“So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.”
James 5:16 (NET)
My brother’s keeper—we normally shy away from that thought. In our American culture we keep our business quiet, and let others do the same. We hesitate to interfere with someone else’s life, even when they are struggling in some way.
God has given us responsibility for one another in the body of Christ. We will someday be held responsible for failing to love someone enough to pray for them or to even speak out when they need help.
As we consider this last section of the book of James, begin by praying for God’s love for others to fill your heart.
Read James 5:13-14.
1. What three life situations does James deal with here? What does James call the believer in each situation to do?
2. The word for suffering probably refers to a broad category which includes all different kinds of suffering.39 From our study of the entire book, what specific kinds of suffering do we know is happening among these first-century believers? Where in the book do you find that?
3. Compare these scriptures with vv. 13-14. Write down any insights that you receive from these verses:
a. 1 Thess. 5:17
b. Ps. 34:1
c. Eph. 5:19
d. Col. 3:16
Stronger Jeans (optional): Study other resources on prayer or find cross-references using the word pray, prayer, or even ask.
4. Sharing Question: What one thing makes prayer most difficult for you? It may be a matter of prioritizing time; it may be that you allow your children to distract you; possibly you, as I do, just like to stay in bed until it’s too late to have real time with God. How can you change this so that you love God with your time? What will you do this week to spend time in prayer each day, even if only 5 minutes of undistracted time?
5. Responding to God: Thank God that He loves you despite any prayerlessness in your life. Talk to Him about your need for His grace to help you become more disciplined in this essential area.
Read James 5:14-16.
1. What is the sick believer to do and what will be the result? Copy v. 15 below.
James 5:14-15 has been understood in a number of ways. Some consider the “prayer of faith” to be dependent upon the sick person’s faith. If that person can manage to have enough faith, God promises to heal; however, this prayer is said by the elders, not by the sufferer, so that understanding seems unlikely. Some would say that it is the “prayer of faith” because the pray-er has been assured by God that it is His will to heal that particular sick person.
Moo makes this point about the “prayer of faith”:
The faith exercised in prayer is faith in the God who sovereignly accomplishes his will. When we pray, our faith recognizes, explicitly or implicitly, the overruling providential purposes of God. We may at times be given insight into that will, enabling us to pray with absolute confidence in God’s plan to answer as we ask. But surely those cases are rare—more rare even than our subjective, emotional desires would lead us to suspect. A prayer for healing, then, must usually be qualified by the recognition that God’s will in the matter is supreme.40
2. How do these verses relate to James 5:14-15?
a. 2 Cor. 12:6-10
b. 1 Tim. 5:23
c. 2 Tim. 4:20
The last part of v. 15 lets us know that this is not necessarily an illness brought on by sin although it may be.
3. What did Jesus teach in John 9:1-3 about the relationship between illness and sin? (You need to consider the disciples’ misunderstanding of it.)
4. Why might God bring sickness into someone’s life because of his/her sins? Read Heb. 12:5-11.
Stronger Jeans (optional): Read what your commentaries say about the anointing with oil in v. 14.
5. What are those of us who are not elders to do in these kinds of situations (James 5:16)? Why?
6. Sharing Question: Do you ever confess your sins to other believers? Why or why not? As you think about this instruction to confess, in what situations might it be helpful to do so? Is there a sin you should confess to this small group or maybe only to the leader so that there is someone to pray for you and to hold you accountable? If so, do it this week.
7. Responding to God: Talk to God about your sins. Confess them and turn from them so that you do not risk the loving hand of discipline from your heavenly Father. Write down your response to Him in a prayer or poem. Or draw a picture of you, God, and your turning from that sin.
Read James 5:16b-18.
1. Compare these verses with what James says about prayer.
a. Mt. 7:7-12
b. John 14:13-14
c. Mk. 11:24
d. Heb. 4:14-16
2. James uses Elijah as his model of a righteous person of prayer. Read the story of Elijah and the drought in 1 Kings 17:1; 18:1-18, 41-46, and write down your insights.
Stronger Jeans (optional): Study another biblical figure as a model of prayer. Obviously, the more that is written about the person, the more you will have to read to find the passages where they pray but the more you will be able to learn. This may be a good personal study for you to begin since this series is over after this week. Use today to get started. Some good choices may be Jesus, Paul, Daniel, or Moses. Read as much as you can about the life of the one you choose; as you read, focus on what you learn about prayer.
3. Sharing Question: Share a story of answered prayer from your life. How did you feel through the situation?
4. Responding to God: Spend some time praying for your small group. Write notes to those who need encouragement. Tell them how you prayed for them. Write your prayers below.
Read James 5:19-20.
1. What situation does James describe and what are we as believers instructed to do about it?
2. How do these last two verses fit with those that just preceded them? In other words, how do they relate?
3. How do these verses compare with what James says here? What do they add to your understanding?
a. Psalm 32:1
b. Prov. 10:12 (This proverb uses opposites to teach a lesson.)
c. Gal. 6:1-2
d. 1 Peter 4:8
What is the “death” here that is avoided because the person repents? If James refers to a person who is part of the congregation but not truly a believer, this may refer to spiritual death. The conversion, then, would be to faith in Jesus. Others read this as physical death and understand it to teach that a believer may experience an early physical death when he/she refuses to turn away from sin. Those who believe that someone can lose eternal life and the relationship that God has given him/her as a gift would interpret this as spiritual death, which comes by turning away from the truth of the gospel. Those of us who understand salvation as an unconditional gift believe that what God gives in grace He doesn’t take away. It is God’s work to keep us in the faith by His grace; thus, we would not see this as spiritual death for a believer. God keeps us by the power of His Spirit, not by our power, much as you hold a child’s hand for safekeeping rather than depending on their holding your hand. (See John 6:37-40; 10:27-30; Rom. 8:29, 38-39.)
Stronger Jeans (optional): Explain your understanding of James 5:19-20 in the context of the entire Bible’s teaching on salvation. Study the references in the above paragraph and any others of which you are aware.
4. Sharing Question: It is very difficult, as I said in the introduction, to go to someone and talk to him/her about her life and how she is defecting from the truth, which includes defecting from obedience to God’s word. Have you ever gone to someone? If so, share the story. Has anyone ever come to you in love to turn you from an error into which you had fallen? Or maybe they didn’t do it in love but with criticism. Share what happened and your feelings about it. If you have never had any of these situations happen in your life, share your feelings about this instruction.
5. Responding to God: Talk to God about someone in your life who needs encouragement to walk with Him or to keep on believing in Him. Listen to His voice. What are you to do about it in light of all we have studied this week?
I am putting Janie’s story here before we leave this topic of prayer. Tomorrow we will review what God has done in our lives through this study.
I found out one year ago Christmas the bad news—I had stage two breast cancer. At first I was angry because I get a mammogram every year and now I was stage two! Then I was scared, but I reminded myself of Christ's faithfulness and read His Word about His steadfastness—“I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Heb. 13:5c NKJV).
I decided not to tell my family or my husband because I didn't want to spoil their Christmas, saying they wouldn't be able to do anything anyway. As for my friends, I kept the bad news from them as well. I didn't really know answers anyway.
After telling a few people, it didn't take long for news to travel—and I was so glad! During the operation, chemotherapy, and radiation, cards and food and visits helped relieve the burden. My family was supportive and so kind. I was overwhelmed by the people who ministered to me.
I could also hear them pray for me aloud when they called, wrote or came over. But I could even feel prayers of believers out there. I know it sounds strange, but I was lifted up spiritually by their prayers even though I couldn't sometime see or hear these warriors. I had a peace that passes all understanding, and a humility that was encouraging, if that can be said.
So my prayer life changed. I focused on God's character, stopped doing all the activities I was in (I had to because physically I couldn't make it). I finally understood what "Be still, and know that I am Lord" (Ps. 46:10 NKJV) really means. It was wonderful just to BE.
I viewed each day differently, and was grateful for the life which He had given me. I read about Heaven, and was comforted that He was preparing a place for me, even if I came through all of this. One day I would be with Christ and it would be better than anything in this life. I prayed for the unsaved more—how frightening it would be to have no HOPE, no one praying for you, no Comforter in such a time of fear!
This next Christmas was different. I had been through treatment, and got a good report—so far I am doing great. My only fear is that I will forget how rich praying can be and instead get involved in the busyness of life. And I am so grateful for those who prayed for me; they became the arms, legs and mouth of believers who are truly an extension of Christ. I had never experienced that before.
So now I pray for those who are sick differently, too. If the thought enters my mind that one voice won't do much, I remember my experience and KNOW that God will have them some way know that they are being lifted up in prayer. I read the Bible differently in that I can see God's hand and His character more clearly. How gracious and kind God is, how wonderful and caring! It is right before me in His Word so I can always be reminded if the fear starts to creep back in my life. How glad I am that we are believers who minister to each other: "Christ with skin on" as I have come to see it!
This is your final day of study; we have completed James. J Congratulations on finishing the entire study! If you have had family, work, or health situations that have forced you to skip some questions, go back and finish them over the next few weeks, reviewing as you go.
Today we are going to have another look at what God has done in your life through this study. Be prepared to share your answers with your group. We do this to give God the glory for all that He has done in our lives through His word and the community of believers in your small group.
1. Sharing Question: Scan the book of James and write down the one topic that was most meaningful to you. Why was it so meaningful?
2. Sharing Question: James said that God’s word is a mirror and we need to take note of what we see and do something about it. What is one thing that you have seen about yourself and what have you done about it?
3. Sharing Question: James began his letter dealing with trials of all kinds. What trial have you dealt with through this study and how has God used it in your life?
4. Sharing Question: What one person has God laid on your heart to pray for? What can you pray that keeps in mind that God’s priority is the kingdom in our lives and in the world at large?
5. Responding to God: Spend all of your prayer time in praise to God for the things that you just wrote in answer to the previous questions. Write a prayer or poem below about His greatness and His love.
Thank you for your commitment to God and for your faithfulness to study His word. Don’t stop simply because your small group is on a break. Continue spending daily time with God. Being in God’s word day by day gives Him that opportunity to speak to you personally. The time you give Him is the best gift you give your friends, co-workers, husband, and children. Your life affects their lives; your spiritual growth impacts them. May He richly bless you as you passionately pursue Him!
Barrett, Ethel. Will the Real Phony Please Stand Up? Glendale, CA: Regal Books, 1977.
Barton, Bruce B., David R. Veerman, and Neil Wilson. Life Application Bible Commentary: James, ed. Grant Osborne. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1992.
Calvin, John. Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles, trans. J. Owen. Reprint; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1948.
Hiebert, D. Edmond. The Epistle of James: Tests of a Living Faith. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1979.
Keddie, Gordon J. The Practical Christian: The message of James. Darlington, Eng.: Evangelical Press, 2000.
Moo, Douglas J. The Letter of James, The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000.
NET Bible: New English Translation. Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C., 2003.
Ross, Alexander. The Epistles of James and John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1954.
Tasker, R.V.G. The General Epistle of James: An Introduction and Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983.
Vaughn, Curtis. James, Bible Study Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969.
39 Moo, 235.
40 Moo, 244.