Group Resources for the Week of May 22, 2016
This Week: James 5:12-18
Date: May 22, 2016
Series: Shoe Leather Theology: Study of James
This Week’s Resources:
- The Compass Bible Study (pdf)
- Study Notes (pdf)
- Lighthouse Discussion Guide (pdf)
- Lighthouse Leader Study Guide (pdf)
- Word Search Answer Key (pdf)
This Week’s Lighthouse Lesson
Overview of this Lesson
In this week’s lesson, we look at the oft misunderstood dividing line between medicine and faith. Some cults (like Christian Science and Jehovah’s Witnesses) teach that modern medical treatment is a rejection of God, therefore they teach their followers to reject modern medicine. Other groups, run in the opposite direction and believe in the absolute healing power of prayer. They hold large “faith healing” services and encourage the sick and hurting to come and be healed of all their afflictions.
Both of these extremes are wrong, and are gross false teachings of the principles James teaches concerning the prayer of faith and healing.
In this lesson, we will examine many of this unfortunate responses to James’ teaching on prayer and healing while at the same time seeking to fully understand what the Bible is teaching in this important area.
It is my prayer that as you study this week’s lesson and apply it within your own life, you will be drawn into deeper prayer for the suffering within our own church, our community, and this world.
Memory Verse for This Week
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.”– James 5:13 (ESV)
Core Practice for This Week
Prayer (Psalm 66:16-20): I pray to God to know Him, to lay my request before Him and to find direction for my daily life.
1. Looking back at your notes from this week’s sermon, was there anything that particularly caught your attention, challenged or confused you?
2. Which direction do you tend to lean when you are dealing with everyday minor health problems?
- I rush off to the M.D. at the first sign of a sniffle.
- I dose myself at home with natural remedies.
- I am a natural food fanatic and wouldn’t go near a doctor.
- I am never sick.
- I am too tough to need a doctor.
3. When have you been the sickest? What kind of medical intervention did you have to have?
This Week’s Take Home Truth
Our dependence on God is most consistently demonstrated when we pray, both in the good times and the bad times.
Read the Text (James 5:13-18)
In this last major section of the letter, James argues that real faith produces genuine patience (5:7–5:20). In 5:7–12, he answered the question of how to respond to suffering through patient endurance. Here, in 5:13–18, we will see James continue to develop the idea of how we are to conduct ourselves with patience as we await the Lord’s return. This time, though, true faith exhibited through patience manifests itself differently—namely, in prayer. In the face of every obstacle, whether sickness or sin, the correct response is prayer. Prayer not only reflects an attitude of genuine faith; it also reveals patient endurance as we turn to God to handle life’s struggles, in His timing and according to His promises. As such, prayer becomes a quintessential mark of authentic faith Swindoll. Read James 5:12-18.
James 5:12–18 (ESV)
12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. 13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 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 one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
In this section, feel free to develop your own questions to help guide your group’s discussion. Below are some suggestions.
4. Understanding suffering. Read 1 Peter 4:12-16 to learn more about suffering in the early church, then answer the following questions.
a) How did some believers in the early church view suffering (v. 12)?
b) How did Peter want them to respond to suffering and why (vv. 13-14)?
c) What kind of suffering were they exhorted to avoid (v. 15)?
d) What type of suffering was commended and why (v. 16)?
1 Peter 4:12–16 (ESV)
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
5. James’ instruction for Christians in the midst of suffering is to pray. Is this difficult or easy to do?
For many of us, the answer is that prayer is easy when we are suffering. We have God programmed into our phones on speed dial–a spiritual 911–but the real issue is one of priority. As Chuck Swindoll observes,
People usually don’t have a hard time ultimately turning to God in prayer when their lives are unraveling. When pain increases, when worry overcomes them, when events spin out of control, God finally gets His call. But in my experience, people tend to put off prayer as the last option, or they treat it like a time-waster that distracts them from working out a solution to the problem on their own. But James is clear: prayer is the solution to the problem. Everything we do must start with prayer.
6. The kind of church James describes in these verses is one best summarized by the word “fellowship.” What is fellowship, and how does biblical fellowship differ from our understanding of fellowship?
We often understand fellowship in terms of food, fun, and friendship. As my friend, Dave Welshon once remarked, “I’m pretty sure my grandma is in heaven. She was a Methodist and the only require for eternal life was you had to bring a covered dish with you.”
Humor aside, that is often as deep as our understanding of fellowship goes.
“Fellowship” is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied words in the language of modern piety. It has by and large been hijacked from its biblical roots—more on that in a moment—and associated with a narrow range of Christian social activities, usually involving food and casual conversation and sometimes describing little more than participation in party games. The problem, let me hasten to add, is not that Christian social activities cannot be regarded as an expression of Christian fellowship—our sharing of a broad spectrum of activities ought to flow out of our oneness of fellowship in Christ—but, as Jerry Bridges points out, “It is just that they are not true fellowship. They may, if entered into for the right purpose, contribute to fellowship, but in and of themselves they are not fellowship.” True fellowship is a deeper and richer element in Christian experience. Beginning with Acts 2:42, which distinguishes “the apostles teaching… fellowship… breaking of bread… and prayer” as the fundamental components of apostolic church body-life, Bridges goes on to show that biblical fellowship (Greek koinonia) “is a relationship, not an activity”. As such, it consists in four distinct aspects:
- A common life in Christ as a spiritually organic community with shared union and communion with the Lord and unity in the truths of the Word of God;
- Partnership in the goal of glorifying God and promoting the gospel of Christ in the conversion of the lost and the building up of the church;
- Practical sharing of communion with others in spiritual things to the end of bearing one another’s burdens and encouraging one another in the faith; and
- Sharing material possessions and thus expressing the most comprehensive unity of Christ’s body in meeting practical needs in everyday life.
James does not develop a systematic theology of fellowship, but focuses on one of its leading evidences—caring for others out of love for Christ (1:27). In 5:14-18, James extends the application of this motif to the place of corporate intercessory prayer within the fellowship. He shows us how those who truly share biblical fellowship (koinonia) ought to care for the integrated spiritual and physical welfare of one another. First of all, we are shown what the church is to do when someone in the fellowship is ill (5:14-15). Secondly, the idea of healing is extended beyond the physical to encompass the spiritual health of believers and we are called to respond to needs with confession and prayer (5:16). Finally, we are reminded of the power of prayer as an instrument of fellowship and, by way of encouragement, we are pointed to the example of Elijah (5:16-18).
7. How is our physical sickness and suffering connected to sin?
This is a tricky question that can breed confusion if you do not explain the connection carefully. Chuck Swindoll provides Five Laws of Suffering to help guide us in this discussion:
Law One: There are two classifications of sin. Original sin is the sinful condition all humans (except Jesus Christ) inherit from Adam, who was the source and “head” of the human race (Rom. 5:12). Personal sins are individual acts of wrong we regularly and willfully commit on our own because of our sinful condition (Rom. 3:23). Because of original sin (the root), we commit acts of sin (the fruit).
Law Two: Original sin introduced suffering, illness, and death to the human race (Rom. 5:12). Had original sin never entered the garden of Eden, humanity never would have known sickness or death. In the broadest sense, all sickness and suffering are the result of original sin. After Adam and Eve fell, they began to suffer a deathlike existence in a hostile world characterized by suffering, caused by their own departure from God’s way (Gen. 3).
Law Three: Sometimes there is a direct relationship between personal sins and sickness. David testified to the relationship between his own personal acts of disobedience and physical ailments in Psalms 32:3–5 and 38:3–5. Paul also warned that some of the Corinthian believers were “weak and sick” and a number of them had died because of personal sin (1 Cor. 11:27–30).
Law Four: Sometimes there is no relationship between personal sins and sickness. Some people are born with afflictions, suffering before they ever reach the age of committing personal sins (John 9:1–3; Acts 3:1–2). Others, like Job, are living upright lives when suffering comes (Job 1:1–5). Jesus Himself never committed personal sins, yet He often suffered; that is why He can fully sympathize with our plight of suffering in a fallen world (Heb. 4:15; 5:8).
Law Five: It is not God’s will that everyone be healed in this life. Some believe God wants every believer to experience complete physical healing in this life. They support their convictions with the words of Isaiah: “By His scourging we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). “Christ’s death brought us healing!” they sing and shout. Of course it did! But what kind? Check the context. The whole flow of thought in Isaiah 53 has to do with the spiritual needs of humans and Christ’s priceless provision for the forgiveness of sin. It’s true that Matthew 8:17 quotes Isaiah 53:4 in reference to both physical and spiritual healing, but there Matthew relates it to Christ’s personal work of healing as a sign of His true identity as Isaiah’s Servant.
8. Is James instructing Christians to rely on faith alone to bring about physical healing? Should Christians avoid doctors and medications?
This is one of the unfortunate false teachings of this passage of Scripture. Over the centuries, various belief systems (many times these are cults) view the application of modern medicine as a lack of faith in God, and, therefore, something Christians should avoid. This is not what James is teaching here.
In fact, James is pointing to something quite the opposite. As many commentator’s note, oil (olive oil, specifically) was one of the primary medicines of the First Century. Oil was used to sooth painful joints, to ward off infection, to clean a wound, and many other medicinal uses.
If anything, James is asking Christians to employ a “both and” approach when it comes to sickness. Rely on physicians and medicine, but remember it is the Lord who brings healing, and it is through prayer that we bring our petitions to the Lord. A.T. Robertson explains this well:
The credit is here given to prayer and the power of God. One is not to infer that James gives no credit to medicine. The oil was good, God works through medicines and without medicine. The best that we still know on this subject is just this: Prayer and medicine or God and the doctor.
9. If we pray and ask God to heal someone, and he does not, does this mean this person lacks true faith, harbored sin, or had done something woefully wrong?
Verse 15 is the text in question here: “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”
Again, it is an unfortunate application of James’ teaching in this this passage to imply that God refuses to heal a beloved Christian because he or she harbors some sin.
James does state the response to the prayer of faith in unconditional terms, but as Strauch observes, James’ teaching on prayer is consistent with how others made such statements:
James’ unqualified promise of recovery is similar to other unconditional statements about prayer found in the Gospels. The prayer of faith is so powerful that James, like our Lord, states its effectiveness in limitless terms: “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive” (Matt. 21:22; cf. Mark 9:23; 11:22–26; Luke 11:5–13; John 15:7, 16; 16:24). These absolute, unrestricted statements teach the power of faith and prayer. Such absolute expressions are part of a rich diversity of images used by our Lord to vividly and dramatically teach people who by nature are dull to spiritual matters (Rom. 6:19).
James rightly expects his listeners to understand that there are legitimate, unexpressed qualifications to such statements. As one commentator says of James’ provocative style of teaching, “It is an aspect of James’ style to say things bluntly and not to spell out details or make refinements.” This is why he does not say when or how the Lord will restore the one who is sick. Without an understanding of the qualifications to such statements, one is faced with contradictions and absurdities. For example, although he prayed three times for relief from “a thorn in the flesh,” Paul did not receive what he prayed for (2 Cor. 12:8, 9). That didn’t mean Paul lacked faith. God, however, had His perfect reasons for answering in a different way (2 Cor. 12:9).
God has many ways to cure people’s ills, as demonstrated by the case of Epaphroditus in Philippians 2. Epaphroditus was extremely ill, almost to the point of death, and Paul seemed powerless to prevent it. Why didn’t Paul pray and receive immediate, miraculous healing for Epaphroditus? How could a deathbed experience involving two such mighty men of faith occur? The answer is that even apostles could not heal indiscriminately (Gal. 4:13, 14; 1 Tim. 5:23; 2 Tim. 4:20). Consequently, Paul writes that God had mercy on Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:27). God certainly cares for His own. Epaphroditus recovered but not, it seems, by the spectacular means we might have expected. The means of healing is not revealed. What is revealed is God, the ultimate source of healing.
James’ teaching does not mean that a spectacular miracle of healing must take place. He writes in a general manner that says nothing specific about how the Lord will heal. James’ instruction, therefore, cannot be brushed aside as a unique, temporary, first-century practice.
We must also remember that the prayer of faith is one that is in accordance with the will of God, and it is not God’s will to heal every believer of any and every ailment. McGee makes this point:
If you say that it is God’s will for every Christian who gets sick to be healed, you must agree that the logical conclusion of that line of thinking is that the Christian will never die. He will be healed of every disease which causes death. May I say, that is ridiculous. I have been healed of cancer, but I expect to die, if the Lord does not come in the meantime. It is a cruel hoax perpetrated upon simple believers that it is God’s will for all to be healed.
10. What are we to make of the Word of Faith “faith healers” famous for the healing services all over the world, often seen on television?
In our third “unfortunate” reality of how today’s culture has co-opted James’ teaching and turned it into a false teaching, the “faith healers” of today are often scam artists and charlatans. Note first, that James instructs the sick person to call the elders of the church, not go to a healing service sponsored by a televangelist or another church. Elders are responsible for their own church, and church members should seek out the prayer and care of their own elders, not take their concerns to a famous faith healer.
Moreover, as Mattoon observes, for all of their hoopla and hype, “faith healers” face the same demise as every other human:
The father of the post-WW2 healing revival was William Branham. Yet, in 1965, at the age of 56, he died after suffering for six days from injuries sustained in a car accident. The famous tent evangelist and faith healer, A.A. Allen, died of sclerosis of the liver in 1967, having secretly struggled with alcoholism for many years. Faith healer, Kathryn Kulman, died of heart failure in 1976, after battling heart disease for twenty years. Ruth Carter Stapleton, faith-healing sister of former President Carter refused medical treatment for cancer because of her belief in faith healing. She died of the disease in 1983.
11. When James instructs Christians to confess their sins to one another (v. 16), are there any parameters on this?
Yes, we do need to use discretion in confessing sin. Bottom line, there are some sins that do not need to be broadcast live from the pulpit on Sunday morning. There are sins that would be inappropriate to confess within your Lighthouse in a mixed group of men and women.
I like how Jerry Vines identifies secret sin, private sin, and public sin, and the guidelines he provides for confession of each kind of sin:
Confession of sin is an area that has been greatly abused. Sometimes people have confessed sins in such a way that it has brought great reproach on the name of the Lord. Let me give you a guideline in the whole area of confession that I think will be helpful to you. Never confess a sin beyond the circle of its influence. I want to repeat that because this is very important. Never confess a sin beyond the circle of its influence.
Let me show you what I’m talking about. In Psalm 90, verse 8, it says, ”Thou has set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.” There are some sins in our life that are secret. There are some sins in your life, like your thought life, that evil thought you had this morning, that are known only to you and God. Those sins are to be confessed only to God. Secret sins confessed only to God. Do not confess a sin beyond its sphere of influence.
There are some sins that are private, sins that have been committed between you and another individual. That’s why Jesus says that if your brother sins against you, you are to go and tell your brother between you and him alone. It is a private sin. If he knows about it; don’t confess something that he may not know. If you have committed a sin against that individual and he doesn’t know you have committed that sin, then don’t confess it to him.
But there are instances where people need to confess their sins publicly to those to whom they have sinned and against those they have sinned. These are sins that we have committed in plain view for all to see.
Again, when it comes to confessing sin, a simple guideline: Don’t confess a sin beyond its sphere of influence.
These questions are given to prompt both reflection and learning on a personal level, and should likely be completed individually and apart from your regular group time.
12. What situation or person will you pray for in faith this week?
13. What personal needs can you ask others to pray for through the coming week? Whom will you ask?
14. Whom do you know who has been drifting away from the Lord and who needs an encouraging word from you this week?
End of 2015-16 Lighthouse Year
This week is the final week of the 2015-16 Lighthouse Year. Starting next week, most of our Lighthouses will begin their summer break. Lighthouses will resume in September.
If you are interested in exploring Lighthouse Leadership, please contact Chris Eller at firstname.lastname@example.org.