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James 5:13-18; Matt 6:5-13; 7:7-11

Read James 5:13-16

  • In what situations does James tell his readers to pray?

  • What significance is there in calling the elders of the church to pray? [1]

  • James refers here to the effectiveness of "the prayer of faith". What do you think James means by 'faith' in this context?

  • James seems to connect sickness and healing with sin and forgiveness. What do you think the connection is? (For stories of Jesus' healings in connection to this theme, read John 9:2-3 and Mark 2:1-12)

  • What do you think of this summary of James' instructions for Christians who are sick:

    • call the elders to come and pray

    • the elders come and anoint them with oil [2]

    • if there is any unresolved sin, confess it to those who are praying for you

    • receive physical healing and spiritual forgiveness by faith.

  • Is this a fair summary of James' instruction? If not, what would you change?

  • Are these things our practice in the church today? If not, why not?

Read Matthew 6:5-13 & 7:7-11

  • How do these teachings from Jesus underpin James's instructions about prayer?

  • How do these passages give us further things to think about in our attitude to (and practice of) prayer?

Spend some time now putting these things into practice by praying for one another. Ask that the Spirit would guide you to know what to pray for, and how to pray for it - and then give it a go! (In this context, you might like to treat your connect group leader as the 'elder' of your group - and any type of oil you have available will suffice for anointing!)

[1] The word 'elders' (presbuteros) is not necessarily equivalent to what we call 'elders' in our modern-day-baptist-church context. In fact, the term is closer to the role of pastor in our context, or perhaps a combination of these two modern-day roles, as well as other types of key spiritual leaders in the church. Theologian Douglas Moo explains:

Elders are mentioned in the book of Acts in connection with the church in Jerusalem (11:30; 15:2; 21:18) and the churches founded through Paul (14:23; 20:17). Although in his letters Paul refers to elders by name only in 1 Timothy (5:17) and Titus (1:5), ‘overseer’ (or ‘bishop’), mentioned in the plural in Philippians 1:1 and in the (probably generic) singular in 1 Timothy 3:1, is probably a different title for the same office. Both Peter (1 Pet. 5:1) and James assume the existence of elders in the church, showing that the office must have been a widespread one in the early church. It is possible, though not certain, that the office was taken over from the synagogue. From the prominent role of the elders in Acts and the description of the office in the Pastoral epistles, it can be inferred that the elders were those spiritually mature men who were given responsibility for the spiritual oversight of individual, local congregations. Since the Ephesian elders were to ‘shepherd’, or ‘pastor’ their flock (Acts 20:28), and ‘pastors’ are never mentioned along with elders, it is probable that the function of what we know as the ‘pastor’ or ‘minister’ was carried out by the elders. Hence, it is natural that the believer who is suffering from illness should summon the elders.

Douglas J. Moo, Tyndale Commentary Vol 16: James, p. 182.

[2] Theologian Douglas Moo explains the meaning of anointing with oil:

It is best, then, to think of the anointing with oil as a symbolic action. Anointing frequently symbolizes the consecration of persons or things for God’s use and service in the Old Testament... As the elders prayed, they would anoint the sick person in order to symbolize that that person was being ‘set apart’ for God’s special attention and care. While Calvin, Luther and other expositors think that the practice of anointing, along with the power to heal, was meant to be confined to the apostolic age, it is doubtful that such a restriction can be maintained. James’ recommendation that regular church officers carry out the practice would seem to imply its permanent validity in the church. On the other hand, the fact that anointing a sick person is mentioned only here in the New Testament epistles, and that many healings were accomplished without anointing, shows that the practice is not a necessary accompaniment to the prayer for healing. Elders who pray for the sick may do it, and James clearly recommends the practice; but they do not have to do so.

Douglas J. Moo, Tyndale Commentary Vol 16: James, p. 185.


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