Friday, December 24, 2021

Prayer and Healing (James 5:13-18)

"Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord" (James 5:14).

In his discussion of prayer, James includes comments concerning the prayer of healing. He says that if a person is seriously ill, he or she should call for the elders of the church and ask for anointing with oil. Some have said that this anointing is medicinal in nature, and that James is telling us not only to pray but also use the medicines that God has made available for us. While it is certainly true that we should gratefully receive whatever medicinal help is available, that is not what the anointing with oil means here. It is the elders of the church, not physicians, who are said to do the anointing.

Oil is a symbol of light. In the Bible, it is a kind of liquid light. Pouring it on people symbolizes their becoming lamps for God, and thus indicates the coming of the Holy Spirit upon them. Through its history, most of the Christian church has always practiced anointing of the sick, though in some centuries it was reserved only for the dying.

James has written against arrogance throughout his letter, insisting on humility. It takes a certain measure of humility to call for the elders of the congregation and ask for anointing and prayer. In verse 16, James says that one of the keys to healing is to confess sins to one another. Clearly, discussing such sins with the elders would be appropriate, and apologizing where we have offended others is also necessary.

We notice that there is nothing sensational about this healing ritual. It is not done in a tent. It calls for no flamboyance. It is done quietly by the local elders of the local congregation, using prayer, the laying on of hands, and oil.

Verse 15 says that when the prayer is offered in faith, the Lord will raise up the sick person. This verse has nothing to do with “name it and claim it” faith-healing circuses. It means that God will resurrect the sick person, either by healing him, or by transforming his illness into a glorious witness through the power of Christ’s resurrection. Either way, anointing with oil brings God’s transforming power into the situation, providing resurrection to a new witness.

Do you have someone with whom you can discuss your problems and confess your sins, someone who prays for you, and for whom you pray? The priesthood of all believers does not mean we pray for ourselves, but that anybody (not just a clergyman) can intercede. Ask God to help you find someone else to pray for you.