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Faith Works - The prayer of faith
you can hear a MP3 recording of sermon here
James 5:12-20
Sunday, 24th November, 2013



This seems an abrupt ending but that may well be because the greetings and individual church messages were added to this general letter. We may have only the main letter that was copied and re-copied for distribution to the churches throughout the known world both West, which we know about from Acts and East which is known through church tradition as to be as far as India and Ethiopia.  They are lost to us if they ever existed. But what remains is God’s word to us today.


Oath taking  in verse 12 comes off the previous passage reminding us that the future is in God’s hands not ours. If that sounds familiar maybe it is because James was listening to Jesus when Jesus said it!

Jesus said in Matthew 5:33-37

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfil to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.


We can promise but we can only fulfil those promises by God’s grace. Swearing by anything does not make you more reliable merely more vulnerable. Shakespeare wrote a play on that subject called the ‘Merchant of Venice’ in which a pound of flesh was promised on the success of trading. In Judges 11 we read a terrible story of oath-making that unravelled turning a thanksgiving sacrifice into killing a first-born, specifically forbidden in the Law.

But swearing on the Bible has been part of our legal culture for centuries and it has only been acceptable to affirm since the church’s influence has waned. In 1695 because Quakers refused to take oaths because of this verse and in 1978 is was revised to take God out of the affirmation. I have never sworn an oath in court because I believe these verses are explicit but each must be convinced by their own conscience.

What matters here is that your word should be trustworthy. Not just in court but in life. You do what you say you will and you are careful not to promise to do what you cannot fulfil. It matters in finances where you should be able to pay for goods you buy, it matters in timekeeping where you arrive when you say you will arrive. It matters in confidentiality where you only promise to keep a confidence when you will or can. You, for example, cannot legally keep a confidence where child discloses abuse nor would it be right. Secrecy is the cloak of evil. We live in the light. Evil should be exposed. As here, we should not make promises about the future where we have no control.  The Brethren referred to this principle by adding God willing or ‘Deo Volente’ or DV to every notice about meetings.


So we move from trusting God about the future to a passage about the present.

What links the remainder of the letter together is the words ‘anyone among you’ twice in verse 13 and also in verse 19. Look, says James, at four scenarios:

Are you in trouble? Then pray

Are you happy? Then sing songs of praise.

Are you sick? Call the elders to be anointed

Are you wandering from the truth? Then someone bring them back!


In our current culture we might say

Are you in trouble? Then complain

Are you happy? Then go out on the town

Are you sick? Go to A& E

Are you wandering from the truth? Who cares about truth? Or maybe what is truth?

You know we tend to think the last thing we do is relate to God instead of the first. We need to reverse our priorities and get into the spiritual habit of speaking with God first and last.


Are you in trouble? Learn from the example of  Nehemiah. In Nehemiah 2 we read:

In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, 2 so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”


I was very much afraid, 3 but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”


4 The king said to me, “What is it you want?”


Then I prayed to the God of heaven, 5 and I answered the king,


He was in a precarious situation and had no time for formal prayer but his heart was occupied with God. He prayed first, then he spoke. I wish I prayed first and spoke more often, it would get me out of so much trouble!

So when troubles overwhelm you, pray! If you can’t pray, cry out to the Lord, maybe you find yourself speaking in tongues simply because you can’t find human words to express your anxiety and fear and pain. But pray first! And if you can get together with others to pray with you. That is what the prayer chain is about and that is what Powerhouse and Housegroups are about. They are places to share your troubles and pray together to God for help. Lets be straight on this. The church is not the solution to your problems, Jesus is. He may use others to comfort, help and serve him in bringing about relief for you but it is Jesus we serve and he is the great restorer and problem-solver.


We could look back at what else James says about prayer In 1: 5-8 he speaks of faith. In 4:2-3 he speaks of motive. In 5:7-8 we are called to be patient. 

Here we are simply told:  

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray.


Are you happy? Then Psalm! Well that is the Greek but it means sing songs of praise. So this morning you had opportunity to express your happiness. This does explain why church can be a bit of a trial. If you come with troubles, and we sing songs of joy it can be a bit like rubbing salt into a wound. It may hurt, but it will also heal! Fellowship is about sharing our joys and our sorrows. So if this morning you were not enjoying the worship because of the hurt you have, pray and absorb the joy that others share.


Are you sick? Now this is not a NHS substitute. But maybe our faith is more in the NHS than in God. Do we first call the elders to pray for healing or do we only do that when the NHS is failing us? Is the problem we have that we do not look to the great healer in our lives? So you are invited by God’s word to ask for anointing for healing. And Ken and I do not have any choice in the matter, we are called upon to anoint and pray over you for healing. Then you go to the doctor, knowing God can and will heal. You may of course not need to go because you have already been healed but if you are in the middle of an investigation, go and let the doctor tell you, “you have been healed”.

This is not about us having words of knowledge or discernment, this is about how you react to illness. Is God your healer or the one you go to when all else fails? Are you living by faith in the Son of God? Then act it out! That is the message of James 2. And James 4:7 says “Submit yourselves, then to God”



Invite people to be anointed for healing.


Now we have to receive the word that follows.

The prayer of faith is not the words we said but the act of obedience in us, as a church, living out God’s word. Prayer is about what our hearts say, not what our lips say. Faith is about what we do, rather than professions and catechisms.  If we confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts then we are saved. The prayer of faith involved the heart and our actions. The mouth then expresses both heart and action. We will come back to that but first we must get our heads round the rest of this paragraph.


If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.


First note the IF. No-where in the Bible does sickness automatically imply sin. However, sin often leads to sickness. 

Second we need to understand wholeness. God wants us to be whole. Jesus died for our sins and ‘by his wounds we are healed.’

God wants us to be healed and he wants to forgive us. In fact the Bible mixes healing and forgiveness because forgiveness is healing, it is healing of the mind and the spirit. So rather than being offended that James suggests that you need forgiveness, we should be turning from sin and seeking forgiveness. Instead of worrying about some connection between our particular illness and sin, we should be eager to be forgiven. We possibly do not make enough about the need for forgiveness. But verse 16 was taken literally in the Methodist revival and your House group would have been the place where you, among loving Christians friends would be called upon to confess, just was we ask each other what to pray about.  The Catholic Church formalises this into the confessional but removes the ‘to each other’ and replaces it with the church’s representative – the priest.  We formalise it when we invite you to confess, privately, your sins in some communion services. The point is not how we go about but whether we go about it. Confession of sin is first and foremost before Jesus. He is the one who bore your sins on the cross, so it is he who you confess to. But we are the body of Christ and each one of us is part of it and it is good to confess to one another our sins. We are all sinners saved by grace, stumbling followers of that great Shepherd of the sheep. We need to confess the pride of pretending we are nice middle-class and good people and remind ourselves that the inner man stands before God. And the inner man needs a lot of forgiveness, then maybe godly actions will flow out of a heart at peace with God.


The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.


The implication of this verse is consistent with the rest of Scripture.

Psalm 66:17-19

17 I cried out to him with my mouth;

his praise was on my tongue.

18 If I had cherished sin in my heart,

the Lord would not have listened;

19 but God has surely listened

and has heard my prayer.

Let’s be clear about one thing. Of ourselves we are never going to be righteous. Being alright with God is a matter God’s grace in sending his Son to wipe the slate clean by dying in our place on the cross. None of us are righteous by our own efforts. So what does James mean? I think he means to remind us that if we have submitted to God, repented of our sins, our prayer are powerful stuff. They can change the course of history move mountains, transform lives because in prayer we engage in the work of God. Never doubt that your prayer changes the world because you pray to God who implants in his saints the desires that he has to see the world saved through his Son.



Then James  talks about Elijah  as a man like us! We talked about this on 18th November 2012 just over a year ago. But note that in 1Kings 17 we are not told  Elijah prayed  to stop the rain, he prophesied. James is assuming that prophecy grew out of prayer. It is not explicit in the text that he prayed to restart the rains. Again, we can assume it because prophecy grows out of a relationship with God and for a relationship with God prayer is essential. The point I am making is that prayer is more than a form of words it is about a developing relationship with God. That is what Elijah had. That is what we should seek. Then we can see prayer powerful and effective as Elijah.  


Finally, James speaks  about those  wandering from the truth.

19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.


This is not a charter for busy-bodies picking fault with others, finding splinters  in others eyes while wandering around with a plank in their own. NO! This is about caring for one another. Faith is constantly tested. We live in a godless world. The pressure and temptation to downgrade faith is immense. And we are all casualties at some time or other. This is a call to pray for one-another and more than that to see another in spiritual trouble, losing their faith and set out, in love, to draw them back to Jesus.  The church is a rescue centre on the borders of hell and not only do we need to reach out to rescue the local population that are sliding, unknowingly, to a lost eternity but we should be on alert to pull one another back when we are about to be swept away in the flood of evil that surrounds us.


So we come to the end of the general letter of James to the churches of the diapora. It is full of challenges to our life-style. It sets the Kingdom values against the values of our society and calls us to be faithful in prayer, in word and action in all that we do. The question remains. We have looked into the word of God, do we say we have faith or do we live a life of faith? Are we trusting and living  in Jesus alone or do we try to keep a foot in the world while hoping God will ignore our lack of repentance and faith? The challenge is to live the life of Jesus, the promise is that we have a hope of the presence of the Holy Spirit now and an eternity with Jesus in the future. Invest in the Kingdom of God! You know it makes sense!

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