11 February 2017

James 5:13-20 “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” (v. 16)

Psalm: Psalm 104:24-35

The Methodist Church’s Bible Month this year focuses on the letter of James. It takes place in June, although churches and circuits may choose a different time if that is more convenient. For more information (including training and resources), go to


In these last few verses of James, the author encourages Christians to pray in all situations. Christians should pray in times of blessing and of suffering, including sickness (verses 13-14). In the only reference in the New Testament to the practice, James encourages elders within the church to pray over the sick and anoint them with oil (verse 14), a text that has shaped some contemporary healing ministries.

James encourages Christians to trust that the prayer of faith will “save the sick” (v. 15), though whether this is physical or spiritual healing is debated among commentators. The reference to forgiveness of sins that follows  may suggest that this is a healing that at least included a spiritual dimension. James also encourages Christians to “confess your sins” to one another, and pray for one another (v. 16). Such prayer is powerful and effective. As an example of such prayer, James points to Elijah, a human whose prayer for drought, and later for rain (1 Kings 18:41-46), was heard by God. Such an example should give Christians hope.

This is a challenging passage that raises a number of questions; what about the prayer or faith that doesn’t bear any fruit? Should we always pray for physical healing for those who are ill? Should the elders of the church always be so involved? Rather than providing answers to such queries, James’ aim is to encourage all Christians to persist in prayer, knowing that the Father hears them. Such an emphasis is also found in Jesus’ teaching (Luke 18:1-8).

In the last two verses of the letter, James calls Christians to look out for those who might wander from the faith (verses 19-20). Those who ‘save’ them from such wandering have the honour of saving a “soul from death” (v. 20). The encouragement to look out for brothers and sisters in the faith is a fitting end to this practical letter of living out one’s faith.

To Ponder

  • How can you best keep prayer central within your life?
  • Have you ever prayed for the healing of someone else? What happened?
  • How can Christians provide better support for those at risk of wandering from the faith

Bible notes author: Ed Mackenzie 

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Ben is one of the founders and editors of New Roots. When he isn't managing the web site, he can usually be found working on his web design agency or down the pub discussing theology.