Over the last couple of Sunday mornings, we’ve been addressing the issue of trials in the life of a believer. I really have had quite an amazing response to those couple of messages in which we looked at Hebrews chapter 12, the discipline of the Lord and the purposes of God in our suffering, the purposes of God in our lives, our trials, our struggles.
It occurred to me that there was so much interest and so much positive feedback and so many people were helped, and it occurred to me as I discussed this thing with people that there was – it was sort of one thing left out. We talked about learning how to see the hand of God in your suffering and to see the good disciplining of the Lord as He purposes to produce Holiness in your life through chastening and we talked about various things that God is attempting to do in your life.
Sometimes retribution for sin, sometimes prevention of sin, sometimes education so that you learn more about Him that you would never be able to learn if you hadn’t gone through suffering and trials, and sometimes anticipation. Sometimes He puts us through trials just so we don’t get too connected to this earth and we still have the hope of heaven burning in our hearts.
But it also is true that there are some people who, try as they may, even though they – even though may understand that these are the things that God is doing and they feel the chastening of the Lord and they – they understand the theology of it, that the Lord is doing it, even though it seems at the time to be grievous, really He’s doing it to produce the peaceful fruit of righteousness. He’s doing it to produce Holiness in their lives, He’s – He’s doing it as a manifestation that they are His children and every son whom He loves, He scourges, and it’s really a sign of love as it is when a parent punishes a child to – to protect that child from what could be deadly or devastating.
Even though you know all that theology you still somehow can’t crawl out of the pit, you still somehow can’t rise above your circumstance; you’re still somehow buried underneath it. There have been people, of course, in my life through the years here in our church that couldn’t seem to get on top. They couldn’t seem to find a way out and many of them wound up in a – in a hospital. Some of them wound up, of course, typically taking drugs to try to pacify their troubled hearts and to produce some kind of temporary and artificial calm. People who just cannot seem to rise above the difficult issues of life.
And so I thought it would be appropriate as we sort of come to the sort of the wrap up on that series that – that I would just take you to the fifth chapter of James. Because this is where you go when you can’t pick yourself up; this is where you go when you sort of come to the end. And you really understand the theology of all of it, you're “Yeah okay, I’m a – I'm a child of God, I’m being disciplined for my – for my own good. The Lord is chastening me so that He can produce Holiness, so that He can produce the peaceful fruit of righteousness, so that He can demonstrate His love to me. The Lord is showing me that the path of perfection is through trial so I’m to count it all joy when I go through various trials because they have a perfect work. And, yes, I know that Jesus Christ the Savior was perfected through sufferings and why should I expect that my perfection would bypass suffering if He who is perfect suffered.”
You understand all of that theology but you’re still depressed, you’re still under the pile, you’re still in the pit, you’re still in the hole, the – the – the issues of life are too devastating to you. An unfaithful spouse, a divorce, a separation, a desertion, a child that has rebelled against you and against the Lord and broken your heart, the loss of a job, economic instability, a huge debt that may have come in your life, physical illness. You just heard that you have cancer or you have a test coming up in a week or two that’s going to find out what it is that’s bothering you and you’re fearful about that, or you’re – you’re anticipating a surgery on your heart; or whatever it is you’re really struggling to rise above it. What do you do? Where do you go? That’s the question.
When you can’t find the resource within yourself, where do you go? I think James 5 really addresses that issue in verses 13 and following. Let me read the text to you and we’ll set it in your minds, and then we’ll go through it. “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.” Let me stop right there. By the way, did you ever think of that? I mean, that’s pretty simple stuff, isn’t it? Let him pray. “Is anyone cheerful?” – This is almost said with a tongue-in-cheek kind of attitude. – “Let him sing praises.
“Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church and let them pray over him” – how about that. Have you done that – “anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 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. 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.” – illustration in point – “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.”
This is a fascinating passage of Scripture. And I – I confess to you that it has been a challenge for interpreters through the years. The issue of this chapter is very clear. Somebody is sick and they go to the elders of the church, and the elders of the church pray for them, anoint them with oil, and they are made whole. Is this, in fact, the promise for a physical healing? What is this saying? Because truly, people have prayed for the physical healing of many in the church. The elders have prayed and perhaps even anointed with oil and people don’t get well. Just exactly what is this passage about? What kind of sickness is this? What kind – what is the significance of the anointing and what is the promise of healing? And what is the illustration of Elijah and how does it even have any bearing on the healing when it’s all about rain?
A lot of passages – a lot of issues rise out of this passage, that need to be addressed but I think if you get the right flow it becomes a tremendously important passage for our understanding. The issue with this passage is to understand it rightly because it is so practical for our Christian lives. Not to understand it, it is not just to miss the point of the text. It’s to miss the application of the text to your life. Proper understanding of Scripture has tremendous implications.
And many believers are under the discipline of the Lord, all of us at some time or another. We’re exposed to persecution or we’re exposed to sufferings of all kinds and we become defeated and we become depressed and we become despondent and we’re unable to gain victory over our trials. And what do we do? This passage gives the answer to that.
Just a little background, James is writing to Jews, a church of Jews, those who had accepted Jesus as their Messiah. They were scattered in what is commonly known as the diaspora in Greek, or the dispersion. The Jews scattered out of the land of Palestine all over the Gentile nations.
And here was one congregation of Jewish believers in some Gentile nation, we don’t know where. They had probably been scattered under the persecution of Acts 7 and 8 which was headed by no other than Saul, who later became the apostle Paul. He was breathing out threatenings and slaughters against the church and many of the Jewish believers scattered into the Gentile nations for safety and protection and also for the purpose of Evangelism.
They got out there in the Gentile world and they faced all kinds of hostility. The Gospel was not popular in the Gentile world and, of course, there were other Jews in those Gentile locations, those Gentile cities who hated the Gospel because they rejected Jesus as their Messiah. So these Jewish believers faced trials and stress and hostility and persecution. And in part, James writes to them to encourage them in the midst of that.
If you want to get a little feel for that, go back in the text of verse 7. Verse 7 really sets it up. He says to them – well, first of all, you could go back even further into the chapter. He – he indicts the rich in verse 1, the rich people, and he indicts them for a number of things. They have literally built their lives around riches that rot, they have built their lives around gold and silver which rusts, and they have nothing to look forward to. But in the last days they’re going to be judged.
One of the things they did was they held back “the pay of laborers,” verse 4, they didn’t pay the people, the common people, the poor people who worked for them. They withheld their wages, and the wages cried out against them. “The outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth,” which indicates they were probably God’s people. So here were some people in the church working for the rich. And, generally, believers were among the poor, not many noble, not many mighty, and so here were some poor scattered Jewish people who had –had fled from Palestine and, therefore, they probably didn’t have anything with them. They certainly didn’t have their families, their support, their careers, et cetera.
They took menial jobs, and they belonged to the Lord, the Lord of Hosts. The Lord of Hosts, indicating His great power. He commands a host of angels to do His bidding in judgment. This powerful Lord of Hosts has found out that the children who are belonging to Him have not been paid the appropriate wage for what they have done. He says to the rich in verse 5, “You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.” You’re literally fattening yourselves to be killed like an animal is fattened and taken to slaughter.
And verse 6 sort of comes to the peak of it. “You have condemned and put to death the righteous and he doesn’t resist you.” These righteous people who belong to God, who were the children of God, who belong to the Lord of Hosts, were being mistreated. They were having their pay withheld, and they were even being condemned in courts and they were even being executed and they went quietly. Now this shows something of the nature of the suffering of the Jewish believers. Literally, some of them had been executed.
So in verse 7, with that as a background, James says, “Be patient” – hang on, endure – “brethren until the coming of the Lord.” This is how it’s going to be. Remember what Jesus said? “In this world you shall have tribulation.” It’s to be expected.
So “be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold the farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains.” He waits for the early rain, the late rain, waits for his harvest. “You too be patient” – like a farmer – “strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.”
All of the New Testament believers lived in – in the light of the return of Christ. They lived as if He could come at any moment. That’s what’s known as the doctrine of immanency, that Christ could come at any moment. And they lived that way and we ought to live that way as well. So he’s simply saying hang on, strengthen your hearts, be patient. Verse 9, don’t what? Don’t complain, don’t complain against each other.” You bring yourself into judgment; your judge is right there watching.
“As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience” – you need an illustration. You’re suffering, you need to do it patiently, let me give you some examples. Verse 10, “Take the Prophets,” – take the prophets, they suffered patiently. Boy, did they ever. They endured all kinds of hatred and hostility. Remember when Jesus indicted Jerusalem and said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kill the Prophets, stone those that are sent to you.” They sawed Isaiah in half, tradition says. They threw Jeremiah in a pit, so it was. “Take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” Look at them as an example. They suffered and they endured.
Verse 11, “Behold, we count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job” – remember Job; boy did he ever endure – the loss of everything – “And you have heard of the endurance of Job and you have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings.” How was it in the end for Job? Good? Very good. You have seen through the life of Job “that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.”
So this is all about being patient in suffering. In verse 12, he says, “Above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but let your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.” What is He saying here? Don’t make rash statements in the midst of your suffering. Don’t make foolish vows and foolish pledges and foolish promises. Exercise self-control over your mouth so that you don’t bring yourself under divine judgment, a greater suffering.
And then comes the passage on prayer in verse 13. “Is any among you” – and he starts to be specific, “I want to talk to those of you who are suffering. Those of you who are spiritually exhausted. You have worked and haven’t been paid, you may have been condemned in the courts and you may have been imprisoned. You may have family members who have been executed and it’s more than you can bear. You are spiritually exhausted, you are debilitatingly weak and weary. What do you do? What do you do when the load is more than you can possibly handle? What do you do when you’re a casualty to the battle, when you’re weak and defeated and without victory in your spiritual life, when you’re a fallen soldier, seriously wounded in the fray and you can’t get up on your own? That’s the issue in this text.
I really don’t think it has anything to do with physical illness, and that’s very important. I don’t think it has anything to do with physical illness and physical healing of physical illness. I think he’s talking about spiritual weakness here, spiritual weariness, spiritual exhaustion, spiritual depression, calling for spiritual means and what He calls for is prayer. Now a careful look at the text, I think, will open this up to us. I just want to kind of link prayer with some other things.
Let’s first of all talk about prayer and comfort, verse 13. Prayer and comfort. “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises.” Any of you suffering? It’s the same Greek word as in verse 10 where we see the Prophets as examples of suffering. And their suffering in verse 10 was not suffering from physical illness. It was suffering from persecution, evil treatment, abuse, wickedness. There was some obvious physical beating, physical persecution, but the – the idea here is the stress and calamity of all kinds that comes into your life.
Those of you who are under tremendous calamity who are, in the words of 2 Timothy 2:3 where the same word is used, suffering hardship like a soldier in the midst of a war. That’s the imagery of 2 Timothy 2:3. He’s speaking to those who are feeling the blows of persecution, who are feeling the blows of deprivation, they’re struggling. Solution, let him what? Let him pray. Turn to God for comfort, turn to God in personal communion, let him pray.
First Peter 5:7 puts it this way, “Casting all your care on Him because He cares for you.” And when it says let him pray, it is a present imperative. Let him continually plead, let Him continually plead. It’s a command; begin to continually plead, it’s a basic truth, easily forgotten. People come up to me all the time, I mean, literally, all the time. I don’t think a week goes by and they tell me some sad story that’s on their heart and they ask me what they need to do, and invariably - and I – I don’t want to be trivial and I don’t want to be simplistic – but, invariably, I will say to them pray. Pray because in the end it’s only the power of God that can make the difference.
Remember the old hymn? Oh what peace we often forfeit/Oh what needless pain we bear/all because we do not carry/everything to Him in prayer. It’s a good, good verse, isn’t it? You want to bear the pain? You want to forfeit the peace? Then carry it yourself. That’s the hymn, “What a Friend we have in Jesus.” Sometimes we fail to recognize what a friend He is. And I think perhaps a bit sarcastically He adds, is anyone cheerful? Is anybody cheerful? I mean, you’re all under it. Is anybody left that’s smiling?
The word He uses here is vital to our understanding, is anyone cheerful? Euthumeō. It’s a compound of eu, which means well, and thumeō, which is sort of the principle of life or feeling or thought or soul or spirit. It has to do with the well-being of the soul, that’s what it has to do with. Are any of you suffering in the soul? Are any of you well in the soul? Happy in spirit, happy in soul. The hymn writer picked that up too when he wrote that magnificent hymn, “It is Well with my Soul.”
So the point here is, is to talk about soul suffering, not bodily suffering. The disposition of the mind, the inner self is the issue. If you have a cheerful inner self, if you’re experiencing well-being in your soul, you’re happy in spirit, then – then, literally in the Greek, sing psalms. Psalm, it’s a word, psalletō, which relates to the Psalm root used also in 1 Corinthians 4 – 14:15 and Ephesians 5:19 for public praise and here for private praise. Just break out in praise is what He’s saying. Praise is basic to spiritual comfort, if all is well praise. If all is not well pray. Pretty basic isn’t it?
I mean, that’s very, very straightforward. Again, the main interpretative point to remember is that James is not concerned for prayer in relation to those who are physically sick with some disease, but those who are mentally and emotionally and spiritually suffering the effects of their trials down deep in their soul and their spirit. And they’re wounded, and they’re grieved, and they cannot rise above their depression.
Consequently, as we approach the next point he moves beyond the one suffering who can pray to the one who can’t. Verse 14 takes us into the idea of prayer and restoration. You can find comfort for yourself if you pray, but if you can’t even rise to that level and you need somebody else to restore you, you come to verse 14 and look what he says, “Anyone among you sick?” Now we’re going deeper into this thing. Suffering was one level, now we’re using the word sick. What does this mean? Is he talking about a physical illness?
There are several terms in the – and expressions in the New Testament for sickness. The term here is from the Greek verb, astheneō. It may refer to sickness in the sense of some illness and on occasion does in the New Testament. But all the lexicons where you have the actual priority listing of the translations – it’s like a dictionary – where you have the translation of the meaning of this, indicate that its primary meaning is to be weak, feeble, or impotent, to be weak, feeble or impotent.
For example, in Romans it is used to being weak in faith. In 1 Corinthians chapter 8, verse 9, it’s used of spiritual weakness. In Acts 20 in verse 35, it’s used of being weak or deprived in material resources. In Romans 5:6 it’s used of spiritual weakness, the – the impotence of the unsaved spiritually. In 2 Corinthians 11:21, it’s used of weakness of personality. Paul uses it in that very familiar text which we studied in our study of 2 Corinthians, in 2 Corinthians 12:10, “I am well content with weaknesses.” And there he is not defining some physical illness but the general weakness of his humanness under the assault of persecution and trials and trouble.
It’s the opposite of powerful is what it is. The – the point is that the word has the idea of being weak or impotent, and the context in the passage then dictates the intent of the word. That’s why I lean toward the fact that it probably means weakness rather than illness because there’s nothing in this context about illness but there’s a lot about people suffering under tremendous oppression and persecution and trials, which definitely produce suffering as indicated in verse 13. And suffering can produce this impotence and this weakness; those who are weak emotionally, those who are weak spiritually.
Sure there may be a physical effect of that. Those who, because of the battle and the persecutions and the trials have – have come to the place where they don’t have the strength, they carry on themselves. In fact, maybe they can’t even rise to their own prayer life. And so he says if you’re so weak and so impotent, verse 14 – “call for the elders of the church and let them pray over Him.” The elders are the spiritual leaders of the church.
What is this saying? Very simple point. If you don’t have the strength to pray yourself and to deal with your struggle and you find yourself spiritually weak, then go to the spiritually strong and let them pray for you. The elders of the church are the overseers, the pastors, the shepherds. They are the spiritually strong. They’re defined in 1 Timothy 3 and in Titus chapter 1 as those who are the strong spiritual leaders of the church.
Go to the spiritually strong, those who are proven strong, those who are victorious, those who have learned how to patiently endure, those who know the Word of God and know the God of the Word, those who have strength in their spiritual life, those who are the righteous man of verse 16, where it says that “the effectual prayer of a righteous man is effective.” Go to the spiritually strong, call on them. Literally, call is proskaleō. It means to call them alongside, call the elders alongside. Go to your pastor is what it’s saying, your pastors, and let them pray, proseuchomai. Always use the praying to God.
And what is the responsibility of elders? According to Acts 6:4, the elders were to give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word, right? And that transitions over to what the elders do. Our responsibility is for the spiritual well-being of the congregation. That comes down to teaching them and holding them up in prayer. I think far more important in the life of the church then a counseling ministry, is a praying ministry. Rather than simply tell people what you would do to fix their problems, you’re better off to take them to the one who alone can solve the issues of life.
Counseling is nothing more than teaching people what the Word of God says. Having told them what the Word of God says you then take them to God Himself in intercessory prayer. Here is the pastoral duty of prayer, come alongside the weary and the wounded soldier who is defeated and without strength, and beseech God on his or her behalf, this is really pastoral praying. That’s why we’re here. That’s why you have pastors and elders so that you can lean on the spiritually strong when you’re spiritually weak, so that we can take up your burden and carry it.
On one occasion a young man who was a student at the Master’s College, a bright young man with – from a very fine family. I had known his family; I had gone to school with his father years ago. A very gifted young man who wanted to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, passed me on the campus and he said, “Can I come into your office and see you?” And I said, Sure, just come in, the door is open.” And he came in and he said, “I’m struggling, really struggling in my life. I want to serve the Lord, I want to minister, I want to give my life ministry to the Lord, but I just, I’m struggling. I’ve lost my interest in the Scripture, I’ve lost my desire to pray, I just feel like I’ve been utterly defeated by besetting sin. I really don’t know what to do and I’ve come to you because I need you to pray for me.”
That’s exactly what I think this passage is talking about. In the midst of his spiritual weakness he sought someone who was spiritually strong, who could lift him up before the Lord. I’ll never forget what happened. I pulled two chairs that I have in the office at the college together, and I asked if he would kneel next to me? And I said, “I’ll pray for you.” So we knelt down on the chairs. I knelt down in the chair and much to my surprise he knelt down but he didn’t kneel into the chair. He turned sideways and laid himself across my back.
And at first, I was sort of stunned by it but it didn’t take me long to realize that that was – that was a physical illustration of what his soul was attempting to do was to rest his weakness on my strength. And so for a rather long time I prayed in his behalf and poured out my heart to the Lord. And then after that time of prayer, he prayed a brief prayer. And we met one other time and prayed and he told me with — within a few days. He came to see me again with a shining face and reported how the Lord had restored his joy and he was beginning to get back in the Word and all of that. I think that’s what this is all about. And he flourished in the remainder of his time there and went on from the school to serve the Lord.
There’s a curious addition, however, to the text in verse 14. It says at the end of the verse, “Anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” What is that? I mean that’s pretty specific, isn’t it? On behalf of the cause of Christ, expressing the will of the Lord in an act representative of Jesus, the individual is to be anointed. Now the word here is aleiphō. And it means to rub, to oil in the sense that, literally, to crush over, to literally rub oil in like you would rub oil into a piece of furniture or you’d rub oil into a piece of leather, or you’d rub oil onto a person’s body. It’s used of an outward anointing of the body. In this case, with olive oil.
And the text actually says here, “Let the elders pray over him after having oiled him,” literally. After having oiled him. What in the world does that mean? Well some people think this is some kind of a symbolic anointing where you drop a dab of oil, sort of a ceremonial right. That’s mostly what I’ve heard taught through the years, and that that drop of oil somehow represents the Holy Spirit. Well, the problem with that view is that the word for such ceremonial anointing is a completely different word. It’s not the word aleiphō, it’s the word chriō.
it’s a completely different word when it’s referring to some kind of religious anointing, some kind of anointing with reference to God. Aleiphō, is a mundane word. It just means to rub oil into something. Chriō is a sacred word, a religious word, used with reference to God. Actually the – the word aleiphō should be translated to oil, to rub oil in. The root of the word lipos is grease, to grease somebody, to apply oil to someone.
Well, what is it talking about? Well, simply this. Some of you still do it. Often in ancient times after a bath or after a journey when the skin was dry and parched, of course, as it often is in the Middle East, people would take olive oil and they would oil their skin with it, very commonly. You read about that in Scripture. This kind of oil was even used as a soap. People would use it with wine, mixing oil with wine and rubbing it on wounds to kill the infection and soften the scab. It was used like a – like a cream with – when mixed with fermented wine would have a healing agency.
Athletes were rubbed with oil. It was used also to make perfume. Fragrances were added to the oil and that, of course, is still done and it’s still done in the Middle East. It was used to clean and to stimulate, and the verb, metaphorically – and that’s the meaning here I think – came to mean to stimulate or to encourage someone.
Well what is he talking about? Well, they – they would sometimes do this when a guest came to the house. Luke 7 talks about this, Matthew 6 talks about it. You would anoint the head of the guest; you would just put a perfume on the guest and just – just anoint their head as a way of stimulating them and giving them an added comfort. Probably doesn’t refer to medicine. Some have said, “Well, what it’s saying is if you want to be healed from a disease have the elders pray for you and take medicine.”
But the problem here is they didn’t take this medicine, it was just rubbed topically. It had no inner value as a medicine. The verb indicates an external application and it may well be. Listen to this. That some of these people who were depressed had actual physical injuries. They may have been beaten by these rich masters, they may have been tortured, they may have been beaten and abused while they were in prison. There may have been some real wounds that these people bore, and it may have been that they actually did try to soothe some of their pain. Maybe that they just, because they were so depressed and struggling so greatly, they just tried to give them a measure of physical comfort. Nothing wrong with that.
People who are weak and weary and defeated, and perhaps have been injured in their body by their persecutors. who – who are weary from the battle and severely wounded, come to the spiritually strong. If they need some physical care and some external anointing, I’m sure they would do that. But I think metaphorically the idea is to encourage and to stimulate them and to do all you can to refresh and renew their strength. Give them words to encourage them, words to restore their broken spirit.
This is a ministry of comfort, this is a ministry of encouragement. Isn’t this what the Holy Spirit does? Isn’t He the paraklētos, the one who comes along side to help? I think what you have here is battered and bruised and abused believers who have been defeated, coming to the elders of the church, and the elders of the church pray of them having already stimulated them and encouraged them and ministered to their needs, whatever those needs are, and done it all in the name of the Lord.
The promise comes in verse 15. “The prayer offered in faith” – that is believing, of course, in God’s wonderful power to restore that wounded soul – “will restore the one who is sick.” Restore is sōzō. Save, it’s the word for save, rescue, deliver. It can mean to restore, it can mean to preserve, it can mean to make sound or whole again. But what about the word sick? Is this the same word that we saw earlier, astheneia, that basically means to be weak? No, it’s a different word. It’s a word from the verb kamnō. It’s used only two other times in the New Testament. It means to be weary, to be tired, to be exhausted, and to be fatigued.
And Arndt and Gingrich, which is a classic Greek Lexicon, says it’s primarily used of weariness of the soul. So here we are again, back at this idea of weariness of the soul. It is used in secular sources for the wandering of the soul, the lost soul. In fact, specifically used of tired or weary because of – listen to this – continued succession of wars. It is so used in secular Greek of somebody who’s just fought too many battles and is completely exhausted. It is used to refer to people who are weary in spirit and even those who are tired of living.
So what is the promise in verse 15? “The prayer of faith will restore” – rescue – “the one who is weary.” The other uses of this word in the New Testament, I think, confirm this. It’s only used, as I mentioned, two other times, and one is in Hebrews chapter 12, verse 3. Says, “For consider Him” – Jesus Christ – “who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.” Clearly, it’s a word not about physical illness but a word about spiritual weariness. It’s also used in Revelation. That’s the only other time, chapter 2 in verse 3, where it says in commendation of the Church at Ephesus that they “have not grown weary.” Both cases they speak of being weary in the spiritual struggle, weary in the spiritual battle.
So here you have the praying of the elders to restore the wounded weary soul. The oil doesn’t do it, that just refers to ministering comfort to that person, sort of rubbing them down with encouragement. And when the elders pray, those who are the strong praying for the weak, it says, “The Lord will raise him up.” Literally egeirō in the Greek, restore him. Not heal, but arouse, awaken, rebuild, restore. Prayer and restoration, prayer and restoration. And the Lord will hear and answer that prayer. The Lord hears and answers the prayer of godly people.
And I say to you, beloved, if you’re struggling in the spiritual battle and you’ve found yourself so weak you can’t pick yourself up, then go to the spiritually strong. The Lord will hear them. “And if he has committed sins” – if the person has committed sin. Is that not likely? Let me put it to you simply; if you’re in a condition of spiritual weakness how prone are you to sin? Very, aren’t you? If you’re in a condition of spiritual depression, how likely are you to sin? What kind of sins would you be likely to commit? Grumbling, griping, complaining, failure to praise God, questioning God’s wisdom, doubting God’s care and maybe falling into all kinds of various temptations in the midst of your weakness and your depression.
And if you have committed sins which have contributed to your further weakness, by the faithful desire of your heart to deal with those issues, you go to the elders. The elders go to God on your behalf, and along with praying for your – for your spiritual strength, they pray that God would be merciful and cleanse whatever in your heart needs to be cleansed. And if you have committed sins the promise of the verse is they’ll be what? Forgiven.
The “if” here is the third-class conditional. It’s a possibility. If possible, sin on the person’s part has been a contributor to the weakness and the weariness, this act of coming to the pastor to confess weakness, defeat, need for strength includes a prayer of confession of sin, the Lord will restore that individual and the sin will be forgiven, aphiēmi, to send away. Humph. The sins that bound him, the sins that tied him up and compounded his weakness will be dismissed.
Well, this is a picture of a marvelous duty of pastors to be engaged in a prayerful ministry of restoration. It’s really kind of like Galatians 6:1. “If someone’s overtaken in a fault, you that are spiritual” – what? – “come around and restore such a one.” And then there’s another element that I want you to see here, prayer – not only prayer and comfort as – as a believer prays, prayer and restoration as he seeks the spiritually strong to pray for him or her, but prayer and fellowship. Look at verse 16, prayer and fellowship.
This strong praying for the weak is such a great ministry that he takes it a step further. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed.” Wow! Because of what he has just said about the importance of confessing sin which was implied in the coming to the elders, the – the individual who came to the elders recognizes his spiritual weakness and the sin that is there because of it and the sin that compounds it, that becomes a very important element of prayer.
He says, let me tell all of you, all of you in the fellowship, the whole congregation needs to be engaged in what the leaders are modeling. You all are to openly agree that there is a general element of fellowship that calls for confession of sin, mutual honesty, integrity, sharing the struggle. You want to be there to lift each other up. You want to be there to admit your weaknesses and admit your struggle. Why? So that you don’t become weak and defeated and weary and exhausted and wounded because you’ve isolated yourself.
When you are weak, and weary, and under the pile and depressed, sin is there. Deal with the sin your life. Be honest enough to tell someone, and then the other person responds by praying for that individual. Open our lives to each other, that’s what he says. Open your lives, pray for each other “so that you may be healed.”
There is a word we need to comment on, iaomai. It refers to the spiritual restoration that comes by confessing sin and praying. The word has that meaning again in Greek Lexicons. It is used as a figure for deliverance from many things in Scripture. Sometimes from physical sickness and sometimes from sin and its consequences. And I could take you through passages in Matthew, John, Acts, Luke, 1 Peter, Hebrews where it is used in reference to sin and its consequences.
So the point here is this, to deal with the sin in your life, to deal with the weakness in your life, to deal with what debilitates you and depresses you, to deal with what keeps you down in the pit as it were, you need to go to the spiritually strong. And as they lift you up before the Lord and you confess your sin the Lord will restore you.
That works so well at that level, it ought to be going on all the time in the congregation, right? We ought to be seeking the help of each other, sometimes being honest with each other, confessing our struggle and the battle, and our weariness, and our struggles so that they could pray for us. And the promise of verse 16 again is when that goes on the Lord will bring about spiritual restoration. If you need comfort, seek it in prayer. If you need strength, seek others who are strong to pray in your behalf and make it a part of the fellowship.
And the last point he makes here is with reference – and this is a very important point – with reference to prayer and its power. He’s already said in verse 15 that the one who is – is weak will be restored, raised up. And then, in verse 16 he repeats it again, that the one will be healed or made whole again. He will receive spiritual wholeness. And here is the culmination of it. He sums it up in verse 16 at the very end. How is this that this could happen? Here it is, “Because the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish” – what? – “much.”
Prayer works, folks. That’s why the weak and sinful believer goes to the elders, because he’s the righteous man. That’s why the struggling sinning believer goes to his brother or sister who is walking with the Lord and seeks the prayer of that individual because, to put it simply, prayer is powerful. Sometimes you feel kind of silly. Somebody comes to you and they unravel some absolutely hopeless complexity of what’s going on in their life. And then they say to you, “What should we do?” And you say, “Pray.” And there’s a sort of a smirk that comes on their face and maybe a little doubt in your own mind about whether or not that’s enough.
And maybe you sort of feel like what you ought to be able to do is unfold for them some system that they can apply, some counseling methodology, some set of gimmicks. But the purest and truest answer is that prayer is powerful, it works. It says right here, “the effective prayer.” This is an interesting Greek word. I know I’m giving you a lot of Greek but in interpreting this text this way I need to make my point so that you understand it, because this is not the normal way it’s handled. The word is energoumenē, from which we get the word energy. The energetic prayer, the empowered prayer. In all nine cases of this form of the word, the prayer is mighty in what it is able to do. The prayer is mighty in what it is able to do.
This is a mighty prayer and it accomplishes much when prayed by a righteous man. Energetic, earnest, passionate, prayer offered by a righteous man. If I regard inequity in my heart, what? Psalm 66:18 says, “The Lord will not hear me.” But if I’m right with God and I pray an energized, powerful, earnest prayer it - literally the Greek, it says can accomplish much in the NAS. The Greek literally says is very strong, is very strong. And by the way, that is in the emphatic position in the sentence. Very strong is the energetic prayer of a righteous man. Prayer is powerful, that’s why you want to go to the strong when you’re weak.
You know, sometimes people will say – I’ve gone to a hospital and, typically, I visit hospitals just about every week and sometimes on a number of occasions in a given week. And sometimes you find people in great weakness, struggling with not only the physical infirmity but struggling with the issue of what the implications of this illness could be and what they might be and what they know they are. And you find people in conditions of weakness. And some of you have been there and I’ve been to see you.
And you take their hand and you begin to lift them up before the Lord. And in their time of weakness they – they lean on your strength. And it’s amazing how many times later on after they recover or you see them again, they will remind you of how significant it was that you were there to pray. And you look in your own mind and your own heart and you say, “Well, I don’t – you know, I just came and I prayed. And certainly there was nothing in the man, there was no magic in the words, but you learn that God brings heavy power to bear on lives through prayer.
Now to nail down this point like any good teacher would do he gives an illustration and the illustration is in verse 17. And it’s really a remarkable illustration. Here is it. “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours” – just a normal guy – “and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it didn’t rain on the earth for three years and six months.” Isn’t than an interesting illustration?
The Jews considered Elijah the most romantic Old Testament character. Thirty times Elijah is mentioned in the New Testament. And Elijah was a man with homoiopathēs. What does that mean? Like passions, pathos, like ours. His – his feelings were just like our feelings. He was just a man like ours – like – like we are. He suffered like we do. He knew hunger like we do, 1 Kings 17. He knew fear like we do, 1 Kings 19. He knew tremendous weariness in battle, 1 Kings 19. He was human. He was just like us so let’s use him as an illustration because we can learn from somebody who was just like we are. He was human.
And he prayed. He did, he prayed passionately. And he prayed that it might not rain. And you know what, it didn’t rain. It didn’t rain on the earth for three years and six months. That’s pretty powerful praying wouldn’t you say? This is just a normal guy; this is just somebody like us, and he prayed that it wouldn’t rain and it didn’t rain for three and a half years.
First Kings 17 tells the story, by the way; we won’t go into it. First Kings 17 doesn’t say anything about the praying but the text here does. It doesn’t say anything about the three and a half years, so this is the first revelation about that drought that gives us the details. It was because of his praying and it lasted for three and a half years. By the way Jewish historians attest to a drought that lasted three and a half years at that time.
Why does James pick an illustration like this? Well, if he was talking about healing physical diseases this would be a pretty obtuse illustration, wouldn’t it? If he wanted to illustrate how you could pray and be healed from an illness, well, then he ought to – he ought to use – if he wanted to use Elijah he could use him but have him pray for somebody who was sick. Use the illustration of Elijah praying and a person being healed or Elijah praying and a dead person coming to life.
What is he doing here? If James was talking about healing physical diseases he couldn’t have chosen a more obscure illustration. But if he was talking about – listen – the power of prayer to restore blessing, to restore joy, to bring refreshment to the parched, dry, weary, exhausted weak believer struggling for a touch from heaven, this is a perfect illustration. What is more barren, what is more parched, what is more dry, what is more wasted, what is more exhausted, what is more unproductive than land that hasn’t had rain for three and a half years? It’s a perfect illustration of a parched soul, isn’t it? Perfect analogy.
Then verse 18 says, “Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.” You see the picture? Prayer brought rain to the parched soil. Prayer brings spiritual wholeness, health, blessing, productivity to the parched soul. Parched soil, parched soul. Real praying by righteous people is powerful stuff. If you’re struggling, if you’re suffering, pray. And if you’re having a hard time getting yourself to that point come to the spiritually strong.
If you have to come to the elders of the church we’re always in there. Sunday morning we’re there prior to the service, Sunday night we’re gathered prior to the service. We welcome you. The pastoral staff is here all week long. Come by, call, they’ll come. We want to be there. And then the rest of you in this congregation, learn to maintain some integrity in your relationships, speak honestly, seek the strength of others, confess your faults to one another, pray for one another. That ought to be going on all the time mutually, shouldn’t it?
You know, we – we stimulate one another to love and good works it says in Hebrews when we come together and that’s one of the things that we’re really called to do in the fellowship. We don’t want to hide ourselves, we don’t keep secrets. If you’re struggling then you need to share that. It’s pretty typical for me to accumulate a – a small prayer list every Sunday when I’m here because people will come up and say I’m struggling with this, I’m struggling with that, I’m struggling with this, pray for this, pray for that.
They’ve said – they – they expect that I will go and pray for them. And I think sometimes maybe they think that my prayers somehow, because I’m a pastor, sort of go to the head of the list with God. It’s not true. Any obedient believer, any righteous person, any – any of the spiritually strong, any who are spiritual can carry the weight of those who are struggling. But elders, I think, and pastors set the pace and the rest follow along. Really no reason for you to be caught in the doldrums, in the pit of depression. And no doubt if you’re there, there’s some sin going on.
Your attitude, your bitterness, your maybe unspoken anger toward God, your questioning of God, you’re – you’re jealous of other people who are having it better then you appear to be having. All those kinds of sins and maybe either – even some other kinds of moral sins could be coming in because when you’re spiritually weak you’re highly vulnerable. You need to deal with those sins, confess them before the Lord. You need to get with somebody who’s spiritually strong and lean on that strength, even if means the elders of the church. We’re here for that. Well, let’s pray together.
It’s been a great time Father tonight to rejoice in song and worshipping You and thanking You. Indeed You do love us. You love us as if we were the only ones to love. We thank You for the singularity of that love which directs itself at us redemptively and purchased for us eternal glory. We thank You, Lord, that You not only love enough – love us enough to save us, but You love us enough to meet our every need and we can cast our care on You because You care for us.
When we get to the point where we are struggling deeply with the burdens of life, those are the times when we need so much to turn to You, to fall on our face before You, to cry out in constant prayer. Maybe the times, too, when we need to go to the spiritually strong because we’ve kind of lost it and we – we’ve become so weak that we can’t stand on our own and we need to go to someone else to lift us up.
Help us to cultivate that in all our relationships, to be sensitive to each other’s spiritual needs and to confess sins, to share the battles and the struggles and the defeats so that others can lift us up. We don’t have to go through all the specifics but certainly to share the struggles and the battles so that we can pray for each other. And make us faithful to do that, to pray faithfully, consistently like Elijah did, that You’ll bring refreshing blessing and restoration and that the dry ground will flourish again. Thank You for this great promise and the great text You’ve laid before us tonight. In our Savior’s name, Amen.
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