Summary: 1) Comfort (James 5:13), 2) Restoration (James 5:14–15), 3) Fellowship (James 5:16a), and 4) Power (James 5:16b-18).
Iraqi Christians were forced to flee the northern city of Mosul under threat from Islamic extremists described on Tuesday leaving behind all their possessions. Signs emerged that the crackdown on the minority was causing tensions between the radicals and Sunni allies in the insurgency. The militants imposed a deadline last Saturday for Christians to convert to Islam, pay a tax or face death. The UN said on Sunday that at least 400 families from Mosul — including other religious and ethnic minority groups — had sought refuge in the northern provinces of Irbil and Dohuk. (http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/07/22/iraqi-christians-flee-from-mosul-after-isis-ultimatum-covert-to-islam-pay-a-tax-or-face-death/)
James wrote his epistle to Jewish believers who had been forced to flee from Palestine by the persecution recorded in Acts 8:1–4. In 1:1 he referred to them as “the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad.” Being both Jewish and Christians, they faced hostility from the pagan culture in which they lived. Knowing that, James opened his epistle with an exhortation to patiently endure trials (1:2ff.). In chapter 5 he returned to that theme. The first six verses described the persecution his poor readers were suffering at the hands of the wicked rich—even to the point of death (v. 6). Verses 7–11 call for patient endurance of trials and persecution. James exhorted those about to collapse under the weight of their afflictions to prop up their hearts and resolutely, determinedly persist.
James He calls on those who are suffering the persecution discussed in 5:1–11 to pray, since prayer taps the source of spiritual endurance. The theme of verses 13–18, then, is prayer, which is mentioned in every one of those verses. James’s exhortation to prayer embraces the prayer life of the entire church. Individual believers are called to pray in verse 13, the elders in verses 14–15, and the congregation in verse 16. In James’s compassionate pastoral care for his suffering flock; his main focus is on the casualties of the spiritual battle, the persecuted, weak, defeated believers.
Although we may never be threaded with death for our faith, many today are and we are called to pray for them. We are to look in our midst for those who are suffering under the weight of the spiritual battle. At times in our own lives, we may feel spiritually exhausted, aimless or just plain discouraged. The wisdom here from James will not only direct our own thoughts but as a congregation, help us all in strengthen one another in the spiritual battle.
1) Prayer and Comfort (James 5:13)
James 5:13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. (ESV)
The objects of James’s pastoral care are identified first as the weary, suffering believers. The word here for Suffering (kakopatheō), refers to enduring evil treatment by people—not physical illness (cf. its only other New Testament uses in 2 Tim. 2:9; 4:5). James addresses not those suffering from physical diseases, but those being persecuted, abused, and treated wickedly.
Please turn to 2 Corinthians 1 (p.964)
As an antidote to their suffering, James exhorts them to pray. Prayer is essential to enduring affliction. God is the ultimate source of comfort. There are many responses to trouble. Some of us worry; some of us vow revenge against those who have caused the trouble; some of us let anger burn inside us. Some grumble. But James says the correct response to trouble is to pray (see also Psalm 30; 50:15; 91:15). This is not necessarily a prayer for deliverance from the trouble, but for the patience and strength to endure it (Barton, B. B., Veerman, D., & Wilson, N. S. (1992). James (p. 137). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.).
The present tense of the verb translated let him/he must pray suggests a continual pleading with God in prayer; it could be translated “let him keep on praying.” There is a reason to keep on praying and a purpose in what God is doing in the need for prayer:
2 Corinthians 1:3-7 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. (ESV)