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Leadership #14 - James 5

Elders as Caregivers
James 5:13-20

Teaching Moments

1. I think this section should be read as a unit. While 5:7-12 calls for patience on the part of those who are suffering (probably, the suffering inflicted by the rich upon the poor; see verses 1, 6, 7, 10), 5:13-20 addresses a wider concern about sickness and sin. How does a church deal with sickenss and sin in its midst?

2. The text begins with three questions: (1) any of you suffering hardship (same as word in v. 10)?, (2) any of you happy?; and (3) any of you sick? The corresponding answers are: (1) pray; (2) sing praises; and (3) call the elders to pray.

3. The sick person should call for the "elders of the church". This is an
act of faith on the part of the sick, but it also reflects the particular responsibility of the elders. They are caregivers for the sick; they have a special responsibility of prayer. This text is more about the power of prayer than it is elders, but it does reflect a special call for the elders to be praying people. They are "righteous men" who pray effective prayers.

4. The "anointing" probably refers to a physical act of pouring olive oil or medicinal oil on the person. It may be symbolic (thus, representing blessing, the power of the Spirit) or it may be medicinal in purpose (thus, a medical application), but in either case it reflects the caregiving task of the elders. I think it is most likely medicinal in purpose though is probably never without symbolic import. Consequently, it is probably both!

5. The "prayer of faith" is probably a reference to the faith of the elders, but may also include the sick person. It is the kind of prayer that makes a difference here--it is the prayer of faith (not doubt; cf. James 1:6-7). Thus, there is are tremendous responsibility on the part of the elders to be men of lifing, vital faith and prayer.

6. The qualified promise of healing is similar to other unqualified statements associated with prayer (cf. Matt. 21:22; Mark 9:23; 11:22-26; Luke 11:5-13). These are general statements that are themselves dependent upon the will of God. God must ultimately decide how to answer the prayer
of faith, but the assurance is that God will listen and act. God has reasons for saying "No" sometimes (cf. 2 Cor. 12:8-9).

7. The connection between sin and sickness is made here though it is not absolute. The sick one will be healed, and if he has committed any sin, then he will be forgiven. Some sicknesses are related to sin, but not all are (as Job, in James 5:11). Where there is correlation, however, there must be prayer for sin as well as sickness.

8. Prayer for sin involves confession of sin to each other. This is a mutual confession, not a priestly one. It is a mutual prayer. Here the prayer function extends to the whole body now, not just the elders.

9. The Elijah story illustrates the power of prayer, and notice how he grounds the Elijah story in the humanity and power of prayer. Elijah is just like us and we can pray just like him with similar effects. It is the righteous prayer that is effective, not status of prophet. There are no miracles here, just the power of prayer. Prayer is effective.

10. Just as we have a mutual responsibility of prayer for each other, we also have a mutual responsibility of bring each other back from the brink of sin and its effects. We should turn the wandering sinner back to
God. This may also, just like prayer, be a primary function for elders. While both prayer and restoration are mutual responsibilities, both are also enhanced responsibilities for elders.

Discussion Questions

1. Do you think this "call for the elders" to pray for the sick is practiced much these days? Has it been practiced in your experience? If not, why do you think? What is the responsibility of the sick person in this instance?

2. What does it say about the function of elders (shepherds) that they are the ones called to pray for the sick? How does this fit into the larger dimensions of "shepherding"?

3. What is the power of prayer here? Why is the prayer of righteous people or the prayer of faith effective? What is significant about that point?

4. Why is the prayer of Elijah an example for us? Was not that a miracle? Or, perhaps it wasn't.

5. Why is it difficult to believe in the power of prayers?

6. Can you testify today about some answered prayers in your experience? How did they evidence the power of prayer and faith in your life?


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