Main Text: James 5:13-18
Point of Emphasis: The benefit of praying with others
Memory Verse: "Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." James 5:16
For many of us, especially men, we prefer to do things on our own; we live in the age of the individual. We are told to be tolerant and not to tell people they are wrong. We feel entitled to our opinions. This mindset, however, works against the very nature of what the church is: a community of believers in Jesus Christ.
Our culture celebrates individuality. The Home Depot and Lowe's target do-it-yourselfers. Some men refuses to ask directions, because we just know the way. I have loaded and unloaded large appliances from a pickup by myself; I once even tried it with an upright piano, just because I don't like to ask for help.
But how does this affect our spiritual life? On a basic level our individuality is a hindrance to prayer (you can remind them of last week's lesson). Our pride keeps us from God. However, he is not the only one we shut out. We often do not see the need for others in our lives, especially our prayer lives. This morning we are going to look at a passage of Scripture that addresses the need to pray together.
The Bible is clear that faith is to be lived out in a corporate, and not an individualistic way. On an eternal level, God exists in community. He is the Trinity—One God in three persons. God created man in community with himself, then he created woman for community as well. After the Fall, which broke that community, God established a way of salvation through the means of community. He called out Abraham and made a mighty nation out of him, though their imperfections led them away from God. In Ezekiel 36 he talks about redeeming his people, putting a new heart into the nation. God has chosen to bring salvation through a corporate group—the nation of Israel.
In the New Testament this is true as well. Though Christ is the one who brings Salvation (sent by God in the Power of the Holy Spirit) it is the church that he chose to be the proclaimer of the word. In 1 Peter 2:9-10 it speaks of the church corporately, "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy." The church is the fulfillment of Ezekiel 36, it is corporate, it is the people of God.
This aspect of the community of saints, God's people, then means that the church is to be working with one another. That is, we need one another. Romans 10 shows that no one will hear apart from someone proclaiming the gospel. Acts 2 shows that the first believers did everything together. Jesus himself called a group together, the disciples, and sent people out two by two. Mark 6:7 "And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them power over unclean spirits."
With this focus upon the corporate nature of the church, why is it that the fundamental way in which we communicate with God is often missing our community. To say it differently, why do many Christians not pray together if it seems that God sees that we work better together? Matthew 18 is clear "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them." We don't pray to be heard by men, but we must learn to pray together.
Meeting Specific Needs
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. 14 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. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses[e] to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.
In this passage we see more information about prayer and its necessity in our lives. We want to spend our time on the corporate nature of prayer—on praying together. The book of James has been said to be a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. Both texts address the basic needs of the Christian life and the way in which the church should act. So it is not surprising that both have thoughts on prayer. We have seen in James 4 that "we do not have because we do not ask."
Our Basic Needs are Met through Prayer and Praise
Verse 13 addresses the basic aspect of prayer. If you are suffering—pray. If you are joyful—praise. We all need to be aware of this simple truth of the Christian life. Instead of doing it all alone, we need to depend upon the one who can do it alone. In 4:8 it says, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you." In 4:10 it says, "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up." With such promises we must not neglect the simple request of prayer and praise.
Is prayer our last resort, or the first point of action?
Praying Together Can Heal Sickness
Beyond the simple need to pray and praise comes the need to do so with others. This is corporate nature of prayer. In vs. 14 it addresses sickness. We all know of people who are sick and we all have heard for and asked for prayer for those about which we are concerned. However, often little time is given actually in prayer for these requests together. They become moved into the private realm of our prayer life, if prayed for at all.
Notice that this verse does not say, "if someone is sick, ask others to add it to their prayer list," though this is not a bad idea. Rather, it says, "let him call for the elders of the church." This is a request for a group to pray over a person. In particular this is calling for the presbyteros, the elders, the pastors, of the church to pray. The effect of this calling is in verse 15 "And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up." The corporate nature of the prayer of those who pray in faith are effective. However it needs to be seen that one must sometimes pray with others, offering petitions together.
Sometimes prayers need to be prayed more fervently, faithfully, and repeatedly. Remember the passage of the person who the disciples could not help in Matthew 17? The boy could be healed only through much prayer and fasting. Healing can come, but sometimes it has to be done through the prayers of many.
Discuss with your class experiences of how God healed through praying together.
Praying Together Helps Confession
A third aspect of corporate prayer in this passage is found in the realm of confession. We are Baptists and Evangelicals, Protestants and not Catholics. When we hear of confessing to one another we may think of the confessionals in the Roman Catholic Church. In the RCC confession to a priest is needed to take away sin, but we believe that Christ is our only mediator and we have no need of another person to do this for us. However, sometimes we throw out the baby with the bathwater.
In verse 15 we see that "And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven." Though we know that we must confess sour sins for forgiveness we often miss the next verse, "Confess your trespasses to one another." This is where the passage becomes more difficult. We are to confess verbally our sins to other people. Please do not back off of this point based upon the difficulty found here. The text is clear, confession exists that we may have forgiveness.
The obvious reason for the difficulty in this verse is pride. We have a hard time confessing to God in secret, let alone to another person. We love to tell of the praises of God in our lives (or the praises of ourselves) but we hate to speak of the difficulties, sins, and failures. What we miss out on is the blessing found in confessing our sins one to another. Consider sharing this quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
"In Confession there occurs a breakthrough to the cross. The root of all sin is pride, superbia. I want to be for myself; I have a right to be myself, a right to my hatred and desires, my life and my death. The spirit and flesh of human beings are inflamed by pride, for it is precisely in their wickedness that human beings want to be like God. Confession in the presence of another believer is the most profound kind of humiliation. It hurts, makes one feel small; it deals a terrible blow to one's pride. To stand there before another Christian as a sinner is an almost unbearable disgrace. By confessing actual sins the old self dies a painful, humiliating death before the eyes of another Christian. Because this humiliation is so difficult, we think we can avoid confessing to one another. Our eyes are so blinded that they no longer see the promise and the glory of such humiliation. It is none other than Jesus Christ who openly suffered the shameful death of a sinner in our place, … crucified for us as an evildoer. And it is nothing else but our community with Jesus Christ that leads us to the disgraceful dying that comes in confession, so that we may truly share in this cross. The cross of Jesus Christ shatters all pride. We cannot find the cross of Jesus if we are afraid of going to the place where Jesus can be found, to the public death of the sinner. And we refuse to carry the cross when we are ashamed to take upon ourselves the shameful death of the sinner in confession. In confession we break through to the genuine community of the cross of Jesus Christ; in confession we affirm our cross. In the profound spiritual and physical pain of humiliation before another believer, which means before God, we experience the cross of Jesus as our deliverance and salvation. The old man dies, but God has triumphed over it. Now we share in the resurrection of Christ and eternal life." (Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 111-12).
The implication of verse 16 is that sometimes private confession needs to be escalated. The idea here is that dwelling in habitual sin, even if confessed over and over can lead to sickness. In that case we need the amplified effect of group confession and prayer. Imagine after calling in other prayer warriors for confession and prayer for healing, it will be more difficult to fall for Satan's old deceptions again, because of the humility of public confession, and the realization that it had brought sickness into your life.
Can anyone think of a time when public confession has helped them find forgiveness?
Why are we reluctant to publicly confess?
Praying Together has Great Power
Lastly, this passage sums up prayer and implicit in that is the corporate nature of prayer. "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." Another way of saying this is "The effective prayer of a righteous person has great power." Whatever we do as Christians it must be done in prayer. Consider Proverbs 3:5-6 "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths."
- When have you had a time when you felt like your prayers were effective?
- If you pray with others, with whom do you pray? (Spouse, Fiend, etc.) Why?
- Have you seen more effectiveness in your prayers when you are praying with someone about an issue?