A Ministry of Prayer

A Ministry of Prayer

James Gunn

James 5:13-20

Even in a cursory reading of this paragraph, one can understand why in the early Church, James, the Lord’s brother, was given the nickname “Camel Knees.” It is said that James himself was such a man of prayer that he had worn calluses upon his knees. It is probable that very few since his day could bear that same nickname. We all need to remind ourselves of Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).

Frequently attention is called, in a very simple manner, to the various aspects of prayer found in this passage. A reference is made to individual prayer (v. 15) , to collective prayer (v. 14), to confident prayer (v. 15) , to reciprocal prayer (v. 16) , to fervent prayer (v. 16) , to effectual prayer (v. 16), to earnest prayer (v. 17) , and to repeated prayer (v. 18).

Incredible as it may seem the references in this passage to anointing with oil, to confession and to forgiveness are the basis upon which the Church of Rome rests her superstition of “Extreme Unction.” This unscriptural act is reserved for the dying. It is supposed to prepare for death and to aid them in death. It is called “extreme” because it is the last of three different sacramental anointings : one at baptism, another at confirmation and the third at death.

Rome claims that this was practiced by our Lord and cites Mark 6:13. This spurious doctrine cannot relate to the words of Mark. Obviously the practise to which Mark makes reference was not used in death but in life and healing.

Prayer and Praise

Emotional extremes are suggested by James. He speaks of some who are in adversity while others may be rejoicing. In the time of trial and affliction one should pray. The word used here emphasizes “prayer to God.” It involves a direct appeal to the Lord as in Hebrews 4:16.

Those who have reason to rejoice in their circumstances must not forget God; they are to sing. A psalm is a sacred song sung to a musical accompaniment, probably a stringed instrument.

Assistance and Prayer

Sickness here may be one of two kinds: first, natural sickness, the weakness of the body; second, disciplinary sickness because of sin. In either case the patient may call for help, call for the elders over the assembly to which he belongs; they in turn will call upon the Lord.

The word “anointing” used here means to anoint for the purpose of health, the purpose of refreshment after bathing and for the purpose of embalming (Mark 16:1). This word does not allude to a ceremonial anointing as we have in the Old Testament in regard to priests, kings and prophets. There is another word in the Greek language that is used for sacred and symbolic anointing. It is from that word that we derive the title “Christ,” the Anointed One (Heb. 1:9). It should be noticed that while no efficacy is attached to the anointing with oil prayer does give help: “The prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up.”

In the case of Epaphroditus we have a startling example of this very practise (Phil. 2:25-30). The affliction for which Paul prayed three times that it might be removed was a disciplinary restraint imposed upon the apostle by the Lord; to use the language of Paul, “Lest I should be exalted above measure (2 Cor. 12:7).

As suggested, a sickness may be disciplinary, but if, as intimated, confession is made healing of both body and soul follows. In this regard, we read, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” The righteous man prays for his brother who has failed in doing that which is right. The action of the righteous man is in perfect accord with Paul’s thinking in Galatians 6:1.

Confession of sin must first of all be to the Lord. All sin is an act of rebellion against God: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins (guilt), and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness(defilement)” (1 John 1:9). James in his practical view of life insists that we should confess our faults to one another. The idea in sin here is a failing in duty or a missing of that which is right and proper that is hurtful to a fellow-believer. Obviously the word “fault” used here is an act that hurts another. Confession of such an act should be made to the person who has been injured. In the Levitical economy restitution to the party offended had to accompany the confession before the Lord; only then was remission of sin assured (Lev. 5:5, Num. 5:7).

Here again we are confronted by the perversion of the Church of Rome. She bases her doctrine of “auricular confession” upon the words of James. “Auricular confession” is the disclosure of one sins to a priest of Rome in order to obtain from him absolution. Every Roman Catholic is supposed to go to confession at least once a year. How much sin has resulted from this unbiblical system, only the Lord Himself knows! That there is no foundation for this procedure in any part of the New Testament is evident to all who read the Word of God.

The Illustration

The Spirit of God now shows how prayer and its results may be a very blessed experience in which all may engage. We are naturally inclined to think of important prophets of the Old Testament as being so different from us. We think of them as having a higher, holier and stronger nature than we; we think of them sometimes as more demi-gods than men. It is gratifying to know that there is no distinction between them and us, we are all men of “like passions.” Since this is true we may all speak directly to our God, knowing that He hears us.

Elijah knew that God was going to send rain upon the earth (1 Kings 18 :1) ; nevertheless, he went up to the top of Mount Carmel, and cast himself down to the earth seven times and put his face between his knees (1 Kings 18:42-46). The picture is one of a believer in the agony of prayer. As for example, in the case of the Apostle Paul (Col. 1:29-2:2). James says, “He prayed again and the heavens gave rain.” Elijah as a supplicant was in perfect accord with the will of God. We pray first because the Lord has instructed us that we should pray. But, then, “this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to His will he heareth us, and if we know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petition that we desired of Him” (1 John 5:13-14). The ultimate in prayer is that the believer be brought into perfect accord with the will of God.

Backsliding and Recovery

Jude closes his epistle with a warning: “Beware lest ye also being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness” (Jude 17). James in like manner cautions his readers, lest some of them he seduced and turned from the truth. The “truth” here involves the entire Word of God, especially the New Testament in which sound doctrine is clearly taught.

It should be noticed that this paragraph is not dealing with a wilful sin but with a seduction which leads astray. Hymenaeus and Philetus would be an example. Paul says concerning them, “Who concerning the truth have erred” (2 Tim. 2:17-18). These unfortunate brethren had wandered away.

Thank God! Although one may stray, there are others who seek his restoration. Paul’s thinking was similar to that of James. Paul wrote, “If any man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted; (Gal. 6:1).

The importance of a restorative ministry is emphasized. One who converts the sinful accomplishes much. The whole context indicates that the erring one, although called a sinner, is a child of God. Sinful acts in the family of God do occasionally result in death. We have the cases of Ananias and his wife Sapphira (Acts 5). There is also the case of the Corinthians (1 Cor. 11:30) . The Lord does at times take home to Heaven a disobedient child. He removes him: by death; He takes him prematurely away from the area of testimony.

Whether James means that conversion, or as we might understand it, restoration, covers a multitude of sins before God or before man is difficult to decide. Peter asserts that “love shall cover the multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8). This exercise of love is obviously before men. Perhaps we should consider the statement of James in the same light. Love seeks the erring one and by his recovery his testimony before the world is saved.

Of course, if we accept it as a recovery from sin before the Lord Jesus, then we should accept the statement as a figurative way of speaking about a full pardon. “My little children,” writes John, “these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous : and He is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:1-2).