The Prayer of Faith

Lewis DoylePosted on Monday, April 20th, 2015 by Lewis Doyle

(The following comprises notes from a sermon delivered at St. Luke’s on Sunday April 19th 2015).

Readings

Psalm 42 & James 5: 13-20

Introduction

Tonight concludes our sermon series on James, which we started at the beginning of Lent. We’ve looked at some wonderful topics together as a Church, which if you’re in a LifeGroup you will know included group discussions. James is a wonderful book by a wonderful man. It has been described as an ‘instruction manual for Christians’.

James, as we know, is the younger brother of Jesus, and what I find really interesting about him is that he wasn’t converted to Christianity until after Jesus’ death and resurrection. I suppose gettng on with your sibling is one thing, worshipping him as the Son of God and saviour to mankind is quite another!

However, James went from humble younger brother to the leader of the Church at Jerusalem. A very significant role within the early Church and in particular to the doctrine of early Christianity.

It’s not entirely clear who exactly the letter was meant for, despite it’s address stating “the 12 tribes of Israel”. The phrase ’12 tribes’ has eschatological themes generally so it could refer to Christians. Equally though, such a broad address could also imply all of Israel. I suspect it’s a combination of both. The use of the phrase ‘disapora’ which is transliterated ‘dispersion’ alludes to those Jewish Christians that fled persecution following Stephen’s stoning in Acts 11:19.

I personally read this letter as a note from a pastor to Christians that during a time of need and therefore believe it applies every much to us today as it’s original readers.

The book deals with some of questions and topics we as Christians will encounter during our life

  • What is a true Christian faith?
  • Healing
  • Living within a Church
  • Living within the community

James starts with what may have been the most pressing situation, that of suffering. He gives words of advice on the subject and then leads us on a journey of spiritual education of a faith that controls every aspect of our daily life. We came across phrases such as ‘be doers of the word, and not hearers only’ (James 1:22), and ‘faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead’ (James 2:17). We have been warned about how harmful our tongue can be, both to ourselves and to others. Then James takes us back, full circle to living as Christians during suffering and that brings us to our final passage here tonight, one of which can be discussed for ours, and attracts differing views. I will tonight try to exegetically unpack this using hermeneutics to understand and apply what I believe the meaning to be.

The Prayer of Faith

The heading in my Bible for this passage is ‘The Prayer of Faith’ which should give us an insight to what this will contain. Some have said that this passage contains the formula to physical healing. Whilst James does talk about healing, I disagree.

“As the context and content of this section make clear, the subject is not physical illness or healing. Instead, its concern is with healing spiritual weakness spiritual weariness, spiritual exhaustion and spiritual depression through prayer…”
Dr John MacArthur, US Author, Theologian and Pastor.

Some of you may remember the BBC TV show ‘Question of Sport’. One of the rounds was the ‘what happens next’ round. During which contestants were shown a short sporting clip and were asked to guess what happens next (For example see this clip on Youtube

For me, James in this passage is giving us instruction of what we should do next. No matter what the situation we find ourselves in, he is telling us to turn to the Lord in prayer.

This becomes even more apparent when we see that in the passage of verses 13-18 the word ‘prayer’ features in every verse.

James’ instructions are not exclusive to him and in our earlier reading of Psalm 142 we find David in a precarious position, crying to the Lord from a position of weariness, being faint and being alone. David in this Psalm looks only to God and uses the familiar phrase ‘you are my refuge’. To put it another way, ‘you are my safe place, you are the answer’.

James presents various situations:

  • Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray
  • Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise – I’m not sure if that’s James’ sense of humour there knowing how he started the letter!
  • 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….. The Prayer of the righteous person has great power as it is working.

Whatever the situation, whether we’re feeling content and blessed, or whether we are in a time of suffering, we must pray.

Verse 15 can be a difficult passage because it suggests here that if one follows these steps then healing will be at the end of it. It also suggests that the components fall very much on the individual. Surely then if I see the elders for anointing with oil and pray in faith all sickness will be healed? Is this what James is saying?

If only James was in the congregation tonight, we could ask him!

What is particularly interesting is how this phrase is translated from Greek to English. If we look at the New International Version:

And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well

and compare that to the English Standard Version

And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick

What we have here is two words:

  • Sozo for ‘heal / save’
  • and

  • Kamno for ‘sick’.
Save or Heal?

The Greek verb Kamno is found only twice within the New Testament in James 5:15 and in Hebrews 12:3. In Hebrews it is rendered as ‘weary’, not as ‘sick’.

James chose the word ‘Kamno’ for sick which, when used in Hebrews, suggests weary not ill.

Compare that with Matthew’s use of the verb Astheneo in Matthew 25:26

I was sick (astheneo) and you visited me

. This Greek verb is found 32 times in the New Testament. In 18 of those it is transaletd as ‘Ill’, ‘Sick’ or ‘Invalid’ and in 14 as ‘Weak’

In Paul’s letters the same word is translated 13 times as ‘weak’ and 4 times as ‘sick’.

Sozo means to ‘save, deliver, protect, heal, preserve & make whole’ and is found 99 times in the New Testament.

This verse could therefore be rendered:

And the prayer of faith will save the weary

One thing that is really important to remember is that in 2 Corinthians 12: 6-9 Paul said that he was given a ‘thorn in the flesh’ (not spirit), and he prayed 3 times with the Lord for this to leave him but it did not. He was told that ‘my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’.

Healing is not guaranteed so James’ passage is not formula for healing. It is a direction to seek God and to look to God at all times, whether it is in times of happiness through praise, whether it’s through necessity, through pleading or for any other time. God is our provider and, as James was telling his 1st Century readers he is also telling us, give everything to the Lord.

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