Question: In praying for the sick, should the procedure described in James 5:14 be followed today?
Answer: It is not our purpose to discuss at this time the merits or the demerits of what is called faith-healing, but, rather, to point out the proper interpretation of the above mentioned passage.
James, the Lord’s brother, wrote to a people who had grown careless in the things of God. This led to lethargy and to sin among them. He anticipated that because of their carelessness and sin God’s chastisement might fall upon them in the form of bodily sickness. This would fall upon those whose sin was of such a character as to bring reproach upon the testimony of God. In the midst of the chastisement, when sin is brought home to the conscience, it results in confession of guilt and in restoration of the soul to God, then follows the healing of the body. We submit four lines of argument from this chapter in James to establish the correctness of the above premise.
Sickness, in this chapter, is definitely associated with sin as will be noticed in verses 15, 16, 19, 20. Dr. Vincent in his masterly work, “Word Studies,” makes this comment on (Verse 15): “Literally the words read, “If he be having committed sins, i.e. in a state of having committed, and under moral or physical consequences of transgression.” James says, “Confess your faults … that ye may be healed” (V. 16). “He which converteth the sinner (the sinning saint) from the error of his way shall save a soul from death (premature physical death), and shall hide a multitude of sins.”
The choice of words made by the Spirit of God to describe the sickness is indicative of chastisement for sin: “Affliction” (V. 13) means suffering evil. God says, “I create evil,” not sin, of course, but the punishment of sin. The question in verse 14, “Is any sick among you?” means to be weak or wanting in strength. But the word “sick” in verse 15 is altogether a different word, and means to grow faint as in Heb. 12:3. It is descriptive of one falling out of the Christian race.
The example of Elijah: When Israel had sinned, Elijah prayed and the chastisement of God fell upon them. When they confessed and put away their sin, Elijah prayed again for them and the chastisement was lifted, and the nation was restored.
The calling of the elders: Is it not the privilege of any saint to pray with a sick one? Why are the elders specifically mentioned? Are they not the representatives of the assembly present to hear the confession of the sin that has brought such reproach upon the testimony of God? They then pray for the restoration of the body and God hears their prayer and answers it.
How are we to look at the anointing with oil in our day? The Word of God describes the anointing with oil in three ways: first, in a ceremonial way, as in the anointing of the prophet, priest and king in Israel. We do not think that this ceremonial aspect has any connection with this passage of Scripture. Second, it is used in a medical way (Isa. 1:6. Luke 10:34). The principle laid down in James 5 makes reference to agencies available for the healing of the body, and instructs that they be used, for God will bless them. In third place, it is used as the symbol of the refreshing influence of the Divine Spirit in the soul of the restored saint (Psa. 23:5). It is the oil of joy for mourning and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness (Isa. 61:3). Sheep, after battling with the elements during the day, are refreshed in the evening by the anointing oil, and thus their strength is replenished in the presence of the Shepherd.
God’s dear people are exposed to the storms of temptation, and many suffer defeat; nevertheless, each may say, “He restoreth my soul.” The Lord heals the wounded conscience, and the Holy Spirit imparts the assurance of restoration to the soul. Then, in the presence of the Shepherd, the strength is replenished to battle again, and to live victoriously for His glory.
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The prayers of the Apostle Paul which have been left on record reveal much of his own temperament and character.
Obviously he was UNSELFISH, for among them there are few requests for personal blessing. He was much more interested in others than in himself.
Each prayer reveals that he was deeply SPIRITUAL. He knew God, not only in a doctrinal way, but in an experiential way.
Paul’s heart-breathings before the Throne of Grace reveal that he possessed a comprehensive understanding of the needs of God’s people and was most SYMPATHETIC.
The striking BREVITY of his prayers indicate his real confidence in God. There were no vain repetitions in his intercessions.