In the last part of his New Testament letter, after dealing with various “enemies of God”, James turns back to giving advice to the brethren.
The final theme is “Faith”, with special reference to patience in suffering and confidence in prayer.
James looked at the first of these two topics in ch5 vv7-11.
From v13 onwards, he’ll be considering aspects of prayer.
Between those two sections, he inserts (v12) a condensed paraphrase of the teaching of Jesus against swearing (Matthew ch5 vv33-37).
Why was Jesus giving this injunction, and why is James repeating it?
Strictly speaking, “swearing” is the act of calling upon a spiritual power to confirm the truth of a statement, or punish an untruth.
Many expletives found in popular speech tend to be much-abbreviated versions of the same thing; “May this bad thing happen to me if it is not true
that I am surprised by this event”.
I’ve always thought that the real meaning of the third commandment was about falsehood
If you make an oath, appealing to the Lord as a witness, you are “taking the Lord’s name”.
If you make an oath, appealing to the Lord as a witness, and attach that oath to a falsehood, that’s when you are taking the Lord’s name “in
vain” (i.e. without true purpose).
Jesus refers to this line of interpretation (“You have heard that it was said…”), but tightens up the command by demanding that men give up
I think his motive was the conviction that swearing and falsehood had become inseparable.
We can make the same discovery by listening to the people around us, and finding that those who are swearing most fervently and vociferously
(“It’s all true, on my mother’s grave, on my child’s life”) are the very people most likely to be lying.
When swearing by God’s name is routinely attached to a falsehood, then God’s name is dishonoured.
The same is true when the oath is made by heaven or earth or anything else that belongs to God.
So Jesus cuts it off altogether and says “Don’t bother”. They should just give a plain statement, a straight “yes” or “no”, and make
sure that it’s true.
Anything else will come, as James says, “under condemnation”.
I take it that this warning was part of James’ normal pastoral advice, presumably because the problem was persisting in his own community.
Therefore it gets included here in what amounts to a compendium of his teaching.
V13, taken In isolation, is a neat little axiom; pray when you’re suffering, sing praise when you’re not.
In this context, it’s a connecting link between the two sections on Faith.
The first was about Faith in suffering, the second will be about Faith in prayer.
So this verse bridges the gap between the two by pointing out that if
you are suffering, then
you should be praying.
Some of our prayers must be about ourselves, and James makes reference to those in other parts of this letter.
“You do not have because you do not ask”- ch4 v2.
“You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions”- ch4 v3
“If any man lacks Wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him”- ch1 v5
In this final portion of the letter, he’s considering the kind of prayer that benefits the other brethren.
This means, in the first place, prayer for the sick.
James gives advice to the sick man which probably reflects the current practice of the church.
He should request a visit from the elders of the church, and they will pray over him, anointing him with oil.
The anointing of the sick is also mentioned in Mark ch6 v13, but I haven’t seen any reference to it as a non-Christian practice.
I would assume that the purpose of the oil was to symbolise the power of God at work, the “anointing” of the Holy Spirit. Hence “in the name of
Nevertheless, it is the the “prayer of Faith”, and not the anointing, that will “save the sick man”.
The real essence of the healing is the prayer made by the sick man’s brethren as represented by the leaders present at the scene.
The effect of this prayer is described in four different ways, in vv15-16.
“…will save the sick man” has already been mentioned.
“And the Lord will raise him up…”
“And if [KAN] he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”
Finally, in v16, “Pray for one another that you may be healed”.
At first glance, we would take “saving the sick man” to mean the same as “healing the sick man”.
But we could find a double meaning in that promise that “the Lord will raise him up”.
For if we understand sickness as an “ebbing away” of life, then healing can be seen as a foretaste of resurrection.
How does the forgiveness of sins fit into all this?
The summary of the process, in v16, begins with “Confess your sins to one another”, which implies that part of the prayer, at least, is about the
sins which have been confessed.
Which implies, in turn, that they need to pray for the forgiveness of these sins before the man can be healed.
So the background assumption is that if
the sick man has been committing sins (that “if” allows for exceptions), they may have been
contributing to the sickness.
Which is why the response from God would combine the forgiveness of sins and the healing.
The other assumption is that prayer for the forgiveness of sins is more effective coming from the brethren than it is when the sinner prays on his
That’s why James gives that assurance about the effectiveness of the prayer of a righteous man, which he then re-enforces by quoting the example of
1 Kings (chs.17-18) tells how Elijah announced
the arrival of the great drought (we’re not told that he prayed for it), and how he prayed
successfully that the rain should return.
If Elijah, just an ordinary human like ourselves, was able to pray effectively for the life-giving rain to replenish the land, then the rest of us can
pray with confidence for life to return to ailing brethren, giving them forgiveness of sins and healing.
This gives us another double meaning, for the previous promise that the prayer of Faith will “save” the sick man.
On the same principle, we can also pray for the man who’s “ wandering from the truth”, moving even further away from God.
That’s the message of the last two verses of the letter.
Two promises are made in the event that someone “brings back” such a sinner.
Firstly, the rescuing brother will be saving “his soul” (the soul of the sinner, I take it) from death.
The second part of the promise is that the rescuer will “cover” (that is, obtain forgiveness for) a multitude of sins.
I’ve been tempted by the idea that he receives the covering of his own sins, as a kind of reward for services rendered.
Closer examination forces me to abandon that line of thought.
The second promise is really completing the first promise- the covering of the sins is what saves the soul from death.
In principle,then, it’s the same action as the prayer for sickness- praying for the sins of the brother, winning him forgiveness and healing and
James ends the letter on that note, which brings us back to his opening theme.
The opening passages of this letter were about the importance of Faith, and how it should be preserved.
While the closing passages have been about the prayer of Faith.
The opening verses were about the trials which might cause Faith to break down.
While the closing verses deal with the restoration of a man who has lost contact with Faith.
So this letter, in effect, comes round full circle, and now returns to the starting point.
edit on 10-12-2012 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)