James 5:13-18 – Prayer and healing



James 5:13-18.




Dealing w. healing is a difficult issue. Extreme views – the days of miraculous healing are over OR it is not God’s will for anyone [Christian] to be ill and therefore if you are ill it is because of sin in your life!!


Also difficult because this text is not easy to interpret.

Finally, difficult for me personally because I am ill [lymphoma].



– does God heal?

– if so, does he heal everybody who asks?

– must one even have to ask?

– are there special conditions under which God will heal?

– is lack of healing evidence of inadequate faith?


A huge subject therefore confine our selves to this text in James.


It is clear from James’ letter that trouble and difficulty – including illness – are part of life and have positive benefits – indeed we should be glad in the face of trials because they are useful in bring us to maturity spiritually.


James 1:2-4

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (NIV)


In the immediate context the subject is prayer – v.13 has set the scene

James 5:13

13 Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. (NIV)


Still under the subject of prayer he goes on to say what should happen if you are sick,






You are to call the elders.

At what point – every time you get a cold – – only on your death bed –

— under what circumstances are the elders to be called?

Clearly not ever time some gets the sniffs – we’d do little else!


  • the sick one calls – the elders go to him – alert enough to know what is happening
  • sick – lit. weary/worn out one
  • these indicate that the sickness is prolonged and serious.


Helpful hint – James is not thinking about ‘Public Healing Services’ – this is private ministry of the elders in the home of the sick person.


What it does not mean –

  • not a public announcement that you have sinned and need the elders – deal with this in a moment!!
  • does not mean that only the elders can pray for you in such circumstances.
  • does not mean you don’t see the doctor – it is not a choice between the elders and the doctor.


I have struggled with this since I discovered that I had cancer – as yet I have not called the other elders to pray over me – I think it is a timely word from God to me and I should have done – I need to do this!




  • the elders are to pray for the sick person       }
  • the elders are to anoint the sick person w. oil } in the name of the Lord.


Oil – use oil as a medicine was a common practice in the NT – e.g. the parable of the Good Samaritan.

It had a symbolic as well as a medicinal use – I don’t think that James has a medicinal use in mind here –


Mark 6:13 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. (NIV)


Clearly the apostles used oil in their acts of healing at times. BUT there are also times when they did not {Acts 3:1-6}

Oil is also used as symbolic for the Holy Spirit – Luke 4:18

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has anointed me

to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to release the oppressed, (NIV) [cf. Isa.41:1]


In Ps. 23 “ … he anoints my head with oil …”


The purpose of anointing with oil it would seem is to aid the patient to think beyond the material to the person whose activity is being symbolised – viz. God the Holy Spirit.


There is no magical or mystical power inherent in the oil itself – it was just plain olive oil.


When we as elders do this – and we do – we use ordinary olive oil – be aware of this provision for the elders to pray for you and call us if you need this kind of prayer!!


So the elders come and they pray and they anoint the sick one with oil.

NOTE. this is not directly linked with specific gifts of healing that Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians – of course it does not mean that an elder may not have this particular gift.


…in the name of the lord – not a magical formula but doing something in His name means it should be something that he desires and approves!!




James 5:15 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.. (NIV)


How are we to understand this verse?


The word for prayer in this verse is NOT the usual word used in the NT. In its ordinary sense means ‘vow’ – only here does it have the meaning of prayer. This seems strange in a passage where he has used the ordinary word for prayer many times. Whenever we have an unusual use of a word we need to be careful not to be dogmatic about something that is uncertain.


We MUST look at the context – both immediate and further a field.


  • NOT a blanket promise that all physical ailments will be healed.

This is clear in the NT.

Even Jesus did not heal everyone.

Luke 5:17

17 One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. (NIV)


power of the Lord was present for him to heal – why does Luke make such a statement – this phrase presupposes that the power to heal was not always available in Jesus earthly life! [This is difficult! – we need to give it much thought]


John 5:3-10 3 Here [at the Pool of Bethsaida] a great number of disabled people used to lie — the blind, the lame, the paralysed. 4 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no-one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. (NIV)


Why, when there were many people there who needed healing did Jesus heal only one?

We could spend much time on this but I simply want to make the point that this is not a blanket promise for healing!!!


  • healing is not dependent on the amount of faith – this has often been said – “ You haven’t been healed because you haven’t got enough faith!”


The classic answer is, of course, the Apostle Paul’s, thorn in the flesh.

2 Corinthians 12:7-9

7 …, there was given me a thorn in my flesh… 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, .. (NIV)


Whatever Paul’s problem, he was not healed [possibly his eyesight – Colossians Letter where he sign with his own hand in large writing]

Did Paul not have enough faith!!??


If a sick person is not healed when prayed over does that mean that the elders’ faith was lacking.


That kind of accusation – ‘you did not have enough faith’ – has cause untold hurt and harm to many people.


When healing comes it is not faith that heals – it is God – the power to heal is not in the faith.


ILLUS.: go to electrical power supply on the railway line – touch it with a knitting needle and you will probably be killed – touch it with a crowbar and the result will be the same. It is not the size of the conductor that will kill you – it is the power of the electricity.


In a similar way faith is the conductor – BUT God is the power supply!


What is the ‘prayer of faith’ – it is clear that the sick person has a responsibility to prayer for himself. [v.13]

Other besides the elders are also told to prayer [v.16] ‘pray for each other ..’


Prayer of Faith – ref. to Elijah gives the clue.


Remember that Elijah the prophet prayed that it would not rain and it didn’t and then he prayed that it would rain and it did.

1 Kings 18:1

1 After a long time, in the third year, the word of the LORD came to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.” (NIV)


Before Elijah offered his prayer to God it was given to him by God. The will of God was made known to him so this made him bold and confident that the pray he prayed would be answered – he knew it was the will of God. It is this kind of God given praying that produces the recovery of the sick.

This prayer of Faith is a prayer that originates in heaven!


Difficult to grasp and to explain – is seems that there are times when the mind of God is so clear that we just know he is going to answer.



ILLUS.: Pastor Duma – would pray, and fast and pray – even before he prayed for a sick person to know the mind of God – BUT time when he would not pray for healing unless he was sure it was God’s will. A godly man who spend many hours in prayer – every year 3 weeks alone in the mountains!


It seems that James is speaking about faith here, NOT as a commitment to the will of God BUT as a conviction that it is the will of God to perform a healing.


We must bear in mind that this issue of ‘a prayer of faith’ is a small part of a much bigger section about prayer – and the central truth about prayer is the peaceful acceptance of the will of God.

God can do anything he wishes to do and we can trust him absolutely, no matter how big the problem may seem.


In a sense all our prayers must be in faith BUT, as Motyer puts it, most of our prayers are prayers of rest. Very often we do not know what to ask for “whether through lack of wisdom [to know what is right] or lack of knowledge [to know what is needed and we are glad to fall back on the plea ‘Lord bless …’

The word bless is shorthand for ‘Lord, I don’t know what to ask but you know what is needed.’ [Motyer p.198]


ILLUS.: BUT, Gray, you have cancer, don’t you know what to ask for? I know what I want – I know what my family and friends want for me — BUT what is right, what does God want?


What we must do is pray, resting our faith in a God who knows best and death is not the worst thing that could happen to us as Christians!!

Healing may be God’s will – but it may not!

Also remember that ALL healing is from God – the natural defences of our immune system – the intervention of medical science – or any other treatments – are all simply instruments in God’s healing hands.


Ultimately prayer is a commitment to the will of God – all true prayer is shown by patiently waiting to see what God has determined to do!


This statement ….

And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; … (NIV)

must be seen in the context of all teaching on prayer, the essence of which is

Luke 22:42 “Father….. not my will, but yours be done.” (NIV)






James 5:15 15 ….. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. (NIV)


Is James saying that if you are sick it is a result of sin? In a general sense this is true in that all disease and death is a consequence of sin.

BUT an individuals illness is not necessarily a direct result of a particular sin in that persons life although it can be.


Sometimes illness is a direct result of sin – (a) because it is the natural consequence of a particular sin e.g. – HIV /aids can be a result of an immoral, promiscuous life style BUT NOT always – (b) it is possible that illness is a punishment from God for sin but again not necessarily.



John 5:13-14

13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (NIV)


John 9:1-3

1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. (NIV)


James mentions personal sinfulness as a possibility and not as a definite cause and we should guard against jumping to false conclusion about others illnesses.

Job’s comforters did that and how wrong they were about Job’s suffering – he suffered, not because he was sinful but because he was righteous.


Being ill often gives opportunity for reflection and evaluation of life which you may not otherwise have had – often at these times we realizes weaknesses and shortcomings that we need to put right.


James is simply making sure that the sick person is aware that forgiveness is always available. The prayer of faith offers healing apart from a particular sin or healing and forgiveness for illness in consequence of a particular sin.

So it is quite proper for the elders to give a sick person opportunity to confess and ask forgiveness for sin when they come to pray and anoint – BUT not an opportunity to press the sick person about intimate matters between them and God .


We need to remember that God often allows suffering for our good and for his glory

2 Corinthians 12:8-10 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 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. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (NIV)


1 Peter 1:6-7 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. (NIV)


  • for now
  • for a little while
  • only if necessary
  • for the improvement of our character – refining like gold




In Jesus earthly ministry he both granted healing and witheld it – the reasons are unexplained.

The Lord is powerful and compassionate and he is sovereign – in his sovereign mercy he may grant healing and in his sovereign wisdom he may also allow sickness.


It is no good us arguing that if we loved someone we would never allow them to suffer – We only see things with the blurred vision of those who are still affected by indwelling sin and with the shortsightedness of time –

God sees things from the perfection of his holiness and from the standpoint of eternity – he will permit things like illness because he is working in a much wider context than ours.


There are two prayers in the NT which sum up all true prayer


In the Lord’s prayer “.. may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven ..”

And Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane “ .. Not my will, but yours be done.”


When all is said and done God is sovereign and he will always do what is for our good and for his glory.


Psalm 115:1-3

1 Not to us, O Lord, not to us

but to your name be the glory,

because of your love and faithfulness.

2 Why do the peoples say,

“Where is their God?”

3 Our God is in heaven;

he does whatever pleases him. (NIV)








James 5:13-18


  1. What you are to do when sick

       call the elders …

                            … but how sick must you be?     


  1. What the elders are to do when summoned

      pray for the sick person …

       anoint the sick person with oil …

                                  … in the name of the Lord


  1. The ‘Prayer of Faith’

      not a blanket prayer for healing

       healing is not dependent on the amount of faith

       faith doesn’t heal – God heals

       true prayer is a commitment to God’s will


  1. Is illness a result of sin?

       generally all illness is because of sin

       illness is not necessarily a result of a specific sin

       God sometimes allows suffering for our good


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