Study 10 HEALING IN ANSWER TO PRAYER
THE LETTER OF JAMES
by Francis Dixon
Scripture Portion: James 5:13-16
The Bible has much to say about physical healing, but in this study we will confine our thoughts to James 5:13-16. Notice three things about this passage:
- (1) It applies to us today just as much as it did to those to whom it was written. This letter was written “to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” (1:1); but see what Galatians 3:28 says.
- (2) Much wrong teaching has been based upon these verses. The scriptures have frequently been distorted (2 Peter 3:16); some have taught that it is always God’s will to heal and that no Christian ever needs to suffer.
- (3) These few brief verses answer many of the questions that we want answered in relation to healing. For example: Does God heal today? Does He always heal? Does healing depend on our faith? Should we anoint the sick? Is it wrong to go to the doctor when we are ill? What should we do?
1. Every time there is sickness we should make it an occasion for prayer.
James 5:13 says, “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray.” Just as when we are happy we want to turn to the Lord in praise, so if we are sick we should turn to the Lord in prayer; it means we should relate our sickness to the Lord and place ourselves afresh, by faith, in His hands. The greatest blessing that can come in sickness is not physical relief but spiritual blessing. Matthew Henry rightly says, ‘One of the designs of affliction is to lead us to the throne of grace.’
2. After praying privately, the prayer fellowship of others may be called for.
James 5:14 says, “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him…” This method is commended, but not commanded. What a great thing it is in a time of sickness to be able to send for Christian friends, so that they can offer prayer for us! We may be too sick to pray for ourselves, and there is great strength in united prayer (Matthew 18:19; compare Acts 12:5). But look at verse 14 again: in every time of sickness we are invited to send for the elders of the church that they may pray over us, anointing us with oil – but not necessarily praying that He will heal! What, then, should be the attitude of the elders and of the sick person?
3. The eye of faith must look to the Lord alone for His will to be revealed.
Verse 14 concludes, “…and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.” Oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and every spiritual blessing we receive is conveyed to us by the Holy Spirit. There is no healing virtue in the oil itself, so why use oil? Anointing with oil is not necessary for healing, but it is an act by which those who are praying express their faith in God outwardly and visibly and show that they are trusting Him to perfect His will in the life of the one who is sick.
4. If it is God’s will to heal in answer to prayer, a definite and specific gift of faith for the healing of the body will be given to those who pray.
Verse 15 states that “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well”. But, the prayer of faith cannot always be offered; it cannot be offered at will, because it is not always God’s will to heal the sick. If it is God’s will, those who are praying will be enabled by the Holy Spirit to pray “the prayer of faith”. Job prayed for deliverance (James 5:11); Paul prayed for the removal of his physical infirmity – but read 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, and look up and compare Philippians 2:25-30; 1 Timothy 5:23; 2 Timothy 4:20. Sometimes it is not God’s will to heal in answer to prayer (2 Kings 13:14). By faith some are killed (Acts 12:2), and by faith some are delivered (Acts 12:8-11); by faith some “escaped the edge of the sword” (Hebrews 11:34), and by faith others were “sawn in two” (Hebrews 11:37). It is very often God’s will to heal, but it is not always His will to heal. When it is His will, the gift of faith will be imparted to those who pray. “The prayer of faith”, then, is a certain kind of prayer. To pray for a sick person, or to claim healing, does not necessarily bring healing.
5. The use of natural means should not be ruled out.
There are three ways in which healing can come: (1) It may come supernaturally, by a direct touch from the Lord Himself, who will suddenly or gradually raise up the sick person; (2) It may come by natural means, through rest, sleep, food, change of air; or (3) God may use some medical or surgical means. It is certainly not wrong to consult a doctor. On the contrary, it is wise and right to do so (2 Chronicles 16:12). Asa did not sin because he consulted a doctor, but he sinned because he left the Lord out of his reckoning. It is not for the patient to decide whether he is to be healed in this way or that way, but the choice lies with the Great Physician, the Lord, who never makes a mistake and who is perfecting His will in the lives of His children.
6. Although sickness is not necessarily the result of sin, it may be so.
Verses 15-16 are very challenging. Sometimes sickness comes as a result of sin and of undisciplined living – look up 1 Corinthians 11:29-32; Proverbs 28:13.
7. There is no limit to what the Lord can and may do in answer to fervent, persistent and believing prayer.
James 5:16 encourages us to believe this. God does hear and answer prayer, and God does heal the sick when it is in line with His gracious will; but His will is best, and if it is His will for us to suffer, then to be healed would be to have His second best – look up 1 Peter 4:19.