What To Do When You Are Sick
In James 5:14-16a, James, the brother of Jesus, offers an action plan for healing. It should be noted that it is not the only way to be healed, but it is a time-honored one. I have used this method and been healed. Thank you, Jesus!
James asks, “Is anyone among you sick?” (James 5:14a). “Sick” (astheneo) in this scripture does not refer to mild symptoms. Most bible scholars believe that this word for “sick” refers to a physical illness which has rendered the person physically weak and possibly bedridden. Others believe “sick” refers to a spiritual illness or weakness of faith. A third group of theologians believe that “sick’ means a spiritual weakness caused by continued sinful behavior which resulted in serious physical illness.
Regardless of the type or cause of the illness, James taught that the sick person should “call for the elders (the spiritual leaders)” (James 5:14b, Amplified Bible). “Elders” does not refer to just any of the senior members in the church, but refers to people “of gravity and soundness in the faith, persons of long standing and experience; who have the gift and grace of prayer, and are not only capable of performing that duty, but of giving a word of counsel and advice to the sick” (https://www.biblestudytools.com).
Today’s “elders” would be ordained members of the presbytery: bishops, pastors, deacons, elders, and ministers (depending on the denomination). However, many larger churches form specific groups who are trained to visit the sick (example: The Missionary Society or The Sick and Shut-In Ministry), thereby allowing the Pastor and his/her leadership team to have more time to move the vision and mission of the church forward.
James taught that the elders should perform two acts when they visit the sick:
1. “pray over him” (James 14c), – “Prayer is always one important means of obtaining the divine favor, and there is no place where it is more appropriate than by the bed-side of sickness. That relief from pain may be granted; that the mind may be calm and submissive; that the medicines employed may be blessed to a restoration to health; that past sins may be forgiven; that he who is sick may be sanctified by his trials; that he may be restored to health or prepared for his “last change” (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible).
It should be noted that there are healing services (in many local churches), healing conferences (held by many denominations), and pilgrimages to healing sites (such as Lourdes in Frances). But James taught that the sick, weak, homebound person should call for the elders of the church to come pray for him. This would also apply to those in the hospital, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, etc.
2. “anointing him with oil in the Lord’s name” (James 5:14d). The Parable of the good Samaritan gives a biblical example of the medical use of oil (Luke 10:34). If you are not familiar with this story take the time to read it soon. Note: Being anointed with oil is not a substitute for taking your doctor prescribed medication.
We pray in Jesus’ name because he told us to: “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (John 16:23, ESV). “In that day” refers to after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, which is the dispensation we live in today. When we pray in Jesus’ name, we must pray according to God’s will as expressed in Scripture.
James explains what the prayer of the elders will accomplish: “And the prayer [that is] of faith will save him who is sick, and the Lord will restore him; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (James 5:15, Amplified Bible). I want to state that God is still in the healing business in the 21st century! When the elders pray in faith and you ask for forgiveness for any continued sins that may have contributed to your illness, expect to be healed. However, because God is Sovereign, I want to share considerations from Dr. Daniel M. Doriani, former President of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO:
- “Scripture notes that certain men of great faith were not healed of illnesses. Paul worked many miracles, but he did not heal associates such as Timothy (1 Tim. 5:23), Trophimus (2 Tim. 4:20)…”
- “And the Lord never relieved Paul of his own ‘thorn in the flesh,’ which was apparently a physical affliction” (2Cor. 12:7-10).
- “The Lord will heal all people sooner or later. Some rise from sickness in this life, after prayer by the elders. But some rise bodily only on the last day, when the Lord raises the dead.”
- “Since he [the Lord] determines when he heals, we should not blame sick believers for their lack of faith.” (I would like to add that we should not blame the elders for lack of faith either. God is Sovereign and He will perform His will as He sees fit.)
Next, James instructs the sick to do the following: “Confess to one another therefore your faults (your slips, your false steps, your offenses, your sins) and pray [also] for one another, that you may be healed and restored [to a spiritual tone of mind and heart]” (James 5:16a, Amplified Bible). Warren W. Wiersbe offers clarity on this verse:
“We confess our sins first of all to the Lord (1 John 1:9), but we must also confess them to those who have been affected by them. We must never confess sin beyond the circle of that sin’s influence. Private sin requires private confession; public sin requires public confession. It is wrong for Christians to ‘hang dirty wash in public,’ for such ‘confessing’ might do more harm than the original sin.”
Have you ever been sick, the elders prayed for you, and you were healed? Share your testimony with us. Join the conversation.
Dr. Dorothy J. Haire
Author & Blogger
Both church planter and pastor of Bread of Life Christian Church for the last 18 years, Dr. Haire is a beloved mother and successful author. Empowered to deliver the word of God to His people, Dr. Haire uses her digital platform to educate and develop Christian communities that are rooted in the word of Christ.