As we come to the end of this Epistle to James, we would do well to remember why this book was written to begin with. These were Jewish Christians who had dispersed and were facing persecution left and right. Temptations from the inside, trials from without—and James began with the notion of exhorting them to “count it joy, my brothers, when you face trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and compete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).
This epistle is bookended by prayer. We have received warnings about the misuse of the tongue—quarreling, grumbling, and that the tongue is a fire, a restless evil, a poison, staining the whole body, directing all we do—set on fire by hell itself.
Look at the type of suffering that can happen to a Christian just from the book of James:
- Trials and temptations (James 1:1-18);
- Anger (v. 20-21)
- Being on the wrong end of partiality (James 2:1-13)
- Inability to control one’s tongue.
- Quarrelling and divisiveness within the church.
- Being defrauded by the rich.
- Persecution for your faith.
So, whatever your condition, send Him your petitions. (James 5:13-15).
Look with me at James 5:13-15:
13Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
Notice verses 13 and 14. He brings out three attitudes and conditions: suffering, cheerfulness, and sickness. And in all three areas, where does the Spirit tell us to run? To God! Back in James 4:7-8, James exhorts:
7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Those dealing with trials on the outside and temptations from within, the primary solution is coming to God in prayer and praise.
Over this past week, it’s been interesting to talk to people who have rather backstories in regards to their testimonies. Some have been involved in eastern religions looking for spiritual peace; others have been involved with alcohol and drugs looking for a type of peace in that area. Some go to the mountains or were environmentalists, trying to find peace with their surroundings.
All of them have one thing in common: to escape! To get away from the sorrow and conviction of their soul, they look to empty their minds, numb their spirits, or get away from where they believe the issues lie. But we cannot get away from ourselves—nor can we get away from God.
Part and parcel of being a radical, dedicated follower of Christ is undergoing persecution and suffering. And it can come in many ways. We read in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 that faithful men were “afflicted and mistreated” in countless ways (Hebrews 11:32-38). And the more we speak up for Christ, the more we will suffer at the hands of the world and, even like Jeremiah, suffer emotionally and spiritually:
[7 ] O LORD, you have deceived me,
and I was deceived;
you are stronger than I,
and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all the day;
everyone mocks me.
[8 ] For whenever I speak, I cry out,
I shout, “Violence and destruction!”
For the word of the LORD has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.
[9 ] If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.
(Jeremiah 20:7-9 ESV)
What do you do when you are suffering? You pray! You ask for wisdom, having faith in the One you are petitioning (James 1:5-8). In Psalm 42: “Why so cast down, o my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5). God is the only one who not only has the perspective above all that we have, but He is working everything in the world to an appointed end. By connecting with Him, He allows us through the Spirit to tap into that understanding.
Is anyone cheerful? If you are cheerful, what do you do? You glorify God for that situation as well. In what ways may someone be cheerful in the Lord? Remember how James said to “Count it joy when you are facing trials of various kinds?” (James 1:2). God may have blessed, God may have answered a prayer, God may have sent a trial your way—all things being worked together for good (Romans 8:28), knowing that our steadfastness is being worked out! You know that the victory is won (1 Corinthians 15:55-57; 1 John 5:4-5).
The result? “Let him sing praise!” We don’t praise to talk ourselves out of our situation, or praise Him in hopes of Him removing us from our situation. We praise Him because of the strength He provides in the midst of our situation!
Whatever your condition, make your confessions!
James now gets to this third question: Is anyone among you sick?
The word here is for those who are physically sick, to be sure. But it also allows for those who are under such mental anguish that it manifests itself physically. How often have I heard of spouses who, after a divorce or death, lose weight due to an inability to eat, or gain weight to try and salve that comfort? Emotional or mental stress and strain can show itself physically.
Sickness can come from sin. Look at verse 15-16: “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
Our unconfessed sins show themselves. Look at Psalm 32:
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity.
And in whose spirit there is no conceit.
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
Through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
My strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
I acknowledged my sin to you,
And I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”
And you forgave my sin.
There are three categories of ‘sin’ mentioned here.
- Transgression: this literally means a ‘going away,’ or ‘departure—rebellion against God and his authority. Even what we deem the most insignificant act is not simply against ourselves or a person, but against God himself. Psalm 51: “Against you, you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.”
- Sin: “falling short of a mark,” like an archer missing his target. Romans 3:23
- Iniquity: a corruption, a twisting, a crookedness of our heart and spirit.
The Lord’s Supper narrative in 1 Corinthians 11 also says this:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world (1 Corinthians 11:27-32).
The broken body and shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, who atoned for our sin and removed our guilt, justifying us by grace alone through faith alone must never be approached in a casual manner—either at the Table or in our lives!
Notice dear church how your brothers and sisters in Christ are a part of this process:
First, the leaders of the church are part of this process: “Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14b). If I may, there is a word here that every one of us would do well to hear. How often do we hear of people who are sick, but keep it to themselves? They are sick from anxiety, from spiritual or emotional distress about their standing before the Lord, or from countless other reasons. Some even go into the hospital for such issues—but tell no one. They only tell who has to know: their spouse, (maybe) their children, and their doctor (if they go). They don’t want to worry their pastor (he’s so busy as it is) or their small group (they have their own issues—I don’t want to put more on them)—so they keep it to themselves.
The reasons why so many fail to inform are (1) don’t want to be a bother, and (2) do not want the pity, or (3) they are ashamed!
If you are in this boat, consider these two things:
First, God did not create us to be alone, but in fellowship with one another. You will miss the benefits of that fellowship in how they may pray for you and apply the Word of God, through the anointing work of the Holy Spirit. The leaders of the church are the ones who are (or at least should be) the most mature. This is why Paul warns against those who are immature in the faith becoming a deacon or a pastor—they become full of themselves, their position, their authority. They do not handle their responsibility well. In fact, some who are immature in the faith and are leaders begin looking under every rock for sin—even when it’s not there. It’s not enough to be a pastor—they want to be Holy Spirit, Jr.
Secondly, you deprive your brothers and sisters in Christ the blessing of coming alongside and ministering. There is a blessing in being ministered unto and also ministering. Look at 5:16: “The effective prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
What does this mean? When sins are confessed and ones walk with the Lord is strong, what powerful prayers come forth!
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book Life Together notes:
Confession in the presence of a brother is the profoundest kind of humiliation. It hurts, it cuts a man down, it is a dreadful blow to pride. To stand there before a brother as a sinner is a humiliation that is almost unbearable. In the confession of concrete sins the old man does a painful, shameful death before the eyes of a brother.
What does this look like for the church? In confessing your sins:
- If it’s a private sin, find a mature brother/sister to confess it to.
- If it’s a sin against that brother, go to that brother personally.
- If it’s a sin against the body, go to the body.
It’s not helpful to bring private and personal matters before the assembly—go and find that accountability with someone else. Yes, it’s tough and humbling, but there will be strength in that obedience and confession and accountability.