Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Necessity of Prayer when dealing with sickness - P1 of a Study of James 5:13-16

James 5:13-16 (NASB) "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."

Introduction:  As a pastor I often experience the direct impact illness and suffering has in the lives of church members, my own family and in my own life. The subject of God's healing power and will to heal has been an issue that I have found to be both encouraging and mysterious. Oftentimes when reading anything on the subject, one will encounter one of two extremes: either God wills all Christians to not be sick or He is in a general sense no longer performing miraculous acts of healing in the church. To offset these two extreme positions, this blogger has found James 5:13-16 to be very helpful in shedding light on this very personal, emotionally charged and what can be spiritually liberating subject.

Main point and plan of this study in James 5:13-16: In order to encourage the study and application this text, a fresh exegesis on James 5:13-16 will be offered, along with life applicational headings  and commentary. Hence, the next several posts aim to achieve the following main point: to better understand God's will and purposes in the healing of Christians who submit themselves to the prescribed rite of anointing with oil. The reader is urged to pray and ask the Holy Spirit for illumination prior to study. The Spirit is the One who makes the text plain to the believer's understanding and application. (see 1 Corinthians 2:10-13; 1 John 2:20,27)

A Quick note on the identity of James:  James was the half-brother of Jesus according to the flesh and was likely the author of this earliest of New Testament letters. The Book of James (or as it is called by its Greek title: "The Book of Jacob") predates the Gospel of Matthew by at least five years, making it the first composed canonical book of the New Testament. James' letter gives insight into what the early church practiced and believed in what was less than 15 years after the birth of the church on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. One of the areas James enables us to sort is what the early church believed on the subject of healing, confession of sins and prayer. James would had witnessed first hand the healing ministry of his famous half-brother Jesus. Even though James did not believe on Jesus as the Messiah, Savior and Lord, he did believe on Him following a post-resurrection appearance by Jesus to him according to 1 Corinthians 15:7. James' Epistle is valuable in that it has many parallel statements and teachings similar to Jesus, including healing. This brief background aids in us seeing how important James 5:13-16 is in enhancing one's understanding of physical healing in the scriptures.

With our introductory remarks made, we will begin by considering the necessity of prayer when dealing with sickness.

The Necessity of Prayer when dealing with sickness. James 5:13

James 5:13 "Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray.Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises."

Commentary: James begins with the question: Is anyone among you suffering affliction? The verb translated "suffering"is defined by scholar Dr. William Mounce as refering to "suffering evil or afflictions, to be troubled, dejected and to show endurance in the face of trials." James is addressing those readers whom are currently experiencing not just mental, but also physical afflictions. The context of the passage suggests physical ailments being experienced in the congregation.

To see where this particular verb is used elsewhere in scripture, Paul writes to Timothy In 2 Timothy 2:9 : "for which I suffer hardship  even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned." Paul was in a dungeon and undoubtedly was facing physical difficulties due to exposure and deteriorating conditions. 

In the one other place we find this verb in the New Testament, 2 Timothy 4:5, the context suggests more emotional difficulties found often in ministry: "But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." Clearly there were people in the church who were sick, otherwise James would not had raised the question. What is his suggestion? Keep on praying. 

We sometimes pray once or twice for people and then give up. In the text of James 5:13, whatever praying was begun, it must not cease. We should not give up whenever we don't see immediate results to our prayers. As preachers of old have often noted: "God's delays are not God's denials".

In typical Jewish style (James of course was a Jew, writing to Christians who came from Jewish backgrounds), James expresses the exact opposite scenario of people who are experiencing joyful, relatively problem-free seasons: ("is anyone experiencing cheerful times, then let him sing"). 

This Jewish device of stating extreme contrasts of human experience served to represent the wholeness of life. The point of James is to focus  on how the Lord's presence is just as necessary in difficult seasons as delightful ones. (See Ecclesiastes 3 for example). Singing the praises of God and being thankful enables one to cultivate a life of prayer, which in turn makes praying for healing a natural (albeit a supernatural) part of the Christian life! Hence prayer is a necessary pre-requisite when it comes to preparing oneself for what could be a supernatural response from God.

More next time....

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