“Is anyone among you ill? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.” — James 5:14
Serious illness is a grave concern, and there are several aspects James talks about in regard to this. Further to the above verse, he says, ”And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (5:15-16).
“To pray over them” suggests the person is bedridden, and to call the elders of the church would include church leaders, those of spiritual maturity and experience to pray over them. In the anointing of oil, there are basically three positions held within the church. It is considered sacramental, medicinal or symbolic. In Scripture, oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirit, and anointing with oil becomes an aid to faith in that it is to the Holy Spirit that we are looking for healing.
The key words are “in the name of the Lord,” which is to pray under the authority of Jesus and in accordance with His will. “In His name” is not because we have initiated it, hoping God will conform to our will, but because God has initiated it, and we are conformed to His will. These two aspects are married together—“the prayer of faith,” which is absolute confidence in the Lord’s ability, and “in His name,” which is absolute conformity to the will of the Lord.
There are two ways to interpret “the Lord will raise them up.” The first is simply that the person is made well and healthy again. Secondly, author and evangelist John Stott pointed out that the term “he will be raised up” is used elsewhere in the New Testament, but only in relation to the resurrection, so this may also suggest that on the person’s deathbed, they are getting right with God, confessing their sin, and are going to be raised up at the resurrection. One does not exclude the other.
God may or may not intervene in a person’s illness, but one day we will all be fully healed. This world is one we are simply passing through. There is a better, fuller and greater home to come where our tears will be wiped away and our bodies replaced with a new strong and healthy one. In the meantime, we are to pray in the name of the Lord, and cling to the eternal fact that to be absent from the body is to be in the best position we will ever be in. It is to be with our Lord. The big picture is not about today, but about God’s working in our lives as a whole.
Prayer: Lord, I pray You will ease the suffering of those who are seriously ill. Grant them peace that only comes from You, and may Your will be done in their lives. Thank You, Lord.