As we come to the end of James’s letter, it is essential to review the entire chapter to rightly understand the last eight verses in the correct context. James chapter one deals with handling trials and temptations and the importance of doing what the Scripture says, not merely listening to it. Chapter two warns against the sin of partiality and again emphasizes the importance of obeying the Scripture. Chapter three deals with how we speak and being honest. Chapter four deals with pride and strife. And chapter five begins with an explanation of why rich oppressors will be judged and the need to be patient and persevere in trial, specifically being long-tempered when dealing with difficult people. That is the context that we are dealing with, and that is important to keep in mind as we read the last portion of James.
James 5:13-20 ESV “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. 19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
Like earlier in the chapter, suffering is a Greek word meaning to endure cruel treatment by people. Sickness has two meanings in Greek; one represents physical sickness, the other emotional or spiritual weakness. In the context of the previous verses (7-12), we must conclude that it refers to weakness from enduring harsh treatment. Many denominations and movements use verses thirteen to fifteen as a promise of physical healing in this life. Still, after reading and studying James verse-by-verse, we cannot come to that conclusion. The suffering and sickness discussed in these verses are the sufferings of brutal treatment and the emotional and spiritual weariness that results. In Scripture, we see that we should expect hardship in this life; let’s look at two passages that encourage us amid hardship.
The last two verses switch focus from a weak Christian to turning a sinner from their sin. “Brethren, if any among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and cover a multitude of sin.” In all his practical instruction, James does not neglect the most important thing, the one who wanders from the truth. Jesus gave a parable of a shepherd leaving his ninety-nine sheep to save the lost one, and James emphasized that concept at the end of his letter. It seems a little abrupt with no formal closing, but James wanted those who wandered off to come back to the truth.
As we end this study of James, I offer encouragement to the weary believer and a plea to those who have wandered, return to the truth and repent of your sin that you may be healed.