Amazing Grace Baptist Church, Hamburg – Bible Study Material on James 5:13-16
James 5:13-16 focuses on the exhortation on prayer amid challenging circumstances, whether general or more specific such as in times of sicknesses. James’ teaching about prayer in this context forms one of the three concluding exhortations. The other two concluding exhortations are the prohibition of oaths previously discussed in James 5:12 and the responsibility to bring back sinning brothers to be studied in James 5:19-20.
The need to pray amid suffering
Some New Testament letters such as 1 Thessalonians 5:17 end with an exhortation to pray. In this context, however, James invites his readers to pray amid suffering. The kind of suffering that James is talking about is not clear. However, it is worth noting that since James had previously talked about suffering in James 5:1-11, it is most likely that James is talking about a kind of suffering relating to one’s faithfulness to God just like the ones experienced by the Old Testament prophets and Job. However, it could also be used in reference to general forms of suffering encompassing poverty, illness and death. To James therefore, what should be a response as we experience suffering is prayer.
The call to sing praises to God when experiencing peace of mind
James further calls his readers to sing praises amid the state of peace of mind. In other words, to James experiencing a state of wellness of life demands praises. Most importantly, the peace of mind that James talks about here does not describe a situation where one does not experience suffering. For it does not denote the exact opposite of being in trouble. Instead, it describes the peace of mind despite the fact that one is in the midst of suffering. Under this circumstance, they are to praises God. In the congregational context, therefore, one is inclined to imagine that prayer and praise could belong together.
The need for a prayer of faith
Unlike the person suffering who are required to pray, James teaches that the persons going through the specific suffering of sickness are to call the elders of the Church to pray for them. It is not clear why James seems to imply that it is only the sick who have the privilege of benefiting from the prayers of the elders. However, the fact that James invites the sick to call the elders to suggest that the sick are confined to sickbed and cannot go to the elders. This position is strengthened because James 5:15 brings out the idea that the Lord will raise that person up.
Anointing with oil
Accompanying the act of prayer for the sick is James’ related exhortation to anoint the sick with oil. It is worth emphasizing that although James instructs the elders to anoint the sick with oil, James states that the prayer of faith shall heal the sick implies that it is the prayer, rather than the oil that serves as the primary act. In this light, the elders were not instructed to receive money from the sick members of the congregation before praying for them as commonly practiced in some contemporary contexts.
There is no detailed instruction on the kind and symbolic significance of the oil that the elders were asked to apply on the sick. Medicinally, in the first place, oil was used mainly for healing and as a skin conditioner in the ancient world (Lk 10:34). However, as used in this context, and in the second place, since only the elders were required to apply the oil accompanied by prayer, the perspective that anointing with oil symbolically signified presence and power of God intervening in the believer’s physical predicament. This view finds strength given the fact that the disciples used oil to heal all kinds of sickness (Mk 16:13).
Confessing sins to one another
James seems to represent the view that some kinds of suffering have a spiritual connotation. For that reason, James 5:16 implies that confessing sins to one another in the gathered ecclesia brings about forgiveness and consequently leading to healing.
Today’s lesson has focussed on James exhortation to prayer amid suffering of all kinds. Of particular importance to James is that prayer, anointing with oil and confessing of sins were necessary parts of the healing and deliverance processes. The implication here is that one’s physical sickness and thus suffering may have a spiritual origin. The book of Job, however, cautions us against this line of thinking in that God does not allow us to establish automatically a direct logical connection between sickness/suffering and our sins.
1. Wellness of life describes one’s peace of mind despite the fact that one is in the midst of suffering. Explain.
2. How does James’ instruction on the use of anointing oil in James 5:14 relate to how it is practiced in some contemporary African Christian contexts.
3. Under what circumstance can we describe a person’s prayer as a prayer of faith?
4. Using yourself as an example, how is prayer important in our discipleship journey?