May 14, 2023
There are times when we all feel the pangs of suffering. It may be the pains of physical affliction. Others may feel the taxing of emotional strain or relational disunity. It can even be the stress of financial woes or a loss of a job. Jesus made it known that this is what awaits the life of a follower of His. He doesn’t promise paradise in this life, but in the life to come. However, He does provide promised peace.
John 16:33 (ESV) — 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Philippians 4:6–7 (ESV) — 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
In addition to peace during suffering, He also has given us a prescription for needed relief and comfort through His body, the church. You are not meant to suffer alone.
James 5:13–18 (ESV) — 13 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.
You will notice that in the midst of these instructions for faith in action, there is a direction to call for the elders of the church. This indicates that to receive the needed relief in the midst of suffering that is offered, there must be a connection to a local body of believers which is the church. A church is to be known for an adherence to the word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A church is also known as a church because the members are brought under the authority or rule of elders who have the responsibility to lead, feed, guide, and protect the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made them overseers because they will have to give account to the Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. The church is also known for her adherence to God’s word in the disciplining of the members who go astray to bring them to repentance and guide them in their sanctification to the glory of Jesus Christ. A church is known for adherence to the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ in carrying out faithfully the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Acts 20:28–30 (ESV) — 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.
Hebrews 13:17 (ESV) — 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Matthew 28:19–20 (ESV) — 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The relief found in James 5 is given to a church body which we can assume meets regularly to pray together. In a prayer meeting, there is active praying for the church as a body, as well as the leaders and members along with their needs, so there is a carrying out the commandment of “bearing one another’s burdens and so fulfilling the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
When a person is suffering, James 5 admonishes them to pray. When a person is cheerful or filled with gratitude, they are to sing praise. When a person is sick or in need, they are to call for the elders of the church.
There is much in the way of instruction and implied coaching found in this passage for those suffering. I have written a book by the same title as this article that can be ordered on my website, but here are four levels of relief found in James 5, the first step of faith is the call to personally pray.
Secondly, there is a sense when suffering (albeit sickness, emotional trauma, relational discord, financial stress) is beyond the capability of taking it to the Lord in personal prayer so this important step is confessing the need to the church that you don’t have things together, so you make a request for prayer. Each week we, like many churches, ask those present in the worship service to fill out a communication card to let us know they are in attendance and to list their prayer needs. This asking for prayer is humbling and is a critical step of faith.
Before we consider the third step of faith, it’s important to recognize the book of James is all about faith in action and a test of genuine faith. There is not an implication of earning salvation with works, rather the faith that is given by God to His glory.
Ephesians 2:8–10 (ESV) — 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
James 2:18–20 (ESV) — 18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?
The third step of faith implied by the admonition in James 5 is to show up to the prayer meeting of the church, admitting a need that has overwhelmed you and allow those meeting to pray for you and shower you with love and encouragement. Whenever this happens in our church, blessings abound. The person is encouraged by the prayer and love of those who have met to pray, and they are blessed by the opportunity to serve and connect with the person who has the need by helping to bear their burden. Obviously, faith in action is a blessing to the church body in simply doing what we are called to do.
The fourth step is calling for the elders and is often either overlooked or misused. The faith of the one who is sick or suffering is seen in the calling for the elders, and their faith is seen in the actions of what is laid out in James 5. This is not magic nor pointless man-made gyrations, but this is simply following the prescription of the word of God, which is a demonstration of faith.
What is promised? Healing! How so? Instead of being locked into the instantaneous removal of the suffering, albeit sickness or disruption of any sort, consider the healing from within in the way of peace, assurance of grace, or pardon for sin.
2 Corinthians 12:8–9 (ESV) — 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Obviously, I have just given a brief synopsis of something I cover in more detail in the book by this same title. This article is to stir up your pure mind, to realize the call to prayer by and in the local church, and to realize the place to find needed relief in suffering, which calls for an act of faith that glorifies God.
By the way, a result of God’s answer in His sovereign way to bringing our need before Him through the James 5 prescription, He also has given us direction in that when we are cheerful and full of gratitude, we are to offer praise. What better way to praise God than to bring our praise as well as our burdens before the church as He prescribes in His word.
Bob Brubaker, Pastor