Notes on James 5:10-19

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

James 5:10, KJV Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.

Again, numerous examples could be cited:

Jeremiah, who was put in stocks (Jeremiah 20:2) and was cast into cisterns (KJV, dungeons, Jer 37-38);

Micaiah, who was put in prison (again) for prophesying God’s message when Ahab and Jehoshaphat decided to attack Ramoth-Gilead (1 Kinga 22, 2 Chron 18);

Hanani the seer who brought a word of rebuke to Asa, king of Judah (2 Chron 16:7-10);

Amos, whose message was ignored except by the priest of Bethel—he promptly told Amos to stop preaching and leave town;

and Hosea, whose wife proved unfaithful to him.

How many more could there be? But very few if any of God’s true prophets stopped voluntarily, enduring much, knowing they received God’s favor because they had stayed faithful to Him.

11 Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

“Happy” sometimes means “blessed”. Jesus said to the disciples, in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake (Matt 5:11).” Perhaps the closest to “happy” in suffering might be in Acts 5:17-41 when the apostles were all put in prison and considered themselves “worthy to suffer shame for his name”. Job’s troubles and problems were all a result of Satan’s affliction—within limits established by the Lord Himself—but he stayed true to God in spite of everything.

“Pitiful” and of “tender mercy” are qualities of God that sometimes are de-emphasized due to focus on God’s wrath; or over-emphasized, downplaying the eternal punishment unbelievers will endure. Psalm 103:13 says it beautifully, “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him”, and “tender mercies” are mentioned 10 times in Psalms alone. One of the most significant is Psalm 51:1, David’s prayer of confession after his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah.

12 But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and (your) nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.

This is another direct quote from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said not to swear at all but to simply let your yes be yes and your no, no (Matthew 5:33-37, paraphrased).

13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.

James now asks who is afflicted among the believers of his day, perhaps keeping in mind Job and the prophets whom he had referenced earlier in this letter. For those who were afflicted, and there could have been plenty of afflictions (physical, spiritual, mental, etc;), James encourages them to pray. In some cases, that may have been all the believer could do, not, perhaps, having the provisions or tools to overcome what was happening. Then for those who were merry, James encourages them to sing! Paul would later encourage the believers to sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19, Col 3:16).

14 Is any sick among you? 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:

Now James shifts the focus from those who were afflicted to those who were sick. He simply says for the sick person to ask for the elders of the church to pray over him. It is not specified what type of oil is view in this passage, whether olive oil, or perhaps some kind of medicinal fluid.

He also does not make any distinction between rich and poor or any other category. Sickness is truly a universal problem: every person, with few exceptions, will experience sickness in one form or another.

15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

“Save”, here, means “deliver”; and does not refer to salvation of the soul. This is a general principle because not every person recovers from every sickness (Lazarus and Trophimus, to name two) and every person born will eventually die (excepting the saints caught up in the Rapture).

Notice also the marvelous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Forgiveness for all sins was included in His death and resurrection. One need only claim it for salvation or for repentance (i.e., either getting saved or getting right with God). James may imply here that the sick believer was so sick he or she may have had a hard time focusing on confessing his or her sins.

16 Confess (your) faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

This is probably another reference to the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus instructed the believer to be reconciled to his brother, if there was something between them (Matt 5). The primary application is for the Kingdom of Heaven because believers in the Age of Grace do not bring sacrifices or gifts to an altar, rather, our bodies are living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2) and temples of the Holy Spirit.

James may have had Elijah and Elisha in mind as examples of fervent prayer; Both prayed earnestly over the loss of a mother’s son (widow of Zarephath and the Shunammite woman) and God restored both boys to life. Jesus Himself prayed so earnestly that His sweat became like drops of blood.

17 Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.

Recorded in 1 Kings, the drought came because of Israel’s sin; the rain, by God’s grace. Elijah sent his servant to see if there was any sign of rain. Finally there was a cloud the size of a man’s hand. We know the rest of the story!

19 Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; 20 Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

“Convert”, here means to restore or bring back, like Simon Peter in Luke 22. Paul would give similar instruction in Galatians 6:1-10, He warned the Corinthians that some were weak, sick, and some had died because of their abuse of the Lords Supper (1 Cor. 11). John mentioned a sin unto death (1 John 5:16)

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).

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