Letter of James 13

Chapter 5.4
o. The power of prayer (5:13–18)

If a Christian is sick, prayer is enjoined upon the elders of the church, and the power of such a method is illustrated by appeal to the fervent prayer of Elijah when he prayed for rain. Verses 13 to 18 form a unit, as is easy to verify after reading them. The central theme is prayer, which is undoubtedly mentioned in all the verses that make up the unit. As has been observed repeatedly t times, the tone of the Epistle is eminently practical, although its theology is profound. The same theological-pastoral emphasis is evident throughout this final paragraph. James instructs his readers on what to do when they find themselves in difficult circumstances. The exhortation to pray is typical of the final section of the New Testament epistles. In the secular letters, this section conveyed the desire for "good health". In this letter both topics are combined, and James exhorts his readers to pray for the health and physical well-being of the sick. James recommends that we pray always and in every circumstance that the believer or the community may be going through [vv. 13-14]. Personal prayer and community prayer [v. 16a]. In addition, James stresses the power of the prayer of the righteous [vv. 16b-18]. This section could be considered to be related to the beginning of the letter. Verse 2 of the first chapter could be the background to explain James' invitation to the believers to pray, the trials that the believers are suffering or will suffer would be the cause for encouraging people to pray. The question at the beginning of this section of the letter, "Is anyone suffering among you?", reminds us of the "suffering of the prophets" in v. 10[James uses the same Greek word for suffering in both cases]. In this way, James closes the circle that begins in 1:2 when he begins speaking of the "various trials" that that community was enduring.

In addition to the recommendation to pray, there is another recommendation that James makes to his readers, "confess your sins to one another. James writes that it should be common practice for Christians to confess our sins to each other so that we may be healed. As in the previous verses, some Bible scholars read the word "healed" here as a reference to healing from physical illness. Others understand it to mean healing from discouragement and spiritual weakness. In either case, this healing requires two things from Christians. We are both to confess our sins to each other, and to pray for each other. James offers no details about what this should look like in practice. More likely, James has in mind the idea of Christians being in close relationship with several other Christians. We need fellow believers with whom we can be vulnerable. In that setting, each could acknowledge to the other what sins are most difficult for them, and all could pray for each other to overcome those sins. It seems likely, in the modern world, that very few Christians are practicing this in any specific way. We're just too afraid to be that vulnerable. James's command is for us, as much as it's for his original readers. The church would be far healthier if more of us prayed for each other, in family love, to overcome our specific sins. After all, James writes, prayer works. God listens and responds. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective because God hears and acts.

James’s reminder of the great power of prayer in the last part of verse 16 provides a basis for the exhortations to pray which he has previously given [vv. 13-16a]. The power of prayer is not limited to few special believers, when James speaks of “the righteous” he refers to any person who is truly and wholeheartedly committed to God and sincerely seeking to obey Him and follow his ways. And after that he presents us with an example of a righteous person whose prayer was powerful and life changing: the prophet Elijah [The situation James describes can be found in 1 Kings 17-18]. He was one of the most popular and important figures among the Jews. He was celebrated for his powerful deeds and his prophetic denunciations of the false Gods and of sin. But most importantly, he was seen as the helper in times of hardship whose arrival would prepare the road to the Messianic times [Mal. 4,5-6; Sirach 48,1-10; mark 9,12; Luke 1,17]. But what interests James is not the prophetic place of Elijah in the history of the people of Israel but the fact that being a "man with a nature like ours", his prayer was "powerful and effective". This is why Elijah serves as an example: Not because of his extraordinary powers but because he was a human being like any of us. James wants us to recognize that this power of prayer is available to all who are genuinely and truthfully following the Lord.

Questions to think about
1. How should we respond, according to Santiago, when we are going through trials? Why is prayer important?
2. How does prayer make a difference in the lives of believers? What can be accomplished through prayer?
3. What hinders Christians from confessing sins and praying for each other?
4. Why does James tell us to confess our sins to each other?
5. What did James mean by saying that “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”? What is the point of James’ illustration about Elijah? How is Elijah a good example of how God answers prayer? How have you seen prayer bring changes in people or circumstances?
6. How can you foster mutual responsibility in your church by praying more effectively and supporting each other?

For further prayer and reflection
There will be many people we know who are facing illness. Spend some time, praying for the Lord’s care for them: for their well-being spiritually, mentally and physically.

Spend some time thanking God for those signs of God’s kingdom that are now in evidence, as well as thanking him for that day when, finally, everything will be restored to what it should be.

p. Help for the backslider (5:19–20)
As we have seen throughout the study of this letter, it is an eminently practical document. The interest of its author is not to clearly define a concrete doctrinal point or
to carry out a theological analysis of any question, but to urge the believers to live the gospel in a real way, the faith they say they profess in their heart has to have a reflection in their daily acts. The author is facing a real problem by offering real solutions and not just theoretical ideas or theological reflections on the problem or problems that the community he is addressing is facing. Does this mean that there is no theological basis for what James says? On the contrary, this letter speaks to us of someone who has deeply internalized the truths of the faith and the doctrine that flows from them. So that they are part of his authentic nature and flow naturally into his actions and words. James exposes in a direct, practical, and simple way the core of the gospel. He offers his readers a clear idea of why they fail and what they can do to avoid failure in the future.

So here we are, at the end of the letter and, once again, that pragmatic character of the letter makes itself clearly present. No goodbyes, no greetings, no blessings. Instead, and then again, a call to action. A call to be vigilant and ready to help those who deviate from the path of faith. A special commendation and reward are promised to those who help others to turn back from the errors of their ways. There is the possibility that Christians will wander from the way of wisdom. James warned us in 1:16, “Do not be misled”, meaning, ‘Do not be misled and do not stray from the path of wisdom, from the truth, from a proper way of behaving. Do not stray from the right way of living and fall into sin.’ That is why James concludes by encouraging those who hear and obey also to work to restore those who have strayed from the pathway. James is telling us here in a truly clear way that we are responsible for our brothers. We are responsible for their physical and spiritual well-being, responsible for each other; those who can help their neighbor do not do so, they sin. And therefore, they become judges of their neighbor and of the law. And that judgment with which we judge will be turned against us. So, we can say that to the question, Am I my brother's keeper? James answers with a resounding yes. It is rightly our concern in the church to adequately receive newcomers. We do our best to make them feel welcome, accepted, and comfortable among us. But also, in the same way, we should be concerned about those who go astray, those who stop walking the path of faith. Those who for various reasons err and stray from the way of wisdom.

Questions to think about
1. When you have strayed from God's way, have you counted on the help of other Christians? Do you have someone you can turn to when you feel you are straying from the path?
2. Are you a person who reaches out to those who need guidance in finding their way back to God? How do you think James envisages believers “bringing back” those who wander from the truth? In what ways can we support one another, so that there is less likelihood of any one of us wandering from the path?
3. What do you think Santiago means when he writes "that the one who has turned a sinner from the error of his way will save that one’s soul from death and cover a multitude of sins ".


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