Three questions, three answers: a message on divine healing (James 5:13-16)

A Note to the reader:

 This is an outline of a sermon on divine healing given by Dr Greg Crofford at the ANU University Church of the Nazarene on November 27, 2011. At the close of the sermon, he lead in a one minute moment of silence, inviting all present to search their hearts and see if there was any sin standing between themselves  and God and – if so – to confess it. Afterward, he invited those seeking healing (whether physical, emotional or spiritual) to come to the altar to kneel. Those requesting anointing were given the option of sharing with those gathered what the specific need was, allowing for more specific prayers. Dr Crofford and Rev. Gift Mtukwa then invited the “elders” of the church (leaders) to lay hands on the sick person, at which time either Mtukwa or Crofford made a small cross of oil on the head of the individual, anointing in the name of the Lord Jesus, followed by a prayer for full healing. Approximately thirty came forward for prayer and anointing that morning, some on behalf of others not present. (Healing by proxy occurred in the case of the centurion who asked for healing for his servant, though the servant was back at home – see Matt. 8:5-13).

The original sermon contained illustrations that have been taken out. Anyone using this sermon is encouraged to develop their own contextualized illustrations for the various points.

Sermon Title: “Three questions, three answers”

Text: James 5:13-16 (Read passage)

 I.   INTRODUCTION

Three questions, three answers – That’s what we find in the passage from James 5 that we just read together. That shouldn’t surprise us. James, after all, is a simple book, and a practical one. It addresses a range of everyday issues, like temptation, trials, listening before speaking, faith and deeds, compassion toward the poor, taming the tongue, wisdom, and submission to God.

And so here again at the close of the book, James raises practical issues. He quickly and simply addresses them as answers to questions. Let’s look one-by-one at those three questions:

1. Is any of you in trouble?

2. Is anyone happy?

3. Is any of you sick?

II.  QUESTION 1 – IS ANY OF YOU IN TROUBLE?

One of the things that modern science has taught us is the close relationship between our emotions, mental state and our bodies.

Stress is like a rubber band. The further you stretch it, the tighter it gets. Stretch it enough, and it will break.

James offers us a solution to the stresses of life, whatever they may be. When we are in trouble, we should pray.

They say that “prayer changes things.” But it’s more than that. Prayer changes us.

Verse 17 says that Elijah prayed, and the rain stopped for 3 ½ years. When he prayed again, rain fell. Prayer changes things.

But prayer also changes us. It is a soothing medicine that releases our stress. It calms us and helps us focus our eyes back on Almighty God.

III.  QUESTION 2 – IS ANYONE HAPPY?

James asks a second question: “Is anyone happy?” What should he do? Verse 13:

“Let him sing songs of praise.”

Now, if I’d been the one writing that verse, I’d have said:

“Is anyone sad? Let him sings songs of praise.”

And in some ways, that would make sense. In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were in jail, arrested for the sake of the gospel. What did they do in that dark and lonely cell? They sang songs of praise to God, and if lifted their spirits. Proverbs 17:22 reminds us: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

But James does not say: “If you’re sad, sing songs of praise.” Rather, he advises: “If you’re happy, sing songs of praise.” This praise is not so much for yourself; it’s medicine for others.

Like James 5, Eph. 5:19-20 is in the context of community. Paul instructs the Ephesians:

Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

James writes:

1. Is any of you in trouble? He should pray.

2. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.

IV.  QUESTION 3: IS ANY ONE OF YOU SICK?

 Finally, James adds a third question: “Is any of you sick?”

There are some non-believers who put their trust only in medical science. For them, praying to a so-called “God” who doesn’t exist is foolish. They believe only what they can see with their eyes.

Others go to the opposite extreme. They say that if you really trust God to heal you, then to see a doctor only proves your lack of faith. To take medicine – according to them – means you’re not putting your full confidence in God, so how can he heal you?

But in the Church of the Nazarene, we believe that God does not force us to choose between physicians and Jesus, the Great Physician. The Lord can heal directly himself, or indirectly, with the assistance of doctors and nurses. It’s up to him.

Listen to Article of Faith 14, titled “Divine Healing,” as found in the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene:

“We believe in the Bible doctrine of divine healing and urge our people to seek to offer the prayer of faith for the healing of the sick. We also believe that God heals through the means of medical science.”

When a child falls and breaks a bone, we take her to the doctor, and she sets it for her. In the same way, when we come down with malaria, there are medicines that we take to purge the infection from our bodies.

But in Africa, medicine is not limited to a doctor with a medical degree from a university, or a nurse who has cared for patients in hospitals. Common sense remedies have been passed down from one generation to another. These might be medicinal teas, made from leaves gathered in the forest, or perhaps herbs that are ground up to make powders. When our Article of Faith talks about “medical science,” in Africa, this includes the informal science of these natural remedies. But we need to be very clear. We must not go to traditional healers or witch doctors who use magical means to bring healing. To do so is to expose ourselves to forces of darkness that – in the long run – will not bring us healing, only misery.

There are other errors to avoid. Sometimes today we speak of Christian “faith healers,” but in fact, James 5 never speaks of “faith healers,” people who supposedly possess a gift that allows them to cure all ailments. In James 5, there are no stadiums, no healing crusades, no public spectacles. We do not say “faith healing” but divine healing, and for a very good reason. God is the healer, and the setting in James 5 is the local church, the community of faith where we know each other and where charlatans cannot possibly use tricks to fool people. Healing is a ministry of the local church. How do we know this? Let’s read v. 14 –

Is any of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray…

Rev. HabibCHABI pastors in Parakou, Benin. Every Sunday at the close of the service, they invite the sick to come forward for prayer and anointing with oil. Many people have received miraculous healing as they obey the words of James 5.

There are a few more observations that we should make, based on this passage:

 1.  Sin can stand in the way of healing.

Verse 16 reads: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other, so that you may be healed.”

Notice the last phrase of v. 15 – “If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.”

When you put the two verses together, the teaching is clear. Sickness can be caused by many things, and in some ways will remain a mystery. Not all sickness is a result of sin, but there are some who are sick because of sin in their lives. Sin is like a poison to our soul and body. Because of this, James calls us to examine our hearts before God, to see if (perhaps) the reason for our illness is that we are literally sin-sick.

2.  A prayer is offered in faith.

We must believe that God can heal us. Your faith may only be small, like a mustard seed, but with a mustard seed of faith, Jesus said we can move mountains (Matt. 17:20).

So, if we pray and are not healed, does that mean it’s because of our lack of faith? Probably not – after all, how big is a mustard seed? It’s tiny. Something else is going on. While faith is part of the equation, there is another part, and that is God must be willing to heal us.

The book of Acts recounts multiple times when God used Paul to heal others, yet we know of a time when Paul himself was not healed. Are we to say that Paul didn’t have enough faith? Of course not! 2 Cor. 12 says that Paul had a “thorn in the flesh,” a “messenger of Satan to torment me” (v.7).  Bible scholars have speculated what that was. Perhaps it was poor eyesight, or even recurrent malaria, but whatever it was, three times Paul prayed, asking God to take the thorn away. But God did not heal Paul. Instead, God said to him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

And so here is the biblical pattern, when we put the teaching of James and the teaching of Paul together:

Where our faith meets God’s willingness, there is a healing every time.

 We see this in Matthew 8:1-3, the story of a man with leprosy. The leper came and knelt before Jesus. “Lord,” he said, “if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Then Jesus reached out and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said, “Be clean!” Matthew reports: “Immediately he was cured of his leprosy” (v. 3).

Again: Where our faith meets God’s willingness, there is a healing every time.

3.  We anoint with oil in the name of the Lord Jesus.

 There is nothing magical about the oil. It can be simple olive oil from the kitchen, if you’d like. What matters is the symbol. In the Bible, oil points beyond itself to three things:

a. It is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. We see this when Samuel anointed David as king (1 Samuel 16:13). The oil represents the power of the Holy Spirit coming to rest upon David.

 b. It is a symbol of joy. Psalm 45:7 speaks of God anointing us with “the oil of joy.”

c.  It is a symbol of healing. Mark 6:12-13 speaks of the Twelve whom Jesus sent out on a mission. The passage reads: “They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.”

Like baptism, we may be tempted to anoint in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But James is clear that we are to anoint in the name of the “Lord.” The Greek word for “Lord” in this passage is kurios. In the NT, kurios always refers to Jesus Christ. So we anoint with oil, in the name of the Lord Jesus.

CONCLUSION: Re-read James 5:13-16.

At this time, follow the instructions at the beginning of the sermon to hold a time of prayer and anointing for the healing of the sick.

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