Three Simple Questions
The book of James is a simple book. It is no surprise, therefore, that James begins the final section with some simple questions and answers.
1) “Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray” (5:13a). Suffering is a broad term. It might include sickness or bereavement, mistreatment or persecution, even being disappointed or disheartened. Earlier, James noted that Christians “encounter various trials” (1:2). Paul used this same term of the challenges a preacher faces in his work (2 Timothy 4:5).
What do we do in such circumstances? James says to pray. Popular alternatives—alcohol, pills, moaning, grumbling, perhaps retaliation—only make us feel worse. But what do we pray for? Some pray, “Why me? Why am I having to face this?” Surely we can do better than that! James says to pray for wisdom (1:5), wisdom to see benefit that can come from the challenge before us. We might pray for strength and patience to endure. We might pray that God will help us be examples in this phase of life as well as in its more pleasant moments. If we are suffering at the hand of another, we ought to pray for our enemy (Matthew 5:44), as well as praying that our attitude and conduct toward him will be what it ought to be.
2) “Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises” (5:13b). Here is the opposite feeling, a high instead of a low. Once again, James calls for a worshipful response. Sing praises. Since every blessing is from above, it should be natural for us to praise the source of all the good in our lives. Colossians 3:16 urges, “singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
It should be noted that these two conditions and responses are not necessarily mutually exclusive. One might pray when he is cheerful, and he might sing even though he is suffering. In fact, we can be cheerful amidst suffering. The apostles rejoiced that they suffered for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41). Paul and Silas sang hymns of praise to God when they had been beaten and were fastened in stocks in the inner prison (Acts 16:24). No matter the circumstance, some form of worship is always timely!
3) “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church . . .” (5:14a). James’s third question gets more specific. Someone is sick; the ensuing discussion suggests a serious condition. Physical sickness is clearly indicated, yet spiritual sickness is also mentioned. In some cases the two are related, but it is a mistake to always insist that there is a direct connection (John 9:3).
James charges the sick man to take action: “he must call for the elders.” Sick people do not wait for the doctor to contact them; they take the initiative. Sick Christians need to do that with their elders. Why call the elders? What are they to do? We will answer those questions next week.