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)
A. When you suffer, pray. (13a)
B. When you are cheerful, sing praises (13b)
C. When you are sick, get prayer from elders (14)
II. The prayer of the righteous is effective (15-18)
A. God will answer the prayer and heal the sick and forgive sins (15)
B. Confess our sins to one another so that we can be healed (16)
C. Example of Elijah’s powerful prayer (17-18)
III. Help the one who is straying to turn back (19-20)
A. This can save him (20)
I. Verses 13-14
What is the typical response to suffering? 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? (Our reliance on God.)
What is the typical response of an unbeliever to good news? Why must we sing praises to God? What does this show about our heart? (Grateful, recognize our success or the blessings are from Him. Keeps us humble.)
What is the typical response of unbelievers when they are sick? Who are they reliant on? What does turning to other believers for prayer show about our hearts?
What are elders? What should you do if your church doesn’t have any elders?
What is the anointing all about?
II. Verses 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 a Catholic priest?
As believers in God’s sovereignty we often have the idea that God has His plan and prayer doesn’t do anything. Then how do we understand verse 16? Does God do anything? Do our prayers change things? What is the danger to our prayer life if we believe our prayers don’t actually accomplish anything (in other words, God already has His plan).
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?
III. Verses 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.”
I. Verses 13-14
Philippians 4:6, Psalms 27:13-14, Psalms 55:22
2 Chronicles 33:12-13
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
1 Cor 16:9, Psalms 105:2, Ephesians 5:19, Col 3:16-17
Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5-9
Sin leading to death
1 John 5:16
II. Verses 15-18
Prayer of faith
Matthew 17:20-21, Matthew 21:21-22
Sin causing sickness
1 Cor 11:30-32
Confess faults to one another
1 John 1:7
I kings 17:1
Help turn back the sinner
13 – The word for suffering 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 14. If we have any affliction or trial, we are to take it to God to receive His comfort, wisdom, and help. 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 and have a perfect plan for us. Turning to Him in prayer shows that we are reliant upon Him. 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 the difficult times.
How about if everything is going smoothly and we are doing well? Then we are to sing praises to God. This is an outpouring of our grateful attitude towards God for His goodness and abundant blessings. It shows that we recognize that God is the source for the good things that happen in our life. Every good thing is from above. If we are not relying on God, we may forget God during these 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.
14 – Starting in verse 14 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). Just this one point 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 can 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 and 1? Timothy. 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. So what should you do if there aren’t any elders in your church?
These elders then come and pray over the sick person and anoint them in the name of the Lord. So the next question, is what is this anointing. Basically there was real, physical anointing for medicinal purposes in the Bible and then a symbolic anointing showing forth God’s power and mercy. Because actual oil doesn’t have much effect on many kinds of sicknesses such as cancer, we can infer that the anointing is symbolic. Using real oil would be acceptable to show symbolically God’s healing power, but metaphoric words of comfort and encouragement would seem to be OK 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 faith by calling the elders, it is not even his prayer that is mentioned. It would appear that his faith has nothing to do with the result at all. 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 ask the spiritually mature, not a television healer.
15 – Note also that it is the Lord who raises up the person. It is God’s healing power, not any persons’. The concept of a gift of healing or powerful human healers is nowhere to be found here. This in short is how God heals people today. God still heals people today. He didn’t stop doing that at the end of the apostolic age.
The phrase “if he has committed sins” is very important and holds the key to the whole passage. First of all, this clause has the idea of persistence. That is open, knowing, and continued sin, the kind of sin 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 where sin is mentioned again and again that this sickness is a divine discipline from God for a specific sin in the believers’ life. 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 leave and he will be healed.
16 – This verse shows the brotherly love and concern that comes as a part of active Christian fellowship. Confess 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 it is a protection as it can offer accountability and we can 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 listened to 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 sickness involved demands that the person be severely 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.
17-18 – 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.
19-20 – Cross-references. 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. 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.
1. Believers are responsible for restoring straying brothers and sisters in the faith.
2. To continue in unchecked sin can result in death because the believer has disqualified himself from representing God or accomplishing His work.
3. Restoration is possible even if the sins are frequent and serious. We cannot sin so badly God will not forgive us, but for God to forgive us we need to be truly repentant.