PERFECT CHAPTER FOR THE CHAPTER WE'RE IN: It seems like James wrote these words for exactly what's happening right now as the Covid19 coronavirus ravages our world: disappearing wealth, difficulty remaining patient as things seem to spiral out of control, and healing prayers for the sick. However, as bad as things are now, every generation since James wrote this had times where these words seemed written just for them.
We get really good at masking over this fact with all of our busyness, but every so often reality reminds us that we live in a fallen, broken world where things are not the way they're supposed to be. In these times, you'll be glad that you've memorized James 5:7
Be patient then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord's coming.
FAITH HEALING? v15 is a perfect example of how to interpret a difficult verse. The NIV makes it sound like if you pray the right way (offered in faith) then it will automatically & consistently 'make the sick person well.' Unfortunately, we know from experience plenty of people who were prayed for very faithfully but did not become well. So is the Bible wrong here? It seems like it's making a statement contradicted by reality. However, following good rules of interpretation will help solve this dilemma:
STEP 1: Look at the context: We've seen that James is a collection of short, generalized sermons, not specific apostolic instructions given to a specific situation. They are things that are generally true, like the proverbs. We all know children who were trained very well in the way they should go, but who ended up going in the other direction. Those exceptions to the rule do not take away from the truthfulness of the proverb 'train a child in the way he should go and he will not depart from it.'
STEP 2: Compare translations: We mostly use the NIV because it most often is the best at accurately conveying God's Word in plain, everyday English. But it's not always the best, so just like we noticed yesterday, get in the habit of looking at several translations. Using BibleGateway to look at this verse in five different translations, it quickly becomes apparent that the NIV is out of step here. The ESV is representative of every other English translation:
NIV: the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well;
ESV: the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick,
Two big things stand out. First, the NIV makes it seem like prayer is the active agent, as in 'prayer (offered in faith) will make...' The ESV more clearly shows that it is faith that healing grace flows through: '(the prayer of) faith will save...' Secondly, and more importantly, are the difference in the verbs. The NIV's 'make well' most naturally refers to physical health, while the ESV's use of 'save' can be understood both physically and spiritually. This is reinforced by the words that follow: 'and the Lord will raise them up.'
STEP 3: Use the Bible to interpret the Bible: James interprets himself here in 4:15 - "You ought to say 'if it's the Lord's will...'" Clearly our plans and desires are not always in line with God's will, no matter how faithfully we ask. But mysteriously, our sovereign God sometimes doesn't act until we ask: 'The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective' (v16).
STEP 4: Ask for help: There are lots of good study Bibles, commentaries and other excellent resources available on the internet (as well as some not so good ones, so use discretion). Another excellent option is the comment box below. We've upgraded our service now so that I get alerted right way when questions come in. Ask early and ask often!
CONCLUSION: In working through these steps, we can conclude that we must turn to God in expectant prayer way more often than we usually do, and that He will often bring bring physical healing when we ask, but He will always provide salvation through faith.
ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: The Lord is full of compassion and mercy (v11b).
ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: The Judge is standing at the door (v9), so align your life with His will.
ASK GOD FOR WHAT YOU NEED: The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (v16).