James 5:12-18 English Standard Version (ESV)
12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
The Prayer of Faith
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is 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. 15 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. 16 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.[a] 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
It is a great privilege to be sharing in God’s word with you this morning. I am continuing in the series that I have been preaching through every time I get an opportunity to preach in the morning. I have been preaching through James, which is effectively a New Testament wisdom book in the same category as proverbs in the Old Testament. The basic assumption of James is if you say you believe in the gospel, then your life must change; essentially faith works, it changes us. If it doesn’t change us it is not real faith. This book is not a book of rules to apply, it is a book of application that come from a life surrendered to the love of God in Christ Jesus. So the lesson this morning is to apply grace and the gospel so that we can change accordingly.
This morning, we will see how the gospel works itself out in the community through two basic and yet powerful ways, firstly through the gospel making a community of truth and secondly the gospel making a community of prayer.
So let’s dive in and look at;
The gospel in the community of truth
James calls the church to let their yes be yes and their “no” be “no”. Essentially James is calling those who have embraced the gospel to become people of truth. Now, that is a nice sentiment, and church we should be truthful people. It should be the characteristic of the church right. But, we all lie. All the time! No one tells the truth all the time. I mean I have more and more tried my best to always be truthful but it is very difficult. I mean I got into a lot of, let’s say, disagreements when I said that I will not be telling my kids that Santa Claus is real. People told me but you are killing your children’s imagination. I didn’t. you’ll rob them of a childhood. To which I replied, a childhood where, the moral centre of their universe (that is what parents are) lies to them. It came down to a simple thing, I didn’t want to lie to my kids. Now, I have to be honest with you this morning. I still mess up every now and again. But the more I embrace the gospel the more I don’t feel the need to hide myself or the truth from my kids.
This becomes harder with adults. When someone asks me have I put on weight, or does this suit me. The temptation is higher to “fudge the truth” for the sake of feelings. But again I must ask why do I want to lie? We lie because we want to be better than we are, or preserve how someone feels about us(we want to be perceived to be better than we are). Essentially all lies stem from a self-obsession and a God forgetfulness. You lie at work, because you want that raise or those accolades at any cost. You are self-obsessed and God forgetful. The problem is that there is always a cost to lying.
I was watching the Chernobyl Series by HBO and there was a line in it that struck me, the main character in a speech at the end of the series says; “we are people who lie a nation of liars. However, what we don’t see is that every lie incurs a debt against the truth and that debt will be paid.” We lie to preserve ourselves but the irony of that is it inevitably destroys us, because the truth comes out.
So how does the gospel answer this? How does the gospel heal our lying? Well, the gospel tells us that we are more sinful than we could ever imagine, in this it humbles us – effectively forcing us to say what am I trying so hard to defend? I am a sinner. But at the same time it says I am more loved that I could ever imagine – enabling us to live in who we are, taking away the need to prove ourselves, because God already says we are perfect in Christ. The gospel exposes us without destroying us enabling us to love the truth!This is why James calls us to watch our words, don’t swear by anything, let your word be who you are! You are loved by the king of creation, even though you are a mess. So own your failures and speak the truth in love.
Next we see that the gospel makes us a people of prayer.
The gospel in the community of prayer
James is continuing the application of the gospel in the church, and he says are you suffering? Are you sick; pray! Are you of good cheer; praise! Then he gives an illustration of Elijah stating that he prayed and amazing things happened.
James in saying all this is trying to the get the church to reconcile a very important reality in the Christian life. Prayer makes a dent on the world. The prayer of a righteous man avails much!
The gospel should make us a praying church. The Elders might be worried about me saying this, but we should be available to pray for the sick among us. But not only the elders, James says we should be praying for one another, it should typify the church, it should be the general function of the church. The gospel causes us to be this, how? Well that is what I will reveal to you this morning.
But first let’s look at what we are called to do when we are sick; there are essentially three aspects to praying for the sick among us;
Come and be anointed
Be prayed over with the prayer of faith
Confess your sins.
Why be anointed?
Well the anointing of oil in the time that James wrote this was not a beauty regime, and it was not a superstitious thing either. Oil was medicinal. Read the story of the good Samaritan, he attends the wounds of the man with oil and wine. These were fragranced oil. In other words this is practical. Seek the help of medicine. This is biblical, God is a God of miracles, but that does not mean that he does not work through Doctors and medicine. Who is it that give men wisdom to learn, who sends his blessings on both the righteous and unrighteous. God works through people and medicine.
So, pray through your treatments, it is a dependence on God even when we seek medical help.
What is the prayer of faith?
Is this the prayer that said loudly, “in Jesus name, I command you spirit of sickness to come out!”? Well no, that is not really prayer, it is more commanding. Is it prayer that has no doubts? Well no, because Jesus answered the petition of the man whose boy was tormented by evil spirits. He said Lord I believe, but help me in my unbelief (Mark 9:24). Jesus answered his prayer, yet he confessed his unbelief.
The crisis of faith that does not allow doubt is that if your prayer is not answered there can only be one reason for it; your lack of faith. Here we spend our time not seeking God in dependence but in focusing on ourselves and our feelings of faith. This is not what James is calling for.
The prayer of faith is a prayer that is completely dependent upon God. Because God shouldn’t give us everything we ask for, because we simply couldn’t know the consequences of getting everything we ask for. In the movie Bruce Almighty, where Jim Carry becomes God for a couple of days, he gets tired of answering everyone’s prayers and simply just says yes to everything that everyone ever asks for, the result is that the world is in complete chaos by the end of the day.
Tim Keller puts it like this; “God will either give you what you ask, or give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything He knows.” Keller
Next James says we should confess our sins. So,
Why confess sins?
Now what James is not saying is that if you are sick it is a direct result of being sick. But, more and more we are finding out that our mental and spiritual condition has impact on our physical condition. If you are chronically stressed, or guilty etc, this has a physiological impact on you. We all know this. And this is why the church is here to offer that level of healing. Confessing our sins releases us and this is, sometimes, exactly what we need to overcome our struggle.
Added to this, how often has it been when you are sick, that you are confronted by your need, your spiritual need. We often live our lives in blissful ignorance of our need of God. And it is when we stop, when we are on our back and can do nothing that we realise that we need him.
So we must be a praying community, what does the gospel have to do with being a praying community?
Well James argues for us to embrace this dependent reality upon God and call upon him in the community to meet our needs. But at the end of all this he says, for the prayer of a righteous man has great power.
We who are honest with ourselves will stop at this point and realise how futile all this is. If all this depends on the prayer of a righteous man, well then who can have their prayer answered?Who can impact the world with God’s power?
No-one here can say God hears me because I am righteous enough. Because we are all sinners, right? No-one does God not one, all like sheep have gone astray (Isiah 53:6). And here the power of the gospel makes us into a praying community! Why? Well our righteousness in not based upon our own ability. Why are we declared righteous? Because we obey God? Because we do good? No! we are righteous because Christ became sin, he took upon himself our failures so that we could take upon ourselves His righteousness!
When God looks at you, in Christ He no longer sees yours sins, he has taken them as far away as the east is from the west and He will remember them no more! No he sees Christ!
And let us not forget that the bible declares that even when we forget to pray, we can take comfort in knowing that Jesus Christ is in Heaven, interceding for us. Hebrews 7:25says, “He is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf” (NLT). And Romans 8:34says, “It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (NKJV).
We have a righteous man praying on our behalf. Therefore prayer is a loving gratitude of what Christ has done and a dependence that He is for us and not against us.
Story about my lost keys…
We pray not knowing we will always get what we ask for, rather we pray knowing that our God will be a perfect father and give us exactly what we need. And when things don’t go our way we will stay dependant trusting that what we receive is working for our good (Rom8:28).
So I hope we see that the gospel, if we embrace it for what it truly is will make us a community of ever increasing truth, as we rest in who He says we are, and will make us into a community of ever increasing prayer, as we learn our desperate dependency upon His goodness.