Sermon: An All-Round Ministry (James 5:13-20)

An All-Round Ministry

James 5:13-20

James 5:13-20 (ESV) 

    Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.  [14] Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and 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, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  [16] Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.  [17] Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.  [18] Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

    [19] My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back,  [20] let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

James has already made the connection between the physical and the spiritual.  The Church is to have a ministry that has both in mind.  Spiritual matters are the priority but physical matters are important as well and many times it’s hard to separate the two.  Both impact the Church. 

James 1:2-3 (ESV) 

    Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,  [3] for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 

James 1:12 (ESV) 

    Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 

James shows us that the physical affects the spiritual…trials strengthen faith.

He has also shown us that spiritual things affect physical things.

James 2:14 (ESV) 

    What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 

James 2:26 (ESV) 

    For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

Over and over he makes the clear connection.

1.  Believers Physically In Trouble (5:13)

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 

We open this final section of James with more very helpful insights from James.  He first looks at someone who is in physical trouble.  They are suffering from some ailment.  This person is suffering a trial, they are not well.  He gives the simple remedy to this ailment and that is to pray.  Why would James tell us that if we are not feeling well to pray?  It’s not always what you think. 

There was a time when I did this verse. 

I had a bad case of the flu.  I was miserable.  One night I simply couldn’t sleep.  I didn’t feel like reading, I was too sick.  So I sat out in the recliner and began to pray.  I started acknowledging God’s sovereignty in my illness.  What was the purpose for it?  I began praying and thanking God for His goodness and His mercy.  I thanked Him for my wife and family.  For the way He so magnificently met our needs and cared deeply for us.  Before morning came I was singing praises to God.  The communion I had that night with God while suffering from a physical ailment was so amazing that it was worth the suffering. 

So James isn’t saying if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.  He’s saying when we suffer physical difficulties remember there is always a spiritual side to it as well.  Pray and sing.  Seek aid from God to endure the suffering and then sing praises to God.

Is this true?  Do we as a Church believe this?  Can we find examples in Scripture concerning this truth?

To lay a foundation, I want us to look at a prayer Jesus prayed specifically for Peter.  It’s important that we notice what Christ prays for specifically and what He leaves out.

Luke 22:31-32 (ESV) 

    “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat,  [32] but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 

Jesus knew the connection very well between the physical and the spiritual.  Jesus prayed that Peter’s faith would remain intact during this sifting or suffering.  Jesus did not pray that Peter would be kept from it.  Jesus loved Peter and because of His love for Peter, He used Satan’s sifting to produce in Peter an unwavering faith. 

He loved Paul and Silas as well.

Acts 16:22-26 (ESV) 

    The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods.  [23] And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely.  [24] Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

    [25] About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,  [26] and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. 

As believers it is important that we learn to pray to God for aid and to sing to God in praise.  We can do this at the same time.

2.  Believers Physically Incapacitated (5:14 & 15)

What about when you are so sick that you just can’t pray and you definitely can’t sing?

James 5:14-15 (ESV) 

    Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and 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, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 

James is showing us how a healthy church is to minister to a sick individual.  In the case where a member of congregation is sick to the point of being incapacitated they need help.  This person is physically sick and spiritually drained.  The church must be concerned with the condition of the sick person’s faith.  That’s where the elders come in.  They get involved.  In this case the sick person or their family is to send for the elders.  In effect the focus is not so much on the healing physically but on the preservation spiritually.  This is why James tells the sick to call for elders and not call for doctors. 

call for the elders

This type of sickness is a trial that challenges one’s faith.  So because this sickness has deep spiritual implications James is telling us to get the elders.  It is the elders of the church who are the spiritual leaders and the ones in whom the church is to turn for spiritual guidance in all times, and especially in times of distress.  The elders are to be spiritual keepers of the flock.  They are to be men of prayer.

let them pray over him

What does James have in mind by this statement?  The group of elders is to draw very near in faith to the sick person.  Placing hands on the person so as to picture unity in prayer, showing the person that while he cannot come to the fellowship, the fellowship has not forgotten him and that the fellowship is coming to them.  The Church is to make house calls. 

The elders are to physically touch the sick one.  This is seen in the phrase praying over and in the phrase,

anointing him with oil

Here in this phrase the elders are acting as physicians of the soul and also, in a sense, doctors of the body.  Many have interpreted this multiple ways, however, the clear meaning is found in the practice of the day.  If someone was wounded in some way as to be bruised or cut, the common way to help promote healing to the wound was to rub oil on the surface keeping the area soft.  This was the practice of the day.  We have an example of this in Luke.

Luke 10:33-34 (ESV) 

    But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.  [34] He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 

Many have been led to believe that this passage in James is a reference to some religious ceremony.  In a plain sense, this simply means to rub with oil.  There is nothing mystical about it.  This would offer the one sick encouragement and raise their spirit because it is to be done in the name of the Lord.

Another point James is making is that there is the possibility that this person’s sickness may, in fact be a result of the his sin.

In ancient days people went to an extreme.  They thought that every sickness was a result of the person’s sin.  We can see this in the Book of Job.  His friends kept telling him that he must have really sinned badly for God to strike him down so.  We can see this belief coming out in the apostles when they asked Christ…

John 9:1-3 (ESV) 

    As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth.  [2] And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  [3] Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 

The truth is that sickness can be a direct result of the sin of the individual.  That’s why James says that if the person has sinned, his sins will be forgiven.  We must also note that while all sickness is not a direct result of the person’s sin, there are always spiritual implications to every sickness or injury.  How I react to the trial of sickness shows if my faith is genuine or not.  So this is another reason James tells the sick believer to call for the elders.  It is the idea that they will not only pray over me but will also encourage my faith.  What is always needed in a case of severe illness is healing physically and spiritually as well.

I want to read a text that is a perfect picture of the role of the elder.

Mark 2:1-12 (ESV) 

    And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.  [2] And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.  [3] And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.  [4] And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.  [5] And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”  [6] Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts,  [7] “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  [8] And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts?  [9] Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?  [10] But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”-he said to the paralytic- [11] “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.”  [12] And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

In the case of severely sick person they are paralyzed.  The elders, by praying fervently and righteously, in a sense, are opening the roof and lowering the sick person to Jesus.  In the presence of Christ the person’s true condition will be dealt with.

3.  Believers Purposely Instructed (5:16)

[16] Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

This is why it is so important for Church members to be growing in righteousness.  Righteousness adds great power to our prayers or our lack of righteousness causes our prayers to be weak.  One of the purposes of the fellowship of the local body of believers is to support and pray for each other.  A righteous person’s prayer has great power. 

4.  Prayer Powerfully Illustrated (5:17 & 18)

[17] Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.  [18] Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

The whole point James is making here is that it wasn’t any old prayer but it was a fervent prayer given by a righteous man of God.  God listened to his prayer and held back the rain and God listened to his prayer and the rain started again.

If God listened to Elijah’s righteous prayer, the point being made by James is, God will listen to our fervent, righteous prayers as well.

5.  Believers Spiritually Incapacitated (5:19 & 20)

James makes a final plea for the church to be acting like the church.  In a similar way that James tells the elders to go to the one that is physically incapacitated, so the Church is to go to the believer who is spiritually in trouble as well.

[19] My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back,  [20] let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

A healthy Church is a Church that takes an active role in bringing back lost sheep.  If necessary it will leave the 99 to restore the 1.  It will do the hard and unpleasant work to let its members know that they have drifted into sin and that they cannot stay there. 

Galatians 6:1-2 (ESV) 

    Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.  [2] Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 

The business of restoration is to be the business of the church.  We are the tool God uses in the lives of believers to further Christ-likeness.  When a member of our church wanders from the truth we must go to them in love and in truth to bring them back.  As we are faithful in administering the ointment of the Word to their soul, we will save them from much physical trouble.  When a church member wanders outside the safety of the body they are opening themselves up to attacks of the evil one. 

1 Cor. 5:1-5 (ESV) 

    It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.  [2] And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

    [3] For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing.  [4] When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus,  [5] you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

When a member steps outside the protection of the body it is the responsibility of the members to go and bring them back.

In some cases the church is to remove a sinful person to protect the rest of the members and for the good of the one in sin.  Then there are times when someone wanders from the truth.  James tells us if we go and speak to that person and they repent and come back their soul will be saved from death.  He also says this reconciliation will cover many many sins.

Truly the Church has a responsibility of an All-Round Ministry

 

 

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