MisUnderstood: the Bible on sickness and healing, part 4

If I can be sad about being sick and I can even want to be healed and I know God is able to heal, should I expect that God will always heal me?

In our previous post, we have seen, the short answer is no.

But now for the longer answer.

I want us to look at a passage that people often go to in order to say that God has to heal.

James chapter 5.

Verses 13-20. 

Where James is talking about someone who is sick.  

And actually, in the context, he’s talking about a number of different life circumstances, and what to do.

He says. 

Is anyone among you suffering, then do this, and then, is anyone cheerful, then do this, and verse. 


Is anyone among you sick? 

And then James, makes a pretty incredible promise, which confuses some people. 

Because He says in verse 15.  

“The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick.”

Which is why some people ask, doesn’t that mean, obviously, it’s always God’s will to heal.

If you just have enough faith?  

After all. 

It’s a promise. 

But the thing is you have to make sure you slow down, and understand the promise, before you claim it. 

Because while it’s true James is talking about a person who is sick.  

If you look closer, He’s not talking about just any person who is sick. 

Like, If I have a cold. Pray in faith. 

Or. If I have a bad ankle. Pray in faith. 

That’s not, who he’s talk about exactly. 

And we know that because if you look at verse 15, where he says that the prayer offered in faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.  

And the term he uses in verse 15 for sick, means, to be sick to the point of death.  

So, James is not just talking about an ordinary every day occurrence. And, that’s pretty clear just, by the fact he says the Lord has to raise him up.  

I mean, the Lord has to heal him  so he can even get out of bed.  

He’s seriously sick.

And what’s he to do?  

Because this is important, too.

Notice James switches things up in verse 13. 

He says, if you are suffering, you pray. 

And if you are doing well, you sing praises.  

But if you are seriously sick? He doesn’t say, you pray.

Instead, He says.  

“Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him…”

So, here’s the situation. 

Here’s someone who is so sick he can’t go to the elders, so he summons them to come to him, and James says their primary purpose for coming is to pray.  

That’s the main verb in verse 14.  

“Let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the lord.”

And I know, It’s easy to get caught up with the anointing with oil, but that’s not the main point.  And, notice, James doesn’t say anything about consecrating it. Or even about it being a special kind of oil either. 

The main thing the elders do is to pray over him. And, as they pray, or probably, before they pray, they anoint the sick person with oil, which is a symbol, I think, from the Old Testament.  

And an encouragement here. 

Basically, they anoint him with oil before they pray, as a physical reminder that God cares about him. 

And James says, “The prayer offered in faith will save the one who is sick.  

Which is the promise. 

And in case we didn’t understand what that promise means, he goes on, the Lord will raise him up.  

In other words, you can be confident, God will respond to your prayers by causing this man who is physically weak to be able to get up.  

He’s going to restore him to health. 

Which is the part, again, where people get tripped up because, I know, it says the prayer in faith is going to heal him. 

But you’ve got to make sure you look at the context. 

Because while this is a really sick person, is he just any really sick person? 

I don’t think so. 

As you look down at James, 5, the first thing, that stands out, is, something out of the ordinary is going on.  

Because you know, he doesn’t say call the elders, if you are suffering. And, if you are rejoicing he doesn’t say call the elders. But here this guy is sick and he says you’ve got to call the elders.

So you’ve got to ask, why?

I mean, why can’t this guy just pray for himself?  Why can’t he just call a couple of friends?  Why do the elders need to come, specifically? 

And, then if you keep going, the next thing you notice, is that James talks about being sick and then all of the sudden in verse 15, he talks about your sins being forgiven.  

“And the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”

And, what causes him to say that?  

You know? 

What causes him to think not just about this person’s sickness, but about this person’s sin?

And, then, you notice, and you’ve got to circle this, James begins verse 16 by saying therefore. In light of what I just said about getting sick, and calling the elders to pray for you, and, your sins being forgiven and you being healed.

This is how you ought to respond. 

You ought to confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.  

What is going on here?  

And then if you look, James ends this passage in verse 19 and 20 by talking about a sinner who strays from the truth, and about a person who turns him back.  

And listen, in case you are not following. 

I am saying, there’s sin in verse 15, sin in verse 16, and, sin in verse 19 and 20, as well.

And then, I think, the key to understanding the whole thing, actually, is found in verses 17 and 18 where James gives an illustration. 

He says.

“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months.  And he prayed again, and the sky poured rain, and the earth produced its fruit.”

And, you remember, Elijah was a prophet. 

And, during his ministry the people of God sinned in a big way. And, obviously, God takes sin very seriously.  And one of the ways He promised to discipline His people for their sin in the. Old Testament was by withholding the rain. 

And that’s what happened.  

Elijah told them God was going to punish them, for their sins, by withholding the rain. And, he even prayed about it. And God heard him.  And for three and half years Israel experienced a terrible drought.  God punished the nation with physically because of their unrepentant sin.  


The thing is. 

God not only gave this warning. 

He also gave a promise. 

He says. 

“If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain…and My people who are called by Name humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and forgive their sin, and will heal the land.”  

And that’s, exactly what happened. 

Israel sinned.  

And God punished them. And Elijah confronted the people.  And, they repented.  And so they no longer needed that physical discipline for their sin.  And, soo Elijah prayed and it started to rain.  

The people were punished physically because of their unrepentant sin, and, then they were shown mercy when they repented, of their sin, and the means God used to accomplish that was one righteous man’s prayers.  


Here’s how this story ties in. 

Because we know, obviously., not all sickness is the result of personal sin.   

But sometimes, God disciplines his people for their sin through physical sickness.  

Which is, what’s happening in James 5.  

You’ve got a guy who’s sick.  And, his sickness is this wake up call about some particular sins, he has not repented of, so he calls the elders of the church, and he confesses his sin, and, they pray over him and anoint him with oil.  

They offer up a prayer of faith.  

Which is not a special kind of prayer.   

I know, you’ve probably heard people say if a sick person prays and has enough faith he’ll be healed. And if he isn’t healed, it was because he wasn’t praying with faith. 

But, you realize, James isn’t even talking about the sick person’s faith, anyway, is he?  

He’s talking about the elders praying a prayer of faith.  

And, so if that’s what he were talking about, if anyone had a problem it would be the elder’s, but that’s not what he is talking about, he’s just saying the elders need to pray, trusting God’s promises. 

And if “…the condition of sickness for unrepentant sin is dealt with according to James 5, the repentant Christian will be healed because there is no longer a need for the discipline.”  

Do you understand? 

The main point is not so much about the sickness, it’s about dealing with this person’s sin.  Which is what causes James to say, in verses 19 and 20, if someone strays from the truth and you help turn him back, you’ve saved his soul from death.  That’s what is happening here in this context.  And that’s why James says in verse 16, “Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed…”  

I mean, that’s not about getting together in little groups and confessing our sins to one another randomly. 

Instead that’s, James saying, look, in light of what I just told you about, what can happen, when you don’t repent of sin, before it gets that far, you should deal with your sin on a regular basis. Instead of refusing to repent, and God having to bring you low, confess your sin to one another and repent of it, and pray for each other, and that will keep you from needing to be disciplined with this particular of kind of physical punishment, by God.  

This is not a promise that it is always God’s will to heal. 

Sometimes God heals. He raises Lazarus from the dead. But, then later, Lazarus died. He’s not around anymore. So sometimes he doesn’t. 

One thought on “MisUnderstood: the Bible on sickness and healing, part 4

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s