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Let us Pray

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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. 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.

19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

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. 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.

19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

The Bible Exposition Commentary Chapter Thirteen: Let Us Pray (James 5:13–20)

The gift of speech is a marvelous blessing, if it is used to the glory of God. As we have seen, James had a great deal to say about the tongue; and this chapter is no exception. He mentioned some of the lowest uses of the tongue: complaining (James 5:9) and swearing (James 5:12). But he also named some of the highest uses of the tongue: proclaiming God’s Word (James 5:10) and praying and praising God (James 5:13).

Prayer is certainly a high and holy privilege. To think that, as God’s children, we can come freely and boldly to His throne and share with Him our needs! Seven times in this section James mentioned prayer. The mature Christian is prayerful in the troubles of life. Instead of complaining about his situation, he talks to God about it; and God hears and answers his prayers. “Taking it to the Lord in prayer” is certainly a mark of spiritual maturity.

In this section, James encourages us to pray by describing four situations in which God answers prayer.

Prayer for the Suffering (James 5:13)

The word afflicted means “suffering in difficult circumstances.” The phrase “in trouble” is a good translation. Paul used this word to describe the circumstances he was in as he suffered for the Gospel’s sake (2 Tim. 2:9). As God’s people go through life, they often must endure difficulties that are not the results of sin or the chastening of God.

What should we do when we find ourselves in such trying circumstances? We must not grumble and criticize the saints who are having an easier time of it (James 5:9); nor should we blame the Lord. We should pray, asking God for the wisdom we need to understand the situation and use it to His glory (James 1:5).

Prayer can remove affliction, if that is God’s will. But prayer can also give us the grace we need to endure troubles and use them to accomplish God’s perfect will. God can transform troubles into triumphs. “He giveth more grace” (James 4:6). Paul prayed that God might change his circumstances, but instead, God gave Paul the grace he needed to turn his weakness into strength (2 Cor. 12:7–10). Our Lord prayed in Gethsemane that the cup might be removed, and it was not; yet the Father gave Him the strength He needed to go to the cross and die for our sins.

James indicated that everybody does not go through troubles at the same time: “Is any merry? Let him sing psalms” (James 5:13). God balances our lives and gives us hours of suffering and days of singing. The mature Christian knows how to sing while he is suffering. (Anybody can sing after the trouble has passed.) God is able to give “songs in the night” (Job 35:10). He did this for Paul and Silas when they were suffering in that Philippian jail. “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God” (Acts 16:25).

Praying and singing were important elements in worship in the early church, and they should be important to us. Our singing ought to be an expression of our inner spiritual life. The believer’s praise should be intelligent (1 Cor. 14:15) and not just the mouthing of words or ideas that mean nothing to him. It should come from the heart (Eph. 5:19) and be motivated by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18). Christian singing must be based on the Word of God (Col. 3:16) and not simply on the clever ideas of men. If a song is not biblical, it is not acceptable to God.

Prayer for the Sick (James 5:14–16)

I do not think that James gave us a blanket formula for healing the sick. In the churches I have pastored, the elders and I have prayed for the sick, and sometimes God has given healing. But other times, He has not seen fit to heal the person. I recall two cases within one week of each other: the one lady was restored in an almost miraculous way, but the other one had to enter the hospital for surgery, and eventually the Lord called her home.

What are the special characteristics of this case that James is describing?

The person is sick because of sin (vv. 15b–16). The Greek text says, “If he has been constantly sinning.” This parallels 1 Corinthians 11:30, “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (have died). James has described a church member who is sick because he is being disciplined by God. This explains why the elders of the assembly are called: the man cannot go to church to confess his sins, so he asks the spiritual leaders to come to him. The leaders would be in charge of the discipline of the congregation.

The person confesses his sins (v. 16). In the early church, the believers practiced church discipline. First Corinthians 5 is a good example. Paul told the believers at Corinth to dismiss the sinning member from the assembly until he repented of his sins and made things right. The little word “therefore” belongs in James 5:16—“Confess your sins therefore to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (literal translation). The word faults in the Authorized Version gives the impression that the man’s deeds were not too evil; they were only faults. But it is the word hamartia that James used, and this word means “sin.” It is the same word used in James 1:15, where the subject is definitely sin.

The person is healed by “the prayer of faith” (v. 15). It is not the anointing that heals, but the praying. The Greek word translated “anointing” is a medicinal term; it could be translated “massaging.” This may be an indication that James suggests using available means for healing along with asking the Lord for His divine touch. God can heal with or without means; in each case, it is God who does the healing.

But what is “the prayer of faith” that heals the sick? The answer is in 1 John 5:14–15—“And 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 petitions that we desired of Him.” The “prayer of faith” is a prayer offered when you know the will of God. The elders would seek the mind of God in the matter, and then pray according to His will.

As I visit the sick among my congregation, I do not always know how to pray for them. (Paul had the same problem; read Rom. 8:26.) Is it God’s will to heal? Is God planning to call His child home? I do not know; therefore, I must pray, “If it is Your will, heal Your child.” Those who claim that God heals every case, and that it is not His will for His children to be sick, are denying both Scripture and experience. But where we have the inner conviction from the Word and the Spirit that it is God’s will to heal, then we can pray “the prayer of faith” and expect God to work.

Keep in mind that it is not one individual who is praying: it is the body of elders—spiritual men of God—who seek God’s will and pray. James does not instruct the believer to send for a faith healer. The matter is in the hands of the leaders of the local church.

There are some practical lessons from this section that we must not overlook. For one thing, disobedience to God can lead to sickness. This was David’s experience when he tried to hide his sins (Ps. 32). Second, sin affects the whole church. We can never sin alone, for sin has a way of growing and infecting others. This man had to confess his sins to the church because he had sinned against the church. Third, there is healing (physical and spiritual) when sin is dealt with. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper, but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall find mercy” (Prov. 28:13). James wrote, “Make it a habit to confess your sins to each other” (literal translation). Do not hide sin or delay confession.

The “confessing” that James wrote about is done among the saints. He was not suggesting confessing our sins to a preacher or priest. We confess our sins first of all to the Lord (1 John 1:9), but we must also confess them to those who have been affected by them. We must never confess sin beyond the circle of that sin’s influence. Private sin requires private confession; public sin requires public confession. It is wrong for Christians to “hang dirty wash in public,” for such “confessing” might do more harm than the original sin.

Prayer for the Nation (James 5:17–18)

James cited Elijah as an example of a “righteous man” whose prayers released power. “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16, NIV).

The background of this incident is found in 1 Kings 17–18. Wicked King Ahab and Jezebel, his queen, had led Israel away from the Lord and into the worship of Baal. God punished the nation by holding back the rain that they needed (see Deut. 28:12, 23). For three and one half years, the heavens were as brass and the earth unable to produce the crops so necessary for life.

Then Elijah challenged the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel. All day long the priests cried out to their god, but no answer came. At the time of the evening sacrifice, Elijah repaired the altar and prepared the sacrifice. He prayed but once, and fire came from heaven to consume the sacrifice. He had proven that Jehovah was the true God.

But the nation still needed rain. Elijah went to the top of Carmel and fell down before the Lord in prayer. He prayed and sent his servant seven times to see if there was evidence of rain; and the seventh time his servant saw a little cloud. Before long, there was a great rain, and the nation was saved.

Do we need “showers of blessing” today? We certainly do!

“But Elijah was a special prophet of God,” we might argue. “We can expect God to answer his prayers in a wonderful way.”

“Elijah was a man just like us,” stated James (5:17, NIV). He was not perfect; in fact, right after his victory on Mt. Carmel, Elijah became afraid and discouraged and ran away. But he was a “righteous man,” that is, obedient to the Lord and trusting Him. God’s promises of answered prayer are for all His children, not just for ones we may call the spiritual elite.

Elijah prayed in faith, for God told him He would send the rain (1 Kings 18:1). “Prayer,” said Robert Law, “is not getting man’s will done in heaven. It’s getting God’s will done on earth.” You cannot separate the Word of God and prayer, for in His Word He gives us the promises that we claim when we pray.

Elijah was not only believing in his praying, but he was persistent. “He prayed … and he prayed again” (James 5:17–18). On Mt. Carmel, Elijah continued to pray for rain until his servant reported “a cloud the size of a man’s hand.” Too many times we fail to get what God promises because we stop praying. It is true that we are not heard “for our much praying” (Matt. 6:7); but there is a difference between vain repetitions and true believing persistence in prayer. Our Lord prayed three times in the Garden, and Paul prayed three times that his thorn in the flesh might be taken from him.

Elijah was determined and concerned in his praying. “He prayed earnestly” (James 5:17, NIV). The literal Greek reads “and he prayed in prayer.” Many people do not pray in their prayers. They just lazily say religious words, and their hearts are not in their prayers.

A church member was “praying around the world” in a prayer meeting, and one of the men present was growing tired of the speech. Finally the man cried out, “Ask Him something!” That is what prayer is all about: “Ask Him something!”

Prayer power is the greatest power in the world today. “Tremendous power is made available through a good man’s earnest prayer” (James 5:16, PH). History shows how mankind has progressed from manpower to horsepower, and then to dynamite and TNT, and now to atomic power.

But greater than atomic power is prayer power. Elijah prayed for his nation, and God answered prayer. We need to pray for our nation today, that God will bring conviction and revival, and that “showers of blessing” will come to the land. One of the first responsibilities of the local church is to pray for government leaders (1 Tim. 2:1–3).

Prayer for the Straying (James 5:19–20)

While James did not specifically name prayer in these verses, the implication is there. If we pray for the afflicted and the sick, surely we must pray for the brother who wanders from the truth.

These verses deal with our ministry to a fellow believer who strays from the truth and gets into sin. The verb err means “to wander,” and suggests a gradual moving away from the will of God. The Old Testament term for this is “backsliding.” Sad to say, we see this tragedy occurring in our churches regularly. Sometimes a brother is “overtaken in a fault” (Gal. 6:1); but usually the sin is the result of slow, gradual spiritual decline.

Such a condition is, of course, very dangerous. It is dangerous to the offender because he may be disciplined by the Lord (Heb. 12). He also faces the danger of committing “sin unto death” (1 John 5:16–17). God disciplined the sinning members of the Corinthian church, even to the point of taking some of them to heaven (1 Cor. 11:30).

But this backsliding is also dangerous to the church. A wandering offender can influence others and lead them astray. “One sinner destroys much good” (Ecc. 9:18, NASB). This is why the spiritual members of the church must step in and help the man who has wandered away.

The origin of this problem is found in the statement “wander from the truth” (James 5:19). The truth means, of course, the Word of God. “Thy Word is truth” (John 17:17). Unless the believer stays close to the truth, he will start to drift away. “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Heb. 2:1, NASB). Jesus warned Peter that Satan was at hand to tempt him, and Peter refused to believe the Word. He even argued with the Lord! When he should have been praying, Peter was sleeping. No wonder he denied three times.

The outcome of this wandering is “sin” and possible “death” (James 5:20). The sinner here is a believer, not an unbeliever; and sin in the life of a Christian is worse than sin in the life of an unbeliever. We expect unsaved people to sin, but God expects His children to obey His Word.

What are we to do when we see a fellow believer wandering from the truth? We should pray for him, to be sure; but we must also seek to help him. He needs to be “converted”—turned back into the right path again. Do believers need to be converted? Yes, they do! Jesus said to Peter, “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32).

It is important that we seek to win the lost, but it is also important to win the saved. If a brother has sinned against us, we should talk to him privately and seek to settle the matter. If he listens, then we have gained our brother (Matt. 18:15). That word gained means “won.” It is the same word translated “get gain” in James 4:13. It is important to win the saved as well as the lost.

If we are going to help an erring brother, we must have an attitude of love, for “love shall cover the multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Both James and Peter learned this principle from Proverbs 10:12—“Hate stirreth up strife: but love covereth all sins.”

This does not mean that love “sweeps the dirt under the carpet.” Where there is love, there must also be truth (“speaking the truth in love” says Paul in Eph. 4:15); and where there is truth, there is honest confession of sin and cleansing from God. Love not only helps the offender to face his sins and deal with them, but love also assures the offender that those sins, once forgiven, are remembered no more.

While the basic interpretation of these verses is as I have explained, the application can be made to the lost sinner. After all, if a straying brother needs to be restored, how much more does a lost sinner need to be brought to the Saviour. If the wandering believer loses his life, he at least goes to heaven; but the lost sinner is condemned to an eternal hell.

“Seeking the lost” is a common Bible picture of soul-winning. In Luke 15, Jesus pictures the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son, all of whom needed to be found and brought back to where they belonged. Our Lord also compared winning souls to catching fish (Mark 1:17). Peter caught one fish individually with his hook (Matt. 17:24–27), but he also worked with his helpers and used the nets to catch many fish at one time. There is a place for both personal and collective evangelism.

Proverbs 11:30 compares evangelism to hunting: “He that catcheth souls is wise” (literal translation). Sin is out to catch and kill (James 1:13–15), but we ought to be out to catch and make alive.

The soul winner is also an ambassador of peace (2 Cor. 5:20). God has not declared war on this world; He has declared peace! One day He will declare war, and judgment will fall.

Both Zechariah 3:2 and Jude 23 picture the soul winner as a fireman, pulling brands out of the burning. John Wesley applied Zechariah 3:2 to himself, for when he was but a child, he was pulled from a burning house when it looked as though it was too late. Sometimes we must take risks of love to snatch people from the fires of judgment.

Jesus compared evangelism to sowing and reaping (John 4:34–38) and Paul used the same illustration (1 Cor. 3:6–9). There are seasons of sowing and seasons of reaping; and many people are needed for the work. We are “laborers together with God” (1 Cor. 3:9). Both the sower and the reaper will receive their rewards, for there is no competition in the Lord’s fields.

This brings us to the end of our study of James. His emphasis has been spiritual maturity. This would be a good time for us to examine our own hearts to see how mature we really are. Here are a few questions to assist you:

1. Am I becoming more and more patient in the testings of life?

2. Do I play with temptation or resist it from the start?

3. Do I find joy in obeying the Word of God, or do I merely study it and learn it?

4. Are there any prejudices that shackle me?

5. Am I able to control my tongue?

6. Am I a peacemaker rather than a troublemaker? Do people come to me for spiritual wisdom?

7. Am I a friend of God or a friend of the world?

8. Do I make plans without considering the will of God?

9. Am I selfish when it comes to money? Am I unfaithful in the paying of my bills?

10. Do I naturally depend on prayer when I find myself in some kind of trouble?

11. Am I the kind of person others seek for prayer support?

12. What is my attitude toward the wandering brother? Do I criticize and gossip, or do I seek to restore him in love?

Don’t just grow old—grow up!

The gift of speech is a marvelous blessing, if it is used to the glory of God. As we have seen, James had a great deal to say about the tongue; and this chapter is no exception. He mentioned some of the lowest uses of the tongue: complaining () and swearing (). But he also named some of the highest uses of the tongue: proclaiming God’s Word () and praying and praising God ().
Prayer is certainly a high and holy privilege. To think that, as God’s children, we can come freely and boldly to His throne and share with Him our needs! Seven times in this section James mentioned prayer. The mature Christian is prayerful in the troubles of life. Instead of complaining about his situation, he talks to God about it; and God hears and answers his prayers. “Taking it to the Lord in prayer” is certainly a mark of spiritual maturity.
In this section, James encourages us to pray by describing four situations in which God answers prayer.
Prayer for the Suffering ()
The word afflicted means “suffering in difficult circumstances.” The phrase “in trouble” is a good translation. Paul used this word to describe the circumstances he was in as he suffered for the Gospel’s sake (). As God’s people go through life, they often must endure difficulties that are not the results of sin or the chastening of God.
What should we do when we find ourselves in such trying circumstances? We must not grumble and criticize the saints who are having an easier time of it (); nor should we blame the Lord. We should pray, asking God for the wisdom we need to understand the situation and use it to His glory ().
Prayer can remove affliction, if that is God’s will. But prayer can also give us the grace we need to endure troubles and use them to accomplish God’s perfect will. God can transform troubles into triumphs. “He giveth more grace” (). Paul prayed that God might change his circumstances, but instead, God gave Paul the grace he needed to turn his weakness into strength (). Our Lord prayed in Gethsemane that the cup might be removed, and it was not; yet the Father gave Him the strength He needed to go to the cross and die for our sins.
James indicated that everybody does not go through troubles at the same time: “Is any merry? Let him sing psalms” (). God balances our lives and gives us hours of suffering and days of singing. The mature Christian knows how to sing while he is suffering. (Anybody can sing after the trouble has passed.) God is able to give “songs in the night” (). He did this for Paul and Silas when they were suffering in that Philippian jail. “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God” ().
Praying and singing were important elements in worship in the early church, and they should be important to us. Our singing ought to be an expression of our inner spiritual life. The believer’s praise should be intelligent () and not just the mouthing of words or ideas that mean nothing to him. It should come from the heart () and be motivated by the Holy Spirit (). Christian singing must be based on the Word of God () and not simply on the clever ideas of men. If a song is not biblical, it is not acceptable to God.
Prayer for the Sick ()
I do not think that James gave us a blanket formula for healing the sick. In the churches I have pastored, the elders and I have prayed for the sick, and sometimes God has given healing. But other times, He has not seen fit to heal the person. I recall two cases within one week of each other: the one lady was restored in an almost miraculous way, but the other one had to enter the hospital for surgery, and eventually the Lord called her home.
What are the special characteristics of this case that James is describing?
The person is sick because of sin (vv. 15b–16). The Greek text says, “If he has been constantly sinning.” This parallels , “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (have died). James has described a church member who is sick because he is being disciplined by God. This explains why the elders of the assembly are called: the man cannot go to church to confess his sins, so he asks the spiritual leaders to come to him. The leaders would be in charge of the discipline of the congregation.
The person confesses his sins (v. 16). In the early church, the believers practiced church discipline. is a good example. Paul told the believers at Corinth to dismiss the sinning member from the assembly until he repented of his sins and made things right. The little word “therefore” belongs in —“Confess your sins therefore to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (literal translation). The word faults in the Authorized Version gives the impression that the man’s deeds were not too evil; they were only faults. But it is the word hamartia that James used, and this word means “sin.” It is the same word used in , where the subject is definitely sin.
The person is healed by “the prayer of faith” (v. 15). It is not the anointing that heals, but the praying. The Greek word translated “anointing” is a medicinal term; it could be translated “massaging.” This may be an indication that James suggests using available means for healing along with asking the Lord for His divine touch. God can heal with or without means; in each case, it is God who does the healing.
But what is “the prayer of faith” that heals the sick? The answer is in —“And 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 petitions that we desired of Him.” The “prayer of faith” is a prayer offered when you know the will of God. The elders would seek the mind of God in the matter, and then pray according to His will.
As I visit the sick among my congregation, I do not always know how to pray for them. (Paul had the same problem; read .) Is it God’s will to heal? Is God planning to call His child home? I do not know; therefore, I must pray, “If it is Your will, heal Your child.” Those who claim that God heals every case, and that it is not His will for His children to be sick, are denying both Scripture and experience. But where we have the inner conviction from the Word and the Spirit that it is God’s will to heal, then we can pray “the prayer of faith” and expect God to work.
Keep in mind that it is not one individual who is praying: it is the body of elders—spiritual men of God—who seek God’s will and pray. James does not instruct the believer to send for a faith healer. The matter is in the hands of the leaders of the local church.
There are some practical lessons from this section that we must not overlook. For one thing, disobedience to God can lead to sickness. This was David’s experience when he tried to hide his sins (). Second, sin affects the whole church. We can never sin alone, for sin has a way of growing and infecting others. This man had to confess his sins to the church because he had sinned against the church. Third, there is healing (physical and spiritual) when sin is dealt with. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper, but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall find mercy” (). James wrote, “Make it a habit to confess your sins to each other” (literal translation). Do not hide sin or delay confession.
The “confessing” that James wrote about is done among the saints. He was not suggesting confessing our sins to a preacher or priest. We confess our sins first of all to the Lord (), but we must also confess them to those who have been affected by them. We must never confess sin beyond the circle of that sin’s influence. Private sin requires private confession; public sin requires public confession. It is wrong for Christians to “hang dirty wash in public,” for such “confessing” might do more harm than the original sin.
Prayer for the Nation ()
James cited Elijah as an example of a “righteous man” whose prayers released power. “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (, niv).
The background of this incident is found in . Wicked King Ahab and Jezebel, his queen, had led Israel away from the Lord and into the worship of Baal. God punished the nation by holding back the rain that they needed (see , ). For three and one half years, the heavens were as brass and the earth unable to produce the crops so necessary for life.
Then Elijah challenged the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel. All day long the priests cried out to their god, but no answer came. At the time of the evening sacrifice, Elijah repaired the altar and prepared the sacrifice. He prayed but once, and fire came from heaven to consume the sacrifice. He had proven that Jehovah was the true God.
But the nation still needed rain. Elijah went to the top of Carmel and fell down before the Lord in prayer. He prayed and sent his servant seven times to see if there was evidence of rain; and the seventh time his servant saw a little cloud. Before long, there was a great rain, and the nation was saved.
Do we need “showers of blessing” today? We certainly do!
“But Elijah was a special prophet of God,” we might argue. “We can expect God to answer his prayers in a wonderful way.”
“Elijah was a man just like us,” stated James (5:17, niv). He was not perfect; in fact, right after his victory on Mt. Carmel, Elijah became afraid and discouraged and ran away. But he was a “righteous man,” that is, obedient to the Lord and trusting Him. God’s promises of answered prayer are for all His children, not just for ones we may call the spiritual elite.
Elijah prayed in faith, for God told him He would send the rain (). “Prayer,” said Robert Law, “is not getting man’s will done in heaven. It’s getting God’s will done on earth.” You cannot separate the Word of God and prayer, for in His Word He gives us the promises that we claim when we pray.
Elijah was not only believing in his praying, but he was persistent. “He prayed … and he prayed again” (). On Mt. Carmel, Elijah continued to pray for rain until his servant reported “a cloud the size of a man’s hand.” Too many times we fail to get what God promises because we stop praying. It is true that we are not heard “for our much praying” (); but there is a difference between vain repetitions and true believing persistence in prayer. Our Lord prayed three times in the Garden, and Paul prayed three times that his thorn in the flesh might be taken from him.
Elijah was determined and concerned in his praying. “He prayed earnestly” (, niv). The literal Greek reads “and he prayed in prayer.” Many people do not pray in their prayers. They just lazily say religious words, and their hearts are not in their prayers.
A church member was “praying around the world” in a prayer meeting, and one of the men present was growing tired of the speech. Finally the man cried out, “Ask Him something!” That is what prayer is all about: “Ask Him something!”
Prayer power is the greatest power in the world today. “Tremendous power is made available through a good man’s earnest prayer” (, ph). History shows how mankind has progressed from manpower to horsepower, and then to dynamite and TNT, and now to atomic power.
But greater than atomic power is prayer power. Elijah prayed for his nation, and God answered prayer. We need to pray for our nation today, that God will bring conviction and revival, and that “showers of blessing” will come to the land. One of the first responsibilities of the local church is to pray for government leaders ().
Prayer for the Straying ()
While James did not specifically name prayer in these verses, the implication is there. If we pray for the afflicted and the sick, surely we must pray for the brother who wanders from the truth.
These verses deal with our ministry to a fellow believer who strays from the truth and gets into sin. The verb err means “to wander,” and suggests a gradual moving away from the will of God. The Old Testament term for this is “backsliding.” Sad to say, we see this tragedy occurring in our churches regularly. Sometimes a brother is “overtaken in a fault” (); but usually the sin is the result of slow, gradual spiritual decline.
Such a condition is, of course, very dangerous. It is dangerous to the offender because he may be disciplined by the Lord (). He also faces the danger of committing “sin unto death” (). God disciplined the sinning members of the Corinthian church, even to the point of taking some of them to heaven ().
But this backsliding is also dangerous to the church. A wandering offender can influence others and lead them astray. “One sinner destroys much good” (, nasb). This is why the spiritual members of the church must step in and help the man who has wandered away.
The origin of this problem is found in the statement “wander from the truth” (). The truth means, of course, the Word of God. “Thy Word is truth” (). Unless the believer stays close to the truth, he will start to drift away. “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (, nasb). Jesus warned Peter that Satan was at hand to tempt him, and Peter refused to believe the Word. He even argued with the Lord! When he should have been praying, Peter was sleeping. No wonder he denied three times.
The outcome of this wandering is “sin” and possible “death” (). The sinner here is a believer, not an unbeliever; and sin in the life of a Christian is worse than sin in the life of an unbeliever. We expect unsaved people to sin, but God expects His children to obey His Word.
What are we to do when we see a fellow believer wandering from the truth? We should pray for him, to be sure; but we must also seek to help him. He needs to be “converted”—turned back into the right path again. Do believers need to be converted? Yes, they do! Jesus said to Peter, “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” ().
It is important that we seek to win the lost, but it is also important to win the saved. If a brother has sinned against us, we should talk to him privately and seek to settle the matter. If he listens, then we have gained our brother (). That word gained means “won.” It is the same word translated “get gain” in . It is important to win the saved as well as the lost.
If we are going to help an erring brother, we must have an attitude of love, for “love shall cover the multitude of sins” (). Both James and Peter learned this principle from —“Hate stirreth up strife: but love covereth all sins.”
This does not mean that love “sweeps the dirt under the carpet.” Where there is love, there must also be truth (“speaking the truth in love” says Paul in ); and where there is truth, there is honest confession of sin and cleansing from God. Love not only helps the offender to face his sins and deal with them, but love also assures the offender that those sins, once forgiven, are remembered no more.
While the basic interpretation of these verses is as I have explained, the application can be made to the lost sinner. After all, if a straying brother needs to be restored, how much more does a lost sinner need to be brought to the Saviour. If the wandering believer loses his life, he at least goes to heaven; but the lost sinner is condemned to an eternal hell.
“Seeking the lost” is a common Bible picture of soul-winning. In , Jesus pictures the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son, all of whom needed to be found and brought back to where they belonged. Our Lord also compared winning souls to catching fish (). Peter caught one fish individually with his hook (), but he also worked with his helpers and used the nets to catch many fish at one time. There is a place for both personal and collective evangelism.
compares evangelism to hunting: “He that catcheth souls is wise” (literal translation). Sin is out to catch and kill (), but we ought to be out to catch and make alive.
The soul winner is also an ambassador of peace (). God has not declared war on this world; He has declared peace! One day He will declare war, and judgment will fall.
Both and picture the soul winner as a fireman, pulling brands out of the burning. John Wesley applied to himself, for when he was but a child, he was pulled from a burning house when it looked as though it was too late. Sometimes we must take risks of love to snatch people from the fires of judgment.
Jesus compared evangelism to sowing and reaping () and Paul used the same illustration (). There are seasons of sowing and seasons of reaping; and many people are needed for the work. We are “laborers together with God” (). Both the sower and the reaper will receive their rewards, for there is no competition in the Lord’s fields.
This brings us to the end of our study of James. His emphasis has been spiritual maturity. This would be a good time for us to examine our own hearts to see how mature we really are. Here are a few questions to assist you:
1. Am I becoming more and more patient in the testings of life?
2. Do I play with temptation or resist it from the start?
3. Do I find joy in obeying the Word of God, or do I merely study it and learn it?
4. Are there any prejudices that shackle me?
5. Am I able to control my tongue?
6. Am I a peacemaker rather than a troublemaker? Do people come to me for spiritual wisdom?
7. Am I a friend of God or a friend of the world?
8. Do I make plans without considering the will of God?
9. Am I selfish when it comes to money? Am I unfaithful in the paying of my bills?
10. Do I naturally depend on prayer when I find myself in some kind of trouble?
11. Am I the kind of person others seek for prayer support?
12. What is my attitude toward the wandering brother? Do I criticize and gossip, or do I seek to restore him in love?
Don’t just grow old—grow up!
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