Trinity Four, Sunday July 14, 2019 — James 5:13-20 — Do You Know What To Do?
Sermon for Trinity Four (9/30/07) Sunday July 14, 2019
Calvary/Marquette ● Soli Deo Gloria
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
James 5:13-20 (NKJV)
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. 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 sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit. 19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.
In the Name of Jesus Christ,
In whom our prayers our heard,
Thru whom our sins are forgiven,
In whom we all want to remain,
Dear Fellow Redeemed by His Blood –
“I don’t know what to do. I feel so helpless.”
Have you ever been at your wits end? Have you ever been confronted by a string of difficult hardships or sicknesses to the point where you feel as if you don’t know what to do?
Well, in the closing words of the Epistle of James, the Holy Spirit gives us what we need, Godly direction. The Holy Spirit turns our thoughts to prayer, to praise, to confession and absolution, and enables the Christ-like love of others. He offers us a simple approach worthy of our attention and emulation. We need to be reminded in the first place:
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.
There are times, in our human weakness, that we act as if the Lord Jesus is far away. However, even though Jesus has ascended into heaven and has promised to return to judge the living and the dead…that doesn’t mean he’s far away. He is as close to us as prayer.
In fact, He is present with us now, for He promises us that where two or three are gathered in His name, He is in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20). If you are suffering misfortune or hardship, pray to the Triune God and seek relief through Jesus, your mediator with God.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t only give us advice for when things go poorly.
Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.
We certainly need this encouragement, don’t we?
When things go well, when we are in a good mood and loving life…we don’t have trouble finding things to do. Unfortunately, one of the things we probably don’t do when cheerful is to take the time to thank the Lord or sing His praise. We are to center our thoughts on Jesus, in times that are difficult and good. God grant us the grace to remember also to sing praise to God in the sunshine and in the beautiful weather!
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 sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
What is your plan of action when you get sick? What’s the first thing to do if you wake up dizzy and nauseous? Well, for many the first plan of action is to call the doctor, to obtain his diagnosis and any prescribed medications. Some turn to natural remedies or food remedies. Still others stay hydrated and let the sickness take its course.
Each of these approaches can be beneficial…but we ought to first take the matter to our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier in prayer.
We might also bring it to the attention of our fellow believers…that they might pray for us or even serve us during our infirmity.
In this case, the Spirit of God urged his readers to call for the elders of the church, or as we might say it today: call the pastor. It’s part of the pastor’s job to bring the word of God to encourage and uplift.
In the early days of the Christian church, some congregations had several pastors (cf. Acts 20:17ff) who managed the spiritual affairs of the congregation and saw to the instruction and teaching.
Jesus, still today, calls and sends Pastors to serve in this way. If you we ill or are hospitalized, make a point of calling on the Pastor. Don’t assume that the pastor knows you are sick or has been told by someone else. Give him a call, or ask someone reliable to do so, so that at the very least he can keep you in his prayers and encourage your fellow believers to pray for you until he is able to visit personally.
The Lord wants your pastor to be there for you in time of need, but he can’t be if he doesn’t know.
What were the ‘pastors’ to do when called?
They were to pray ‘over’ or ‘for’ the sick person. Jesus not only loves to hear individual prayers, but also the joint prayers of His people who are united in faith and in His Word.
It’s not the prayer itself that heals of course, but the Lord who heals, who hears and answers the prayers of His own, as it is written (Psalm 34:15):
15 The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry.
The elders of that day were also to anoint the sick with oil in the name of the Lord. Is this a command still in effect today? Should the pastor bring olive oil and anoint his sick members? Is it another sacrament or something else?
Is that too many questions? Let’s take them one at a time.
Is this a command that applies to us today? No, it’s not an imperative, not a command that applies to us (in fact, it’s a participle). We are not commanded here or anywhere else in Scripture to anoint the sick with oil.
Was or is this a sacrament or something else?
The word ‘anoint’ leaves the impression that this was a religious, symbolic, perhaps even sacramental procedure. It wasn’t a sacrament then, nor should it be considered one today. How do we know? The Holy Spirit saw to it that the New Testament was recorded using very specific language.
When someone was ‘anointed’ in a sacramental or religious way a very specific word was used (like when a priest or king was anointed, set apart for their office). That word is not used here, but another word that means simply to apply oil.
Even as we don’t speak of anointing an engine with oil, but oil it; so here James isn’t speaking of a sacred anointing, but to a common application of oil (common…except that it was done in the name of the Lord).
Why would they oil the sick? There are a couple of possibilities.
First of all, in those days, olive oil wasn’t only used to cook, but for medicinal purposes, as a balm or ointment. In Jesus parable of the Good Samaritan, oil was used as an ointment, for the Samaritan (Luke 10:34):
“…went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.”
In some cases, the application of oil may have been used to bear witness to the healing power of the Lord…if the Lord chose to heal that person.
What made it special was that it was done ‘in the name of the Lord.’ It was done calling upon the LORD. It was a reminder to the sick that the LORD was the healer. The oil was an outward sign that the LORD would heal if it was his will, it was neither a sacrament, or a reference to last rites.
Now it goes without saying that if the Pastor comes to visit in the hospital, he won’t only chat about the weather or your health. The Pastor comes to bring God’s Word. The Pastor is as concerned about your spiritual health as your physical health.
Likewise, the elders (pastors) of that day were not only encouraged to pray for and apply oil to help in physical healing…but also see to the spiritual health of the individual. If someone is was troubled by their sins, they were in need of the spiritual comfort that confession and absolution in the Name of the Lord provides.
When a person has sinned, their conscience can so trouble them that it actually leads to physical symptoms and sickness. In the Psalms, King David refers to this type of thing when he says (Psalm 32:3, consider the context):
3 When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long.
The Pastor isn’t the only one who can pray or hear a confession and announce God’s forgiveness, for God’s Word goes on to declare:
Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed
earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.
Our Heavenly Father wants us to confess our sins and admit our guilt (not only generally, but also specifically). In fact, God warns us in His Word about trying to cover up our sins.
God’s will in this matter is expressed simply and beautifully in Proverbs 28:13:
13 He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.
We gladly confess our sins to God, and seek His mercy in Christ Jesus the Savior. We do this because the Holy Spirit has worked in us by both Law and Gospel.
We may begin and end each day privately confessing our sins as Martin Luther did in his morning and evening prayers. But it is also helpful when personally troubled by our sins to hear someone else assure us on the basis of God’s Word: “Your sins are forgiven.”
We confess our sins publicly in our worship service and are told that our sins are forgiven in Christ. If burdened by a particular sin, you may come privately to the pastor and confess your sin. What you discuss with Him of a private nature will remain private.
He will be glad to direct you to Christ and assure you that your sins are forgiven because of Jesus’ sacrificial death.
We may also confess our sins privately to another Christian. After all, every Christian is a priest before God (1 Peter 2:5ff) and may announce God’s forgiveness when a troubled sinner comes and confesses their sin and faith in Christ.
We also learn here that it is God’s Will that we pray for one another! It can be a source of great comfort to know that your fellow believers are privately and publicly praying for you, because we are here assured:
The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
Even as the pastor needs to know if you are sick or hospitalized, so if your fellow believers are to pray for you it’s helpful if they know you are in need! While I respect the request, I don’t understand why some people will say: “Don’t tell anyone about my sickness/surgery.” Why? You don’t want your fellow believers, who care for you to take the matter to the Lord in prayer?
Our prayers are heard and answered because God is our Father through faith in Jesus. We have the ear of the Creator of Heaven and Earth! We have in prayer a great and powerful blessing if we but use it!
The Apostle Paul once wrote that it was His earnest desire that all his countrymen be saved. We also, like our Savior, want all men to be saved.
It should also be our prayer and earnest desire that those who have forgotten or turned away from the Truth of the Bible to sin…be restored. Even more than our prayer, it should be our business.
Notice the closing words of the Epistle of James:
Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.
Please notice my brothers and sisters that the Holy Spirit doesn’t say: “If anyone wanders from the truth and the elders turn him back…”
While it is a sober duty and concern of the pastor, the Holy Spirit speaks to every believer by using the all-inclusive word: someone. If someone (anyone) turns someone back to the Christian life or true teaching, that person (whoever they are) have helped to save a soul from death.
In turning back that person to Christ who has the authority and power to forgive sins, a multitude of sins are covered.
God grant us His Grace and fill us with the Love of Christ, so that we know what to do, and:
- Pray in Trouble.
- Sing praise when cheerful.
- Call upon God’s servant when sick.
- Seek opportunity to comfort those troubled by sin.
- Seek to turn those who stray back to the truth.
May He work mightily through us all!