Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Should We Pray for the Sick?

I have noticed for years that many churches in prayer meetings emphasize prayer for the sick. How many Bible sermons have you heard on praying for the sick? None that I remember. I realize that we don't probably hear too much on prayer anyway in sermons, but does the New Testament tell us to pray for the sick? When it comes to prayer (or anything else), Scripture is sufficient. We have practices taught in Scripture, but we also have those acts that are emphasized in the Bible, ones that God wants us to do more than others. Shouldn't we be praying for what we see the people in the Bible praying for?

When you study the prayers of the Apostle Paul in the epistles, how much do we see him praying for the sick? He doesn't pray for Timothy that we know of. He tells him to use the best medicine of the day. He doesn't pray for Epaphroditus. He does pray for himself three times, but God says "No, my grace is sufficient." That means that healing Paul wasn't in God's will. So far we have praying for sickness isn't in God's will. Paul asks for two different churches in two different epistles to pray for his boldness in proclaiming the Gospel. He prays for others to be filled with the knowledge of the Lord's will and for their love to abound more and more. So, for as many prayers that go up for the sick, where do we get from the NT that this is in God's will?

I could defend praying for the sick with Scriptural implications at the most. I don't defend it using James 5:14, 15. If there is any place people go to teach this, they go to James 5:14, 15. Those verses read:
Is any sick among you? 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: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.
I contend that this text gets ripped from its context to defend praying for the physically ill (i.e., those with cancer, the flu, etc.).

The Pre-Context of James 5:14, 15

The pre-context of James 5:14, 15 goes back to the first verse (hmmmmm). I think we do well to pick it up in v. 4 with laborers. A harvest is coming in which people will be slaughtered. On the other hand, Christian workers, will suffer in the here and now for their work, but they will be rewarded in the end at the coming of the Lord, so they must be patient (vv. 7-8). We know that the Lord is coming so we need the patience of Job to endure to the end as we are suffering affliction for our present labor (vv. 9-11). If we are afflicted for our testimony for the Lord, we should pray (v. 13a) and if we are not, then we should sing (v. 13b). Then we get our text in v. 14. The context does not say anything about diseases we call sickness. The context is about living for the Lord in a hostile culture, where persecution will occur and we will suffer for it.

The Internal Context

"Is any sick among you?" The term "affliction" in verse 13 parallels with "sick" in verse 14. "Sick" (asthenei) in v. 14 can mean "sick" as in "disease," but also "weak." Consider these usages of the same Greek term:
Romans 14:1, 2, 21, "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. . . . It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak."

1 Corinthians 8:9, 11, 12, "But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. . . . And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.

2 Corinthians 11:21, 29, "I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak. Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also. . . . Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?"
OK, here's one that fits the context of James 5:14, 15 perfectly, that is, 2 Corinthians 12:10, "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong." Godly people go through persecution for their labor for God on this earth, suffering affliction, and they should pray. However, if one of them cannot pray, because he is too weak from that affliction and persecution, he should call someone over to his house who can pray for him. Persecution could leave a person spiritually weak, discouraged, and ready to give up.

You ask, "What about the anointing with oil?" "Anointing" is not ceremonial. A whole separate Greek word is used for ceremonial anointing. This word is medicinal. It would be akin in contemporary English to "rub." The good Samaritan used "oil" (same Gk. word) to rub into the wounds of the injured man (Luke 10:34). Today this might be some kind of therapeutic massage. A rub or massage will bring blood to an injured area to promote healing. It feels very good and actually can encourage the one feeling sore and down.

Here is someone who has suffered for the faith and in this state of affliction is weak. The men who are on praying ground come over to pray over him while he struggles with prayer, strengthening him spiritually, and also giving treatment with oil to his beaten muscles and tissue. "Oil" is symbolic of the Holy Spirit in Scripture, and surely there is some spiritual implication to their rubbing this man spiritually, bringing him back in spiritual strength, so that he is no longer "sick," that is, "weak."

In v. 15, the term "sick" is still different (kamno), found only here and two other places in the NT. In Hebrews 12:3, it is completely fitting with this interpretation, reading: "For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied (kamno) and faint in your minds." Also Revelation 2:3, where it says: "And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted (kamno)." This is a person who has become weak, weary, and faint from suffering the affliction expected of a Christian in a hostile world system. A Christian needs to keep his focus on the coming of the Lord, waiting for his reward, but when he loses his vision, the strong spiritually can help him with prayer and encouragement.

I'm not saying "don't pray for the sick." However, do pray Scripturally. I think you should be able to agree that prayer for the sick is not an emphasis of the Bible. God will heal all of us permanently, giving us all a resurrected body some day. We should depend on Him now for our physical needs and at the same time pray the most for those things that matter the greatest to God.


Nicholas Z. Cardot said...

Interesting take on that subject. Good information.

Anonymous said...

Well, Pastor B,

Far be it from me to say your a bit "over the boundaries".However I seem to recall multiple times in the Bible that people that were ill or maimed, etc were prayed for by men of the cloth.
I read not long ago on .( I think) Blessings Hill..that blog of Ruth's about the friends that took the crippled man to see Jesus for healing. They walked many miles, fought aganist the crowds, and finally cut a hole in the roof in an effort to get him to Jesus. Correct me, but had not many people prayed for him many years? This trip to see Jesus was a sincere effort by his friends to get him healed. Agreed that Jesus saw the need of the soul above the need of the body..BUT.he was healed.
So, am I to believe your church does not pray for the sick? I think we are taught to offer our supplications in prayer to God?

Yes, I realize I am leaving myself wide open to the expetise of your knowledge and wisdom.But I gotta do it!!You confuse me "Pastor".

Be Blessed of the Spirit

Ruth said...

I suppose I am confused as well, Pastor B. I believe that the Bible clearly states in James as you mentioned (Before you took it apart word for word)if there be "any sick among you...call for the elders". The following verse (15) goes even further by stating " the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well...the Lord will raise him up...and his sins will be forgiven"..In this reading it appears to me the sick will be made well, if they believe....and the Lord will forgive their sins. Maybe not all sickness is of sin, but some may be.

In my profession we deal with both. Some sickness of the body may be caused by sin or past sins. Likewise some sins of the past cause sickness of the mind..they are so closely bonded togeather. A sick mind most always causes a sick body; again it can be the other way around. Try putting your totally healthy arm in a sling for twenty four hours and see what happens; for thirty six hours? it's even worse; one week it becomes useless.

Likewise, put a healthy person in a dark room with only a lamp and book and after twenty four hours, they totally change and are not "feeling well'; thirty six hours..they are changed to the point of being listless and depressed.....much longer they are physically ill.

Therefore, if I am ill be it body, mind or spirit please hear me when I cry out for the elders or any righteous man of God. Have him come , lay hands on me; anoint me with oil, but most of all have him pray for me.....Then, I will feel confident God will answer. Maybe not to heal, but to do His Will in His time...

Jermemiah 29:11..." For I know the plans I have for you...(12) then you will call upon me and come and pray to me and I will listen..." It was true in David's time and I believe it holds true today.

Mountains can be moved, lives changed and the sick made whole....IF you pray believing...at least that's what we believe and practice ...up here on..

Blessings Hill,

PS....Yes, Anonymous, thank you. I did write about the friends and their crippled friend (who was healed). Probably need to pick that up and finish the thought.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I don't know how this is confusing. Are we to pray in His will? How can we know His will? It must be Scriptural; that's how we know it's His will. We may express to God how we feel without actually asking Him for something that is out of His will. God may heal or allow someone to heal (because I don't know), but I don't know if He will beforehand. I know David wanted his baby to live, but the baby didn't. It wasn't in His will. Does that mean God doesn't answer prayer? No. Our goal is to pray in God's will---see 1 John 5:14, 15. We should want what God wants. That's the jist of it. That will help you with prayer. If you make this a don't pray for the sick essay, then I think you might be choosing to miss the point. I'm not hurting you by helping you align your prayers with the New Testament. We are New Testament believers.

Ruth said...

Always, but always you should pray.."Not my will but Thine be done"...

I believe it comes from the model prayer. I did not take it as a "do not pray for the sick". I never choose to miss the point. There are some things that just need a little clarification so I would not read more into the subject than is actually there.

"Time out", Pastor....I'm sure you are not over the line, nor did you miss the three pointer. Perhaps you came close to "double dribble"..or maybe "over the back".
Regardless, you're our man on the clock ....here on..

Blessings Hill,

Anonymous said...

“True prayer isn’t a matter of executing a script; it’s an intention of the heart.”
~Alan Cohen

Titus Quinctius Cincinnatus said...

Pastor Brandenburg, I think you're more or less correct about this understanding of James 5. I've been thinking about this chapter a bit recently as well. What would you say to the notion that James 5:17, "the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" is most specifically dealing with the restoration of one who has backslidden and in need of restoration to a right relationship with the Lord?

Kent Brandenburg said...

In the context, that would be the best application. In light of Elijah's prayer for rain, it could be more, but I agree in the context.

Anonymous said...


Just thought I'd add my churches' experience with anointing the sick. We had a deacon whose wife was barren. The doctors told her she could never have children. Our pastor had been praying for her, and he asked the deacon if he would like do what is instructed in James 5.

So they did. Got the deacons wife, anointed her and prayed over her. She ended up getting pregnant soon after and has 5 kids now. The doctors thought it was a miracle.

I know it's just experience. We're not charismatics. Our church is cessationalist. We're independent Baptists. No tongues, no prophecy, no rock music, no CCM. We don't go prayer walking or demon hunting. We don't have experiences like that every day, we don't have healing meetings or start swinging the anointing oil any time someone sneezes.

It just ... well... I guess our Pastor just read that literally, decided to take it on faith and God worked. Maybe we did wrong and God decided to bless the lady anyway? You decide. I'm not sure we've used oil since, just posting this here to see what Pastor Brandenburg thinks.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Anonymous,

We shouldn't interpret Scripture based on our experiences, but interpret our experiences based upon Scripture. I stand by the post I wrote. I think it answers what I believe I would say to your comment. We can't invent new doctrine based on what we think is an answer to prayer. We are to understood the passage how the people in that day would have understood it. That means we must find out the meanings of the word, including the Greek word translated "anoint" in this passage, and the word translated "sick."

Russell said...

Often, I receive requests to pray for someone's friend or family member who is sick or injured but I have questions about this.

Does God/Jesus cause sickness and injury? If so, and we pray for healing, aren't we asking for something that is against God's will?

Can someone save another from sin thru prayer, or must the sinner himself be the one to ask God, thru Jesus to save him?

If the sickness or injury is because the person has sinned, then shouldn't the prayer be to save the person from their sin rather than to heal them?
And isn't saving people from sin the role of Jesus?

If God answers prayers of healing, then wouldn't ALL people be healed when they are prayed for?

What are the criteria for being healed thru prayer?

Thank you,

Kent Brandenburg said...

Does God/Jesus cause sickness and injury? If so, and we pray for healing, aren't we asking for something that is against God's will?


Can someone save another from sin thru prayer, or must the sinner himself be the one to ask God, thru Jesus to save him?


If the sickness or injury is because the person has sinned, then shouldn't the prayer be to save the person from their sin rather than to heal them?
And isn't saving people from sin the role of Jesus?


If God answers prayers of healing, then wouldn't ALL people be healed when they are prayed for?


What are the criteria for being healed thru prayer?


Anonymous said...

Hello there,

Why you guys talking something so different bringing your own wisdom and knowledge

Talking about healing,
I got my open heart surgery in critical way and but even though Doctor said I can't leave any longer in this world (life) but from last 24 years I am alive because God is Alive. why because my parents faith has answered by God, every day I am healed in physical way. I am still alive because God is alive. In his name(Jesus) every disease will run away and in his name(Jesus)everything should bow down.

There are people in this world who had great faith and they have healed in physical way, Cancer, heart diseases, brain disease, bone disease and Ear disease because they prayed in faith and they God healed because they believe in his name Jesus. Amen
God bless you

Josh Jacobs said...

Excellent treatment. As a Pastor, I get sick (pun intended) of hearing 99.9% of people's prayers about physical illnesses. Even if (and I agree with you that James 5 is talking about spiritual weakness... not physical sickness).. but even if James 5 is talking about physical sickness, that is one occurrence of our praying for the sick. Compare that to all the other NT prayers for boldness and love and insight and other spiritual matters, you'll see that prayers for the sick is not an emphasis of the New Testament.