the work of missions would advance. When he returned to India, revival came the school for girls begun under his work. There was open and public confession of sin and clear conversions.
They decided to have a convention in April 1904 for the purpose of uniting in prayer that the Lord would move mightily throughout India. But only a few praying Christians responded, one of them was John Hyde. So they had another session in August and John and a friend spent 30 days and nights of earnest request for a revival beforehand. A man who was there in those August services recounts his impressions.
“The church as a whole was at a low ebb spiritually. Something drastic was needed. Hyde realized that the church had no power because of sin which had not been cleansed from her life, and that sin is washed away only when there is true repentance and confession.”
The man continues, “after Hyde had prayed all night and a day of fasting and prayer he came in the presence of a large group of Indian Christian men and spoke openly, though reservedly and in much anguish of spirit … he spoke of his own personal conflict with secret sin that he often repeated and he shared how God led him through to victory. The effect of his open confession was electric…. That experience marked the beginning of a life of great spiritual power in the case of John Hyde and the beginning of a deep revival in the church.”
So my point in recounting the story to you is simply to say that confession of sin to one another was a part of this revival of God’s people. You want to grow spiritually, you want others to grow spiritually, you think so and so needs a reviving, confess you sins to another believer. This isn’t to embarrass you, but it keeps you from hiding your sin. It’s not air all your dirty laundry, but to unburden your soul. Confess and receive cleansing!
Why keep it in? Confess your sins to others and to God that you might be healed. When you hold in your sin, it’ll burn you. Your conscience gnaws at you…but when you confess and forsake, your conscience finds relief from the mercy of the Lord. Liberate yourself; confess that sin!
CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of James 5.13-18 Part 2
We need to make sure that we have compassion on those who are spiritually sick and who may or may not confess their sin.
ILL: Many of you know that our family has had its fair share of sickness of this year. We’ve gone through 2 bouts of the flu. And you all know the violent effects that has on adults and children. It’s disgusting, it hurts, you’re and everyone is miserable.
[self-righteously … ] Now, I didn’t get violently sick.
And so I just ripped into those in my family who were throwing … tearing into them…. “Why would you do that? Why on earth would you throw up? I can’t believe you…the nerve you have, throwing up. Why don’t you stop doing that? I can’t take this anymore…you’re driving me nuts! What a horrible person…?” Is that what I said? No, and you probably don’t do that either.
When there is someone who is sick, you help them. With little Pazli, we had to forcibly direct her mouth toward and yes, even into the bowl so that she’d hit the bowl and not me, my wife, or our bed. She slept in our bed so that we could get to her in time. We realize this of course after changing 3 bed sheets in one night.
But we didn’t get upset with her for being sick. We had compassion! “Oh, the poor sick little thing…such a pathetic little sight!” We had great love for her; it was hard on her and on us, but we kept at it…we stuck with her…we gave her what she needed until she was healed.
Now, when you realize someone you know and love is a sinner…and when they start throwing up all that sin in your face, what’s your reaction?
Your temptation is to tear into them. To get angry or upset, frustrated. That’s my temptation! My temptation when I see you sin is to think … boy, I can’t believe … and then I have to realize we all sinners! We’re all spiritually weak. We all have sin problems and it’s no wonder when we see it.
But just like when somebody is physically sick, when someone is spiritually sick we need to have great compassion. When they confess their sin to you or when they simply reveal it in a less than desirable way, have grace, have mercy.
Because mercy… Infinite matchless mercy has been shown to you in Christ. How patient and caring Jesus has been to you! You have fallen, you have been angry this week, or you worried, you haven’t trusted God as you should … And someone reveals the fact that they are a sinner to you either they confess it or they throw it in your face, first think how gracious God has been to you in Christ!
Forgive, as you have been forgiven. Be gracious, as you have been shown grace by God. Jesus death gives you complete and utter forgiveness; we ought to have several compassionate bones in our body!
His resurrection gives new life, whose power we have every day, that heals and restores us.