Today I was chatting with a woman whose mother has been hospitalized and is on oxygen due to COVID-19. If I understand it correctly, this mother has been ill for the past 30 years and in a frail care facility for the past 20 years. Fifteen of the seventeen patients tested positive for COVID some time ago. Although this lady was asymptomatic, she was transferred to hospital on Friday with COVID.
The mother’s main illness is multiple sclerosis. Also known as MS, it is a potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). In MS, the immune system attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibers and causes communication problems between the brain and the rest of the body. Please pray for her.
I was impressed with the maturity of the daughter as she faces her mom’s condition, for in her case, COVID is extremely dangerous. Many questions will run through the minds of people when their loved one is battling for his or her life due to illnesses of this nature … and moreso when they are COVID-positive. Some will pray for relief or healing whilst others will demand healing. God’s Word says:
Jam 5:14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
This passage has been known to be controversial … not because it is, but some persuasions make it so, such as those practicing the so called “doctrine of extreme unction” and those practicing the “highly sensational healing services”. A careful reading of the passage shows neither of these … but is James establishing a definite healing ministry in church? Let’s look at the passage.
The word ‘sick’ literally means without strength. It is referring to a church member who is in such a debilitating condition that prevents them from going to a church worship service. It is not speaking about any person with minor illnesses.
The sick Christian takes the initiative and calls for the church’s spiritual leaders to visit him or her. Note, there is no healing service and no calling a person to the front of the church. This person’s condition is that they are bedridden and requesting a pastoral visit from the church elders (pastor and wardens).
The procedure followed by the leadership is carefully prescribed. Firstly, they are to pray, and secondly, they are to anoint with oil. Oil was used in those days for a wide range of medical conditions. The word used here, translated as anoint, means “to oil”. Literally, it means that whilst the oil is rubbed onto and into the person’s body, the person would be focusing the mind on the power of God to heal.
Once, I visited a friend in hospital. Soon after I read the Bible and prayed, her minister arrived, saying he had “holy oil with him that his bishop had freshly blessed.” That’s mysticism, not Biblical Christianity. James’ mention of oil was to cause the sick person to focus on God and His power to heal whilst the elders prayed.
The formula mentioned is not some magic rite guaranteeing healing. “In the name of the Lord” (or “in Jesus’ name”) does not mean that God has no option but to heal. Remember that God is sovereign and works all things together for our good (that is, for those who love Him). He knows what is best for us and answers our prayers with that in mind.
You might at this stage want to argue, saying, “but James says in verse 15, ‘And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.'”
This is not a “cast-iron” means to cure sick Christians. We know that not every time we pray for the sick they are healed. I have prayed at death beds, as I have prayed for those with life threatening illnesses … and in most cases, healing was not forthcoming. Does this mean that I as an elder of the church had no faith for healing and therefore did not pray in faith? Not at all. God is sovereign!
Far too often, the most fundamental issue is missed in this passage. “If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.” Very often, illness–even serious illness–is induced by sin. Take a person who was a heavy drinker or smoker, or maybe was sexual immoral or a fighter. They might well repent and come to faith in Christ, yet through their previous life of abuse, they could well land up bedridden and desperately ill. They might have a deadly sexually transmitted disease, cirrhosis of the liver, lung cancer or brain damage. Although the prayer of faith might not result in the healing of the person, the greater healing will be when the sinner, confessing his or her sin, is pardoned–they will be forgiven.
Although she did not know, and no one would tell her, that she was dying because of abusing alcohol (she had chronic cirrhosis of the liver), I shared the Gospel with her. She repented, confessing her sins and believing. As the new birth fell upon her, bringing her soul to life, her dying face shone with the understanding that a greater healing had taken place. A few days later, when I told her she was dying, she rejoiced because she knew her soul was healed and she was going home to Jesus. Surely that is the point of James’ teaching!
Dear Lord God, You are the Almighty. You are Sovereign. You are Lord. In You, there is healing and health for the soul. In You, there is the promise of a life in glory where pain, suffering and the effects of sin do not exist. Thank You that at times You hear our prayers for physical healing, but more importantly, thank You for the healing of the soul. Help us to pursue in praying in faith and that we remain faithful. We pray in Jesus name. Amen.