Support for Those Struggling Spiritually
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, (5:14a)
James has covered the subject of how all Christians undergo evil in a general sense, because of inherited sin, human weaknesses and the world ruled by Satan. Now, he turns his attention to what has resulted and can result from having to deal with a bombardment of suffering through the evils of this fallen world, i.e., spiritual weakness or sickness. Almost all modern commentaries believe James is talking about physical sickness. However, Christian Publishing House does not, and it should be noted that the majority does not equal correct, as history has shown many times over that the majority can be wrong. It is the evidence that determines what is correct. We are in agreement with an older commentary, by a noted Bible scholar,
Here is the culminating point of the question whether the language of James is to be uniformly taken in a literal sense, or whether it uniformly bears a figurative character. The literal construction involves these surprising moments: 1. The calling for the presbyters of the congregation in the Plural; 2. the general direction concerning their prayer accompanying unction with oil; 3. and especially the confident promise that the prayer of faith shall restore the sick apart from his restoration being connected with the forgiveness of his sins. Was the Apostle warranted to promise bodily recovery in every case in which a sick individual complied with his directions? This misgiving urges us to adopt the symbolical construction of the passage, which would be as follows: if any man as a Christian has been hurt or become sick in his Christianity, let him seek healing from the presbyters, the kernel of the congregation. Let these pray with and for him and anoint him with the oil of the Spirit; such a course wherever taken, will surely restore him and his transgressions will be forgiven him.
The spiritual sickness spoken of by James can be a direct result of the continued suffering of evil, i.e., his not understanding why God has allowed evil. Or, it may be a result of his human weaknesses in that he has committed some serious sin, or is living in sin, which has him distraught to the point he feels his unrighteous condition prevents his prayers from being heard by God (Pro. 15:29; 28:9), and has sought the righteous prayers of the elders. Then again, he might have drifted away from the faith to an extent (Heb. 2:1), or he may have developed an unbelieving heart, leading him to fall away from the living God. (Heb. 3:12-13) Then again, maybe he has become sluggish in his Christian walk. (Heb. 6:12) Maybe he has endured hostility from sinners so that he has grown weary or fainthearted. (Heb. 12:3) Moreover, some had grown weary of doing good, living in miserable, wretched, hopeless poverty, while those doing bad, lived in wealth. (Gal. (6:9) It is also true that prolonged anguish can bring about physical sicknesses as well. No one, who has suffered spiritual weaknesses should be ashamed to seek out the congregation elders, as they will be able to strengthen and fortify him with biblical counseling and prayer so that there will be no future irrational thinking, which can lead to wrongdoing.
Acts 20:28 Revised Standard Version (RSV)
28 Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son.
and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. (5:14b)
The father does not hear the prayers of the wicked, but he does the prayer of the righteous one. (Pro. 15:29) The loving biblical counsel and prayers from the elders (the righteous), would be like calming oil, alleviating the fears and quieting the doubts of the spiritually weak one, enabling him to feel at peace (cheerful even), in that, God is hearing the prayers. (Ps. 23:5; Jer. 8:22) The “word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12) Scripture can be likened to the rubbing in of soothing oils. (Isa. 61:3) The soothing heartfelt voice of the elder as he prays to the Father will enable this weakened one to draw close to God once more. He can feel a relief of the weight he has been carrying lifted off his shoulders. He will come to realize that “Jehovah [i.e., the Father] is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” – Psalm 34:18, UASV.
This meeting with the elders would not be a onetime deal, as the weakened one would be helped over time so he could make a full recovery. This would include assigning someone to shepherd him in making a full spiritual recovery. This could include rides to meetings, visiting his home once a week, and so on. The one shepherding would do so in a biblical manner and would not depend on the wisdom of this fallen world, which is foolishness to God, but rather on the Word of God. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
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. (5:15)
Here is another reason to believe that we are talking about spiritual sickness or weakness over against the idea of physical sickness. This verse is an absolute guarantee that if the conditions are met, he will be restored. If it was physical, there could be no such guarantee, as God only miraculously heals those who have a role to play in his will and purposes. We all know of thousands that had tremendous faith, even the apostle Paul, and they still did not receive a physical healing. However, there can be an absolute guarantee when it comes to spiritual weaknesses. If a person receives prayers of faith from the elders and counsel from the Word of God, that they then apply, they can fully recover spiritually. The apostle John said, “If we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” (1 John 5:14) What we have here is the fact that it must be according to God’s will and purposes, and we only have the promise that he hears us, not that he will act on it. However, if it is a spiritual weakness, God will bless anyone that comes to him in faith and with a repentant heart.
Jesus said, “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matt. 21:22) Jesus also promised, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:14) We will get what we ask for if it is according to God’s will and purposes.
Philippians 4:13 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Bible scholar J. Vernon McGee writes:
Whatever Christ has for you to do, He will supply the power. Whatever gift He gives you, He will give the power to exercise that gift. A gift is a manifestation of the Spirit of God in the life of the believer. As long as you function in Christ, you will have power. He certainly does not mean that he is putting into your hand unlimited power to do anything you want to do. Rather, He will give you the enablement to do all things in the context of His will for you (McGee, Thru the Bible, V:327–8).
Matthew 6:30-34 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the nations eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
Keep Seeking Kingdom First
33 But be you seeking the Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own wickedness.
Have not faithful Christians gone hungry, even starved to death? Do not tens of thousands of Christian Children go to bed hungry every night around the world? Do not many Christian homes in this world lack water? Do not many thousands of Christian families live in rundown homes, having only dirty clothes and in some cases not even having shoes?
Let us also add that “the prayer of faith” alone by the elders is not going to help one recover their spiritual health. The spiritually weak one will have to evidence faith in the elder’s words and the wise counsel from the Word of God. Therefore, if one is to recover spiritually, the following conditions must be met:
- “the prayer of faith” must be by elders
- According to God’s will and purposes
- In Jesus name
- The elders must offer comfort and guidance from God’s Word
- The spiritually weak one must trust in the words of the elder and Scripture, acting on both
How do serious spiritual weaknesses come about? Generally, it is by irrational thinking or some behavior that had deteriorated. It can be a minor sin, which has gone on to become a serious sin, like flirting to fornication. It can be a person, who is practicing some sin, which he alone has been unable to get control over, like pornography. Living with a secret sin can be so weighty that it causes one to stumble out of the faith. Then, there are those that allow doubts about their faith, God, or the Bible to grow to the point that they fall away from the faith into apostasy, or simply just abandon the faith. Once the weight has gotten so heavy, this one does not feel worthy of approaching God in prayer, because he believes he is beyond repentance. Thus, the loving prayers from an elder combined with corrective counsel from God’s Word will calm his spirit.
Once the elders have some idea of the depth of what lead to this spiritual sickness, they can apply Bible counsel like soothing oils. Even if the spiritually weak one has committed some very serious sin (like David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, her husband), the elders can show him how God views the matter and Scripture on how he can make a recovery. This would come from the elders as a reproof for correction and for training in righteousness of the sick one. On this point, David wrote, “Let a righteous man strike me, it is a kindness; let him rebuke me, it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.” God will look approvingly upon such a humble person, who is able to bring his sins to another, as well as the prayers of the righteous elders. He will be willing to remove his sins as though they never were and call them to mind no more.
Psalm 6:2-4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
2 Show me favor, Jehovah, for I am growing weak;
heal me, Jehovah, for my bones are shaking.
3 My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O Jehovah—how long?
4 Turn, O Jehovah, deliver my soul;
save me for the sake of your loyal love.
 John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: James (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 138.
 Lit in
 Gr., zeteite; the verb form indicates continuous action.