20 October 2007

James 5:13-18

"Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them." (v.13-14)


The letter from James is a collection of practical instructions written to all God's people scattered over the whole world. The writer offers instruction and guidance for Christian attitudes and conduct and this passage offers instructions for healing the sick and for prayer. 

When a Jew was ill he went to the Rabbi. The early Church continued to care for the sick and when someone was sick they called for an elder. The elders of the Church (v.14) were closely associated with the apostles in authority - they were appointed over the missionary churches so they had an official position of authority in the local church.

In verse 15 the word 'save' refers to healing the sick rather than eternal salvation. The use of oil in anointing the sick was a common remedy for a variety of ills at that time but it also symbolised the healing presence and power of the Lord. Anointing should be accompanied by prayer offered in faith in order for a person to be healed.

The need for bodily healing and the need for spiritual healing often go hand in hand in biblical teaching. James advised his readers to confess their sins and pray for one another - this was also the practice John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, encouraged in the early Methodist class meetings. Wesley also had an interest in what would be known today as 'barefoot medicine', enabling people who could not afford a doctor to use simple remedies. Wellbeing of both body and soul are of concern to the Christian community.

The Old Testament prophet Elijah is presented as a model of a man of prayer. We are not just to admire him but to follow his example.

To Ponder

Churches today regularly pray for the sick. In what way could this ministry be developed?

When someone you have prayed for recovers, how do you feel?

In what ways do you believe your prayers can be effective in bringing healing to people today?

Bible notes author

Revd Anne Brown

Revd Anne Brown is Chair of the Beds, Essex and Herts District. She has served as a Methodist minister in Lancashire and Yorkshire before becoming Chair of the former London North West District..