13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. 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 sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.
19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.
The fellowship and accountability of other believers is of paramount importance to holiness for several reasons. Chief among them encouragement, strengthening in the faith and helping to keep each other from error.
People often mistake the ‘prayer for the sick’ in v. 14 with physical sickness, but verse 16 gives us a little better view of what kind of sickness is in view here: its’ nature is spiritual and it is caused by persistent sin. It may manifest itself through all of the physical woes that usually accompany guilt and anxiety. Psalm 6:1-6 and Psalm 51 illustrate graphically the feeling of guilt and true remorse over sin.
And via the use of the community of faith (confessing your sins to one another) for strengthening and edification, you can be healed from this (v. 16). The body of Christ was designed not to bash in other body parts in the midst of their contriteness about their sin, but rather to lovingly and caringly bring the penitent back into the fold. Yes, we’re aware of the nature of a particular sin. Yes, there are consequences that will probably follow. But even consequences for public persistent sinning (i.e. the excommunication of the sinning man in 1 Cor. 5 and the receiving back of the same man in 2 Cor.) are to be done in a manner that expresses the desire for the person to first and foremost, realize that their sin was against (primarily) God and to seek repentance toward Him. Secondly, they should be encouraged to know that though they have sinned – no matter if it’s a doctrinal issue or a moral issue or simple stubbornness – that they are loved and cared for by their family (the church) and that the first desire of other believers is to have them turn from their sin and turn back to faith in Christ. The leaders of the church (the elders) play a big role here.
Finally, the body of Christ is called to keep other members from following errant teaching and practice – whether it be doctrinal or moral. Verses 19 and 20 emphasize this point. People often forget that some beliefs (i.e. denying the Trinity, since that would be denying how God has revealed Himself to exist in scripture) are just as damning as some practices (i.e. those listed in 1 Cor. 6:9-10). Sheep need to keep an eye on oneanother here. Too often, we trail off into our own worlds, seeking our own ‘increase’ and ‘blessing’ and forget that the body of Christ is just that – a body. When one part suffers, we all suffer.
A few short thoughts.
Take care and let these words sink down into your ears and take hold.
Soli Deo Gloria,