James 5:14-15 (NKJV)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.
When we are sick, to whom do we look for deliverance? Particularly today, in our technologically and medically advanced society, to whom do we direct our eyes? Certainly, we must confess, we direct our eyes primarily to pharmaceutical companies and doctors.
But today James directs our attention elsewhere. He commands us to look first and foremost to the Lord rather than to physicians for our deliverance. This, of course, does not mean that it is wrong to consult physicians – James’ imperative does not exclude other imperatives alongside it. But James tells us first and foremost to seek the blessing of God in our illness.
Why is this? Two reasons. First, God is our Healer and Savior. When anyone recovers from illness, it is fittingly and appropriately ascribed to the hand of God. Physicians themselves will very often be the first to acknowledge this. The healing of illnesses is a great mystery accompanied by all kinds of unexpected complications. Frequently, treatment plans don’t do what they are supposed to do. And this is our reminder that healing comes ultimately from the hands of God – whether we are healed from a minor cold or a severe case of cancer.
But there is another reason James urges us to direct our attention to God in our sickness – sickness is always a consequence of sin. Sickness is a consequence of mankind’s original rebellion against God in the garden. As a result of our rebellion, all evil things – sin, sickness, death – entered into man’s experience. But sin is also sometimes a consequence of personal sin. If we are engaged in sin and refuse to confess it, the Lord will – in His mercy – visit us with sickness to bring us up short and call us to repentance. Paul writes to the Corinthians that because of their scandalous conduct at the Lord’s Table, many among them were sick and suffering.
The second reason, therefore, to seek the face of God when we are sick is to keep short accounts with him. If we have committed any sins, James assures us, and we confess them, then our sins shall be forgiven.
Thus far our application of James’ words is fairly commonly accepted among God’s people. But note the central exhortation in James’ epistle that we find hard to grasp. James urges us to seek the face of God in our sickness by calling upon the elders of the Church. The elders, James implies, function as the representatives of God Himself. And in a service of healing, the elders proclaim to the sick person the blessing of God and the forgiveness of their sin.
Note this – they are to anoint the sick person with oil. Oil is very frequently a sign of blessing and favor. The elders in a service of healing proclaim to the sick person – as we put this oil on you, it’s not just us blessing you, God Himself is blessing you. And not only do the elders speak with the voice of God in blessing, they also speak with the voice of God in forgiveness – having confessed your sins, you are forgiven.
What does this mean practically? First, in every illness large or small, alongside seeking medical assistance, look to God – look to him as your Healer and Savior. Second, as the case warrants – I wouldn’t necessarily counsel in every illness, but certainly in serious cases – call upon the elders of the congregation to come and assure you of the blessing and forgiveness of God.
Reminded of the gravity of our sin and the way in which our sin has practical consequences in the world – causing sickness and death – let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.