Scripture Memory Meditation | James 5:16
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.
James 5:16 (CSB)
Tradition accepts James, also known as Jacob, the brother of Jesus as the author of this book. The nature of this book resembles wisdom literature and is heavily inspired by the Old Testament. James teaches a high Christology and stresses the importance of dealing with affliction from the standpoint of faith. The book is a collection of his thoughts on various subjects, giving the book that wisdom literature type feel. The section we are dealing with is about effective prayer.
To fully understand v.16, we must look at the section from v.13-18. James is encouraging mutual prayer for both physical and spiritual needs. It is common in Hellenistic letters to conclude a letter with a “health” wish. It is also common in NT letters to conclude with an encouragement to pray. James is combining the two (Moo, 2000).
The focus of this passage is prayer. James’ exhortation is similar to Paul’s exhortations to “pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request” (Eph 6:18) and “pray constantly. Give thanks in everything” (1 Thes. 5:17-18a). The author transitions from having the elders of the church be summoned to pray over the one who is suffering to the congregation praying for one another. This may heal the suffering. The ‘suffering’ could be physical ailments or the trials that the community is facing or persecution amidst the church. Here, the real qualification that saves is not the position that one holds in the church but is rather the prayer of faith.
Often when Jesus healed a person, he also forgave the person’s sins (Mk. 2:1-12, Jn. 5:14). In the same spirit, James is exhorting the congregation to confess their sins to each other, to pray for each other, so that their sufferings may be healed. This is one of the many ways by which we carry out the great commandment.
Some examples of praying for each other include, but are not limited to, praying for wisdom (Col. 1:9), praying for those who persecute you (Matt. 5:44), praying for our daily needs (Matt. 18:19), praying for grace in time of need (Heb. 4:16), giving thanks together (Col 4:2), praying for the gospel to spread (2 Thes.3:1, Col. 4:3), praying that we be filled with love and good works (Phil.1:9-11, Heb. 10:24-25), praying for forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:9), praying that our faith may not fail (Lk. 22:32) and many more.
Our prayers, when answered by God, glorify him. When we do not know how to pray, God’s Spirit aids us with groanings too deep for words. God, in his sovereign wisdom, has ordained all things, and yet he is inviting us to participate in his plans through prayer. May our desire to pray resonate with the words of Andrew Murray:
“‘Lord, teach us to pray.’ Yes, to pray. This is what we need to be taught. Though in its beginnings prayer is so simple that the feeble child can pray, yet it is at the same time the highest and holiest work to which man can rise. It is fellowship with the Unseen and Most Holy One. The powers of the eternal world have been placed at its disposal. It is the very essence of true religion, the channel of all blessings, the secret of power and life. Not only for ourselves, but for others, for the Church, for the world, it is to prayer that God has given the right to take hold of Him and His strength” (Murray, 1896).