Setting

From our studies of the epistle, we have noticed that it is full of strong admonitions and warnings. James has effectively corrected the misconceptions and misconduct among the believers by pointing out the meaning of true faith. Now, as the epistle draws to a close, he provides an assuring guidance to the community of believers. Like the opening of the epistle, the tone of this final passage is comforting and greatly encouraging. A message of faith, hope, and love pervades these closing exhortations.

Key Verse

(5:16)

Did You Know...?

1. Elders (5:14): These were men who were appointed to be shepherds and overseers in the church (Ac 20;17,28; 1Pet 5:1-2).
2. Anointing with oil (5:14): Oil was used in Biblical times as medicine (cf. Isa 1:6; Lk 10:34). But James may be using this expression in a symbolic sense.

Outline

  • Prayer in Suffering and Psalms in Cheerfulness
  • Prayer for the Sick
  • Confession of Sins and Prayer of the Righteous
  • Turning Back A Sinner from Error

General Analysis

  • 1.

    Record what the passage teaches about a. Prayer b. Sin c. Brothers and sisters in the church

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  • 2.

    Based on this passage, what are some practical ways for us to put our faith to work?

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Segment Analysis

  • 5:13

    1.

    What can we learn from verse 13 about our relationship with the Lord in our daily lives?

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    Our hearts should always be on the Lord in both adversity and prosperity. We need to constantly be in communion with Him, whether it is in the form of prayer or singing psalms.

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  • 2.

    How does prayer help us in our suffering? Recall your own experience.

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    Through prayer, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Php 4:6-7). Prayer in the Holy Spirit also gives us joy and the strength to face our sufferings (cf. Eph 3:13-16; Rom 14:17).

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  • 5:14-15

    3.

    Explain the significance of the following in terms of praying over the sick: a. Call for the elders of the church b. Anoint with oil c. In the name of the Lord

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    a. Elders are appointed by the Holy Spirit to be overseers of the church (Acts 20:28). Since the ministers in the church are appointed by the Holy Spirit to serve the congregation, we should come to them whenever we need prayers. As members of the body of Christ, we have the blessing to request the church to help us in our sickness. When the whole church prays with one heart, the effect of the prayer is great (cf. Mt 18:19-20).
    b. Notice that the word “pray” in verse 14 is the main verb while “anointing” is a participle that qualifies the main verb. In other words, the emphasis is on the prayer ministry, with anointing as part of this ministry. Oil was used as medicine during Biblical times (see Isa 1:6; Lk 10:34). Therefore, if we take “anointing with oil” literally, the verse teaches that the elders should pray for the sick while applying medicine on him. But if the anointing is figurative, then it is referring to God’s healing power through prayer.
    c. This phrase reminds us that it is not the elders’ prayer per se that gives healing, but the Lord Himself, for healing ultimately comes from the Lord.

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  • 4.

    According to James, what is the key to an effective prayer? Why?

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    An effective prayer is one that is offered in faith (15; Mt 17:20, 21:21, 22; Lk 17:6). Without faith, it is impossible to please God, because faith is an acknowledgement of God and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Heb 11:6). Without faith, prayer will be only a mere outward formality. Faith is the essence of any prayer to God and anyone who wishes to receive anything from the Lord must have a genuine trust in God (Jas 1:5-8). That is why the Lord Jesus often attributed physical and spiritual healing to the faith of the person who came to him for help (Mt 8:5-13, 9:2-8, 18-22, 27-29, 15:21-28; Mk 5:34, 10:46-52; Lk 5:20, 7:9, 36-50, 8:42-48, 17:11-19, 18:35-43).

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  • 5.

    Why do you think James also mentions the forgiveness of sins here?

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    Sickness may sometimes be the consequence of sin (1Cor 11:30; Rev 2:22), although it is not always the case (Jn 9:1 3). Physical healing can also be a demonstration of God’s forgiveness of sin (Mt 9:2-8). Therefore, James mentions spiritual and physical healing in the same breath. Prayer offered in faith will save the sick, and, more importantly, bring about the forgiveness of sins.

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  • 6.

    Have you ever prayed for someone who was sick? Have you requested others to pray for you? Did you learn anything from your experience?

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  • 5:16-18

    7a.

    What is the purpose of confessing our sins to one another if only the Lord Jesus Christ can forgive us of our trespasses?

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    Verse 16 reads, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” The purpose of confessing our trespasses to one another is so that we may pray for one another. When we have sinned against God, the prayers of the righteous on our behalf will result in God’s forgiveness and spiritual healing. Of course, confessing our sins to one another also gives us the opportunity to forgive our trespasses against one another.

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  • 7b.

    How do we confess our trespasses to one another?

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    We do not necessarily need to announce our sins to the whole congregation. Since the purpose of such confession is so that those who are righteous may pray for us, we may seek those in the Lord who are prayerful and upright and request for their prayers.

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  • 8.

    Why is it important for the members of Christ’s body to pray for one another?

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    Mutual intercession and sharing one another’s burdens help unite members of Christ’s body (1Cor 12:21-26; Gal 6:2). Through loving prayers, the wounded will be healed and the weak strengthened.

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  • 9.

    What does verse 16 teach about prayer?

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    Mutual intercession and sharing one another’s burdens help unite members of Christ’s body (1Cor 12:21-26; Gal 6:2). Through loving prayers, the wounded will be healed and the weak strengthened.

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  • 10.

    Why does James remind us that “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours”? What lessons can we learn from Elijah’s prayer?

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    James uses Elijah to illustrate the power of fervent prayers. The miracle of drought and rain did not come from Elijah’s superhuman power but from the effect of prayer. If the prayer of Elijah, whose nature is like ours, can have such great power, our earnest prayers can be just as effective.

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  • 5:19-20

    11a.

    What does it mean to wander from the truth? How do you know if a brother has wandered from the truth?

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    According to verse 20, the one who wanders from the truth is a brother who has sinned. The word “wander” seems to suggest a gradual process. When a person wanders from the truth, his attitude and lifestyle gradually stray from the way of God. Slowly, God’s place in his heart diminishes and his heart may be hardened. Often, the person who slides into such sinful and ungodly lifestyle is unaware of his error. That is why it becomes necessary for his brethren to turn him back.

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  • 11b.

    How do you turn back such a brother or sister?

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    Verses 15 and 16 teach us that prayer has the effect of healing, both physical and spiritual. Therefore, an important means of restoring a brother is to pray earnestly for him, asking the Lord to forgive him and to move him to repentance. In addition, we should also point out his mistake and guide him to the truth (Mt 18:15). But all these should be done in gentleness and humility (2Tim 2:25, 26; Gal 6:1).

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  • 11c.

    What effects result from turning them back from error?

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    1. Saving of their souls from death.
    2. Covering a multitude of sins.

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  • 12.

    What does it mean to cover a multitude of sins? What does this tell us about what we need to have in ourselves in order to turn back a sinner?

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    Through our earnest intercession for the brother who has sinned, God will no longer remember the sins committed against Him, even if these sins are numerous. The “covering” of sins may also relate to the attitude of the intercessors. Just as Shem and Japheth covered their father’s nakedness and did not broadcast his shame, we should not publicly expose the sins of our brothers or humiliate them with harsh rebukes. Such “covering” requires compassion and sensitivity. Therefore, when we turn back a brother who has sinned, we must be sure that we are motivated by genuine love for this brother.

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  • 13.

    How does this paragraph relate to the passage as a whole?

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    This paragraph continues the theme of healing through intercession. When a member of Christ’s body is in suffering or has wandered from the truth, the other members ought to pray earnestly for him and turn him back from his error. When members of this spiritual community care for one another, the healing effect is great. Not only will the sick be healed and sins forgiven, souls are spared from death and multitudes of sins are covered.

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