“13) Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 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.
People will often come to me and ask me to pray for them or for a loved one. They have seen the life I live because of God’s great love and the fruit God has worked in my life, so they believe that my prayers will be of great benefit to their lives or to the lives of their loved ones. For some reason they believe that my prayers are more special than any other’s saints or that God listens more closely to my prayers than others. They seem to make it as if I have super-powered prayers.
This is simply not the case. God listens to all prayer and works through these prayers. Philippians 1:19 says, “for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.” 2 Corinthians 1:11 says, “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.”
There is nothing special about my prayers or the way that I say my prayers. There is not some secret formula or magical word order that I can speak that makes my prayers any more effective than anyone else’s. The lifestyle behind the type of prayer we live does contribute to how effective our prayers are though.
This passage says much about prayer and the effects prayer has. The life that one lives contributes to how effective or ineffective their prayers will be. This passage also reveals the lifestyles and qualities of a righteous person. Instead of just saying that we should be righteous and that the prayers of the righteous are effective, this passage shows us what it means to be a righteous person that prays effectively.
It is important to note that these are the things that a righteous person will do as a product of the new life they have received in Christ. These things do not determine if someone is righteous or not but are fruits of the righteousness brought forth through the cross of Christ. Righteousness is obtained through the faith given to us by God’s grace (Romans 1:17, Ephesians 2:8-10). This righteousness is imputed to us through the faithfulness of Christ on the cross (Romans 5:15-17).
1. A Righteous Person Suffers Well
This passage opens with, “Is anyone among you suffering?” The “you” here refers to the Jewish Christians that James was writing to. This reveals that the righteous person does suffer, but they may not all be suffering. The righteous life is filled with suffering, but it is not constantly filled with suffering. We must avoid two extremes. First, we must avoid the notion that the righteous does not suffer. Second, we must avoid the tendency to say that the righteous suffers every single second of their lives.
Both the righteous and the unrighteous will suffer in their lifetime. Anyone that says that the righteous will never suffer has a misunderstanding of Scripture. The righteous person is called to suffer throughout his or her life. When Ananias is sent to heal Paul of his blindness, the Lord says, “”For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16)
Some preach today that suffering is not part of God’s plan for the Christian life. These false preachers proclaim that suffering is a result of not praying, giving, working, serving, or doing enough good deeds. They say that if we would only be better people than we would not have to suffer. They proclaim that God does not want us to suffer, and He did not intend for us to suffer. These ideas are completely unbiblical and stand in the way of the centerpiece of our faith, which is the cross.
The book of Hebrews repeatedly shows that Jesus suffered. Hebrews 2:9-10 says, “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” Hebrews 5:8 says, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” Hebrews 13:12 says, “So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.”
The question then is not if the righteous will suffer but how the righteous will respond to suffering. The way a person responds to suffering is one indication of their righteousness. This does not determine their righteousness and salvation, just as good works does not save us, but it is a fruit of the salvation we have received by grace through faith. If a person has been redeemed by God’s grace, then they will face adversity well.
What does it mean to suffer well? As we have seen, both the righteous and the unrighteous person will suffer on this earth, but they will respond differently to suffering. We must first understand what it does not mean to suffer well. All of these things may play a role in suffering well, but they are not the key to suffering well. They are things that should support the main reason of suffering well.
First, suffering well does not mean that you will get healthier or survive a diagnosis. There have been many people that did not follow Christ that defeated tremendous odds of life and death. Suffering well does not mean that you start to eat better and exercise more in order to stay alive.
Second, suffering well also does not mean that you will live a better moral life. We should seek to live a better moral life everyday of our lives and suffering or the fear of death often gives us an extra push, but it is not the crucial part of suffering well. Many unrighteous people have given more to charities or served more after enduring a time of suffering or becoming aware of their upcoming death. Why do they do these things? They do them in order to bring glory to their name or find their own salvation. They think that by doing good works many will remember them and that those good works will get them into heaven.
Third, suffering well does not mean to do everything you ever dreamed of doing. I have heard many stories of people, after hearing they were going to die, doing everything they ever wanted to do such as visiting foreign countries or meeting famous personalities. While this can play a large role in what suffering well really is, this by itself is not how to suffer well if it is done in order to seek fulfillment in something other than God.
Fourth, suffering well does not mean that one becomes more religious. Attending church and doing church activities are very good, but these things can neither save you on this life or the next. They are simply a façade if they are done out of complete fear of death with no pursuit of the real good. Becoming more religious is a less obvious way of seeking salvation through good works.
The answer for suffering well comes from the famous passage James 1:2-4, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” In order to suffer well, we are to rejoice well. We rejoice in the fact that God has counted us worthy to suffer (Acts 5:41). We rejoice that God is using suffering to spread the glory of His name, and we rejoice because we know that this suffering will be transformed into good.
2. A Righteous Person Prays
In response to suffering, verse 13 exhorts us to pray. Prayer provides the solace and answers we need to our suffering. In our prayers we can both seek His presence and the gifts of His love and grace. Pray fills the life of a righteous person. Prayer is mentioned five times in this passage.
When we suffer verse 13 only tells us to pray. In verse 14 we are told to seek the elders of the church, but in verse 13 we are only told to pray. We are not told to do anything else. This reveals the wonderful power of prayer and its effectiveness. Our lives would become far less complicated if we would only go to God in prayer in all things instead of seeking other things as well.
Serving and helping others are great things, but prayer should fill these moments and every aspect of our lives. Sometimes we should be completely devoted to God through prayer and prayer only. Good works can often cause distractions but prayer brings our attention back to God and His unchangeable love and power.
Looking at the Bible as a whole, we are exhorted to do many different things, but all of these must be filled with prayer. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “pray without ceasing.” While we serve others and feed the hungry, we should be praying to God that His strength and grace may sustain us and that His glory and love would be displayed through our lives for the world to see.
Prayer is the crucial point of this passage. The reason we see so many exhortations of how to live a righteous life surrounding prayer is because verse 16 reveals that “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” God hears all prayers because of our mediator in Christ, but this verse shows the effectiveness of the righteous person’s prayers.
Why are the righteous person’s prayers more effective? We must first realize that the pray of a righteous person is not a specific prayer. We could certainly model or even repeat the Lord’s Prayer as our only prayer, but the eloquence with which it is spoken does not affect its power. Someone may know all the right words but the words by themselves are not what are effective.
The righteous person will usually pray more often than those less righteous. If you look to the saints of the past, they would often go to great lengths in order to not miss their time spent with God in prayer. They will constantly praise God and petition their desire for His will to be accomplished in all things.
The righteous will continue to pray even when their initial pleas do not seem to have been answered. Many of us will often give up on prayer when we do not receive the answers we desire, but the righteous does not. This passage opens by telling those that are suffering should begin to pray, but it later tells those that are sick to seek the prayers of others. This reveals that even when the first round of prayers seems unsuccessful, the righteous will continue to pray. The righteous will also seek the prayers of others.
The righteous person’s prayers are also more effective because there is no barrier of sin separating them from God. Christ has destroyed this barrier, but we still live in a fallen world and still sin. There will be times we may feel unworthy to approach God because of our lifestyles. The righteous is less likely to feel this way because they are seeking God in all situations.
Notice that their prayers have great power as they are working. God is already working through the prayer of the righteous as the righteous prays. Their prayers may be answered before they even say amen. This is the great power that is found in the prayer of a righteous person.
What about those that do not live a righteous lifestyle? Are their prayers completely ineffective or worthless? Should they even pray? Let us not forget that we were originally dead in our trespasses and sins with no righteousness until we were made alive with Christ. God had to come and rescue us and save us. Some may ask if our prayers would have been effective or even heard by God before this point, but this is a false dichotomy that leaves out the truth that we will not and cannot pray to God before He makes us alive. We can ask if the prayers of the unregenerate matter, but there is not test we can run to prove this to be true or untrue because the unregenerate do not pray truthfully. They may pray ordinances or fake prayers to a false god, but they do not pray in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
God makes us righteous when His grace comes into our life and makes us a new creation in Christ. He worked righteousness into our lives when we were unrighteous. Therefore, the main reason that the prayers of the righteous are effective is not because of what the righteous will do but because of what God has done to make us righteous in Christ.
3. A Righteous Person Rejoices
The key to suffering well was rejoicing well. Rejoicing through suffering is one of the most powerful ways of showing the glory of God to the world. By rejoicing through trials, the world sees that our greatest joy lies in something outside of this world. If our joy lies in our health or our money, then when we lose these things we will lose our joy, but if our joy remains when our health deteriorates and our money vanishes, then we show the world that joy in the spirit is far greater than anything this world can ever offer us.
Rejoicing should fill the Christian life. This passage states, “Is anyone among you cheerful? Let him sing praise.” A righteous person will rejoice through their entire lives, both in the good times and the bad. 1 Thessalonians 5:16 says, “Rejoice always.” There is no time that we should not be rejoicing, but we should rejoice in all situations. Even when times get hard and suffering completely surrounds us, the righteous will continue to rejoice.
The righteous person will rejoice in good times as well. I have come to find that it is more often the one who is having a good time has a harder time rejoicing than the one that is enduring great trials. The one that suffers often finds contentment in the little things, but the one that endures no suffering is set off by the smallest problem.
I remember working at program on Wednesday night for youth at a church in Jackson. During their time of worship through dance and music, some of them would begin to laugh. The director would get onto them and say that they had to be quiet. She would quench any true rejoicing they may have had for the sake of an external appearance of worship.
This part of the verse is not addressing those who are suffering but those who are cheerful. Those that suffer can often be cheerful, but those that do not suffer must be cheerful as well. We see that some within the church will be cheerful and that some will not. The Christian life will not always be filled with complete cheerfulness, but we should always seek to rejoice in God regardless of our circumstances.
The verse continues with, “Let him sing praise.” There is great joy found by rejoicing within one’s self but even greater joy found when that joy manifests itself outside of the body. When the joy from the spirit springs forth from the heart into a jubilation of audible praise, the whole body joins in the chorus of God’s redeeming grace and love, which then causes those around to see the glory of God as well. A cheerful disposition calls forth joyful action.
This verse speaks only of singing, but I do not believe the Bible limits such praise to only singing but to all forms of rejoicing. It is true that rejoicing and worship are often seen as synonymous with singing, but rejoicing and worship are not limited to singing. I think that the fact that this verse only includes singing reveals the importance of singing though. Many people have gotten so caught up in theology and philosophy that they have missed the simple act of rejoicing through singing.
Psalm 100:1-2 says, “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!” Singing allows both a melody to spring forth and words that proclaim the glory of God and the gospel of Christ. This is why singing is seen as one of the highest forms of praise and rejoicing.
4. A Righteous Person Seeks Wise Counsel and Help
A righteous person knows when he cannot do it alone and asks for help from others. Verse 14 says “Is anyone among you sick?” There are many different types of being sick. There are the obvious examples of being physically sick with a cold or virus. During these times we have to call on others to help with our physical needs because we may not be able to do certain things. The amount of energy we possess may prevent us from being able to do many things that we can normally do when we are well. Therefore, we have to call on others to help us.
We can also be spiritual sick. When we struggle with sin or addictions, this can be viewed as a type of sickness. We have been made alive with Christ, but some of the diseases of our old self will creep in.
Calling on others for help is often an act of great humility. I have always struggled with pride, and it is not easy for me to ask others for help because I want to be able do it by myself. I want to be able to show others that I am strong enough to do it so that I can receive all the glory when the job is complete.
Relying on others reveals our need for others and breaks us of this pride. It shows us that we cannot do everything on our own but that we need the body of Christ to help us get through many situations. Calling for help from others also destroys any sentiments of self-glorification because we did not do it alone.
We must be careful who we seek counsel from. Verse 14 continues with, “Let him call for the elders of the church.” Different denominations have different beliefs on whether or not to have elders. I personally believe that having elders is both biblical and wise, but for this passage, we can just note that the elders represent leaders who have walked faithfully with God for many years.
We should not just seek advice and help from anyone but from those that are spiritually seasoned and matured.
The elders are to pray over us, which shows that they have a specific duty. This means that other members in the church who are not elders can serve alongside us in many other ministries, but when we seek advice or need certain things done, then we need to seek certain people. Everyone is given special abilities within the church, and we need to use those abilities accordingly.
Some commentaries point to how the elders in this passage may be referring to those who had the gift of healing. The gift of healing may not be as prominent as it was during this time, but I still believe some are blessed with that ability. We should seek out such people because of the specific gift they have been given for the glory of God.
We also must be careful to continue in prayer ourselves. I have often not prayed for matters myself because I believe that enough other people are praying for it. This passage calls for us to both pray ourselves and ask for prayers from others as well.
Verse 14 continues with, “anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” This demonstrates that there is a specific way in which we must use the gifts God has given us. The oil is significant for two reasons. At that time oil was used for medicinal purposes. Whenever God gives us a command, there is always a good reason for it whether we see the reason or not. The second reason why using oil is so significant is because it represents the anointing of the Holy Spirit. This is seen in both the Old and the New Testaments. Exodus 28:41 says, “And you shall put them on Aaron your brother, and on his sons with him, and shall anoint them and ordain them and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests.” Hebrews 1:9 says, “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”
This is all done “in the name of the Lord.” The precious blood of Christ is the only thing that can save us. Using oil and praying for one another are just expressions of the love God has instilled in us. These things cannot save us. It is only by His name we are saved. We should still seek to live a righteous lifestyle and glorify God in all that we do, but these external things will not save us.
5. A Righteous Person Has Faith
Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” How can we pray to a God that we do not believe exists? We must first have faith in God to pray to God. If I do not believe that a chair exists, then I will not have any plans to sit down on it.
We cannot be righteous at all without having faith in God, for our righteousness comes from the faith that God gives us. Our prayers will be ineffective without faith because they are either nonexistent or to a nonexistent god instead of the one, true God. Our righteousness is dependant upon the faith that God has given us through His beautiful grace.
Romans 14:23 says, “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” If we do not have faith, then all our acts will be counted as sin. This means that even our prayers are sin if they do not proceed from faith. We will not pray if we do not have faith because that means that we do not have belief in the object to which prayer belongs.
It is not only our lifestyles that must have faith, but our prayers as well. Verse 15 speaks of the “prayer of faith.” Without faith we do not have hope for our prayers to be answered. James 1:5-8 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
To pray in faith entails both a belief in God’s existence and a belief in His power to accomplish His prayer. When we pray, we should expect God to answer powerfully. This does not always mean that we will get the result we desire, but our prayers will always result in whatever brings God the most glory.
This verse may seem to imply that all prayer heals all sicknesses. If we have cancer or some other life-threatening disease, then all we have to do is pray, and it will be gone. It is true that pray may be the only way that we can be saved, but this does not mean it will always result in our salvation in this world. Paul pleads to God for the thorn to be removed from his flesh, but God does not remove it (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
This verse speaks of a far greater salvation. It speaks of our salvation over sin and death that was achieved by Christ’s death and resurrection. We know this because the verse continues with, “and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” Forgiveness of sins does not mean a healing of our physical body on our earth, but it does lead to a future glorification in heaven when we are raised from this world.
The prayer of faith is most of all a saving prayer. It is the prayer of our salvation because our righteousness comes from the faith that God has given us. The prayer of faith saves us not because of the gifts brought forth from the prayer but because of the faith within the prayer.
6. A Righteous Person Confesses and is Forgiven of Sins
Faith is interwoven with the forgiveness of sins. Mark 3:5 says, “And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” Forgiveness of sins comes with the faith that God has given us.
Proverbs 15:29 says, “The Lord is afar from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.” Our sins separate us from God, and we cannot approach His holy presence until we are cleansed by the blood of Christ, which comes through faith in Christ. Therefore, the righteous person must both seek the forgiveness of sins and be forgiven of sins.
Verse 16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another.” The reason we are told to do this is because it creates accountability. If we were just to confess our sins to God, then we may get in the habit of saying a little prayer after we sin and think that everything was all right. If we are forced to admit our sins to others, then we have to bear the humiliation before others. This causes us to realize the weight of our sin and to prevent us from doing the sin again because we know we will have to tell that same group how we have failed.
Another reason we are told to confess our sins to one another because confession of sins will often fix many of the hidden problems within the church. A member of the church may hold a grudge against another member, but if the first member would confess their sin of pride, then the second member may confess their sin of envy or bitterness. The result is that the church as a whole then sees spiritual growth as one unified body.
The verse continues by exhorting also to “pray for one another.” Confession comes before prayer because it clears the air of all hidden sin and brings us closer to God, but confession does not need to be alone. Confession without prayer misses the hope of redemption. Confession speaks of past sins and repentance, while prayer reveals God’s hope of restoration. This exhortation is now seen for everyone to pray for each other rather than just the elders.
This leads to healing both in the body as a whole and for the individual. Broken and strained relationships are restored and the dead man receives the promise of salvation. Verse 13 opens with individuals and as the passage precedes it speaks of more and more people, but verse 16 ends with the prayer of one person. The prayer of one righteous person can bring the entire growth and revival within a church.
More than just prayer and revival has been brought forth by the prayer of one man. Salvation has been achieved by the constant living out of prayer by one man. If we confessed our sins but had no hope of forgiveness of these sins, then our prayers would be ineffective. Our forgiveness of sins were a result a prayers and actions of a truly righteous man. Jesus Christ prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). This simple prayer accompanied with the action that followed the prayer forever changed the world. This was prayer of the only truly righteous person to walk on this earth and let us thank God for the great power that was worked through it.