Lesson 32. In Physical Needs (James 5:14-15) PART 1

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

14. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

15. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

INTRODUCTION

I will attempt to show from 1 Corinthians 12:91 and 282 and Galatians 3:53 that gifts of healings were intended for the church in Paul’s day and our day. However, the New Testament does not talk about THE gift of healing. Nor does it talk about people in the church who are known as healers. The phrase “gifts of healings” (two plurals) in 1 Corinthians 12:9 and 28 suggests rather that at different times for different sicknesses, God gives different people different “gifts of healings.” In other words, you might find yourself drawn to pray for one person with remarkable, expectant faith and see that person healed, but then pray for others and not experience that same gift.

We concluded that it is good to earnestly desire gifts of healings—not as something to boast in but as something with which to love. Love is the main thing. Gifts without love are deadly. But love plus gifts is the biblical ideal.

COMMENTARY

14. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

Is anyone among you sick? – In the previous verse, the reference was to affliction in general, and the duty urged there was one that applied to all forms of ordeal. However, sickness is crucial since it so often occurs that a specific direction was desirable. That direction is to call in the aid of others to lead our thoughts and aid us in making decisions because one who is sick cannot direct his thoughts and pray for himself any more than he can in another form of the ordeal. Nothing is said here regarding the degree of sickness, whether it is that which would be fatal if these means were used or not, but the direction pertains to any illness.

Let him call for the elders of the church - “presbyters (Gr.)” See the notes at Acts 15:24. It cannot be supposed that this refers to the apostles, for it could not be that they would always be accessible; besides, instructions like this were designed to have a permanent character and to apply to the church at all times and in all places. The reference, therefore, is doubtless to the ordinary religious teachers of the congregation, the officers of the church entrusted with its spiritual interests. The command's spirit would embrace pastors and others to whom the congregation's spiritual interests are confided - ruling elders, deacons, etc. Suppose the allusion is to the ordinary officers of the church. In that case, it is evident that the cure to be hoped for (James 5:1) was not miraculous but was expected to use appropriate means accompanied by prayer.

As worthy of note, it may be added that the apostle says they should “call” for the elders of the church; that is, they should send for them. They should not wait for them to hear of their sickness, as they might happen to, but they should cause them to be informed of it and give them an opportunity of visiting them and praying with them.

And let them pray over him - With him, and for him. A sick man is often little capable of praying himself, and it is a privilege to have someone to lead his thoughts in devotion. Besides, the prayer of a good man may restore him to health (James 5:15). Prayer is always one essential means of obtaining the divine favor, and there is no place where it is more appropriate than by the bed-side of sickness.

Anointing him with oil - Oil, of various kinds, was used among the ancients, both in health and sickness. The oil which was commonly employed was olive oil. (See Isaiah 1:6; Luke 10:34 ).

In the name of the Lord - By the authority or direction of the Lord; or as an act in accordance with his will. When we do anything that tends to promote virtue, alleviate misery, instruct ignorance, save life, or prepare others for heaven, it is right to feel that we are doing it in the name of the Lord. There is no reason to think that the phrase is used here to denote any peculiar religious rite or “sacrament.” It was to be done in the name of the Lord, as any other good deed is.

15. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

And the prayer of faith - The prayer offered in faith or the exercise of unwavering confidence in God, a belief that He will do what is best, and a cheerful committing of the cause into his hands. We express our earnest wish and leave the case with Him. The prayer of faith is to accompany the use of methods, for all means would be ineffectual without God's blessing.

Will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up - This must be understood, with this restriction, that they will be restored to health if it shall be the will of God. It cannot be taken in the absolute and unconditional sense, for then, if these methods were used, the sick person would always recover, no matter how often he might be sick, and he would never need to die. The design encourages them to use these means with a strong hope that it would be effective. It may reasonably be inferred from this statement:

(1) that there would be cases in large numbers where these means would be attended with this happy result; and,

(2) There was so much encouragement to do it that it would be proper in any case of sickness to use these means.

It may be added that no one can demonstrate that this promise has not been fulfilled in numerous instances. There are many instances where recovery from sickness seems to be in direct answer to prayer, and no one can prove that it is not so. Compare the case of Hezekiah, in Isaiah 38:1-5.

And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.- Perhaps there may be a particular allusion here to sins that may have brought on the sickness as a punishment. In that case, the removal of the disease in answer to prayer would evidence that the sin was pardoned. Compare Matthew 9:2. But the promise may be understood in a more general sense as denoting that such sickness would be the means of bringing the sins of the past life to remembrance, especially if the one who was sick had been unfaithful to his Christian vows; and that the sickness in connection with the prayers offered would bring him to true repentance, and would recover him from his wanderings. On backsliding and erring Christians, sickness often has this effect; and the next life is so devoted and consistent as to show that the past unfaithfulness of him who has been afflicted is forgiven.

This passage James 5:14-15 is essential, not only for the counsel which it gives to the sick but because the Roman Catholic communion has employed it as almost the only portion of the Bible referred to sustain one of the peculiar rites of their religion - that of “extreme unction” - a “sacrament,” they suppose, to be administered to those who are dying. It is essential, therefore, to inquire more particularly into its meaning. There can be but three views taken of the passage:

I. That it refers to miraculous healing by the apostles or by other early ministers of religion who were endowed with the power of healing diseases in this manner.

(a) Nothing of this kind is said by the apostle, and this is not necessary to provide a fair interpretation of the passage.

(b) The reference, as already observed, is not to the apostles but the church's ordinary officers. To suppose that this refers to miracles would presume that this was a common endowment of the ordinary ministers of religion. But there was no promise of this, and there is no evidence that they possessed it. Regarding the extent of the commitment, “They shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”

(c) If this referred to the power of working miracles, and if the promise was absolute, then death would not have occurred at all among the early disciples. It would have been easy to secure a restoration to health in any instance where a minister of religion was at hand,

III. The remaining supposition, therefore, and, as it seems to me, the true one, is that the anointing with oil was, by a common custom, regarded as medicinal and that a blessing was to be invoked on this as a means of restoration to health. Besides what has been already said, the following suggestions may also be made:

(a) This was, as we have seen, common usage in the East and is to this day.

(b) This interpretation meets all that is demanded to a fair understanding of what is said by the apostle.

(c) Everything thus directed is rational and proper.

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