Three Acts of Faith (James 5:12-20)

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Throughout our study of the book of James we have learned about genuine faith. For example, it produces steadfastness when tested (1:3). It does not show partiality (2:1). It reveals itself in love for God and others (2:8). It produces good works (2:26), it tames the tongue (3:8), draws you closer to Christ (4:8), and produces patience; especially in the midst of suffering (5:7). James closes his letter by addressing three important acts of faith: 1) Do not swear, 2) Commit to prayer, and 3) Go after the strayer.

Do Not Swear (Verse 12)

The type of “swearing” James has in this section is not so much profanity (which is to be avoided), but the practice of regularly confirming your truthfulness with an appeal to a higher power (an oath). Jesus taught similarly in Matthew 5:33-37. The main point of both Jesus’ and James’ teaching is that we must be so truthful that our ‘yes’ means yes and our ‘no’ means no. Christians should not have to resort to oaths in order to confirm their truthfulness. The Jews at the time of James’ writing used oaths deceptively. Edmond Heibert says of this, “The force of an oath that to all appearances seemed binding could be evaded by minute inaccuracies in the formula used. They developed the fine art of hiding the truth behind their pious oaths.” It was a cover for hypocrisy. James (along with Jesus) forbids this type of hypocrisy and says, “Let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no.” 

Commit to Prayer (Verses 13-16)

Christians love one another and are committed to helping each other. In verses 13-16, James writes of five important types of prayer:

  1. Supplication – Supplication (or Petitioning) is the type of prayer where someone asks God for something earnestly and humbly. James writes, “If anyone among you is suffering? Let him pray” (13). This is personal prayer that cries out for God to meet our needs.
  2. Adoration – Adoration is the type of prayer where someone expresses appreciation and gratitude to God. It can be spoken or even sung. James writes, “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise” (13). Our songs of praise spring forth from our prayers of praise. They are closely linked. Those who praise God in prayer are more likely to truly praise Him in song.
  3. Intercession – Intercession is similar to supplication except it is prayer where a person intercedes/intervenes on behalf of someone else. James writes, “is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him…” (14). The elders, in this instance, would intercede on behalf of the sick in prayer. This type of prayer is important because it reminds us to consider the needs of others and not always focus on ourselves.
  4. Confession – confession is the type of prayer where a person admits their guilt (15-16). Confession is an important aspect of our spiritual maturity. Confession helps us to understand what is right and wrong. True confession includes the intention to cease to sin and to pursue righteousness. James also mentions the importance of confessing your sins to one another. True confession not only seeks resolution with God but with those against whom we have sinned. We need one another to grow in spiritual maturity.
  5. Impassioned – this is not a type of prayer like the previous four, but a key component of true prayer. In Luke 11:5-13, Jesus taught His followers to pray shamelessly, persistently, and expectantly. James mentions Elijah as an example. Elijah prayed fervently. Literally, “in prayer he prayed” or “He prayed and prayed”. The ESV rightly translates it as he prayed fervently (17-18). Fervent prayer is effective because it is done in faith.

Go After the Strayer (Verses 19-20)

The last two verses of the book of James are written with the belief that Christians care about one another. These verses concern someone who has wandered from the truth and had someone bring them back. Notice that James does not try to convince us that we should bring our brother back, but assumes we already are committed to helping our wandering brother. James says “whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” We are all prone to wander and stray from the right path, but God’s graciously provides us the local church to help bring us back. The return of the straying brother is important because those who leave and refuse return were never of us to begin with (1 John 2:19). God uses Christians to go after those who are wandering. It is through this that they either continue to wander or repent. Their repentance demonstrates the genuineness of their faith. Is your faith genuine? Let us examine ourselves according to the Scriptures. Let us regularly come back to the book of James (and others) so that we may know that we know we know Jesus. Let us strive in faith and grow in faith. Amen.