Faith Work Out: "Response Time" – James 5:13-20

The words RESPONSE TIME are used in modern life in a number of different ways. Because we live in a technological society, one way to think of it is this: “In a data system, the system response time is the interval between the receipt of the end of transmission of an inquiry message and the beginning of the transmission of a response message to the station originating the inquiry.” About three people in the room really get what I just said, and even they are bored with it! The fact is that we aren’t only about technology – we are also a society “on the move”. For motorsports enthusiasts from Nascar to High Performance Racing, “response time” has to do with the speed and agility of the vehicle to respond to the movements of the driver. Sometimes it is about the time between increasing throttle power and forward velocity. A little closer to the essentials of life, let’s look at other ways it is used. For emergency responders in our society, “response time” has to do with the time lag between the call for help and the arrival of the emergency services. Finally, among some police officers, the term “response time” has a very specific meaning. It refers to the is the first forty-eight hour period from the discovery of the crime (as in someone finds a body) and the following of leads to suspects.

Technology, racing, saving lives and police work all have one thing in common – they require timely responses for success. A dead car remains at the starting line. A response-less computer that “goes out to lunch in cyberspace” has no value in solving a digital query. The unanswered or badly delayed answer to an emergency call can mean death. Each action requires a timely response for the action to have any meaning at all. In a strange way, James argued back in the first century that our faith, when posed in specific situation was also like that – it required a timely and proper response. People in the body of Messiah need care – and that care has a timely action associated with it.

Key Principle: God not only orchestrated and allowed challenges to come into the body of Messiah, He included instructions on our appropriate and timely responses to each challenge.

The basic question behind the passage is this: What are believers commanded to DO for one another? The emphasis of the passage is NOT on the person who is sick or suffering, but rather an instruction to the body of believers on “How to Handle…” in a series of very clear instructions about four kinds of people:

James 5:13 Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. 19 My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

“Four People that Need our Help Among Jesus’ Followers”

The first step toward the church responding to each person that is a part of the fellowship is this: recognize that not everyone is on the same page. Some are hurting, while others are celebrating. Some are facing illness and physical exhaustion while others are restless and desiring to “sow the wild oats”. All may gather together on a Sunday morning, but they don’t all see things the same way, because they aren’t all in the same place. The response to one another should be underscored by a basic desire to “dwell together in an understanding way”.

Look around you. Many believers in the room where you worship may well be in secret pain. They may be disappointed when they look in the mirror. Some see AGE where they once saw a fresh youth. Others see a body that is slipping from their control. Some are worried about the direction of the country for their children and grandchildren. Some are young and full of life and promise. Some are in love, and the world couldn’t be prettier. Some are thinking about gain, others about loss…Yet we are all together. How should we handle some who are among us that we can see are in need of a timely and specific response?


Our text opens with “people who are in pain”. The term suffering isn’t a simple one – because the experience of suffering isn’t a simple one.

Let’s be clear about what the text truly says:

5:13 Is anyone among you suffering? kakopathéō (from kakós, “bad; of a malicious disposition” and páthos, “pain”) –experiencing a painful hardship or suffering that seems to be a “setback” but really isn’t. (all definitions in this study are adapted from those of Dr. Gary Hill at Discovery Bible).

5:13b “…Then he must pray.” proseúxomai (from prós, “to bow toward or to exchange” and euxomai, “to wish, pray”) – properly, to exchange wishes; literally prayer in the interaction with the Lord by switching human wishes (ideas) for His wishes as He imparts faith (“divine persuasion”).

How should believers handle someone who is facing a disappointing and painful reversal in their lives? (5:13a).

James said: Are some of the believers in your midst facing apparent setbacks? Let them exchange those for God’s perspective on what is happening in their lives. The answer: The person must be aided and instructed to fall before God and exchange the view they have with the perspective of God on the issue.

Look carefully at the text and you will see three things.

First, it is POSSIBLE for a believer to face a setback or reversal. There are those who teach that such things are NOT for the child of God – but that simply isn’t the case. Following God is no guarantee that hardship won’t come. In fact, the Bible record of men and women of God is the very opposite. God does not get the best from untested children – and the Word if filled with stories of men and women that have suffered and been hurt while following God. At the same time, the things we THINK are reversals are often God’s actual plan. Through the complex matrix of detours, the actual intended plan of God unfolds to tell the story of WHO HE IS.

Second, the focus of the text appears to be on how the body must instruct those who suffer. The text isn’t just an individual manual on “what to do in suffering” – it is a corporate manual on “what we should instruct those who are suffering”. This isn’t a semantic issue, it has real implications. This isn’t a heartless response to sufferers– it is REAL HELP. When we instruct people to get before the Lord about their problems – we AREN’T ABDICATING our responsibility, we are FULFILLING it.

Finally, the response of the person in pain wasn’t ALWAYS SUPPOSED TO BE COUNSELING. More often than not the answer was to get alone with God and hash out what He says about what is happening. This is NOT a popular approach in the modern church of the west, where counseling and therapy have largely replaced expository preaching and propositional truth – but it is nevertheless a Biblical idea. There is a time in the Bible to have many counselors in making plans. There is a time to have a shoulder to weep upon – clearly that is in view in the Bible. At the same time, much counseling has been aimed at labeling and diagnosis – and not at final solutions to deal with the problem. Let me offer this – if you take to your Maker the issues of trials of life – He will answer you and give you His perspective. James 1 made that argument about trials, and James 5 makes it again. We need DIVINE perspective in facing our issues. TRUTH comes from the Creator – and TRUTH is the only resolution to all things painful.

I have to admit something that I find a bit painful…I hardly ever have a conversation with any believer, no matter how old, who tells me they are content with their prayer life and excited about how it is working for them. What God designed to rescue us from the pain of disconnection from Him has become a source of guilt for many a follower of Jesus. How can this be? I suspect the problem is due, at least in part, to some misunderstanding of both the nature and purpose of prayer. The secret may be found in the term the New Testament writer chose to reflect prayer.

The Greek term “proseúxomai” is a compound word taken from “prós” – to bow toward or to exchange and the term “euxomai” to express a wish or desire. Added together, one very clear way of thinking about prayer is this: to interact with the Lord and exchange perspective. In prayer I give God my broken view of a situation or perceived need, and He exchanges it with His perspective on the situation. Prayer then, is neither to inform God nor change God – it is primarily focused on the exchange of my poor perspective with His Divine view. I am not suggesting that prayer doesn’t change outcomes. In Scripture, men prayed and God moved. I am suggesting the opposite – the first change that occurs is the one that happens inside the heart of the person praying. Prayer is accomplished when I leave with Heaven’s perspective of my situation.

“The definition of prayer I want to project is this: the deliberate submission of my heart to God for the purpose of exchanging my perspective with His.”

This isn’t its only meaning – but it is perhaps its most neglected meaning in our modern usage…


Not everyone is beat down in the church. Some have just met the future love of their life. Some have just landed the best job they could ever imagine. Some have just seen God break them free from the chains of addiction. Some have just seen God heal their marriage. Look at the text:

5:13b “…Is anyone cheerful? euthyméō (from eú, “good” and thymós, “passion”) – properly, to show positive passion or be of high morale.

5:13b “…He is to sing praises. psállō – properly, pluck a musical instrument (like a harp); used of “singing along with instruments”; “to make music,” or simply sing.

How should we instruct believers to handle times of positive passion and apparent victory? (5:13b).

James said: Are some among you excited about life right now? Let him break out in song and rejoicing. The answer: The person should be aided and instructed to cry out in rejoicing and praise before the Lord! Music is a great expression!

The short way to emphasize this truth is this: SHARE THE JOY OUT LOUD! We must not only be heard when things are somber, or people are hurting – there should be shouts of JOY when God breaks open a new moment of JOY in our midst.

When was the last time you really celebrated God’s goodness to you OUT LOUD? Thanksgiving was supposed to do that – but now it has become largely a celebration of gluttony and extravagance followed by shouts of competition as we watch the football game to follow. The church that is SO VERSED in pointing out SIN and DECAY in society must also learn to rejoice in every moment that God is doing happy work in us. All the work is His work – but some of it is designed to make us SING, SHOUT AND CELEBRATE.

• Prayer meetings need a praise section, not just a shopping list of physical maladies listed before God.

• Worship services need something rich and celebratory – because we serve a GOOD GOD. I want to be a part of a service that focuses me on God’s promises and power – not just sin’s problems and persistence.

A church is only as helpful as its instruction is practical.
It is only as caring as it is communally embracing.
It is only as supportive as it is inspirationally empowering.

Brothers and sisters – if what we preach is true – we are not happy enough. We do not display the faces of souls set free. We do not shine like those who have access to the King above all earthly kings. We have surrendered the sounds of rejoicing to the angry murmuring of a nation sinking. I do not ask you to say that our days ahead will be easy – I ask you to rejoice because the days ahead end with the King again enthroned – sitting exalted over His creation. They end with Jesus exalted high, and His arch enemy forever bound in the soupy Lake of Fire.

  • We may lose our earthly retirement funds – but not our eternal salvation.
  • We may lose our dollar’s worth – but not our true treasures above.
  • We may lose our temporal freedoms – but never our eternal home.

Jesus shall reign on earth – come what may in the short run. Ours is a faith destined to rejoice! Why not practice now, for the Lord God Omnipotent ALREADY reigns!


There is a group that cannot rejoice well, because their body has been broken under the load of the curse of the Garden of Eden. We must remember to deal sensitively with people – because we are ALL FRAGILE BEINGS. The most powerful man or woman in the nation is a few heartbeats from history books and a pine box. With that in mind, look at James 5:14-18. The question is clear:

How should believers handle the sick and physically weakened among them?

Three specifics are given, in accord with the parties involved (5:14-18):

First, there is the response of the sick themselves.

5:14 Is anyone among you sick? asthenéō – from asthenēs – which is a “without” and sthenos, “vigor, strength”) – properly, without vigor, living in a state of weakness (depletion).”

5:14b “…Then he must call …” proskaleó – from toward and to call – to summon. “…for the elders of the church” presbýteros – properly, a mature man having seasoned judgment (experience); an elder. “…and they are to pray over him…” proseúxomai (from prós, “to bow toward or to exchange” and euxomai, “to wish, pray”) – properly, to exchange a broken perspective for God’s view.

5:14b “…anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; literally: “having anointed him” aleíphō – properly, to rub or smear olive oil on the body. The word is the ordinary term used for physically anointing the body with (olive) oil. Anointing brought healing and relief and hence became synonymous with gladness (festivity). It was also the preparation for the contest ahead, in the metaphoric sense it was the renewal for future contest.

James said: Are some of you physically depleted? The one who is in such a state should call on the elders of the congregation to seek the Lord to exchange the heaviness for God’s future ministry for them. Having poured and rubbed oil upon the depleted one, they should seek God for that renewal and clarity. The answer: The one who has been knocked down physically and cannot regain strength should call on the elders to help them see God’s perspective in a time of prayer and symbolic seeking of healing. That is the word to the SICK or DEPLETED ONE.

Second, there is the work of those who care for the flock – the elders.

5:15 “…and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, pisteuo: faith is the perspective of truth always rendered by God when we see from His perspective the events of our world. It is distinct from human confidence, yet engages it. The Lord continuously births faith in the yielded believer so they can know what He prefers, i.e. the persuasion of His will (1 Jn 5:4), as in:

1 John 5:4 “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”

5:15b “…and the Lord will raise him up, egeiró: to awaken or rouse.

5:15b “…and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Pepoikos: if he had manufactured or committed sin (sins of commission). They will be phíēmi (from 575 /apó, “away from” and hiēmi, “send”) – properly, send away; release (discharge).

James said: As the elders pray, that prayer offered in full perspective of God’s view will awaken or rouse the depleted one. If they have been guilty of sinful works, they will be released from any further physical penalty related to that sin. The answer: The elders should seek God for His perspective, and await His Divinely revealed wisdom. If specific sin is at the center – it should be openly confessed and the penalty released. That is the instruction to the elders.

Third, in a preventative way, all believers are to be instructed to stem off such illnesses.

5:16 “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, eksomologéō (from ek, “wholly out from,” intensifying homologéō, “say the same thing about”) – properly, fully agree and to acknowledge that agreement whole-heartedly; hence, to “openly declare” without reservation.

5:16b “…and pray for one another so that you may be healed. Iáomai: healing, particularly Divine healing that draws attention to the Lord Himself as the Great Physician (cf. Is 53:4,5; cp. Lk 17:15: “Now one of them [i.e. the ten lepers], when he saw that he had been healed (iáomai), turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice.” The term iáomai normally includes the notion that in the change attention is drawn to the Lord as the source of the healing – and it is beyond the physical healing itself and its benefits (as with therapeúō).

5:16b “…The effective prayer..” déēsis from dḗ (“really”) which likewise implies a felt need that is personal and urgent – deō is the form “to be in want, lack”; related to déomai, “praying for a specific, felt need”). This is a heart-felt petition, arising out of deep personal need (sense of lack, want). “…of a righteous man…” díkaios from dikē, “right, judicial approval” is properly, “approved by God” “…can accomplish much.” Energéō (from en, “engaged in,” which intensifies érgon, “work”) – properly, energize, like an electrical current energizing a wire, bringing it to a shining light bulb.

Think of the Biblical pattern: Elijah experienced the same feelings as other men of his time, but prayed that it would not rain -and the rain was withheld three and one half years. At a later time he again sought the Lord to open the sky, and the Lord did so, causing the crops to sprout again.

5:17 “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours…” The term “nature” is homiopathes: same feelings. “…and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.

The issue wasn’t the feeling of the praying one – it was the uniqueness of one who was judicially approved and held Divine perspective within him deliberately SEEKING GOD. The so called “prayer of faith” was the same as the prayer of the “righteous man” (5:16). That prayer was is in “middle voice”. As in a prayer GIVEN TO HIM. That is best translated, “the effectual fervent prayer of faith given to him avails much…” It was this kind of prayer God put in the mouths of effective prophets of old (5:17-18).

James said: As a result of the truth that such penalties can be discharged by complete agreement with God about the egregious violations admitted without reservation to one another, do so. When one shares such a confession, seek God to exchange the words for His Divine view – that the Lord may intervene and rescue overtly. The heart-felt petition of one who is approved by God in His judicious standard (sees it from God’s perspective) and who senses an urgent lack energizes the work. The answer: Believers are to intentionally open themselves to confess sin before one another, and seek God’s Divine healing of both the sin and its effects on their lives. The effective prayer will be GIVEN by God, just as the FORGIVENESS is given by God.


We have dealt with hurting, rejoicing and sick people – who else is left?

How should believers deal with straying Christians? (5:19-20)

5:19 “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth planáō – properly, go astray, get off-course; to deviate from the correct path (circuit, course), roaming into error, wandering; (passive) be misled. This is the root of the English term, planet (“wandering body”). This term nearly always conveys the sin of roaming (for an exception – see Heb 11:38). “…and one turns him back…” epistrephó (from epi: back and strepho: return) – puts him back in place.

5:20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death…” psyxḗ (from psyxō, “to breathe, blow” the root of the English words “psyche,” “psychology”) –a person’s distinct identity (unique personhood), i.e. individual personality. This corresponds exactly to the Hebrew term for the direct aftermath of God breathing (blowing) – His gift of life into a person, making them an ensouled being.“…and will cover a multitude of sins.” kalýptō – properly, to cover or conceal pléthos, as in a BUNDLE OF sins.

James said: Brothers, if another from among us roams away from God’s stated truth and one intentionally works to turn him back to God’ standard, acknowledge the deed of the man who deliberately sought his brother’s return and remind him that he has helped preserve the person’s physical life, and put a cover over the growth of a whole bundle of sins. The answer: We shouldn’t let the wandering go without challenge.

Let me ever so clear: If you know Jesus as your Savior and you are a part of Grace – even on a cursory level – expect that we will challenge you to get serious about your faith in your life style. We will never be particularly popular for it – but the Scripture calls us to do so. We won’t make a list bigger than the text we are teaching, but we won’t make it LESS than the text either. It isn’t based on our preferences, or our personal abilities – but solely based on our undying commitment to teach the Word, cover to cover, to anyone who desires to learn it.

Let me finish our time with a simple look at one question: Did God Promise to Heal Every Sick Believer? Let’s draw some important conclusions-

The passage DOESN’T teach:

• God can only heal in this way, and will not heal in other ways.
• All sickness is as a result of the sinful actions or omissions of the sick person.
• God is obligated to heal every sick person that Elders anoint.

The passage DOES teach:

• God can use sickness as His own tool to discipline people (the leprosy of Miriam, the quail sickness in the wilderness).
• God can use death as a tool for discipline in the church (1 Cor. 11; Acts 5).
• Obedience is healthy and sin is dangerous both physically and spiritually (Dt. 6:24).
• God has numerous ways to bring about repentance in our lives, but He does not inflict pain without purpose.
• God is FOR us! He wants us to grow and produce. He wants us to bypass suffering and pain.

God not only orchestrated and allowed challenges to come into the body of Messiah, He included instructions on our appropriate responses to each challenge.