As most of you know, a few weeks ago, we finished our exposition of John's epistles: 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John. And we will get back to another book of the Bible in the fall. I'm planning that we will be in the book of Romans. I'm really excited about beginning that wonderful book.
But, between now and then, I have a lot going on. I told you last week of how I have a missions trip to India (leaving this Wednesday) for 3 1/2 weeks; youth camp in Iowa in July; followed by two weeks at school in Louisville; and a much needed vacation to California.
And so, with all of those breaks, I didn't want to begin Romans and lose continuity from week to week. So, instead, I think it is best for us to work through something that would allow for several weeks gap between messages. Instead, this summer, we are looking at the "One Anothers" of Scripture.
There are more than 50 of these sorts of commands in the Bible. Love one another. Honor one another. Live in harmony with one another. Serve one another. Bear with one another. Carry one another's burdens. Each week we will simply take another one of these commands from the New Testament and expound upon it. These commands really give a picture of how a church ought to function. My aim is very practical, that we would function like this. May God give us the grace to live these things out.
Well, last week we looked at encouraging one another. This week we will look at praying for one another. And we are going to be very practical. The text calls for us to pray for one another. So, during my message, we will set aside some time to pray for one another.
And we are going to use James 5 as our text this morning. So, if you haven't done so already, I invite you to open your Bibles to James, chapter 5. I want to read verses 13-18.
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
Surprisingly, in verse 18, we see the only place in Scripture where we the phrase, "pray for one another" appears. Now, this isn't to say that this is the only place in the Bible were we are commanded to pray for others. Because, it's not.
In 1 Thessalonians 5 and verse 25, Paul simply writes, "Brothers, pray for us." In Colossians 4 and verse 3, Paul writes, "Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word". In both of these instances, Paul is asking his readers to pray for him.
Furthermore, Paul often wrote of his constant prayers for others. To those in Corinth, he wrote, "I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus" (1 Corinthians 1:4). To those in Philippi, he wrote, "I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy" (Philippians 1:3-4). To Timothy, he wrote, " ... I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day" (2 Timothy 1:3).
The Bible calls us to pray to God on behalf of others. In fact, Paul told Timothy: " ... that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thankgivings be made for all people, [including] kings and all who are in high positions, ..." (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
It is abundantly clear: the New Testament calls us to pray for one another. And James uses those exact words here in verse 16, ... "pray for one another." If anything, James focuses our attention upon praying for each other in the church. It makes sense that James would say such a thing, as his letter is eminently practical, with great difficulty in pinning down a single theme.
He calls us in chapter 1 to rejoice through our trials and prove ourselves to be doers of the word, not merely hearers. In chapter 2, he calls us to love without partiality as an expression of our faith. In chapter 3, he calls us to tame our tongue and walk in wisdom. In chapter 4, he calls us to turn away from the world to live a pure life. And here in chapter 5, among other things, he calls us to pray.
This isn't even the first time the James calls us to pray. In chapter 1 and verse 5, we read, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him." In James 4, we see further discussion on prayer.
... You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
In verse 8, he says, ...
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
Now, as we approach this passage, I want to give a quick overview of the whole. Then, I want to apply it by praying for one another. In this room there are many needs. And rather than preach on prayer and go our way. I want to be very applicational. I want for us to pray. We will pray for those needing prayer. Hopefully, before the morning is over, we will pray for everyone in this room by name.
My outline is simply this:
Let's begin with the ...
I simply want to walk through these verses. James begins (in verse 13) with these words, ...
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.
The idea here is simply to respond to God in ways appropriate to the circumstances of your life. If circumstances in your life are difficult, then pray. If circumstances in your life are going well, then sing praise to God.
And there can be any endless combinations of these things at the same time. You may be having difficulty at your job, leading you to pray; while at the same time, things at home may be going wonderfully well, leading you to praise.
In either event, James is calling us to direct our attention to God in prayer and praise. He continues in verse 14 with these words, ...
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
This is really a continuation of verse 13, with the exception that circumstances of life are so particularly difficult, that you want/need others to come around you and pray for you. In this case, you call the elders of the church to come and pray for you. And they come and pray, anointing you with oil.
Now, it may be that this oil is medicinal. In other words, the elders come and pray as you take your medicine. Or, the elders come and pray as you head off to your radiation treatment. Or, the elders come and pray as you head off to surgery.
Or, it may be that this oil is sacramental, much like the oil used to anoint Aaron the priest. Perhaps the oil is a symbolic expression of the blessing of God upon the life of the one prayed for.
We don't really know the purpose of the oil. But, we do know that the priority is prayer, letting our requests be known to God. The promise of healing comes in verse 15, ...
And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
What is difficult about this verse is that the promise doesn't always seem to come true. There have been many who have been anointed with oil who haven't been cured of their disease or who have nonetheless died of their cancer. So, perhaps the best way to understand the promise of verse 15 is to understand it spiritually, not physically. The prayer of faith will bring spiritual salvation. This makes sense in light of circumstances surrounding the prayer. We have here one who is sick, seeking the help of God. And we know that "whoever calls upon the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10:13).
Calling upon the Lord means that we see our need for help. We see our sin. We confess our sin. We see Jesus, who died for sin. And we trust that he is the one who is able to save us from our sins. Indeed, this is why Jesus came. He came "to save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).
This is exactly where James is heading. Look at verse 16, ...
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. ...
Apparently, in calling the elders, there's more going on than a doctor's house-call. It's an eminently spiritual practice. So, someone is sick, and they call for the elders. And as they visit, the conversation turns to sin. And the one requesting the visit is asked if he (or she) wants to confess any sin, to come completely clean before God!
And they all come before the presence of God, seeking healing, both physically and spiritually. And verse 16 contains another promise:
... The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
Notice where the power in prayer lies. It's not in the pastor. It's not
in the priest. It's in the righteous person. Because, the righteous person is the one
who walks with God. And has a close relationship with him.
He prays often. And God hears his prayer.
If you want proof of this, you can look to the Old Testament. You can look to the example of Elijah. Verse 17, ....
Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
This takes us back to 1 Kings 17 and 18, which tells of the drought in Israel. Before it took place, Elijah told Ahab the king, ...
1 Kings 17:1
... "As the LORD, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word."
Having told this to the king, he went off to hiding by the brook Cherith (1 Kings 17:3). Finally, after three years (1 Kings 18:1), he met up with Ahab. And the Scripture says that ...
1 Kings 18:42
... Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down to the earth and put his face between his knees.
Surely, this was his posture of prayer. And shortly afterwards, the rain came. Such is the example of the power of the prayer of a righteous man. He can shut the heavens! Jesus said, ...
"If you have faith and do not doubt, ... if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith."
Now, when James mentions this event, he points out two characteristics of Elijah. He was "a man with a nature like ours." He "prayed fervently."
See, when it comes to moving God in prayer, it's not because of our power. Elijah was just like us. There was nothing special about him. He simply was a righteous man who prayed fervently. May this be what characterizes our prayers. May our prayers flow from lives of righteousness. May our prayers be fervent.
At this point, I want to transition my message into application. James has called for us to "pray for one another." And that's exactly what I want to do.
We have reason to pray this morning. First of all, I want to pray for the Brown family. I don't know if you know this or not, but they are in the process of seeking to adopt another child into their home. They adopted Cora by going through the foster system. This time they are going through an agency.
One major difference between these two approaches is the cost. All said and done, it is going to cost them about $30,000 to get this done. And the struggle for the Brown family is this: They don't have $30,000. They have been saving. They have applied for adoption assistance through an interest-free loan. But, at this point, they don't have all that they need for the adoption. In fact, they aren't really close.
I bring them up, because we need to pray for them. But, I also bring them up to tell all of you that we, as elders, have decided to give them our adoption fund. I will provide a little history on our adoption fund. Back in 2012, we began an adoption fund to promote the cause of adoption in our midst. As believers in Christ, we have been adopted into God's family. So much so that we are called, "Children of God!" (1 John 3:1). To help remind us of that, and to promote adoption, we began setting aside 1% of all undesignated giving to this fund.
Currently, we have about $6,500 in the fund. When their adoption is final, we plan on giving all of this fund to their cause. And I can say this to you (in a way that the Browns can't): will you consider giving to help them? Will you consider giving to their (as yet unknown) child? They are doing a wonderful thing. And you can help the Browns by giving to the church and designating your gift to "the adoption fund." And as we have decided to use this for the Browns, your giving will essentially be a gift to them. What a wonderful way to help them.
They are in the process right now of completing their home study. And, hopefully, by the end of summer they will be "on profile," which means that they are approved for placement. At that point, a child could come into their home at any time -- the day after they are approved or three years down the road.
So, I want to pray for the Brown family and their adoption process. Pray for funds. Pray for the child (God knows who he or she is). Pray for patience.
James 5:13 says, "Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise." The Geaschel family is cheerful this morning. I want for them to give a testimony of praise to God (for Karina's surgery).
James 5 continues by talking about those who are sick, that they should call the elders to pray for them. By way of application, I want to reverse this. I want to call upon all of you who are struggling with some chronic illness. I want for us to pray for you.
Finally, I would like us all to pray for one another, that everyone in this room might be prayed for by name.
This sermon was delivered to Rock Valley Bible Church on
April 24, 2016 by Steve Brandon.
For more information see www.rvbc.cc.