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James 5:13-20 by Robert Dean
Series:James (1998)
Duration:58 mins 22 secs

Healing, Anointing and Other Questions; James 5:13-20


We have emphasized in James that theme throughout the entire epistle is perseverance in times of adversity. He wraps his theme around a three-point message in 1:19: "Be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger." Then in 5:7 her returns to the theme of patience and endurance.  In verse 13 he asks three questions.

James 5:13 NASB "Is anyone among you suffering? {Then} he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. [14] Is anyone among you sick? …" But we have to look at these questions in context. The context is patience and endurance. What happens usually is that people take this passage at first glance, according to the English, and say this must be teaching something about healing and physical sickness. The problem is that the context doesn't suggest that at all. Where does physical illness have to do with the subject of the epistle. Someone might say that sickness is a form of adversity. Right, but we are summing up the epistle, not introducing news subjects at this point. We have to look at the literary structure of the epistle.

These questions are all related. The first question is the controlling question: "Is anyone among you suffering?" That is the theme of the epistle. Then, "Is any one cheerful?" The word cheerful really means "encouraged." This is the positive response: the believer who has handled the outside pressure of suffering by applying doctrine and he is strengthened in his soul. The other response, then, is the one who failed. So there is the issue of adversity, and what do you do if successful and what do you do if you fail? And that is the understanding of these three opening questions in this paragraph.

"Is anyone among you suffering? " This is the Greek word KAKOPATHEO [kakopaqew] which means to suffer physical pain, hardship and distress, to go through intense suffering. We saw this word in verse 10: "As an example, brethren, of suffering." So this tells us when we come to verse 13 that James is writing still in the same vein that he has been talking in the previous three verses, he is not going off into some new subject. The principle is that the context is still patient endurance in the midst of adversity, so we have to interpret whatever phrases we come to by letting the context determine our interpretation. The next word we have to investigate is the word for cheerful, EUTHUMEO [e)uqumew]. By looking at the English, talking about cheerful or joyful, it might be that we would expect a Greek word related to CHARA [xara], "joy." But it is not what we find. What we find is a word that means to be or to become encouraged, and hence cheerful. Cheerful is a secondary meaning to the word, it is not the primary core meaning of this word. It means to be encouraged, to take courage, to become encouraged. In other words, to be strengthened in your soul.

Whenever you hit adversity you have a choice to make: whether or not to apply doctrine in the way you handle that problem. If you apply doctrine the Scripture says that that is the procedure for edifying (building up or strengthening) your soul. This is the positive response: Is anyone cheerful? This is the one who has been encouraged. We have looked at the answers, so now we look at the questions. First, Is anyone among you suffering [going through adversity]?  Response: Let him pray. Prayer is not a stress-buster. The reason prayer is not a stress-buster is that prayer is a vehicle of communication with God through which we utilize several of the stress-busters. So in and of itself it is not s stress-buster, it is a vehicle for using the faith-rest drill, a vehicle for expressing our personal love for God, our occupation with Christ. So if anyone is suffering they are to go to the Lord. This is the same solution that James had referred to in the fist chapter: If any of you lack wisdom [application of doctrine], let him ask of God." In the context it is the wisdom of doctrine to apply to the test. If you are going through a test and you don't know how to handle it, the solution is to ask of God—"by means of faith," the problem-solving device, the faith-rest drill. James is simply coming back to his basic theme, just as at the beginning.

"Is anyone strengthened [by their positive response]? He is to sing praises." This is giving thanks to God. Praise is a vocal expression of the gratitude in our souls. Gratitude is always a measure of our spirituality, the barometer of our spiritual growth. We are to give thanks in all things. So our ability to look at the adversity and to have gratitude towards God because of what he is doing reflects the fact that we have divine viewpoint of the situation and we understand what the dynamics are in adversity and stress.

Then we come to our third question and this is where there is a lot of confusion. The strengthened soul, the soul fortress: there are the entry way, 1 John 1:9; inside that fortification is tantamount to being in fellowship, walking by means of the Holy Spirit, abiding in Christ. Christ is our protector. We develop the bricks that make up the fortification by means of learning and assimilating doctrine. So this is a picture of the strengthened, i.e. encouraged, believer. This is in contrast to the believer who has fragmented his soul and is falling apart. "Is anyone among you sick?" At first glance everyone thinks that now we are going to learn about healing. There are some contextual problems with that interpretation. There are lexical problems with that interpretation and some practical problems. Very few people are willing to face those practical problems. "{Then} he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; [15] and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him."

The problem that we see here is that this is expressed as an unconditional promise. "The prayer offered in faith will," it doesn't say might, in most case, it sell it will restore the one who is sick. What happens unfortunately is that people take this verse and misapply it, and they say that if you prayed and really had faith you would be healed. You just have to trust the Lord; the problem is you just don't have enough faith. The word translated "sick" in verse 14 is the word ASTHENEO [a)sqenew]. This is a compound word, then alpha prefix is a negative and it negates the word; it is like "un" in English. STHENEO comes from a root that means strength, so basically the root sense of this word is to be without strength, to be weak, and that is its essential core meaning. Question: In what sense of weakness is this passage talking about?

Arndt and Gingrich:

1)  Bodily weakness: Matthew 25:39; Luke 10:1; John 4:46; 11:1, 2, 3, 6; Philippians 2:26ff; 2 Timothy 4:20.

2)  In 68-70% of the times this word is the Gospels where this word is used it means physically sick, but when you get into the epistles it flip-flops, it shifts from the majority of usages referring to physical sickness to spiritual or moral weakness. That is the second meaning of the word. It means to be weak in faith .

3)  To be weak economically, to be in need.

Sometimes when we come to a passage we have to determine what kind of weakness we are talking about in the passage, a physical weakness or a spiritual weakness.


Matthew 25:44 NASB "Then they themselves also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick [a)sqenhj], or in prison, and did not take care of You?'" There is an example of where this word means sickness.

Matthew 26:41 NASB "Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak [a)sqnhew]." The flesh is spiritually impotent, there is a spiritual inability that comes because of a lack of doctrine, a lack of application of doctrine, or reliance upon the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 11:30 NASB "For this reason many among you are weak [a)sqenew: spiritually weak] and sick [physically sick], and a number sleep."

So this word has a range of meanings, its core meaning is weak and we have to determine from the context whether it means to be physically weak or spiritually weak. James 5:15 NASB "and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick." The English uses the word "sick" in v. 15 and "sick" in v. 14. However, it shouldn't be a surprise that they are two different words in the Greek. It is the second word in v. 15 that is a more precise word and that helps us understand what ASTHENEO means in v. 14. We are talking about the same person. The restoration of the one who is sick, if that word doesn't mean physically sick, then  the word back in v. 14 doesn't mean physically sick. It is the Greek word KAMNO [kamnw] which means basically to be weary or exhausted. It classical Greek it did means sick or ill or even dead, but it is not used anywhere in the Greek New Testament to mean physically ill or dead.

Hebrews 12:1 NASB "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." What do we think the subject matter of Hebrews 12 is now? Endurance, HUPOMONE, the same word we find in James. How do we do that? [2] "fixing our eyes on Jesus [occupation with Christ], the author and perfecter of faith [doctrine], who for the joy set before Him [inner happiness motivated Him] endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. [3] For consider Him who has endured [HUPOMONE] such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary [KAMNO] and lose heart." Here we have the same word that we have in James 5, in a similar context of endurance, and it makes clear that the subject matter of KAMNO is avoiding weariness or spiritual failure or spiritual impotence in the midst of adversity. In other words, using human viewpoint problem-solving techniques instead of the divine problem-solving devices or stress-busters to handle the problem.

James 5:15 "and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick [weary]." So now we have a new translation here that is a little more accurate: [13] "Is anyone among you facing adversity? Let him pray. Is anyone encouraged [strengthened]? Let him sing praises. [14] Is anyone among you weary [weak spiritually]? {Then} he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; [15] and the prayer offered in faith will strengthen the one who is weary, and the Lord will lift him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him."

Looking at the last part of that verse we realize that maybe we are talking about something different from physical sickness, because as soon as we introduce the concept of sin we realize that what had happened was that this person had been converting the outside pressure of adversity into the inside pressure of stress in the soul. Their soul is fragmenting, it is compounding itself, they are a diyuxoj believer, double-minded, unstable in all their ways, and they have reached appoint where they are incapable of going forward. They are overwhelmed by depression, by discouragement, by failure, and so this is giving God's solution here and it is related to the use of the faith-rest drill, specifically manifested in prayer.

Another thing we need to look at is some of the words for restoration that are used in the passage. V. 15: "The prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick." The word there for "restore" is SOZO [swzw]. It means to deliver, and to save. The root meaning is to deliver and it is always necessary to look at the context to see what the deliverance is from. This is talking about realizing maturity in the spiritual life. Then it says the Lord will "raise him up," the future tense EGEIRO [e)geirw] meaning to lift, to raise, to lift up, to restore, to stimulate or awaken. So we have a picture of a carnal believer, maybe a reversionist, who is completely away from the Lord, fragmenting his soul, and then he turns back but really doesn't have the strength on his own because he has so blown it in his spiritual life that he calls other believers to pray for him.

The last word that we will look at is the word for "heal" in v. 16: NASB "Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much." This is the Greek word IAOMAI [i)aomai]. Its core meaning is to recover. It can refer to any kind of recovery, even though most of the time it is used of physical recovery from illness. It is used in a couple of passages fro spiritual recovery. John 12:40 NASB "HE HAS BLINDED THEIR EYES AND HE HARDENED THEIR HEART, SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT SEE WITH THEIR EYES AND PERCEIVE WITH THEIR HEART, AND BE CONVERTED AND I HEAL THEM." There IAOMAI is used not of healing diseases but of recovery from the spiritual problem of spiritual death and salvation. So the verb SOZO, EGEIRO and IAOMAI all emphasize recovery, and this is the recovery solution for the believer who has failed facing spiritual testing.

James 5:14 NASB "Is anyone among you sick? {Then} he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord." When we come to this passage we have to ask a couple of interpretive questions. One revolves around the fact that this is the very first epistle written in the New Testament. Probably there was no a Gentile church firmly established at this point. James is writing to dispersed Jewish believers, not to the church of God. In chapter 2:2 he raises the issue of prejudice in the congregation and says, "If a man comes into your assembly." Again, he doesn't use the word EKKLESIA [e)kklhsia], the uses the word synagogue because he is dealing primarily with a group of Jewish believers and congregation that is operating very early in the church age and they haven't really converted over into a New Testament ecclesiology.  In verse 14 he uses the word EKKLESIA for the first time but probably not in a technical sense.

Elders here, since there hasn't been any clear revelation concerning the breakdown of the leadership in the church yet, in terms of pastor, elder, bishop, which all refer to the leader of a church, the root meaning of PRESBUTEROS  [presbuteroj] is most likely "elderly" or mature." And most likely the point of this is that they are to call the spiritually mature in the congregation to pray for them. That is why we are to pray for one another. So in one sense they are going to sort of piggy-back on someone else's spiritual maturity and use them in a sense for a crutch, and this is only fitting for someone who has become a spiritual cripple. This is in effect what has happened to the person who has let adversity overwhelm them, have refused to apply doctrine, and now they have fallen apart in their life, are spiritually inept, and they may need to have somebody come along side and encourage them. One way in which we do that is to pray for them.

Today we don't anoint them with oil. There are two verbs expressing the concept of anointing. The first is ALEITHO [a)leiqw], and the second is CHRIO [xriw], the root word from which we get the noun the anointed one, xristoj. It is this word that is used of spiritually significant anointing. The word ALEITHO has to do with the every day function of rubbing oil on your skin. In that climate it was the normal operating procedure of every person to put oil on their face. That is what is happening here. It is the concept of anointing themselves with oil, part of their daily toiletry. What has happened here is that as a result of discouragement and depression and fragmentation of the soul this person has reached the point where they don't just care enough about their daily activities. The point here is that this has a cultural interpretation. We have to interpret the passage in light of the times in which it was written.

James 5:16 NASB "Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much." The word "confess" here is the same as in 1 John 1:9, HOMOLOGEO [o)mologew], which means to admit of acknowledge your sins. This is not talking about confession for fellowship with God, it is talking about the times when we offend and hurt one another and it is the right thing to do to apologize. It is just good manners and courtesy. Then we are to pray for one another. Then we are given the closing principle that the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. The emphasis here is being in fellowship.

In vv. 17, 18 we have an illustration of this principle, specifically from 1 Kings 17:1. James 5:17 NASB "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. [18]  Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit." The emphasis is that Elijah prayed and God answered his prayer, and just as Elijah prayed  we can pray in times of adversity and God will answer our prayers. Elijah was facing a time of adversity and testing in Israel. The interesting thing is that if the subject of vv. 13-16 is talking about physical healing, then why is it that James went to the first half of 1 Kings for his illustration and not the second half where he was staying with the widow of Zarephath who had a young son who died. Elijah was told to lie down over that son and God restored him to life. So if the subject was healing why doesn't James go to 1 Kings 17:18ff? Because it is not talking about physical healing. He is talking about physical endurance in times of crisis.

James 5:19 NASB" My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth [departs doctrine, quits using the stress-busters] and one turns him back, [20] let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins." This doesn't justify poking our noses into another's business. But there are times when we are going to encourage one another by pointing back in the right direction. Saving the soul here is not talking about salvation, it is another example of how SOZO is used in this passage for discovering everything that God has for our lives in phase two, growing to spiritual maturity. Death here refers to temporal death, carnality, the sin unto death. Recovery will avoid a multitude of sins because now they are back in fellowship, are handling adversity through the application of doctrine, and they are going forward in the spiritual life.