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Did James believe Christians should not need medical help?

November 21, 2011

James 5 verses 14&15 has caused much diversity of interpretation and practice. It seems to suggest that when you are ill all you need to do is to have the church elders anoint you with oil and you will be healed. The Roman Catholic Church have responded to this verse with one of the seven sacraments – extreme unction. This is to be only used in cases when a person is about to die (which may be a fair understanding that this is for extreme cases in that you have to call rfather than go to the elders) but their results  do not seem to correlate to the promise of this verse.

I am not claiming to be the authority on the exegesis of this passage or that I can clear up all understanding as there is a mystery to healing as it is in God’s hands not ours, but I lay out below some helpful insights that have allowed me to develop a pastoral practice.

  • In using the example of Job in verse 11 of this chapter, James cannot be suggesting that Christians should not suffer physical and emotional ailments. In fact his argument in the first part of this chapter is that of persevering in suffering.
  • Surely the ‘trouble’ (literally the evil blows) we are to pray about in verse 13 would include physical suffering.
  • The happiness of verse 13 is not the happiness of blessing but the courage that the Lord will finally show his mercy and compassion. The same Greek word is translated courage in Acts 27 v 22 and v 25. When Paul is in a storm with everyone fearing for their lives and he has ha a visit from an angel. The happiness that comes from the Lord speaking to us.
  • In the context of these two descriptions, he talks about being sick or without strength. This is not a minor ailment but may also suggest a loss of faith and hope in the situation, a loss of spiritual strength. There is no courage as the Lord seems distant. This then may explain why ‘sins will be forgiven’ follows, not that the sickness is a result of sin but that the spiritual loss of hope and courage is a turning from God in the suffering. It is interesting to note that the medical profession suggest a very high percentage of illness are a result of emotional distress such as resentment, bitterness, unforgiveness, stress – many of which are sins.
  • This may also explain why the chapter ends with a call to be a righteous pray-er (someone in a right relationship with God) and the call for us all to draw people back to the truth.

With these insights I believe there is a sickness and suffering in which we find courage from the Lord and have heard from him that he will heal us or that ‘his grace will be sufficient’ (2 Cor 12:7-10) but other times the sufferings and sickness cause us to lose courage and faith. And the anointing with oil is the outward sign of the inner grace of the strength and courage of the Spirit.

Therefore our Christian practice is to pray for the sick at all times and usually with the laying on of hands, and healing comes as a sign of the Kingdom. There are times when suffering or sickness can cause a spiritual sickness/weakness/questions/doubts and then anointing with oil in faith brings the power of the Holy Spirit with either immediate physical healing and strength but certainly a spiritual wholeness and courage. The Elders with the wisdom and gifts to discern what the Lord is saying in the situation.

These are difficult verses but as churches we must respond in faith and pray for the sick and weak and see the power of Jesus. If others have other insights that help us make sense of this passage I would be glad to hear from you.

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  1. Fred permalink

    There is no record of who wrote this. Does your name ned to be on it as copyright?

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