Summary: James tells us there are four things we need to be sure to pray for.
As James concludes his letter, he encourages believers with the exhortation, “Be prayerful!” James uses the word “prayer” or “pray” seven times in these final verses. And as he speaks about the need to be prayerful, James mentions four things about which we should pray.
1. Pray for the hurting - v. 13
The word James uses here that is translated “trouble,” means “suffering in difficult circumstances.” As God’s people go through life, they can encounter difficulty that is not of their own making. One should pray for those who are enduring such difficulty so that either it may be removed or so that the person might grow in Christ through it as he endures it by the grace of God. We are reminded of how Paul said we are to respond to the hurts and happiness of one another.
“If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.” - 1 Corinthians 12:26 (The Message)
A story is told about a soldier in a communist country who was wounded in battle and ordered to report to the nearest hospital. When he arrived at the hospital entrance, he saw two doors. One was marked, “For Minor Wounds” and the other was marked, “For Serious Wounds.” he entered the first door and walked down a long hallway. At the end of the hall, he saw two more doors. The first said, “For Officers” and the other said, “For Enlisted Men.” The soldier walked through the second door. Again, he found himself walking down a long hallway. Again he discovered two more doors at the end of the hall. One door said, “For Party Members” while the others said, “For Non-Party Members.” the wounded soldiers took the second door and found himself back out on the street. When he got back to his unit, his buddies asked, “How did your trip to the hospital go?” He replied, “To tell you the truth, the people really didn’t help me much, but man, are they well organized!”
Evangelist Leonard Ravenhill said “the church today needs fewer organizers and more agonizers” - those who will agonize in prayer for those who are in agony. We need to pray for the hurting.
2. Pray for the sick - vs. 14-16a
There are three types of sickness mentioned in the Bible:
A. Sickness unto chastisement.
“That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died.” - 1 Corinthians 11:30 (NLT)
B. Sickness unto death.
C. Sickness unto God’s glory.
1) Sometimes God is glorified through the person’s healing -
“As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who had been blind since birth. Jesus’ disciples asked, ‘Teacher, why was this man born blind? Was it because he or his parents sinned?’ ‘No, it wasn’t!’ Jesus answered. ‘But because of his blindness, you will see God work a miracle for him.’” - John 9:1-3 (CEV)
2) Sometimes God is glorified through the person’s perseverance -
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” - 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)
James mentions two circumstances to pray for each other’s healing.
A. Prayer for the severely ill - vs. 14-15
This refers to a person who is severely ill, as indicated by the fact that if they are healed, “the Lord will raise him up.” This why the church leaders to them. James raises the possibility sin is a contributing factor and gives assurance that if confession is made, sin will be forgiven.
1) What does “anointing with oil” refer to?
Oil had a medicinal purpose. Greek scholar A.T. Robertson said oil was “one of the best remedial agencies known to the ancients.” The Expositors Bible Commentary says “oil was the most common medicine in biblical times.” Josephus records “during Herod’s last illness, he was given a bath in oil in hopes of effecting a cure.”
We can see this use of oil in the parable of the good Samaritan.
“He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.” - Luke 10:34 (NIV)
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary says “There are a number of reasons for understanding this application of oil as medicinal rather than sacramental. The word aleipsantes (“anoint”) is not the usual word for ritualistic anointing. James could have used the verb chrio if that had been what he had in mind.”
There is a ceremonial use for anointing oil, but that doesn’t seem to be in view here. The point here is, we are to take advantage of every
healing process available, but we mustn’t forget the value of prayer and the seriousness of sin.