James 5:16

Friday, 13 September 2019

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. James 5:16

The words of James assume that this is referring to sickness which is a result of some sort of sin. Paul refers to such a situation in his first letter to the Corinthians –

“For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.” 1 Corinthians 11:29, 30

John goes so far as to note sins that lead to death –

“If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death.” 1 John 5:16, 17

For this reason, meaning sickness, James says first to “Confess your trespasses to one another.” Vincent’s Word Studies notes that “The preposition ἐξ, forth, out, implies full, frank, open confession, and so in every case of its use in the New Testament.” There is to be honesty in the confession by the one who is confessing. When one hides a matter, there can be no trust. Therefore, a full confession of the sin to one another is needed so that the prayers are unhindered. If those praying don’t have a knowledge of what is to be prayed for, how can healing for that particular affliction be brought before the Lord?

In James’ words, there can be no doubt that he is tying the sickness to some type of committed sin. But is this a particular punishment that God has brought upon the person because of the sin, or is it merely a consequence of the sin? In other words, if someone is doing something he should not be doing, like over-drinking, is this leading to the sickness? Or could it also be that the conscience is its own means of bringing about sickness? A guilty conscience can bring about all kinds of other health problems as well.

What is probably the case is that all three possibilities are on James’ mind. He notes that there is sickness, he notes that there is sin in the person’s life, and he notes that the two are connected. The actual reason for the sin leading to sickness is less important than the fact that the two are, in fact, connected. He calls for confession, he then calls for prayers by those who have heard the confession, and he says that healing can be effected through this.

With this understood, he then says that “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” The Greek rightly puts the stress elsewhere. The English Revised Version says, “The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working.” It is the working of a prayer in this regard which brings much about. Using the word “effective” does not convey the sense of operation, but the outcome of it, which is simply a truth which is then conveyed by the words “avails much.”

The idea here is that the prayer of “a righteous man,” meaning a believer in Christ, has great ability to bring about change. But it must be understood that God does not change. Therefore, a prayer is something that God knew would happen or would not happen. It is asked, “If God does not change, then why pray?” The answer is that God responds to prayers in the sense of having prefigured them into His unfolding plans. Just because God knows the outcome of things does not mean that those things do not need to occur. Prayer is what we do in the stream of time. The response to a prayer is what God has done outside of time. So be sure to pray. A prayer not made is a prayer that will not be responded to.

Life application: This verse pretty much sums up the entire biblical basis for Roman Catholic confessionals and priests serving as intermediaries in the forgiveness process. It is one verse, taken out of context, to justify this unscriptural practice.

Rather, the Bible very clearly proclaims in 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” If Christ is our Mediator, then there is absolutely no need for priests to serve in this manner. Further, confession in a confessional is not what is implied here. Instead, healing and restoration can come about by simply getting the matter out, instead of carrying it inside – something that leads to stress, ulcers, neuroses, etc. Although descriptive in nature, the following account from Acts is what James is referring to –

“And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. 19 Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver.” Acts 19:18, 19

As you can see, these people openly confessed their wrongdoing. The result was that the “word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.” This is the goal of confession and prayers for healing – that the Lord may be glorified and that we may be healed. Take all things in context and do not be kept in bondage by misapplication of verses which leads to the gain of those who misapply them.

Thank You Jesus for being our Mediator! Help us to remember that it is God who forgives and it is You who sends our petitions to the Father. You are the Bridge of restoration and healing. All glory to You – our precious Mediator and Advocate on high! Amen.

Leave a Reply