20 Oct Living together in community
The Prayer of Faith
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.[a] 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Can you all believe that today will be going through the last passage of James? Which means we have tackled this book together from the beginning to end. And what a wonderful journey it has been. It’s been good, it’s been great but better things are always yet to come? Am I right? So, I’ll start this off and we’ll have our beloved brother Edrick who will take the closing half.
Let me do a quick recap on James. As you might recall, when we went through the previous chapters, James promises grace to those who have been humbled by the gospel. In chapter 1, James encourages us to count it all joy when we meet trails of various kinds. He asks us to not only hear the word but also DO the word because hearing is not enough. James addresses the social issue of the rich and poor in the church, on how showing partiality is a sin. We are to love our neighbor as our self. That is the royal law. He warns us to not follow the ways of the world, but to submit to the Lord. James continues to warn us in chapter 4 to not speak evil against one another and to not plan presumptuously. In chapter 5, James warns the rich to not exploit the poor and he also calls those who are poor, to be patient in their suffering and rather than fight back, they are to trust in God who will deliver. The book of James has several themes that we come across, wealth and poverty, trials and temptations, wisdom, speech, faith and works, prayer, God and Jesus.
So, James tells the church that we should prayer in EVERY season of life, whether you’re experiencing suffering or joy, we are to take our every concern, our every want and every need to our God, who is sovereign overall.
I believe it is no coincidence that James will end his book on the topic of community. He reminds us of three (3) important things about community, which we are going to go through today.
- Community that prays
- Community that confess sin to one another
- Community that does “rescue” mission
- COMMUNITY THAT PRAYS
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.
Notice how James asks the question, is anyone among you suffering? James is asking a personal, individual question to a community. Christians need to pray. James is fully aware that as a Christian, you will go through suffering, but you will also go through times of joy. However, if you do not have the correct response, then two things can happen.
- If you go through suffering – the believer could turn away from God and abandon the church.
- On the flip side, if you’re experiencing a time of comfort and ease – then this could potentially lead you to think that you can do life on your own and will eventually forget God.
So, my question to you is, where are you at in life? And what is your response? Here is James’ answer:
Pray in your suffering and sing praises in your times of joy
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. This was me literally 2 weeks ago. If you don’t know about two weeks ago, I started experiencing some pain in my stomach. This was on a Tuesday, so we had MC that night and I was supposed to lead it. I thought that by the end of the day my pain would go away, but it was still there. Everyone said it was just a “stomachache”, Rachel, Jeremy, and Josh Tie, they all said it was just gas in my stomach and that I had to fart it out. Yes, I am throwing them under the bus because the pain I felt the next day was excruciating. It was terrible. I couldn’t sleep during the night because every time I moved it hurt so much. I ended up staying home on the Wednesday and come lunch time something happened and the pain just went from bad to worse and it was at the moment where I was like, “I have to go see a doctor, this is too much.” And lo and behold, it wasn’t a stomachache or gas, but it was appendicitis! My appendix was inflamed. All day Wednesday I was praying to God. I was truly suffering, and I prayed like all day, believe me.
Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. John Calvin said that there is “no time in which God does not invite us to himself”. When you’re experiencing the good times, give praise to God. I love what the theologian Alec Motyer says. “To pray to him is to acknowledge his sovereign power to meet our needs, and to praise is to acknowledge his sovereign power in appointing our circumstances.”. James commands us to sing praises. In our joy or sufferings, our God is sufficient
Whatever you are going through, whether it is good or bad, whether you are receiving blessings or somethings are taken away from you, whatever comes at you, our proper response is to always deflect it back to God, in the form of our prayers and our praise. When we do this, this is a sign that we accept God’s will over ours. One of the toughest things a Christian can do when they through suffering is to pray what Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will but yours.” This was a time when Jesus was in agony, when he was wrestling with the forces of evil as they attacked him, Jesus was sweating drops of blood at this point, and in that agony, he prayed more earnestly (Luke 22:44).
James continues as we read on, 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. Now the focus shifts from prayer in suffering and joy to praying for physical needs. The word James uses for sick, literally means “weak”, it means they cannot get out of bed. And those who are sick are to call for the elders. Who are the elders? Elders are like the leaders of the church. It was customary in the early church to appoint elders in every church. Their role was to look after and care for the sheep, to teach and preach and above all, elders are to be an example of godliness and faith. It is not the sick that goes to the elders, but it is the sick who call for the elders to pray over them.
Anointing him with oil. The elders anoint the sick with oil. We know that the disciples used oil in their healing ministry once in Mark 6:13, but we don’t really get an explanation for the purpose of oil from James or Mark. So, what is the role of the anointing of oil?
It is most likely, that the anointing simulated the faith of the sick person. You can find Jesus sometimes calling the sick people aside to a private conversation and touch them before he healed them (Mark 8:3). When Jesus healed the deaf and mute, he put his fingers into his ears, and spat and touched the man’s tongue, the man was healed (Mark 7:31-37). In that day, people believed that the saliva was a man’s life power. In this way, it is like how the anointing of oil works, it is a sign of God to heal, so this makes the anointing spiritual.
Does this mean we do not need to call on today’s medical doctors or surgeons?
I would not be standing here today, free of pain if it wasn’t for doctors and nurses. I have a newfound respect for the power of medicine. What we thought was an inflamed appendix, the doctor said my appendix was leaking, it was worse than they originally thought. Hence, why they kept me in the hospital for an extra few days to just monitor me and see if the situation could have gotten worse. But praise God it didn’t. The doctors, nurses and surgeons all worked on me so I can get better, the surgeons operated on me to take my appendix out and clean all that mess, the nurses looked after me in recovery as best as they could and the doctors checked up on me if everything was going okay, but at the end of the day it is God who heals. He alone can heal. The medicine and pain killers that the nurses gave me, it was God who made it work. When the surgeons took out my appendix, it was God who knits everything back together. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above! James 1:17
James continues, but now instead of just physical healing, he also has spiritual healing in mind.
15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
What happens if everything was carried out and it was supposed to, and the elders prayed faithfully, and the person doesn’t get healed? Does this mean that if the person was not healed, it was because of a lack of faith? If yes, then it would be a lack of faith from the elders because James does not mention the faith from the sick person. It is the elders who pray, and it is their prayer of faith that will save. When we read verse 15 in isolation, then it’s possible to read it in a way that ALL who believe will be healed, and that ONLY those who believe are healed. But we know how important context is when we read the bible, context gives meaning. If God healed only those who had great faith, then God should have healed Paul and the other apostles of all their sickness. Correct? They were people of great faith and were not healed. Therefore, we cannot say that it was because of their lack of faith that they were not healed. I need you all to know this simple truth, healing is a gift. God does not owe any healing whatsoever because you had faith.
We need to go back to what I said earlier, “not my will but your will be done”. You see its not faith in that the promises will be fulfilled just like that, but faith in the all sovereign, all powerful, all faithful and loving God. Trusting in God that He is in control, He knows what is best for you. The sick person or the elder do not pray that their will be done, but they pray that the sick person find rest within the total, unchanging and perfect and gracious will of God. To pray your will be done, means to lift the limitations of our knowledge, our wants and needs, what we think is best for us and surrender them to the hands of infinite wisdom, love and power of our heavenly Father (Motyer).
And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. James considers us to explore the possibility that the sick person has sinned, and if he has sinned, then he will be forgiven. When you’re ill, your bedtime gives you an opportunity to reflect and give a self-examination. When you’re at hospital for days or weeks at a time, then it gives you time to think, and if sin comes to mind, then we should repent and confess.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. James then reminds us that healing also has a spiritual aspect to it. Prayer is not limited to sickness or even to the elders, but it is a privilege for every believer to share fellowship with one another through. The previous verses related to a physical healing, but now here, it talks about sin. And Edrick will continue from here.
2. COMMUNITY THAT CONFESS SINS TO ONE ANOTHER
16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another
Before we will discuss deeper about this subtopic of confession, let me make a big statement;
“Confession of sin to one another should be an essential part of our Gospel community – in church or MC”
What does it mean? It means that if we sin against our brother and sister in Christ, we should be humble enough to confess sin to those we have sinned against, repent and ask for forgiveness. It also means that if we are struggling with secret sin, we should humbly seek faithful and mature brothers or sisters in Christ and confess our sins.
When we talk confession in here, we mainly talk about 2 main types of confession;
- Firstly, when we commit sins to your brother and sister in Christ, the Bible says to confess your sin to them – and ask forgiveness.
- Secondly, if you are struggling with sin, confess your sin. But (there is but), it does not mean that you broadcast it to the whole world. But you should confess to any mature Christian.
Some people in here are like “hold on seconds, confess your sin to other people? I feel naked! Let other people know my sins? Let other people know my weakness”. Are there any introvert people in here? I am an introvert person. If you are close to me, you know I am an introvert person. I am struggling in this part too. But the Word of God is so clear and tells every believer “hey it is God’s intention for all of us to live our Christian life in Gospel community; a community that prays together, a community that learns Gospel together and community that confesses sin to one another”.
I have two subpoints about this topic that we need to know before we confess sin to one another.
a. Confession is not like emptying our bucket of sins
This verse 16a uses by another religion to justify their practice of confessing sin to a priest. Regularly, they come to the priest and confess their sin but that is not what James thinking. He clearly says that confess to one another. He did not say we must confess to your priest. It means that confession is mutual between believers; not between Priest and believers. James acknowledging that we all are struggling with sin. We all need one another. We need to help each other as we fight sin. Therefore, we should confess to one another.
Before we become pride and look down on other religions, let me give you a reality check for us. This is our version – we are taught to confess before we are going to bed, we kneel on side of the bed, we confess to the Lord then God doesn’t remember our sin anymore. The next day, we will do the same and at night, we confess again to God.
There is one similarity in those two examples which is, I love how Andy Stanley’s analogy, we treated our confession like emptying bucket of sin every night so that the bucket will be ready to be filled in next day. Or in another word, we are trying to outsmart God. We try to find loophole with God. We think God is not smart enough to know what we are doing.
Many times, we do confession so that we can feel good – “ok done, I have confessed my sin to God and then confess to my leader. I feel good about myself now” then the next day you do the same sin again and again. But I don’t need to worry as I will confess my sin on Sunday again. Thus, it means the main reason we do confession is to relieve our guilt and to feel good about ourselves. “I feel bad with what I have just done this morning. I feel really bad. What should I do? OK – I will confess again. I am going to my leader and confess. So, it is all about me, me and me. Nothing to do about our relationship with God.
But, that is not what Bible says about confession. Confession is not about just to release our guilt and it is not about emptying our bucket of sins, but real confession always leads to repentance. When we sin against other people or our brother and sister in Christ, we don’t confess because we just want to release the guilt and feel good about ourselves, but we confess our sin to them with the intention to get it right with that person. We do that with the intention to have reconciliation with them and we want to repent from our sin.
Similarly, when we confess our secret sin to other believers, our intention to confess is not just to make us feel better and then, there are no changes in our life. We keep doing the same sin again and again. When we confess our secret sins to other believers, there should be feeling that “I am so sick with my sin and I will do anything to repent”. Confession is the first step of our repentance as we invite other believers to come to our life and be on a journey together.
When we know the real purpose of confession as per the Bible, it looks hard and threatening. But it results in change and transformation in our life. That is the ultimate goal of why we confess. Real confession leads to transformation in our heart and our life. God never intended for us to confess to make us feel better.
b. Confession is not a requirement for God’s forgiveness
One thing that needs to be clear here is we don’t confess to one another as a condition of God’s forgiveness. We don’t confess as a requirement for God’s forgiveness – “Oh I have to confess my sin to my leader first, otherwise God will not forgive me”. That is not the point. The point is;
We do confess our sins because Jesus has died on the Cross for me us and our forgiveness is secured.
What does it mean? The Gospel should trigger every Christian to confess to one another. It is a bit heavy stuff but we do really need to understand this. I need your full concentration right now. One thing that we need to understand as Christian is when Christ has died on the Cross, we who believe in Him become a new creation. We are no longer slave to sin but we are His children. Or, Paul says in Ephesian 5:8-9, “At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true)”. We become children of light. We become children of truth.
Then you will ask “what is the connection between children of light and confession?” – good question. When we know who I am, it should trigger us to confess. When we know we are children of light, whatever we do and whatever we say are not fake. In other words, we are not Christian with a mask. Many times, we become Christian who wearing mask in front of other people. This is what we normally call a hypocrite. When we know that we are children of light (we are children of God, we are children of truth), we should not have any secret sin in our Christian life. We should not have any secret life in our journey with God. Children of light do not have 2 different life; Sunday version of Edrick and another version of Edrick. By knowing this truth, I will do anything to make sure that there is no another version of Edrick. There is only one version of Edrick which is Children of light. We will do anything and one of those things is confession.
One of the main purposes of confession is inviting other believers to come in your mess and to walk together in your journey. Confession, sometimes, includes being open about our sinfulness and our struggle with sin so that it allows God’s glory to shine brighter on our brokenness. It is not an easy task but this is what we need to pursue as a community. This is what makes us not just normal community, but the Gospel community. Community that welcome a different kind of people – people just come without condemnation. People don’t need to come with their masks so that people in the church can welcome them. Confession allows us to build a community that genuinely love each other.
On another note, it does not mean that we confess to everyone. It does not mean that we tell the whole world. If you sin against your brother or sister in Christ, confess to them, ask for forgiveness and repent. If you want to confess your secret sin, confess to mature Christian, perhaps your MC leader or Pastor so that they can pray for us and also hold us accountable.
3. COMMUNITY THAT DOES “RESCUE” MISSION
19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
After James focus on what happening within the community, now James shifted the focus to what we should do as community externally.
When I first read these verses, I thought James talks about people out there who never come to church but not really. In here James specifically says, ‘anyone among you’. James doesn’t talk about that people who never come to church, but James talks specifically about some of our friends or brothers and sisters who at one time are with us in here and now wanders from the truth.
When we read wander in truth, we may only think about people that have behavior issues or moral issue. For example, people who stop coming to church. But James also talks about people wandering in doctrinal perspective – people who are no longer believe in sound doctrine anymore. People who may think Sound Doctrine doesn’t make sense. You saved by faith alone in Christ. Seriously?! I think it does more sense if you should finish a few sacraments first then you get baptized and you can say you are saved.
Then James says I hope “someone brings him back”. I would to clarify that James doesn’t say I hope one of priest brings them back. James doesn’t say I hope one of the leaders brings them back. He does not say that. He says that someone. This rescue mission is not only the responsibility of pastors or leaders, but it is the responsibility of all believers. This rescue mission is everyone’s responsibility.
Have you ever watched news about someone who is reported missing in the jungle or wilderness? The rescue team has to be sent straight away to find and locate the missing person. People wait anxiously and expectantly for any update. It is a joy if the rescue team finally find the missing person alive and well but if the team gives a bad update that they are too late and the person found dead, it is a moment of sorrow for all of us.
The aim of the rescue team does not just locate the missing person and done. “OK, I found the missing person guys and my job is done and I will return back”. The aim of the rescue team is to find them and (like James says) brings them back. When we know that someone wanders from the truth, it is our responsibility to bring them back to the truth. The reason why they are missing is they lost direction and they confused their sense of direction. Or they may be ashamed and feel condemned at what they have done. And it is our responsibility to remind them that assurance of God’s forgiveness if they repent and confess their sin. It is our responsibility to slowly show them direction to go back to the truth. They need someone who will show the direction to go back to truth and direction on how not to go back to the wilderness.
There are some cases that our rescue mission could be one of the hardest missions ever. It seems impossible. If you remember the case last year where whole members of kid’s football team and their coach were trapped in the cave, people called that mission as one of hardest mission ever because of the condition of cave and the rescue team were running out of time. But, it does not stop them to rescue them. Do you know why? Because they know the consequences if they didn’t do mission. It is between life and death. If you know that it is about life and death, you will do everything to rescue them. That’s what James says in verse 20-. 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. Our rescue mission is to save them from death. It is about life and death not physically but spiritually.
Can you imagine that someone is lost in the wilderness and no one comes looking for them? When people ask the rescue team why they do not come and find him/her, their answer is “sorry I am busy on that day”. That is not an attitude of the rescue team. Knowing that someone is on the verge of death valley and you don’t do anything is not sign of true believers. True believers will do anything to find and rescue them.
Firstly, for us as Christian, we have to believe in the power of prayer. James says in verse 16b-18 The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.[a] 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months, it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. When we read the story of Elijah, it seems that he is an extraordinary person. IF you read the story of Elijah, you will find that even he sees many God’s miracles, there are times in his life that He feel fearful and depressed. James’ point is Elijah was a great man but after all, he was just a man with nature like us. He did not have a special status before God. He also has ups and downs like our life. But during that time, Elijah believe in the power of prayer and he prays. It shows that the power of prayer is not with the man but with our God.
Secondly, for us who have not joined a cell group or MC, do your best to join the gospel community. In this passage, James asks believers to pray to one another, to confess to one another and to rescue other believers. It is clear that God’s intention for every believer to walk their Christian life in the community. When I say community, it is just joining your group of friends who gather together. I do not say not to have a friend outside church but you also need gospel community that can walk with you in your journey with God. The community that reminds you again and again when you are off-track. The community that rebukes you when you need to be rebuked. Community that reminds you who you are – you are children of light.
Thirdly, for us who rooted in the community already, do not take lightly your MC. Remember MC is not just a social community where people gather together to talk and chit chat about life, but MC is a Gospel-centred community. It is not just important, but it is critical that the Gospel is preached and reminded every time we gather. Just imagine that we never preach Gospel in MC and one day, MC leader tells every member of MC to confess their secret sins – “Bible says to confess your secret sins” and, then everyone confesses their sins. What will happen next? It becomes a confession that leads to gossiping instead of building one another. We do gossip about other people’s sins. We look down on other people who confess their sins. People start whispering in the corner – “I don’t believe that he did that” and then they share with other people.
Gospel says that we all are on the same ground. Yes all of us and it includes pastor and leaders. We all are a sinner who helpless and we all need Jesus as the saviour of our life. There should not be a moment when we look down on another brother and sister in Christ. There should not be a moment when we are being judgemental when people confess their sins. We want our brother and sister to come to our lives and help us with our struggle. And likewise, other people may invite you to your life to help them with their struggle with sin.
And, lastly, do not be comfortable with your group. One of your responsibility is to do rescue missions for people wandering from the truth. If there is someone has not come to your cell group for a while, intentionally ask them and do your best to bring them back to the truth.