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This chapter is clear in its teaching about anointing and praying for the sick. James gave some choice principles to guide the believers’ thoughts, discussion, and practice of praying for the sick.
Text: James 5:14-16
1. What to do if you are sick?
The sick should call upon the elders of the church, v. 14a
Let me tell you a story. Recently one of our members left us to go to another church. She accused us of not praying for her daughter in law who was sick. How can we pray for her if we don’t know that she is sick and in need of prayer? This sister could have done 2 things to inform us.
1. To send us a message through her small group leader.
2. To call us over the phone.
She did not do anything to inform us but was disappointed when we failed to pay a visit to her sick daughter in law and pray for her.
What does James say,
“if any among you are sick in body he should call the elders of the church to pray over him….”
It is the sick person’s responsibility to ask the Pastors, leaders, elders to come and pray over him/her. Sometimes we think the senior Pastor should be asked to pray. Let me remind you it’s not the title that heals you. It’s your faith and the love of God.
2. How to pray for the sick?
Elders may anoint the patient with oil in the name of the Lord v. 14b
Elders, in a limited way, were given authority to act on behalf of Jesus. This does not mean that elders in the church have special healing powers or righteousness. It means they have a privilege and responsibility to pray for the sick in Jesus’ name. Why is it written here that the sick should be anointed with oil? 2 reasons.
In biblical times oil was a proven medicine for many aliments or it is simply a sign to aid faith or a symbol of the presence of the Holy Spirit—the One who provides healing, comfort, and assurance. The oil had no special power. A perfect example is found in the story about the good Samaritan, “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine” (Luke 10:34a).
Some Christians preach that we should not consult physicians but keep on praying. Recently in Sri Lanka 3 people who rejected medicine and depended solely on prayer died and eventually it led into a riot against the church.
We should pray for those who are sick, but encourage them to continue treatments if necessary. The medical science is a wonderful fruit of God’s wisdom. Luke was a physician himself. Therefore medicine should not be considered something unholy.
Secondly oil is used , as a sacrament perhaps as an aid to faith, an outward sign of the healing to be brought about by God in response to the prayer offered in faith. Both applications are in agreement with the Bible.
Also remember, the oil is not self contained with supernatural power. It’s only the power of the Holy Ghost who can heal you.
3. Encourage the patient to ask for forgiveness, v.15-16
Verse 16 says
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed, the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
In the ancient world people believed that sin is the root cause of all sickness. This is not true, but sin can hinder the Holy Spirit’s moving upon the patient’s life and thus keep healing at the bay. Sometimes the patient needs to forgive some one. Sometimes he has to forgive himself. Correct his relationship with God.
The church could and should pray for healing. People should pray with confidence for complete healing until it is obvious that God has chosen to do otherwise. God is sovereign. James wanted his audience to realize that God is not obligated to heal anyone. God still heals supernaturally (and through natural means—using medicine and physicians). Our responsibility is to be obedient to Scripture and to pray for healing in faith and humility.