These small group studies of James contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications. Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.
James 5:13-20 Inductive Bible Study
I. Responding to situation’s God’s way (13-14)
II. The prayer of the righteous is effective (15-18)
III. Help the one who is straying to turn back (19-20)
I. Responding to situation’s God’s way (13-14)
- What are some common negative responses to suffering?
- How should a believer respond to suffering in this passage?
- If we are suffering, what should we pray for?
- Will God always take away the trial from us?
- What is the use of praying if God isn’t going to take away the trial?
- What does a prayerful attitude show about our heart?
- What does singing praises show about your heart?
- What is the typical response of unbelievers when they are sick?
- Who are they reliant on?
- What are elders?
- What should you do if your church doesn’t have any elders?
- What is the purpose of anointing?
- What are some reasons God may choose not to heal someone?
Philippians 4:6 – Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Psalms 27:13-14 – I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
Psalms 55:22 – Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.
On singing praises
Psalms 105:2 – Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.
Ephesians 5:19 – Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,
Colossians 3:16 – Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
Mark 6:13 – They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
Psalms 30:2 – Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me.
Sin leading to death
1 John 5:16 – If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that.
1. Is anyone suffering? – The word for suffering here is a general word referring to emotional or mental suffering or both, but is not to be confused with the word for sick in verse fourteen. In the church there are bound to be people who are suffering. You likely know people who are facing difficult trials and may be facing one yourself. James tells us how we are to react to that suffering.
If we have any affliction or trial, we are to take it to God to receive His comfort, wisdom, and help. In short, pray. This doesn’t guarantee that the source of the affliction will go away, just as Paul’s thorn in the flesh did not go away. So do not let it weaken your faith if you pray for a difficulty to go away and it doesn’t.
God doesn’t promise to take all afflictions away from us, but He does promise to give us His joy and peace (John 15:11). He also promises to cause all things to work for good to those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Turning to Him in prayer shows that we are reliant upon Him. Through prayer we can align our actions to His will and our attitudes to His desires. Sometimes when the going gets tough, we may give up, complain, or even doubt God. But all of these are sinful, fleshly responses. God is the ultimate comforter and knows exactly what we are going through. We should turn to Him during difficult times. Nothing in the world (chocolate, entertainment, psychologists, or friends) can fully comfort you.
2. Sing praises to God – How about if everything is going smoothly and we are doing well? James says that when you are cheerful, you should sing praises to God. Singing is a way we can respond to God’s goodness by proclaiming our thankfulness for His abundant blessings. It shows that we recognize that God is the source for the good things that happen in our lives. Every good thing is from above.
If we are not relying on God, we may forget God during difficult times, thinking that we can “go it alone”. We may become prideful, giving credit to ourselves for our good fortune. We may become boastful. All of these are sinful, fleshly responses. In good times or in bad, we need to turn to God and show our reliance upon Him.
3. Interpretative challenge – Starting in verse 14 this is a difficult passage to understand fully. We will take it piece by piece.
The Problem – The Greek word for “sick” in verse 14 is “asthenia”. This basically means “to be weak” and it could refer to spiritual or physical weakness. But another word for sick is used in verse 15, “kamno”. This means something like “fatigue”. It might describe a book that has been used so much it is worn out. Sometimes it is used of those who are already dead. So physically it denotes a very serious illness, one which would indicate that death is imminent. This is the problem, extreme sickness.
Furthermore, it is assumed in the passage that the person in question is a believer. This is indicated because James is writing to believers, because the person is under the authority of the elders in the church, because the person is showing reliance on God (verse 13), and because the person would want their sins forgiven (verse 15). This fact makes it very clear that this passage is not some form of the gift of healing where a person is automatically healed as a sign of God’s power. Because if it was referring to the gift of healing, anyone could be healed, including unbelievers.
The Solution – The sick believer is to call for the elders. This is another indication that his illness is quite serious. Probably he is not very mobile. Elders are overseers in the church. Their responsibility is to shepherd the flock. Qualifications for elders are listed in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3. Basically, these are righteous men who live out their faith in God day to day. Because of their upstanding lives, gifts, and role in the local church, they have been recognized as elders.
If a person is critically ill, he should invite the leaders of the church to come. Note that the sick person takes this initiative. These godly men are then to come and pray over the sick person and anoint him in the name of the Lord.
What is this anointing?
Scripture contains different types of anointing. Often anointing is symbolic as when kings are anointed. Sometimes it was medicinal. Because actual oil doesn’t have much effect on many kinds of sicknesses, we can infer that the anointing is symbolic and is meant to demonstrate God’s healing power and His compassion on the sick. Using real oil would be acceptable to show symbolically God’s healing power, but words of comfort and encouragement should be offered as well.
It is the elders who pray and it is their faith that is mentioned as being important. While the sick person has demonstrated a certain amount of faith by calling the elders, it is not even his prayer that is mentioned. It would appear that his faith has little to do with the result. So the sometimes made assertion that “you weren’t healed because you didn’t have enough faith” doesn’t fit with Scripture. If anything, it would be the elders’ lacking faith. That is why you need to call for the spiritually mature and not a television healer.
II. The prayer of the righteous is effective (15-18)
- Does verse 15 guarantee that the sick person will be healed?
- What is a condition?
- Does this mean if you pray for the sick and they aren’t healed it is because you don’t have enough faith?
- Why confess our sins to one another?
- Isn’t God the one forgives?
- Isn’t it enough to confess directly to God?
- Does this passage support the idea of confessing to a priest?
- How do we understand verse 16?
- Do our prayers change things?
- What are some reasons to pray even if God doesn’t change His plan based on your prayer?
- What is the danger to our prayer life if we believe our prayers don’t actually accomplish anything?.
- What does it mean that Elijah had a “nature like ours”?
- What can we learn from the example of Elijah?
- What was Elijah’s motivation for this prayer?
Matthew 17:20-21 – He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Matthew 21:21-22 – Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
1 Corinthians 11:30-32 – That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.
1 John 1:7 – But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
1 Kings 17:1 – Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”
1. It is the Lord who heals (15) – It is God’s healing power that heals the sick and raises him up, not any person’s. The concept of a gift of healing or powerful human healers is nowhere to be found here. God is big and powerful. He still heals people today. He didn’t stop doing that at the end of the apostolic age. And He heals sometimes through the prayers of the faithful.
2. If he has committed sins – The phrase “if he has committed sins” is very important and holds the key to the whole passage. First of all, these sins to not primarily refer to sporadic or occasional sins. Rather it references a person who has been persistent and willful in sin. Those are the kinds of sins God might discipline by causing the sinner to become sick.
This person’s sin will be forgiven him, indicating he has confessed and is repentant of his sin. If he wasn’t repentant, he wouldn’t call the elders since the type of sin in mind is apparently an open one that the elders would probably know about. One famous scholar who wrote a commentary of the book says it should be translated, “If he has committed sins, which have given rise to sickness.”
In any case, it is apparent based on the context (with sin being mentioned several times) that this sickness is a divine discipline from God for a specific, persistent sin in the believers’ life. And when the person in question repents and calls the elders God will take away the discipline for the sin (sickness) along with the sin itself.
It should be noted that all sickness is not a direct result of sin (as the blind man wasn’t whom Jesus healed).
So the idea of the passage is this:
A believer has wandered off into sin and remained in sin. This sin has brought about sickness in his life as discipline from God. Once this sickness comes, the believer is to realize it is connected with his sin, repent, and call the elders to help. These will come and pray for him. God will forgive the sin and if it indeed was the cause of the sickness, the sickness will be will be healed.
3. Confess sins to one another – Verse 16 shows the brotherly love and concern that comes as a part of active Christian fellowship. Confessing your sins to one another is not teaching us we need to have a priest. Only God can forgive sins and Jesus is the mediator between us and God.
But confessing to one another is a protection as it can offer accountability and enable us to receive help and prayer from other believers. It is also a safeguard to keep us from wandering away from God. We also ask forgiveness from those to whom we have sinned against. The idea is to walk in the light. This safeguard will keep us from reaching the point where God needs to chastise us with His divine discipline.
The verse also teaches us the power of prayer. The prayer of the righteous elder is herd by God and the sickness is healed. Prayer does matter. God’s sovereignty and our prayer is one of the paradoxes of Scripture. God is sovereign and has a perfect plan. Yet He also commands us to pray and this prayer at least appears to change things. We don’t need to solve, and in fact cannot solve, this paradox. We do need to pray righteous prayers out of a righteous lifestyle, full of faith, and believe that God hears and will answer.
Summing it up –
1. The person is very ill.
2. The sick person is necessarily a Christian.
3. The sick person is to call for the elders.
4. The elders are recognized leaders of the local congregation who respond to the call.
5. After a time of confession of sin, the elders symbolically anoint the afflicted one.
6. It is the Lord who raises up the afflicted.
7. If the sickness is because of sin, and proper confession is made after the counsel of the elders, in faith we may expect healing. If sin is not the cause, simply pray the desires of your heart, leaving what is best for the individual up to God.
8. The passage does not forbid or preclude the use of doctors or medicine.
9. This passage, under these conditions, is still applicable today.
Application: When you are sick turn to God for help. Evaluate your own life and consider if there is any possibility that the sickness could be due to your own sinful lifestyle. Repent of any known sin and ask for believers to support you and pray for you. In turn, you should show compassion for other believers and visit and pray for those who are sick.
4. The example of Elijah – James loves giving examples and this is an example of a righteous person’s prayer and God listening. It is interesting to note that the drought was discipline from God upon a rebellious people. After they repented and turned back to the Lord, this discipline was lifted and it rained again. Thus this passage reinforces the conclusion that the sickness was caused by sin and healing was brought up about after repentance.
III. Help the one who is straying to turn back (19-20)
- Who is verse 19 talking about?
- A believer or unbeliever?
- What is our responsibility towards professing believers?
- How can we turn him back?
- Explain the phrase “cover a multitude of sins.”
Matthew 18:15 – “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.
Galatians 6:1 – Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.
1. Bringing a sinner back – As believers, we have a responsibility to help our brothers and sisters stay the course. If we see them turning from the truth, we need to share with them from Scripture about what they are doing and encourage them to repent and turn back to the Lord.
Sometimes they might be upset and get angry and offended. We still have to do it. Speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). God does not want us to be apathetic to the souls of our brethren!
There are two possible interpretations for these verses. One is that the death is eternal death “save his soul from death”. The other is that it is the physical death in mind in the context and that the word for soul can mean something like being, which can also refer to physical death. If physical death was in mind it would tell us that God forgives if the person is repentant, even if his sin was severe and prolonged.
If eternal death is in mind, it would tell us that God will forgive all the sins they have committed if they repent. Since we don’t know people’s hearts or the state of their salvation, our responsibility is the same regardless.
Either interpretation doesn’t effect what we need to do, which is gently, but firmly, remind the sinning, professing believer to repent and turn back to the Lord.
Believers are responsible for restoring straying brothers and sisters in the faith. Thus mature Christian fellowship is a safety net to protect all from falling away from God.
To continue in unchecked sin can result in death because the believer has disqualified himself from representing God or accomplishing His work.
Restoration is possible even if the sins are frequent and serious if there is true repentance.
Application: When you see a brother or sister in persistent sin, do not turn a blind eye. Pray for wisdom and then approach that person and through Scripture let them know their error. If you bring him back, you will save him from death.
James E-book Bible Study Guide – If this study is helpful for you, you can get the whole study in one convenient E-book.
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