The Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

James 5:13-16

The Local Church as a Means of Healing

We live in a day of rugged individualism.  We read our Bibles and pray.  We attend church and find strength for tomorrow through worship.  Perhaps we learn something that will help us live our lives.  We might even witness to others and do good deeds in the name of Christ through the week.  All of this is good—except that if we are honest with ourselves we will acknowledge that we tend to see the church for its usefulness regarding our spiritual lives—how much it helps us get along.  As one man once said to me, “I go to church to fill up,” comparing the local church to Standard Oil.

Previous generations understood themselves to live in a community, and their church was that place where they had entered into a covenant promising to pray for, encourage, and hold one another accountable.  And here we find James beseeching his flock not only to pray but to confess their sins to one another—and all for the purpose of reconciliation and healing.

He begins by calling on those who suffer to pray, and for the cheerful to rejoice.  And what of the one who is sick?  He is to call for the elders of the church to come and pray over him and anoint him with oil.  This may bring on a debate over whether or not oil should be used when praying over the sick.  Oil was considered medicinal in the ancient world (Luke 10:34), and was perhaps viewed symbolically for healing.  I cannot say that we are commanded here that oil must always accompany our prayers for the sick, but neither shall I gainsay those traditions which use it. 

But there are two more important matters we must see in this passage: that the sins of the sick person will be forgiven “if he has committed sins,” and that we should all confess our sins to one another that we may be healed.  We don’t like to admit it in our day but there is a most definite connection between sin and sickness in the Bible.  This does not mean that a person is diagnosed with cancer because of a curse word he said the day before, as plainly indicated by, “if he has committed sins.”  But we must also recognize that sickness and death are a result of our sinful condition (Genesis 2:17; 3:16-19)—oh, and that we do actually commit sins as well.  But the good news is that our Lord came to heal and forgive; indeed, as Mark 2:1-12 teaches, to forgive is to heal and to heal is to forgive.  And we don’t have to do this before a priest; we may confess to our brothers and sisters in Christ whom we know will keep our words to themselves and pray for us.  The church isn’t just a place to fill up; it’s a hospital we all desperately need.

Author: The Reformed Baptist

My name is Stephen Taylor, ordained Baptist minister of eighteen years pastoral experience with a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Better than that, I am married to a godly woman, Karla, who has been very patient with me since 1989. I have two daughters, both of whom I homeschooled for extended periods of time, who became godly young women, and who ran off and married godly young men, all of which is very proper. The oldest daughter has even seen fit to bless me with a grandson and a granddaughter, and my youngest daughter with a grandson, all three of whom are bundles of exceeding joy. As you can see, I am quite blessed. This website is dedicated to helping people grow in the wisdom and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ through the gift of writing that the Lord has given to me. It is specifically about helping His people grow in godliness, the theme you see repeated above. I write devotions with this aim and hope that they might be of some help to God’s people. Full disclosure: I am of a Reformed bent, meaning that my understanding of Scripture is primarily informed by the Reformers and their successors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. However, as a student of church history and theology, I strive to remain true to that teaching handed down once for all unto the saints through every age of the Church. I like to think of myself as a “catholic” Christian, as the Reformers thought of themselves. At any rate, feel free to read, pray, and contact me if you wish, or correct me if need be. As you can see, I tend to follow the church year. Of course, I make no special claims about these devotions. I know very well that others have written better and plumbed the depths of God’s word with greater insight. But if my musings help someone draw closer to the Lord, well then, I have my reward. Blessings to you and may the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ speak to you that word which He knows you especially need to hear. Grace & peace, Stephen Taylor

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