James 5:13-18

Prayer and Faith


We often ask for prayer requests when we gather together with believers. And when we do that, inevitably there will be requests to pray for a physical difficulty in someone?s life. We should pray for our bodies and our health and when there is sickness of some kind. That is appropriate. All sickness has it?s root in sin. Physical disease exists as a consequence of sin. So does death. We often cause sickness in our own lives because of the sinful choices we make. The result is that we weaken ourselves and become weary enough to require the need for prayer from others for restoration. It is this need that James addresses in 5:14-18. He wants us to know what to do when we need prayer. He wants us to know what the prayer will do for us. He wants us to know how really powerful this kind of praying can be.


(A) The word sick is a general enough word to describe more than just physical sickness. It is used for physical ailments but also for a weak conscience or a weak faith. In vs 15 the word sick is a different word used only one other time in the Bible,  Heb 12:3, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart. Coupled with sick in vs 14 these words convey the idea of weakness and weariness in one?s life. James is not referring to the bedridden, the diseased. It could be physical, emotional, circumstantial, personal or spiritual or a combination of these.

(B) The fact that this sick, weakened and weary person was to summon the elders gives a clue that this person?s sickness connects with some spiritual condition in his or her life. Elders, those recognized for their spiritual leadership in our lives, have the responsibility to care for the spiritual nurture of those they lead and serve (Acts 20:35; 1 Thess 5:14) where they are encouraged to encourage the timid and help the weak ones. It is interesting that James does not tell us to call for someone with the gift of healing. Further, he does not say we should go to everyone we know about this. Another clue that this is weariness and sickness connected with some sin is in vs 15 where restoration from this is connected to sins being forgiven by God.

(C) When we have this need we must call for prayer from these elders. 7 times prayer is mentioned. This passage is about prayer, personal prayer, elder prayer and one another prayer. It is the recognition that we need prayer support from those spiritually discerning enough to petition God for deliverance for me.


(A) It is the prayer of faith which has God as its object that is effective. This is the effective kind of praying noted in vs 16. A righteous man?s prayers can accomplish much, whether the elders for this kind of special praying or any of us,  in the spiritual and physical deliverance of someone else as Elijah?s praying illustrates in vs 17-18.

(B) First, Elijah was an ordinary man just like us. He lived with similar feelings, circumstances, and experiences as we do. So whatever impact was made by his praying  did not lie in his supernatural greatness. He was human just like us. Second, he prayed in his prayer is the idea. He prayed earnestly and the rain was withheld and later restored (1 Kgs 17:1; 18:41-46. Earnest and persistent prayer is essential while prayer accompanied by doubts will not accomplish anything (James 1:6). You cannot choose to believe God?s Word in some situations, some of the time, but doubt it most of the time. You cannot be praying for God to work in one breath while planning to disobey that Word in another. This is not praying in faith (1:6) ask in faith without doubting. It is not even my praying that makes something happen. It is God?s power and ability that makes the difference in response to my prayer.

(C) The praying is accompanied by the anointing of oil in the name of the Lord  vs 14. The point   here is of rubbing with oil rather than some type of ceremonial anointing. It does not seem to include some sacred or religious idea. It may be referring to the common practice of using oil as a means of granting honor or refreshment and grooming. So James is not suggesting a ritual anointing as a means of divine healing but either rubbing with oil for medicinal purposes or as a therapeutic means of refreshment and soothing comfort for the person. Praying, though is the main emphasis here.


(A) For the fallen, discouraged, weary, ailing believer, restoration is assured. The word means to deliver, save, restore. First, this person will be delivered from his weakened condition and restored from his sickness. Second, the Lord will raise him up. (My dad has been bedridden for two months and just got the word recently that after back surgery he can now leave his bed and begin to systematically arouse himself back to good health.) However, this raising up here indicates it is the Lord?s doing and not the prayer that raises him again from a bed of sickness to health. What is  promised to happen here is restoration. This is not saying that praying in faith means praying with confidence that something will happen just because we pray or every time we pray. For example, prayer must be for the right motives (James 4:3) and according to the will of God (1 Jn 5:14). Timothy had frequent ailments. Does that mean he was not a man of faith? David prayed for infant son to be delivered, yet he died. Job prayed for his children daily yet they were killed. Are we to assume it was their lack of faith? Paul left Trophimus sick at Miletus. Was that because Paul neglected to pray for him or lacked faith? Prayer for healing is biblical but a lack of healing may be due to many causes. God may be doing things I am unaware of that prevent healing.

(B) If this sick person has committed some sin that has resulted in the illness God will forgive him. He will be delivered from the consequences of that sin, that is, the sickness. It is God who raises up and who forgives. This person will be forgiven of that sin and restored from the consequences associated with it. Not all sickness and weakness and weariness is the result of sin as the conditional clause if he has sinned indicates. But when it is James says ask the spiritually mature to come alongside you and pray for you, your sin and your restoration.

(C) The conclusion then, is to confess sin not just to the elders but to one another most likely those involved, not sin against each other but acknowledging the sin against God that is causing the sickness in your life, then we can pray for one another to be cured of anything not just physical healing. What is important is this person is rite with God now and God has stopped consequences of sin going further. James 5:19-20 adds that this person may have stopped his death as well as further death-dealing consequences.