As we closed yesterday, we noted that physically ailing Christians were instructed to contact the elders and have them pray and anoint with oil.
James 5:15 reads - "And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven." Note carefully what James affirmed. The prayer of faith will save (or heal) the sick. The healing was not in the oil that he was anointed with but in the sincere prayers offered to God on his behalf with no doubting!
Consequently, I believe that the use of oil is secondary to the prayer of faith offered by the elders. It seems reasonable that elders in the first century would be the ones most likely to have received miraculous gifts from the laying on of the apostles' hands. Thus, it makes sense to send physically ill Christians to them for prayer and healing. It may also be the case that this "prayer of faith" is related to the miraculous gift of faith that is discussed in I Corinthians 12:9,10.
What would happen after the anointing of oil and the prayer of faith? The Lord would raise the man up from his sick bed; He would miraculously restore him to his health. This raises the question: did it always work this way? Not exactly. Paul, Trophimus, and Timothy all had physical afflictions that they were not healed of miraculously (cf. II Cor. 12:7; I Tim. 5:23; II Tim. 4:20). Was the problem that these men failed to go to the elders and be anointed with oil? No. The issue was that it wasn't always God's will for a certain person to be healed (e.g., II Cor. 12:8,9). Undeniably, the primary purpose of miracles was for the confirming of God's word (Mark 16:20). If healing a Christian in the manner James described would confirm the word and cause others to believe God's truth, then likely the miracle would be accomplished.
Because James 5:14,15 seems to be applicable to the first century age of miracles, a direct application for us today is limited. Certainly we should inform each other of our illnesses so we can pray for and with each other. Although we don't wield miraculous power today, we still have the power of God's providence that can be activated through prayer. Also, we should seek out the best medical care available for those who are physically ill.
As we pointed out yesterday, the illness under discussion in the prior verses is of a physical nature. Of course, it is natural to understand that while one is physically sick, he or she may be more mindful of some spiritual illness in their life. Humans are generally more reflective spiritually when they are suffering. Thus, James affirms that if the person being healed physically has committed sin, he will be forgiven, assuming, of course, that he meets the condition set forth in 5:16.
We will continue this study tomorrow.