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James 5:13-20 ESV
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 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. 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. 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. 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. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

A response for every situation (when to pray)

  • The troubled/afflicted -> pray
  • The cheerful -> sing praise (pray in song)
  • The sick -> elders pray and anoint Prayer in faith:
  • they will be healed and restored
  • sins will be forgiven Therefore:
  • confess sins
  • pray So that you will be healed.
    Turning a sinner from their ways can save them from death and cover sins.

Prayer of a righteous person is powerful - consider Elijah


  • We should pray for our circumstances, both hard and easy (v13)
    • Suffering here is very broad in meaning - toiling under difficulty or misfortune
    • What is the alternative temptation in times of difficulty?
      • Instead of praying we become cynical or disheartened.
      • We may look to other means and possibly compromise to solve our problems.
      • We are more susceptible to temptations to sin
    • Consider Hezekiah when faced with the Assyrian invasion - 2 Kings 19:14-19
    • Adversity is very often where the fruits of the Spirit, in particular our love and faithful patience, are formed. Our prayers should reflect those priorities.
      • There’s certainly nothing wrong with the desire and the prayer to be delivered from sufferings, but sometimes the answer is no because this is the very thing that is best for your spiritual growth at this time. Our prayers should take that into account, seeking to grow more and more into the likeness of Jesus.


  • What is the alternative temptation in times of joy?
    • When things are going well, we’re tempting to forget the one to whom we all every good gift.
    • It’s easy to become conceited and view yourself as self-made, earning your current success
    • “Times of joy might have invoked complacency, but James argues that because joy is a blessing of God, gratitude to Him should be shown. Such gratitude is channeled to God through praise (cf. Col. 3:16). This joy will cause a negation of envy and promote a shared cheerfulness with the entire community.” (Easter)
  • Consider Hannah’s song after her prayers for a son were heard - 1 Samuel 2:1-10
  • Are the two conditions here necessarily mutually exclusive? c.f. Paul and Silas in Acts 16:25


  • We should pray for the sick (v14-18)
    • The elders of the church have a particular responsibility to prayer for those under their care
      • In effect the elders are acting out the healing of the paralytic in Mark 2 - bringing the man to Jesus for healing and forgiveness.
    • We have a situation here where, in effect, someone is very weak or sick (it could be spiritual or physical or both) and they are not sufficient to pray for themselves alone, they need the faithful shepherds of the flock to come and intercede with them.
      • What’s the intent of anointing with oil here and elsewhere in scripture?
        • Medicinal - the oil is a form of medicine in the first century, used in a variety of contexts (Luke 10:34). Some have argued that this passage is indicative that we should use the best medicine available in combination with prayer when dealing with sickness.
        • Sacramental - the oil is a vehicle for God’s power. Eventually, the Roman Catholics would use this passage in support of the priests giving extreme unction to the dying.
        • Symbolic - the oil sets apart the anointed for God’s special attention, or is a visible symbol of God’s care of the person (Exod 28: 41; Luke 4: 18; Acts 4: 27; 10: 38; 2 Cor 1: 21; Heb 1: 9) Regardless of the exact intention of the oil, the passage is clear that it is the “prayer of faith” and the Lord who does the healing here.
    • The language here is very direct - “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” How should we handle when we pray and we don’t seem to get an answer/healing? How does that fit with the seemingly blanket promise in this passage?
      • Does it mean we didn’t pray in faith? (sometimes)
      • The broader witness of the new testament is that healing is not always expected for sickness:
        • c.f. 2 Cor. 12:8-10; 1 Tim. 5:23; 2 Tim. 4:20
        • Consider also that the end of the road for each of us is death, which means there will eventually be an illness that we’re not going to healed from except by resurrection
      • Ultimately, our prayers have to always be understood to be contingent on the wise sovereignty of God, who we can trust to always do right. This does mean that it doesn’t matter whether we pray or not, or that we should always be hedging our prayers - the Bible is clear that God hears and heeds our prayers and that there are things that happen in the world in response to our prayers that would not happen had we not prayed. Our prayer is a vessel in God’s sovereign hand, but that’s not the same as a fatalistic “whatever will be will be.” We should pray boldly and in faith, believing that God hears, is able, and is willing to answer. If that prayer is answered with a “no,” that’s an answer we can receive with trust in our Father, but that’s not the same as praying with the expectation that there’s a “no” coming. The “prayer of faith” means praying and truly believing and expecting that God can and will bring about this healing. God has shown himself frequently willing to respond to such prayers with healing.


  • v15 - What is the connection with forgiveness of sins and healing here?
    • Is ever right to say that a sickness is due to sin? (Yes - 1 Cor. 11:30)
    • Is sickness always due to accompanied by specific sins? (No - John 9)
  • v16 - Likewise, given the connection of sin and sickness, as a community we should confess our sins to one another and pray for one another to be forgiven/healed. A couple facets for looking at this passage:
    • The community James was writing to clearly had issues with sin and division, and was very much in need of healing. In this sense, the principle of prayer for the sick is taken by James and applies to the spiritual sick community at large. In effect, he’s saying “You’re sick and in need of prayer, healing, and forgiveness.”
    • Sin within the community can affect the efficacy of our prayers (1 Pet. 3:7), and so we should habitually be dealing with it.
    • In order to be people who are able to offer “the prayer of a righteous person”, we must walk as righteous people. To be walking as righteous people requires regular confession of sin and prayer for one another. The effectiveness of our healing ministry is contingent on our pursuit of righteousness.


      Now the example of Elijah, who is a man with like passions as us

    • Why the specific example of Elijah here vs other examples of answered prayer (e.g. the widow’s son)?
      • The patience faithful patience required of Elijah in this case, ties back with the faithful endurance of Job
      • Tying together the imagery of rain and fruitfulness from James 5:7ff

        Assumptions/Declarations in this passage

  • The Lord hears our prayers, and works in response to them
  • There is sometimes a connection between our sins and our sicknesses, and prayer can bring healing to both
  • A righteous person’s prayer is effective


  • v19-20 - Connecting closely with the question of sin and forgiveness, and dependent on prayer as well, is the issue of restoring a brother or sister who has gone astray from the truth.
    • Even greater than the miracle of healing from sickness is the saving of this wayward soul from death