Excessive Guilt_01_edited

James 5:16-17 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The supplication[a] of a righteous man can accomplish much. 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.

[a] I.e., prayer

Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. (5:16a)

There is nothing in the verse, which would suggest that the spiritually weak one must confess his sin to the entire congregation to have them pray for him. “Confess your sins to one another” is speaking of person to person. If one has committed a wrong against another in the congregation, they may be moved to confess that wrongdoing, asking for forgiveness, and they may pray together. Then, again, it might be the one who was wronged, who goes to the one who wronged him, and the sin is confessed, followed by prayer. On the other hand, the wronged one may take a spiritually mature person along with him, maybe an elder. There is the possibility that a person who has sinned or is practicing sin may simply seek a spiritually mature one, to talk with about his sin, which ends in prayer. The Christian congregation should be a family-like atmosphere, where we can feel comfortable sharing our difficulties with others, knowing we will get comforting, even corrective advice and prayer.

THE BOOK OF JAMESIf this sinner thought that the result is that they would be exposed to the whole congregation for something they are ashamed of and have not had any control over, this would be a deterrent from coming forward. On the other hand, knowing that the elders would keep one’s transgressions in confidence while helping him overcome his weaknesses, this would encourage him to contact the elders. Again, in looking at the expression “one another,” this is not suggesting that we air out our sins before the whole congregation, but rather that we all are sinners and none are exempt from having to seek help from others. Even the spiritually mature one, who has been sought out by someone who has sinned, they too one day may need to go to another. The beauty is in the fact that if we confess our sins to one another, it will serve as a protection from our continuing to sin because someone is now aware of our secret.

Lastly, when we think of “confessing” our sin, it should not be thought of as though it were a confessional, where congregation members regularly come in and confess their sins, attaining some kind of absolution. Again, the elders are not the only ones where a person can go to confess their sins.[1] Nevertheless, the one being sought out to hear the sins should be a spiritually mature one, because along with the confession comes a prayer and counsel from God’s Word. For example, a younger sister may seek the help of an older sister in the congregation. (Titus 2:3-5) Therefore, the one being sought for help is not limited but should be qualified to offer the level of help being sought. That person needs to be able to offer the healing help of prayer because the one seeking help has such a troubled conscience; he is unable to go to God in prayer. Just as the continued distress and anxiety of his sin could have caused physical sickness, the words and prayer of the one sought for help can just as easily remove the physical sickness once the tension is gone.

The supplication of a righteous man can accomplish much. (5:16b)

James is strongly advocating intercessory prayers for others, i.e., praying for one another. The apostle Paul encourages supplicatory prayers for others. He says, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people” (1 Tim. 2:1) Paul exhorted the Thessalonica congregation, “brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you.” Paul urged the Colossian congregation, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison, that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.” (Col. 4:2-4) Here James speaks of “a righteous man,” meaning anyone whom God counted as righteous because he has trusted in Jesus Christ and is living a life reflective of the Word of God.

Prayer is part of our worship. Prayer is very powerful because we have access to the Almighty any time of the day. If a person has a righteous standing before God, he will have his prayers heard. The apostle Peter wrote, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.” (1 Pet. 3:12) The apostle John helps to understand the effectiveness of our prayers. He wrote, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” Regarding praying on behalf of others, John continued, “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life, to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.” (1 John 5:15-16) In other words, we would not pray for one that has committed sin that leads to death. Jesus also spoke of sin that “will not be forgiven,” that is, “blasphemy against the Spirit.” – Matthew 12:31-32

Only Jesus can judge if one has committed the unforgivable sin, so we should show loving concern for all erring ones, going to God in prayer on their behalf. A good example is King Manasseh of Judah, who sacrificed to false gods, even sacrificing his son to the god Molech. He also practiced spiritism and put a carved image in God’s temple. He literally caused thousands to die and was punished by being taken captive to Babylon. Did King Manasseh commit the unforgivable sin, i.e., sin that leads to death? No, because he eventually humbled himself, repented and went to God in prayer, and God restored him as king over Judah. – 2 Kings 21:1-9; 2 Chronicles 33:1-13.

Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, (5:17a)

James gives an example of how a righteous man’s prayer in faith is effective and can accomplish much using Elijah as an example. Once again, James uses another Old Testament figure to make his point, which seems to be a common theme now in the book of James. Elijah like Abraham, the prophets, and Job, was very much respected among all Christians and held in high esteem. It was for this reason that James would use him as an example of a righteous man’s prayer being effective. Elijah was a mighty prophet used of God, and the account of his life and working can be found in I Kings chapters 17-22 and 2 Kings Chapters 1-4.

James makes the case that although Elijah was a great prophet used of God; he was also a man just like the rest of us. That is why James says that Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, to signify the fact that Elijah has flesh, bones, and a spirit like everybody else. James wanted his readers to understand that it was not Elijah himself, who was powerful, but rather it was God, who worked through him. James wanted his readers to understand the fact that Elijah was a man just as they were, so they should consider what was accomplished through his prayers because he was a righteous man.

and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit. (5:17b-18)

We do not know much of the life of Elijah apart from what is written in First and Second Kings, and he seems to burst onto the scene of scriptures in First Kings chapter 17. We first meet Elijah during the reign of the evil king Ahab. It was during his reign that the great prophet Elijah was sent to speak the words of God. First Kings 17:1 reads, “Now Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.’”

Elijah tells Ahab upon meeting him that in accordance with God’s power as judgment upon the land that there would be a famine in the land for the next three years. Shortly after Elijah spoke those words to Ahab, God allowed a great famine to strike the land for three years. Then Elijah was called to go back to Ahab again with another message, which is recorded in I Kings 18:1, informing Ahab that he was going to send rain on the earth.

It should be mentioned that James here specifically speaks of three and a half years of no rain. Jesus gives us the same information in the sermon he delivered in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth, “I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land.” (Luke 4:25) Did James and Jesus have a source that gave them some greater detail than the author of Kings, as the account in 1 Kings 18:1 refers to the rain “coming in the third year”? That certainly is not the same as three and a half years. Of course, the Bible critic would say we have an error in the form of a contradiction. There are absolutely no errors in the originals and if there is a reasonable answer; then, there is no issue at all. We should note first that Jesus was in heaven when the account took place and when the book of Kings was written, so he would know that his comment was not worded the exact same way.

1 Kings 18:1 says the rain came “in the third year,” could have meant the third year of actual drought. First, we must consider the dry summer season of ancient Israel, which ran from April to September, i.e., six months. If the three years of drought spoken of in First Kings followed this, both Jesus and James could speak of three and a half years, being more specific in their reference. On this, Kistemaker and Hendriksen offer another possibility when they write, “From Jewish sources, we learn that the expression three and a half years is an idiom which, because of frequent usage, came to mean ‘for quite some time.’[2] Therefore, we ought to take the expression figuratively, not literally. Furthermore, the Jewish custom of counting part of a unit of time as a full unit sheds additional light on our understanding of the text.”[3] On this, apologist Norman L. Geisler writes, “There are three possible solutions here. First, the three years may be a round number. Second, the third year in Kings may be reckoned from the time of Elijah’s stay with the widow of Zarephthah, not the full time of the drought. Third, it is possible that the drought began six months before the famine did, making both passages precise but referring to different things.”[4] Therefore, we have no error within Scripture, as there are several reasonable and logical explanations.

After having a showdown with the Baal prophets in I Kings 18:20-35, Elijah goes to the top of Mt. Carmel to pray for the rains to fall. God listened to Elijah’s prayer, and the rains came ending the drought across the land. Although the account from I Kings 18 does not specifically say that Elijah prayed for it not to rain and then to rain again as James says, it is implied. It was the prayer of Elijah, a righteous man, who brought about the judgment of God on the land through the famine and the rain to alleviate the drought after three and a half years. Again, James confirms what Jesus had already said some thirty years earlier in Luke 4:25, “But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land.” Yes, we have the greatest authority of all in Christ Jesus, the Son of God.

That Elijah did pray is implied at 1 Kings 18:42, which reads, “Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees.” The key here to Elijah’s prayer beside the fact that he was a righteous man was also the fact that Elijah prayed fervently that it might not rain. Elijah truly believed in what he was praying for and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. He believed God again, in the fact, that he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit. It was not that Elijah was better than any other Bible person was at having his prayer answered, but rather he was earnest in petitioning God for his answer. Elijah’s righteous life unto God and his earnestness in prayer accomplished much through God’s working through this man.

The example of Elijah and his praying for withholding rain is a very powerful one. On this, Gary Holloway offers a very important point to keep in mind: “This verse does not mean God will grant all the requests of the righteous, for he did not give Elijah all he prayed for (see 1 Kings 19:4). It is a call for confidence in the power of prayer, or better still, confidence in the power of the Lord to whom we pray.”[5]

[1] Therefore, it would be fine if a sister in the congregation, who was struggling spiritually or with problems, chose to go to a mature female sister in the congregation.

[2] Refer to SB, vol. 3, pp. 760–61. For additional information consult Mayor, James, pp. 180–81; and Ropes, James, p. 311.

[3] Simon J. Kistemaker and William Hendriksen, Exposition of James and the Epistles of John, vol. 14, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 181.

[4] Thomas Howe; Norman L. Geisler. The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation (Kindle Locations 6186-6188). Kindle Edition.

[5] Gary Holloway, James & Jude, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub., 1996), Jas 5:17–18.