top of page

Praying for the Sick | James 5:13-16

Phil 4:6 Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

1. Endure Suffering with the right spirit

Jas 5:13 Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises.

Douglas Moo notes that “Perhaps James would include petition to God to remove the trial. But James’s concern when he deals with trials elsewhere (1:2–4, 12; 5:7–11) is to encourage believers to endure the suffering with the right spirit and with a divine perspective on history. Presumably, then, the prayer that he encourages here is for the spiritual strength to endure the trial with a godly spirit.”[1]

Jas 1:2–4 James 1:2 Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, James 1:3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. James 1:4 And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.

Let this be our perspective and goal when we face trials, when we face sickness, when we pray for people who are going through trial and sickness, that they be joyful in the midst, not a superficial joy, but and internal everlasting joy because they trust in God, and that they would endure in the faith, become mature in the faith through their trial.

Because often times, there is a temptation to lose faith and trust in God, the temptation to think that God does not care about you or about your loved one who is sick, the temptation to think God is not in control or not good, we must remind eachother of the truths of who God is and pray for one another that we would remember and trust in the goodness of God, even in the midst of suffering.

While I think this prayer of endurance, and prayers of thanksgiving and prayers for joy should be primary, and not neglected, god also wants to hear our petitions and we can pray for God’s healing.

2. Pray for healing

Jas 5:14 Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

Before we get into the anointing with oil part, I want to point out two things: First, James addresses those who are sick to call for people to pray. We ought not be embarrassed to ask for prayer, or prideful or think that we are being petty to ask other to pray for us. That is what we are here for, we are here for one another, so exhibit biblical humility and if you are sick ask for people to pray for you, pray that you would endure in faith, and also that you may be healed.

Second, while we should all pray for one another, whether you’re a pastor or not, James does specify hear to call upon the elders of the church, that is the pastors of the church, and while outside of our scope of study for today, just put this away in your notes or memory for a later time, this verse as evidence of a plurality of elders, that is multiple pastors in a church. But for now I want to discuss why James specified having the elders pray for someone.

Douglas Moo also is helpful here “Elders were those spiritual leaders who were recognized for their maturity in the faith. Therefore, it is natural that they, with their deep and rich experience, should be called on to pray for healing.…. At the same time, James makes clear that the church at large is to pray for healing (v. 16a)”[2] (see below)

While there is more to be said on this topic, of exploring the reasoning behind this instruction, James does not elaborate and for now we take it a face value and see the importance of pastors praying for their members.

But what are we to make of the anointing with oil,

First the word anointing here is only used in the NT 9 times, once in reference to putting oil on one’s head during fasting in conjunction with washing one’s face so that you don’t look distraught while fating and draw attention to your self and saw look at me I’m so holy and fasting (Matt 6:17).

Second, the disciples anointed sick people with oil and healed them (mark 6:13), the purpose of the oil is not clear.

Third is anoint of a dead body with spices (mark 16:1)

fourth, Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume in Luke 7: 38 and John 11 and 12; and Jesus seems to say that this was a greater act than anointing his head with olive oil in Luke 7:46.

And in the OT the word is used 20 times, but none in reference to the sick, some with pouring oil on a remembrance stone for God, priests, perfume oil with Ruth, King David, fasting, and then as plaster whitewash in Ezekiel.

Douglas moo Lists the different interpretations:

1. Practical purposes:

a. 1. Medicinal – for Oil is used in Isa 9:6 along with bandages to sooth a wound, but if James wanted to communicate this then, he could have used the same verb or a different verb other than anoint with oil, he could have said sooth with oil and pray for them. So this doesn’t seem very likely

b. 2. Pastoral - physical expression of concern and as a means to stimulate the faith of the sick person.49 Jesus sometimes used physical props in his healings, apparently with just such a purpose.[3]

2. Religious purposes:

a. 1. Sacramental - “vehicle of divine power.”51 Much as partaking of the Lord’s Supper conveys to the believing participant a strengthening in grace, so anointing may be mandated by God as a physical element through which he works the grace of healing in the sick believer.[4]

b. 2. Symbolic - Anointing frequently symbolizes the consecration of persons or things for God’s use and service in the OT. Typical is Exod. 28:41: … (Luke 4:18 [= Isa. 61:1]; Acts 4:27; 10:38; 2 Cor. 1:21; Heb. 1:9 [= Ps. 45:7)[5] and here he lists another word for anoint that is different than the verb James uses.

And concludes that: We conclude, therefore, that “anoint” in v. 14 refers to a physical action with symbolic significance.[6] … As the elders pray, they are to anoint the sick person in order to symbolize that that person is being set apart for God’s special attention and care[7] and also may symbolize the joy and thanksgiving they fill inwardly towards God, even though they are sick on the outside, and may point to their future healing.

So, while this is a complicated passage, and it is not further elaborated on why exactly they anoint with oil, I think this symbolic meaning makes the most sense.

And as Dr. Moo helpful points out – “many healings were accomplished without anointing, shows that the practice is not a necessary accompaniment to the prayer for healing.”[8]

So I think we follow the command of scripture here when the elders of the church pray specifically for someone who is sick, and in our time and culture this would in and of itself signify that we are setting apart this person for God’s special attention and care, without the need of the anointing of oil, which symbolizes the same thing.

Now if someone requests this symbolic act to be done, I have no problem with that, but I would want to make it clear that is a symbolic act not a necessary requirement or some kind of magical incantation.

As v.15, makes clear it is the prayer that God heals the person through, not the anointing oil.

Jas 5:15 The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

So what is the connection between sickness and sin?

Dr. Moo points out how “NT continues to recognize that some illnesses are, in fact, the product of sin (Mark 2:1–12; 1 Cor. 5:5 [?]; 11:27–30). Recognizing this possible connection, James encourages the sick person to deal with any potential spiritual causes of the illness that he is experiencing. The “if” (kan) is therefore doubly important: it shows that James by no means assumes that sickness is caused by sin.”[9]

So in other words, it seems the God is consistently lifting our eyes heavenward, causing us to look at things from a spiritual perspective. While your sickness may not be caused by you sin, you can use the sickness as an opportunity to reflect on yourself and repent of any sin that you may be harboring in your life.

And notice that it is says the prayer of faith will save the sick person, Douglas moo is helpful here in noting how “The faith exercised in prayer is faith in the God who sovereignly accomplishes his will. When we pray, our faith recognizes, explicitly or implicitly, the overruling providential purposes of God.”[10] In other words we pray in faith, by praying for God’s will to be done, we ask for healing, and we trust in God’s answer. For God does not always heal as Moo points out – “Paul’s own prayer for his healing, offered three times, was not answered; God had a purpose in allowing the “thorn in the flesh,” that “messenger of Satan,” to remain (2 Cor. 12:7–9).57 Note also 2 Timothy 4:20, where Paul mentions that he “left Trophimus sick in Miletus.” [11]

Jas 5:16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.

First, what does how should we apply confess your sins to one another?

Moo points out that “This is the only verse in the NT that explicitly commands believers to confess their sins to one another, and it became the basis for the “rule” for small meetings in the eighteenth-century “methodist” movement.”[12]

Moo – “But how broadly are we to take this command? James might be requiring only that we confess our sin to those whom we have harmed by the particular sin (cf. Matt. 5:25–26). But the context of healing that we think carries over into v. 16 suggests rather that James thinks of sins that may have caused the illness for which prayers are being offered.”[13]

Second, we see here the call for everyone to pray for one another, it is not just limited to the elders.

Third who is the righteous man?

Moo - The righteous man, or “person,” is simply the believer, the person who is “righteous” by virtue of receiving forgiveness through Jesus and is therefore part of the people of God. Prayer, James wants to make clear, is a powerful weapon in the hands even of the humblest believer; it does not require a “super saint” to wield it effectively.”[14]

So in the end, what have we learned from James teaching on prayer.