Everyday Faith (James 5:13-20)


I have been continually reminded that not everyone views life, events, and circumstances the way that I do. How you see things is different from how someone else views them. Sometimes life can feel like a Rorschach test of mysterious inkblot images with dozens, if not hundreds, of perceived meanings. And perception is multiplied when life’s circumstances are experiencing extreme pressure and challenges like our current social climate.

This reminds me of an illustration:[1]

  • When you put a carrot in boiling hot water, what happens? It softens, deforms, and weakens.
    • Some people are endlessly bothered, beat down, and defeated by what happens to them.
  • When you put an egg in boiling hot water, what happens? The inside hardens.
    • Some people become calloused and closed off to receiving help or love from others.  
  • When you put a coffee bean in boiling hot water, what happens? Magic! 😊 It transforms. The coffee bean receives its environment and transforms into something that is beautiful and beneficial for others. 
    • Some take life’s challenges and turn them into coaches to develop and advance them into someone better. 

James is writing to Christians who have difference experiences and perspectives on all the circumstances of their lives. Some are suffering and others are smiling. Either way, Christians are called to care for every person regardless of their circumstances. Today’s text provides us 3 ways to care for others.

EXAMINE           James 5:13-20
13  Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.

We care for others with empathy (5:13).

James asks rhetorical questions: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him praise.”

The questions assume you will experience both suffering (κακοπαθει̑ν means to experience wicked suffering or evil harm) and cheer (εὐθυμει̑ν means good spirits) because there are applied actions to assume.

Empathy means when those are suffering we pray, when those are celebrating, we praise. Both actions are in the present tense suggestion continuous action. In fact, life is filled with pleasure and pain, blessings and burdens. As God’s children we are called to rejoice always and give thanks in all things (1Thess 5:16, 18). Even though we may not feel like finding joy in hardship, we must persevere knowing God loves us and will provide us the strength to persevere. Every test becomes an opportunity to give testimony of God’s faithful provision.

James emphasizes prayer 7x in the last few sentences of his letter.

  • It was said of James that he prayed so much that his knees became as calloused as a camel, known as “Old Man Camel Knees” (Eusebius, 4th C historian quoting another).

Prayer is the church’s means for unity in membership and urgent in mission. Further, James uses the word ψάλλω/psallo (where we get word “psalms”) for a prayer/praise response.

  • Prayer is not a simple lever to pull or button to push, but a relationship to pursue.
    –  We can be creative with prayer: hands up/down; hand on chest; pray on knees/bowed; eyes closed/open; prayer hand: Thumb – Praiseworthy / Pointer – Direction / Middle: Priorities / Ring – Future / Pinky: Struggles into Spiritual Strength
  • Sing! Songs are prayers with a tune. Christian, have you lost your song!?!
    Ps 42:8 “By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me.”
    Ps 77:6 “Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.”
    Ps 149:5 “let them sing for joy on their beds”
    Job 35:10 “God my maker, who gives songs in the night”
    A song can show a level of learned faith, as well as be instructing for others (1Cor 14:15; Eph 5:19-20; Col 3:16-17).
  • Read Psalms! Psalms provide us the language of prayer for both cries and celebration.
    • Psalm 119:71 “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”
    • Ps 119:92 “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.”

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 one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
16  Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

We care for others with vulnerability (5:14-16).

Interestingly, James is addressing the church as a whole, not just the elders. If persons want help in their situation, healing in their suffering, or hope in their sin, then they need to express a level of vulnerability. They must call out to the Lord, and call for the elders, and others, to pray for them. While God is all-knowing, people are not. Elders must be attentive to the needs of members, and the members can help by openly raising awareness of their needs.

James describes elders praying over individuals who are sick and struggling. Here, the reference of those sick/weak (ἀσθενει̑) could refer to either or both those who are physically ill, or perhaps more specifically those who are weak in faith due to the pressures and persecutions that James has been referencing throughout the letter.

The instruction to call the elders of the church to pray affirms the role of the local church. Those who diminish or dismiss the importance of becoming a member with a local church should pay attention to the value of being a church member. The privilege of having elders to call when one is sick/weak is truly a benefit and blessing of the local church. Non-members do not always have the same access and availability to the elders’ prayers and participation into their lives. 

Elders are shepherds who serve, love, pray, and give oversight to the people of God. It is not only their duty but delight to share in the helping and healing of people in God’s kingdom. Again, the language is in the present tense suggesting not a single event but repeated prayer experiences.

Sometimes the elder’s services comes in helping with spiritual encouragement or exhortation, and sometimes it comes through the hope of praying by faith in God’s power to heal. In all, the elders do not become faith healers but faith helpers to encourage the individual toward faith in the Lord – the only one who can raise them up.

James also references the elders anointing the sick/weak individual with oil. The anointing with oil had multiple connotations. Oil was symbolic of God’s presence and a sign of blessing (Deut 11:14; Judg 9:9; Song 1:3; Job 29:6; Ps 23:5, 45:7-8, 133:2; Prov 27:9; Eccl 7:1, 9:8; Isa 61:3; Joel 2:24). Oil was also used in spiritual acts of worship or ceremonial anointing (Gen 35:14; Ex 40:9-11; Lev 8:10-11, 8:30; 1Sam 10:1, 16:13; 1Kings 19:16; Amos 6:6; Mat 6:17, 26:6-13; Lk 7:36-50). And lastly, oil was used for ordinary purposes such as cooking (Num 11:8; 1Kings 17:12-16; Ez 16:13; Lev 2:1-4; Rev 6:6), cosmetic (Ruth 3:3; Ecc 9:8); fuel (Ex 25:6; Mat 25:3); medicine (Isa 1:6; Lk 10:34; James 5:14). In this instance, it would appear that oil was either or both symbolic of God’s presence (Mark 6:13) as well as perhaps medicinal usage (Luke 10:34). However, anointing with oil is not a necessity to prayer for healing, with numerous instances of Jesus and the Apostles praying for God’s healing without anointing oil.

  • Entrust yourself to your church and its leaders.
    • First step may be to present yourself to God at the altar – “Lord, I Need You”; altars alter you!
    • Entrusting to leaders is a command of Scripture (Hebrews 13:17; 1Pet 5:5; Eph 5:21).
    • Those not members, consider starting the process to unite with spbc.
    • Many people ask for prayer, but few pray with others. Commit to praying with others for each other. James exhorts Christians to “pray for one another, that you may be healed” (5:16). Intercessory prayer is powerful.
      • Vulnerable prayer is praying with others… “Togetherness is so important [bc]… Jesus promises to pray alongside us (Matt 18:20). When we are together we can see the joys and sorrows and needs of our brothers and sisters written on their faces and in the set of their shoulders. We can hear it in their voices and feel it in the pressure of their handshakes. When we are together, they can notice these things in us too. Prayer may be an invisible force in the heavenly places, but praying together has a tangible dimension, and there love flourishes.”[2]

James also notes that praying for one another should include confessing sin to each other (James 5:16). These exhortations are also in concert with James’ previous warnings to “not speak evil against one another” (4:11) or “not grumbling against one another” (5:9).

  • What should we do when someone is praying for us / or when someone confesses sin to us?
    • We should listen attentively.
      • When a group of guys watch a sporting event together, after a good play, the guy fans give a nod or high five to acknowledge they’re paying attention and give affirmation. Likewise, in prayer, personally, I find it helpful to occasionally say “Amen,” or “Yes, Lord,” to help my personal attention and offer affirmation (cf Ps 106:48; 1 Cor 14:16; Mt 18:19). Sometimes, I’ll whisper an additional prayer either out loud or silent.
    • We should listen humbly. We are not there to judge the quality of a prayer or the content. We pray with others, and listen to confession, as one who understands we all need grace (cf. Mt 6:14-15; 1 Tim 1:15-16).

  • What should we do when God does not answer according to our prayers?
    • God always answers prayer: Yes, No, or Not yet. The question is not “Will God heal?” but “When will God heal?” Sometimes non-healings are used of God for a season or the duration of someone’s life (cf. John 9:1; 1Cor 11:30; 2Cor 12:1-10; Php 2:25-30; 2Tim 4:20). God’s silence does not imply His absence or avoidance of our prayers, but it is possible that our sin hinders God’s response, which is why confessing sin is related to effective prayer (Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 1:15; 1Peter 3:7). James say, “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
    • So, our role in prayer is not to change God’s mind but to allow Him to change us through confessing sin and experiencing trust and contentment in His purposes. Like Jesus, “Not my will, but Thy will.”

17  Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.
18  Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
19  My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back,
20  let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

We care for others with fervency (5:17-20).

James provides an illustration of prayer with the prophet Elijah. Elijah was a man with a nature just like ours or more literally: “a man of like feelings/suffering” (ὁμοιοπαθής) 5:17[3]. Elijah prayed fervently (literally: “prayed with prayer”). [4] The situation is outlined in 1King 17 where Elijah prayed for drought and for 3.5 years there was no rain, then praying for rain, it did (1Ki 18:45). In all, Elijah is used as an illustration of one who lived in a national turmoil and trying times – like the audience of James – – and like us today – – and yet persevered fervently in prayer. 

James closes his letter with emphasis on the prayer and participation in each other’s life. Those who warn the wandering sinners and confront the wayward will save souls.

  • Have you ever wandered away? How did it feel?
  • Have one of your children ever wandered away? Or imagine if they did, how would you react?

Wandering can happen because you’re curious, but it can also be because you’re callous to the things of God.

People can wander theologically, morally, or relationally. The first two require intervention, while the third requires interpretation. When you see a person, whom is wandering away from God, we are called to “bring them back” (ἐπιστρέψῃ; help them repent). When we see a person drifting relationally, it could require repentance on both sides, or it could mean God is calling the person to something else. The difference is that God doesn’t call someone to leave something/someone without following Scripture. In other words, one action will never contradict a command of God.

  • Are you fickle or fervent in prayer life? What if God only answered fervent prayers? Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “There is nothing that tells the truth about us as a Christian people so much as our prayer life.”[5] The same could be said of us as a church.
  • Are you wandering:
    • Theologically: Spend time in Scripture / preaching of word / Groups / recommended readings…
    • Morally: Ask a Christian friend if they see an area of life resisting Christ’s Lordship.
    • Relationally: Who gets the glory in your wandering – the gladness in your drifting?
      • As a pastor, I’ve seen people drift in disobedience and that is indeed heartbreaking. But, I’ve also seen people wander away without much reason other than they’re following a path of personal comfort. I’m not the Holy Spirit, so we all have to make sure we are following Him and not asking Him to follow us.
  • Are you fervent in bringing others back, to save and cover a multitude of sins?
    • As a lifeguard scans the pool for drowning victims, may we view the sea of lost people needing rescued. #WhosYour1 before end of 2020.


Outside of faith, hope, and love, it’s hard to imagine three greater characteristics the church needs more today than empathy, vulnerability, and fervency.

*Praise for those who are cheerful… for those who celebrate and/or find contentment in song. The sorrows of those who run after other gods shall multiply… but the Lord is our portion in His presence is fullness of joy and at His right hand are pleasures forevermore.

*Pray for those suffering physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. May God give each the grace and strength to endure, the wisdom and hope to persevere, and the comfort of Christ’s nearness. May all be reminded that strength does not come from escape of circumstances but endurance in prayer. When it seems like you cannot take another step; when fear lingers in your mind and doubts lurk inside your heart, then remind yourself “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1John 4:4), and “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; Jesus has overcome the world” (John 16:33).

*Pray for those who are wandering, or those with wandering children. May God open eyes to truth, open hearts to love, and that any path of disobedience will only grow more dangerous and dark that they cannot help but repent and seek rescue in Christ.

*Pray for the fervency of the church. Thank you Lord for the Word – and the book of James. May these sermons, and the Holy Spirit increase the level of our knowing and doing of the word.

Song: Wonderful Merciful Savior


[1] http://jongordon.com/books/coffeebean/

[2] Megan Hill, Praying Together, 65.

[3] The Bible records Elijah as hungry (1Kings 17:11), afraid (1 Kings 19:3), and depressed (1 Kings 19:3, 9-14).

[4] Moo, Doug. (2000). Pillar NT Commentary: James (p. 248).

[5] MLJ, Studies in Sermon on the Mount, p.322.

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