James 5:16-18


Bible Study Notes
Prayer can Accomplish Much
James 5:16-18


The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh, Senior Pastor at Indian Hills Community Church in Lincoln, NE. The text has been edited and condensed by IHCC staff for use as a Bible Study aid.

Intro. - James has given specific instructions for the sick in verse 14:

  1. The one who is sick is to call for the elders.
  2. The elders are to pray for him.
  3. The elders are to anoint him with oil. The anointing with oil represents the joy and happiness of this occasion.

In verse 15 we see the results of this activity:

  1. The sick person is healed by the prayer of faith.
  2. Any sins he may have committed are forgiven.

In light of what follows (vv. 16a,19,20), it seems likely that the key to understanding this section is the sin of the person who is sick. The sickness in view is a result of the discipline of the Lord for sin. This is why the elders are called by the sick person. He now desires to deal with his sin.

James continues this subject in the following verses, giving special attention to the importance and power of prayer in verses 16-18.

5:16 -
connects this to what James has just said in verses 14,15. In effect, we have a summary of these two verses in the first part of verse 16.

James deals with the two matters he just covered in verse 15, only in reverse order: sins and prayer.

The word confess (exomologeisthe) is given as a command (pres. mid. imp.). This is the normal word for confess with a preposition meaning "out" (ek) on the front. Some take this to mean an open or full confession.

to one another - This would seem to have its immediate reference to the elders in verses 14,15. The acknowledgement of the specific sins which have led to the illness are part of the process of dealing with the sin. This is not because the elders have any power of forgiveness, but as spiritual leaders of the local body they are responsible for dealing with sin among the members (cf. Acts 20:28). This would also allow for the confessing of the sins to anyone who had been wronged by them.

The second command is to pray for one another. Again, in the context the reference is to the elders who are instructed to pray for the sick person who has called for them.

so that you may be healed - This phrase expresses the purpose of the confession and prayer. This is basically the same result as was expressed in verse 15. Again the context points to physical healing.

James now emphasizes the importance and effectiveness of prayer. The emphasis in this statement might be seen in the order it is given: "Much power has the prayer of a righteous man in its working." One writer translates, "The prayer of a righteous man is very powerful in its operation" (Adamson).

The word effective really represents two words in the Greek text. The first word, polus, means "much". The next word, ishcuo, means "have power," "be competent," "be able." So we are talking about something with much power or very powerful.

A righteous man is one who has had his sins forgiven by faith in Christ. In James it probably carries the added idea of a life lived in conformity to the character of Christ. Again, in the immediate context, it would seem that the elders are being considered. However, righteousness would not be limited to elders.

can accomplish much - This translates a word which means "work," "be at work," "operate," "be effective."

What James says is that prayer is very powerful in what it is able to accomplish. This prayer must be offered by a righteous man - one who has been redeemed in Christ and is living his life in obedience to the Word of God.

To demonstrate the powerful working of prayer, James gives an example from the Old Testament.

5:17 -
was held in highest esteem by the Jews. He certainly is an example of a righteous man. However, he also is an illustration of a man who is just like us.

with a nature like ours (homoiopathees)-This stresses the humanity of the great prophet (cf. Acts 14:15). He was a human being just like we are. The reference is probably to the discouragement and fear that Elijah experienced in his conflict with Jezebel (cf. 1 Kings 19:1-4).

It is important to understand this, for we often dismiss Elijah's unusual power in prayer by thinking of him as somewhat more than a mere man. That is not the case. As a result of the prayer of Elijah, it did not rain on the earth (probably referring to the land of Palestine) for three years and six months.

The Old Testament does not record the prayer of Elijah on this occasion, just his announcement of the drought (cf. 1 Kings 17:1). The Old Testament does not record the exact length of the drought (cf. 1 Kings 18:1), but it is mentioned twice in the New Testament (cf. Luke 4:25).

5:18 -
Again, as a result of Elijah's prayer, the drought came to an end (cf. 1 Kings 18:41-45).

It was immediately following this great demonstration of the power of prayer that Elijah was faced with overwhelming fear and depression in the face of the threats of Jezebel (1 Kings 19:1-4). Often after the greatest victories in our service for God we are most vulnerable to the attacks of Satan.

Elijah is an illustration of the fact that the prayer of a righteous man is very powerful in the accomplishing of God's purposes.

The first question is, "Do we qualify as righteous?"

  1. We are declared righteous by God through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:28; 4:5; 5:1).
  2. For effectiveness in prayer, the righteousness we have in Christ must be demonstrated in the way we live. Only as we live in submission to His will can we pray according to that will (cf. James 4:3).

The second question is, "Are we a praying people?"

  1. The great power of prayer for accomplishing the purposes of God is operative only when we pray.
  2. We can expect Satan to work in devious and deceitful ways to keep God's people from serious prayer. We must be diligent in prayer.

"Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart" (Luke 18:1). "Pray that you may not enter into temptation" (Luke 22:40,46).

"Devote yourselves to prayer" (Col. 4:2; cf. Rom. 12:12; Acts 1:14).

Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977. All quotations used by permission.

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Permission was received from Indian Hills Community Church for the posting of this file on Bible Bulletin Board. Our gratitude to the Holy Spirit for leading Pastor Gil Rugh to preach/teach messages that are bold, and doctrinally sound—they are so needful to this generation.

Tony Capoccia
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