This is the concluding passage of James’ letter/sermon. He closes it out by focusing on right Christian fellowship. True believers will walk in humble, Gospel-oriented fellowship with God and one another. One of the chief characteristics of such fellowship is prayer.
James asks rhetorically, “Is anyone among you suffering?” He answers, “Let him pray.” It seems a simple and obvious thing to say, but it is profound in its simplicity. To pray in the midst of suffering is to display humility, which James has been strongly promoting since 4:10. It is to acknowledge that we have needs that we cannot meet in our own strength. It is also an acknowledgment of trust in the One to whom we make our needs known. When my children tell me they are hungry, sick, hurt, sad, scared, etc. they do so because they know that I love them and that I will seek to meet the needs they have. So too with our supplications before God. We pray because we know in Christ that He loves us and will meet our deepest and truest needs.
James moves on from suffering to cheerfulness. The Christian life is one that runs the full spectrum of human experience. We know the pains of life but we also know the heights of joy, especially in salvation. James calls us to express our joys and our cheerfulness through praise. This is not intended to be only situational joy, when things are “going right”, but a joy-inall- things type of cheerfulness. Matt Chandler has spoken before about how he regularly sang praise to the Lord in his heart while lying on a cold, hard table inside of a radiation device during his treatments for brain cancer. His relationship with Christ is such that even in difficult circumstances he can give praise to God for His faithfulness and His goodness.
Fellowship with God is not a private affair only. If we are in Christ then we will also have fellowship with other believers. James tells those who are sick to call upon the leaders to come and pray, anointing with oil in the name of the Lord. The presence of the elders assumes an organized body of believers, under the spiritual guidance of leaders. People today increasingly speak of being spiritual but not religious. With that, they frequently express a reluctance to submit to, or even an outright disdain for, the organized Church. All they need is God, not the Church. But, James says otherwise. We are not called to be an iChurch, but a body made up of different members. We are called to be a fellowship of believers. In God’s design He has brought us together, with all manner of diversity, especially of spiritual gifts, to minister to one another and alongside of one another. Part of that ministry is intercession. We should be praying for one another, asking the Lord to bring healing. At times, we should particularly make our needs known to those whom God has established as spiritual shepherds over us, so that they might pray on our behalf. The prayers of righteous (in Christ) people are powerful, as we pray the promises of God by faith.
James acknowledges that there are not only physical needs but also spiritual needs that bring us low and make us weak. There is even an indirect (if not direct at times) connection between physical illness and sin. So, James says, we are to confess our sins. James does not expound upon what this confession might look like, but Scripture as whole does. Confession of secret sins is best made to God. It may also be wise to have a trusted brother or sister to whom we can confess our sinful longings, asking them to pray for us and hold us accountable to put such desires to death. Private sins against another person are best confessed to God and then directly to the person we have hurt, harmed. In confessing, we also seek mercy and forgiveness. Public sins should be confessed to God and then to the group that has been affected by our failure. Again, confession in such cases should be met by grace and mercy with others praying for forgiveness, healing, and redemption in order to restore fellowship with God and others.
Finally, James calls us to bring back those in the visible church who wander from the truth. In 1:18, James said that we who are in Christ have been brought forth, according to the will of God, by the word of truth. Throughout his sermon/letter he has been expounding upon what life according to that word of truth looks like. He has called us to keep from doing harm to others, in word or deed, but now he calls us to actively engage in doing eternal good for one another. Those who wander from doctrinal or moral or relational truth are to be diligently pursued, lovingly heard, gently corrected, and graciously restored to fellowship through Christ who is our Savior. This is a profound responsibility that we have towards one another, but it is also an incredible privilege that Lord includes us in doing the work of salvation.
Discuss and Pray – James 5:13-20
1. Describe your prayer life. Is it full, including personal supplication, praise, confession, and intercession for others? What hinders your prayer life? How can you grow in this means of grace?
2. Are you comfortable going to others, perhaps even the leaders of the church, for prayer support? If not, how does this passage challenge your reluctance? How can you grow in trusting the Lord by trusting the fellowship of believers to which He has called you to be a member?
3. Is there someone whom you know that seems to be “wandering from the truth”? What might it look like for you to humbly, and prayerfully, be a part of bringing them back, thus being a part of God’s work of salvation in his/her life?