A Commentary on James 5:13-20 and the Prayer of Faith

The Book of James was written by James, the brother of Jesus Christ. It is placed within the New Testament of the Protestant and the Roman Catholic Church’s Bible.

St. James originally did not believe Jesus was the savior, but following Jesus’ life, James turned from the error of his way. He began to put his faith in Jesus as the savior of the world. Like the apostle Paul, James wrote the Book of James to share wisdom with the Jewish Christians of the first century. It is the letter of James to the twelve tribes of Israel.

Within the book of James, there is a section where James encourages the Jewish Christians to pray a prayer of faith. In James 5:13-20, James tells them how they should respond to the highs and lows of life through a prayer of faith. 

The Prayer of Faith

“13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray.”

Prayer is simply talking to God. James encouraged the Jewish Christians to talk directly to God. When life is difficult or someone is in trouble, it can be hard for them to pray. James is telling them to pray, despite their struggles.

An example of suffering is if someone is in financial or physical danger.

Faith is to have confidence in someone or something. When someone or something isn’t delivering the results that you want, you usually have less faith in them. You probably rely on them less, but James is telling the people that even when God isn’t giving us the results that we want, we should still pray the prayer of faith. 

The will of God is that people in trouble would run to him. That they would trust him to do good things in their lives. 

“Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.”

James recognized that the response to trouble should be prayer, but he also said that the response to happiness should be singing a song of praise. When things are going well in life, there should be a celebration. Singing praise is a common action when things are good, but singing is a vulnerable task. By singing, people put their faith in God by not being afraid of the judgment of others.

The Greek word for happy translates directly to cheerful. James is communicating that if anyone is cheerful, they should let their cheer be known through praise. The praise can be literal songs or they can be spiritual songs that were inspired by the Holy Spirit. 

In good times there is reason for good cheer.

Dramatic sky over the historic, yet abandoned Peace Lutheran Church in Stonehenge, SK

Elders of the Church

“14 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.”

The response to sickness is explained here. When anyone is sick, they are told to go to the elders of the church. Someone who is an elder in the church is someone with authority in the church. A pastor, a leader, or a staff member are all considered elders in the church. 

Sick people shouldn’t be something that people are afraid of then. Sick people should be people that the elders of the church want to pray over. Most of the time when someone is sick, people avoid them, but James is teaching that Christians should seek to pray over them. 

When anyone is sick, the elder should pray over that person, and anoint them with oil. Anointing oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit coming upon someone. There is no actual power in the oil itself, but it symbolizes the healing power of the Holy Spirit.

The Prayer for Healing

15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 

Powerful prayers are marked by selflessness. Prayers of faith can lead to healing, according to James. When God receives a prayer of faith, He heals people. Prayer without faith, however, might not lead to the same result by comparison. 

A sick person can be physically sick through a disease or virus or spiritually sick through a spiritual attack. A sick person is someone unwell in a certain aspect of their life. They are people who need healing, so prayer of faith can lead to physical and spiritual healing.

Everyone has experienced a time of sickness, and so at some point everyone needs prayer, but the effective prayer of a righteous man or woman can truly help restore health.

Spiritually rich people have the responsibility to offer prayers for people are spiritually or physically impoverished. That is why the elders of the church are so important. 

Confessing Sins For Healing

16 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.

To experience healing, it takes confessing sins. It is easy to be ashamed of sin, but James is encouraging Jewish Christians to tell their sins to others. Healing is a result of confessing sins. 

It is also observed here that a person who is living right has more power in their prayers. Righteous people are people who have been made right with God through Jesus, and their prayers are more effective at achieving an answer. 

Elijah’s Unanswered Prayer

17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 

Elijah was a prophet in the Old Testament who was a prophet of God. As a prophet, Elijah was a mouthpiece for God. He went around declaring what God’s will was. God used Elijah to perform miracles and show His power. Along with being a prophet, Elijah was a man of prayer. 

Even though Elijah was a prophet, there were times when he prayed prayers of faith, but he still did not get the result that he wanted. In the book of 1 Kings chapter 18 Elijah prayed for rain, but God did not answer. 

Elijah’s Prayer Answered

18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

Instead of getting discouraged for the three and a half years that God did not answer him, Elijah continued to pray. After three and a half years, God finally answered Elijah’s prayers and gave him rain. 

Elijah was a righteous man, and he continued to have faith. By continuing to pray, even in situations that weren’t working out, God finally answered his prayers.

God produced rain and crops through Elijah’s prayer of faith.  The power of prayer is highlighted in the previous verses. Prayer can bring help to those in trouble. It can bring healing to any human being who prays to Jesus Christ. Faithful prayer can lead to a great thing. 

James is using the example of Elijah to show the great power of prayer. 

The Importance of Accountability

19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

James addresses all of the Jewish Christian community here. He tells them that if there is another Christian who falls away from living righteously, the other Christians are responsible to help bring that person back. 

“The truth” that James is referring to is that Gospel and righteous living. If anyone turns away from their relationship with Jesus and decides to live against what the Bible says, then it is the brothers and sisters’ responsibility to bring that person back. 

James ends verse 20 by telling the people that turning a wandering brother or sister from their sin helps save them from death. Confession of sin leads to salvation from that sin. 

The verse references “a multitude of sins.” It’s not just a few sins that people are covered from, it’s many sins that people can be saved from if they put their faith in Christ Jesus. By the grace of God and the blood of Christ, those sins are covered. 

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