“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:13-16) Today’s text is in red, but I wanted to share it in context of what we’ve discussed so far.
If it is sin that occasions their sickness, “they will be forgiven.” This suggests the possibility that, because of persistence in sin, God sends or allows affliction as a disciplinary agent (1 Co 11:30). The conditional “if they have sinned,” however, makes it clear that not all sickness is the result of sin. A synonym for sickness is affliction, and the definition is “something that causes pain or suffering”. Whenever I read about sickness in the Bible, I think of it as affliction. I don’t believe in every instance of use of sickness/illness (or maybe even any?) are strictly referring to a physical ailment. I’m certainly not a biblical authority, but that’s how I read it.
From the promise of v.15 James draws an inference. Since confession of sin and the prayer of faith bring healing, Christians should confess their “sins to each other and pray for each other.” It is not merely the elders who are told to pray here, but all Christians. If a person has sinned against a fellow-Christian, he or she should confess the sin to that person. This may result in mutual confession—”to each other.” Then the two believers should “pray for each other.” If the sin has caused affliction, healing will follow confession and prayer.
A God-ward focus does not mean that we are to suffer in isolation. Verse 13 shows that we must walk with God in private and individually. The battle with trials must start there. But beyond that, God has made us members of Christ’s body. If we do not share our needs and struggles with others, they cannot help bear our burdens and they will not rejoice when God answers. Confessing our sins to others can also break the power of secret sins, enable others to pray for us in our spiritual struggles, and hold us accountable for our choices.
Several months ago I opened up with my small Bible study group (Life Group) about some really old wounds that I’ve been holding on to for 50 years. As a young child I was sexually molested by my adult next-door neighbor. Because of this one instance, I’ve held on to feelings of worthlessness, guilt, shame, and feeling that I am not enough. I confessed the pain I’ve been holding on to some wonderful and godly women, who began to cover me with prayer. While I have known (mentally) for decades that I didn’t do anything wrong on that day, it has been wrong for me to not submit this painful part of my life to our Lord God and ask Him to take it from me. Holding on to this “secret” and the ensuing feelings of inadequacy and shame has kept me from living my life in the sunshine and being completely available to God for whatever He has planned for me. In holding onto this pain instead of giving it to God, I’ve allowed the devil to have a foothold in my life — not just with my thoughts, but also my behavior. “So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to His service and pleasing to Him. This is the true worship that you should offer. Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to Him and is perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2 GNT)
In our text today, James is acknowledging that we are all struggling against sin, and we need one another in the battle. We need to help one another as we fight to establish and maintain a God-ward, God-dependent focus. Since I confessed holding onto this pain and (finally) giving it to God, I’ve been able to experience true joy that I am not enough and never will be. I don’t have to be — my Lord God is more than sufficient! God has also healed some relationships that I thought would always be difficult. Particularly one relationship where I had lashed out because I was hurt — I gave into pride and believed I had the right to be righteously indignant. And I behaved badly. He guided me to confess my sins and ask for forgiveness. God is more than able to heal our afflictions, but we need to be willing to give it all to Him and lean on our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Examine your heart before God and ask Him to search you to see if there may be some wicked way in you. “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Ps. 139:23-24). You may need to find a godly brother or sister to confess your sins to and to pray with, so that you may be healed. As God puts it on your heart, respond in obedience and you will be blessed. Raise us up, Lord, so that You may be glorified!