In this week’s text, we look at a passages of Scripture from the Epistle of James that is oft misunderstood. In short, James encourages those who are sick to call upon the elders of the church to let them pray over and anoint the person with oil in the name of the Lord (James 5:14). There are two interpretations of this text, and commentators disagree which is the most proper understanding. At the center of the disagreement is the word translated “sick” in James 5:14. In the original language, the word used is asthenéō, which can mean either physically ill or spiritually weak. This raises the question whether or not James is speaking of physical illness on this passage or spiritual weakness, being defeated in other words.
Again, commentators divide over the meaning. I tend to side with those who argue that James is referring to physical healing. It was within Jewish tradition to call the elders to the bedside of a physically ill person. Moreover, the use of oil (olive oil, specifically) in the both Old and New Testament times had both a ceremonial application and a medicinal application. In many ways, oil was the Bayer aspirin of the day.
Within our culture, this text is almost always seen within the context of praying over one who is physically ill. In my 25-plus years of ministry, I have participated in many such prayer sessions in which a physically ill person calls the elders of the church to anoint them with oil and pray over them.
Where we often misunderstand this text is concerning the thrust of what James is writing. Whether he is referring to spiritual weakness or physical illness, what is important for the believer is to hear and understand his admonition–pray! Unfortunately, prayer is the often unused weapon in the believer’s arsenal, yet as James points out, the effective prayer of a righteous men and woman can accomplish much.
What is effective prayer? In his Insights on James commentary, Chuck Swindoll provides three keys to effective prayer: (1) Know the Scripture and pray in keeping with the Word of God. (2) Be specific; deal directly with particular issues and ask for specific results. (3) Have absolute faith in God’s ability, timing, and wisdom, trusting without reservation that His answer to your petition will be right. These things characterize the prayer life of a righteous person. Small wonder that this kind of prayer “accomplishes much!”
There is a companion to prayer that James also mentions–praise. Don’t forget this aspect of prayer. Often, when crisis strikes, we call out to the Lord in prayer, but when He answers and shows us His will, we soon forget to offer Him praise. We shouldn’t pray only when things are going wrong, or praise Him when things are going right. The heart of the Christian should be in continual prayer and thanksgiving to our Lord (1 Thess. 5:17). May we model Job who in good times and bad was able to praise God and say, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).–Chris Eller
This Week’s Core Practice
Possessions (Luke 16:11–12): I seek to maintain an eternal perspective on money and possessions, realizing God has give me all that I have, and that he expects me to manage it wisely for His glory.
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