What Does James 5:14 Mean?

Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;

James 5:14(NASB)

Verse Thoughts

Prayer is a great privilege for the Christian, for it affords us an audience at the throne of grace, for mercy to find help in time of need. And the book of James both begins and ends with the 'prayer of faith'.

At the beginning, we are warned against being a double-minded Christian, where we pray with doubt in our hearts, and right at the end of his letter we discover that the effective, fervent prayer of the righteous man, has its roots in trusting God and believing His Word.

The final section of the epistle to James, encourages prayer in times of suffering, in times of rejoicing, and also in times of sickness. No matter what we are facing, we are not only encouraged to pray for ourselves and others, but we are also instructed to ask for prayer, when we ourselves are in need. And in this verse James asks and then answers his own question: "Is anyone among you sick?" he asks, "Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord."

Some use this verse to teach that sickness is always the result of a specific sin, an attack of Satan, or a judgement from God, and that a prolonged illness identifies a serious lack of faith. This is not what the Bible teaches, and there are many biblical examples to disprove these unbiblical teachings with Job, Gaius, and Epaphroditus being three shining examples. For God does not always answer our prayer for healing in the way we would expect, and illness is not always the direct result of personal sin. Some today call for a healing service, make a pilgrimage to a religious site, or attend healing conferences - but James simply instructs the sick person to call for the elders - privately.

Others use this verse to introduce the unbiblical 8th century practice of 'extreme unction' which is the unscriptural, Catholic sacrament of anointing the sick when dying, and still others insist that anointing oil is simply a reference to good medical attention. And although we would all agree that supernatural miracles of healing are often linked with wise medical practice, this is not what James is describing here.

The anointing of a sick body was indeed a medical practice during the times of Christ, and God often combines natural medication with supernatural healing, but James clearly is identifying i) illness, and ii) anointing with oil in verse 14 with a) illness and b) the prayer of faith in verse 15. James' instructions to both the sick person and to church elders, is simply an outward demonstration of an inward trust in God - a prayer of faith.

It takes humility of heart and faith in God for a sick person to admit their own limitation and to cry out for help to those in church leadership. It also takes an act of faith for the elders of a church to collectively gather to pray for the healing for a sick member of their congregation, and to anoint that person's body with oil, while praying collectively, in faith, for their healing.

Whether we are in good health of suffering some malady, whether we are an elder in a church assembly or not, let us remember that prayer is a great privilege for all Christians, but let it be the 'prayer of faith'. Whether we are asking for prayer or responding to a call to pray for others, may our outward actions reflect an inward dependence upon God, knowing that the effective, fervent prayer of a trusting child of God avails much.

My Prayer

Heavenly Father, I am so thankful for the wonderful doctors and nurses who always do their best to help me when I am sick or injured. But help me to remember that You are the Great Physician Who is fully able to heal if it is Your will. Thank You that when I am sick I can visit the doctor, but help me to also come to You for healing, to be prayed over and anointed by the elders of my church. Forgive me for the times that I have doubted You and tried to sort things out in my life on my own. Give me a humble heart and increase my trust in You. May I never forget that Your grace is sufficient for every eventuality of life. In Jesus' name, AMEN.

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