Caring for the Brethren
(James 5: 12 - 20)
12 But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your "Yes," be "Yes," and your "No," "No," lest you fall into judgment.
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.
James 5: 12 But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but let your yes be yes, and your no, no: so that you may not fall under judgment.
This verse seems to mirror the verse quoted by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.
Matt 5: 13 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:
Matt 5:34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne:
Jesus, here is not talking about bad language but taking an oath in God’s name.
There was the custom that people had of linking God with an oath and thus attempting to force God to act on their behalf by implicating him in their promise. EG: As God is my witness. I swear in God’s name.
If this is what James is alluding to it is in line with the previous paragraph in which he discusses our tendency to use God as a means of accomplishing our own ends. That may be what James is referring to here.
But he may also be referring to the widespread practice of dishonesty. People simply were not honest. They were untrustworthy and couldn't be counted upon. One never knew when their word was true and so there grew up the practice of oath taking to insure honesty. (I swear on my mother’s grave or my baby’s life etc.
This has also become common practice in our time too.
James is saying, an oath should not be necessary.
Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Don’t mess about, tell the truth. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
The practice of a Christian is always to be truthful. Paul reminds us in his letters.
Colossians 3 that we are not to lie to one another, since we have put off the old man and his practices and have put on the new man which is being conformed to the image of God after true knowledge.
Col 3:9 Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;
We should always be truthful. If we make a promise, we should keep it. Our witness for Christ is affected if we lie, exaggerate the truth or hide the truth. Christians should keep a promise that is made and not give our word and then break it.
A mark of a faithful Christian is that you can depend on his word.
The law knows that certain people are not honest, and it is likely that people will lie to cover their wrongdoings and so society developed the system of taking an oath in court. Swearing an oath on the Bible or some other holy book, to declare that one will tell the truth.
To declare that one will tell the truth is not wrong in this situation.
However today, this is not always applied. Nowadays, they can just say, “I swear to tell the truth”.
The point being in this passage, that we should not as Christians need to swear an oath, as we should always tell the truth.
Although we find that Jesus Himself used terms like “I tell you the truth”,
Joh 16:7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.
He wasn’t saying up to now, I have not been telling the truth, what He was saying is, I am not speaking in parables and this is something that you need to take notice of.
In other translations this term is "Amen, amen I say to you" - "Believe me" - "I assure you" - "I can guarantee this truth" - "Most assuredly, I say to you" - "Omein, omein, (Amen, Amen) I say to you" - "The truth of the matter is".
From this list, it appears that most of the listed translations use something like "Truly/Verily/Amen I say to you"; but the rest use words that appear intended to convey a meaning like "Here is an important truth". That is, the emphasis is not on the idea that Jesus is telling the truth, but on the fact that the truth Jesus is telling is significant and important to listen to.
James 5: 13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.
This is the message taught in James chapter 1, of patience in suffering,
Jas 1:2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
Jas 1:3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
We have seen how James reminds us that we are not in control of our circumstances. We don’t know what tomorrow holds, or even the next minutes. All our plans can fail in a moment.
All we do know is that trial and suffering is part of life and we are exhorted to cast our cares on Christ.
We bring our lives with all its problems and lay them before the Lord.
If things are going well, we should praise God, if things are going bad, we should praise God.
In all circumstances, give thanks.
1 Thess 5: 18 In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
James 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.
VV14 & 15 are verses that are debated quite a lot today. There are those that would advocate that these verses are not relevant in the church today. That the Apostles, were the ones that healed the sick and worked miracles, that this was God’s way of attesting the truth of the Gospel. Whilst this was indeed true, it is not teaching that these things are not relevant for today.
We see this by the fact that these verses are not addressed solely to the Apostles but to elders of the churches.
James is trying to teach here the same things that he has been speaking about throughout his letter, practical Christian life in the church, how Christians are to act and behave in the fellowship of believers.
Loving Selflessly, Taming the tongue, Humbling oneself before God, Caring for the brethren, Impartiality, Trusting God rather than building up wealth and possessions and Exercising patience whilst waiting for the coming of Christ.
Here again James is exhorting the church to care for each other in all areas of Christian life.
We should be concerned about those brethren that are suffering trials or are physically sick. Whilst we have much more in the way of medication and medical treatment today than in the days of James, we realise that it is God who is still in control of all things.
So whether we anoint with oil and pray for recovery, or we pray for a brother or sister who is undergoing medical treatment, we must recognise that these things are under the sovereignty of God. We pray that God will work out His purposes in each situation.
If God wills to heal in a miraculous way, or though the medical profession, it is still His working.
Nothing is impossible with God.
God sometimes chooses to heal through medical means but that does not mean that the brethren should not pray for the sick.
We know from scripture that healings and miracles happened following the preaching of the Apostle Paul, yet we see times when this did not happen.
In Philippians 2:27 Epaphroditus was sick to the point of death.
2Ti 4:20 Erastus abode at Corinth: but Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick.
Why did Paul not heal Trophimus? The answer is simple. The power to heal didn't originate from within Paul. It came from God, and God could and apparently did choose to slowly withdraw the gift of miraculous healing from the Early Church. It wasn't Paul's lack of compassion for his friend.
These signs and wonders were done to attest the fact that what the Apostles were teaching, was the Word of God.
1 Cor 13:10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
When the Word became mature, there was no need for signs and wonders to prove it.
God has finally spoken through His Son, Heb 1.
However, we must always remember, it is God’s prerogative to work in whatever way He desires. Ours is the duty to pray.
Can God raise someone up from a sick bed, absolutely but it is Him that does it.
V15 The prayer of faith will save the sick.
The “save the sick” spoken of James 5: 15 is not necessarily physical—if it were, then no believer should ever die and all the sick would be healed !
However, we know that this is not always the case. Many Christians do die from disease or injury every year, but this doesn’t mean they are lacking faith or that those praying for them lack faith.
It simply means that it was not the Lord’s will to heal in that particular instance. The prayer of faith is offered in faith, and part of faith is trusting that God knows best.
Those who pray should be unwavering in their confidence that God will always do what is right. Having prayed the prayer of faith, we can cheerfully commit our lives into God’s hands. The restoration of the sick, as a result of the prayer of faith includes emotional, spiritual restoration that comes in the form of God’s comfort and peace.
The second part of verse 15: And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
Many of the Jews believed that all sickness was a result of sin.
However, we know from the words of Christ that this is not so.
John 9: 1 Now as Jesus was passing by, He saw a man blind from birth,
2 and His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God would be displayed in him.…
A sickness may well be the result of sin, as we know that sexual sins can result in transmitted diseases, or the abuse of one’s body with alcohol, drugs, smoking and other excesses but this is not always the case.
The exhortation by James for the church, is that we should uphold our brethren irrespective of the problem and trust in God to work in that situation.
Jas 5:16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
Jas 5:17 Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.
Jas 5:18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.
As Christians, we tend to hide our shortcomings from each other, choosing to go it alone. James is not saying here that we should tell everybody all our faults but if we have a problem that needs addressing, we don’t need to be alone, we can share our burden and receive help from the fellowship. Sometimes just to share it can help and knowing that others are praying for us in our problem can help to strengthen us and be part of our deliverance. It is better for more of us to pray than just praying on our own.
If a member of our body aches, do we not rub it?
How much more should we minister to a member of the body of Christ.
We are all human and subjection to temptation and sin, we are all contending against the world, the flesh and the Devil.
Note: the promise in the last part of verse 16: "The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much."
The prayers of righteous men work. They are effective. What we must remember is that we are of the body of Jesus Christ and we have been judged righteous in the sense that God has declared us righteous, justified in Christ.
V17. Elias was a man such as us, subject to the same passions, yet he sought God and God heard.
As an illustration James uses Elijah who was a man with a nature like ours, i.e., a human nature with its limitations, and yet God in response to his prayer controlled the forces of nature.
If prayer can control the forces of nature, how much more can it control our human nature.
Why is this so? Because our prayer is directed to God, who can change all of us and step into our circumstance with healing.
Prayer will heal the sinning brother and make him whole.
Jas 5:19 Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;
Jas 5:20 Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.
James recognises the possibility of any one of us being enticed away from the truth to one degree or another.
The Christians of James day were dogged by multiple heresies infiltrating the church. The Concision, The Judizers, those who demanded that even though one had been converted to Christ, they still expected that they keep the laws of Judaism, especially circumcision. Also, The Ebionites – (the poor ones), Christians who maintain customs of the Jewish Law. Also Gnosticism, Dualism.
It is no different today, heresies abound in Christendom. The denial of the deity of Christ, the resurrection, the existence of eternal hell, those that teach salvation by works not faith. Those that propagate a universal salvation.
This is why it is so important for the church to stick closely to the teachings of scripture, testing all teaching by the Word of God.
False teachers abounded in the time of James and as Christ warned in:
Mat 24:5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
Mat 24:11 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.
Mat 24:24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
Especially new Christians are in danger of being drawn away from the truth by charismatic personalities and seeker sensitive churches.
Our fellowships, especially our leaders need to be very aware of what heresies are circulating in the churches and keep the flock guarded against them.
If we see someone from our number erring from the truth, it is important to speak with them and warn them.
If we recognise that there are those that have never come to a knowledge of the truth, it is our duty to share with them the true Gospel, praying for them speaking with them about their spiritual condition.
If any become disheartened in the faith and struggle with assurance of salvation, it is up to each of us to uphold them in prayer and do all that we can to bring them back into the way.
God has given each of us, gifts but these gifts are not for us but for the edification of the body of Christ.
God has placed each one of us in our place in the local body. Each of us has a ministry, whether it is serving, helps, counselling, giving, hospitality, teaching, preaching, praying, or any other ministry.
It is up to us to exercise that God given gift for the benefit of the fellowship.