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One Among You

Sermon passage: (James 5:13-20) Spoken on: September 9, 2012
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: James

Tags: James, 雅各书

Listen to sermon recording with the play button or download with the download link. 您可点播或下载讲道录音。
About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is the moderator of Jubilee Church, serving there since 2002. 王晓晖牧师是禧年堂的主理牧师。自2002年,在那牧会将近20年。
Bible passage (ESV) of the sermon can be found at the bottom of the page.

Sermon on James 5:13-20

I’ll like to start today’s sermon by addressing the elephant in the room. That elephant is the issue of faith healing. What is faith healing? Faith healing is healing through spiritual means. The passage today is often used by Christians in support of this belief and it is easy to see why. Starting from verse 14, James asked, “Is anyone sick?” Call for elders, pray over him and anoint him with oil. The prayer of faith WILL save the one who is sick. Verse 16 reaffirms “therefore, pray for one another, that you may be healed.” A prayer has great power. Elijah prayed and it did not rain for 3 and a half years. He prayed again and it rained. So, running through these verses allows us to create a formula for faith healing. To treat sickness, just get the elders to come and pray and anoint the sick. The words of the passage have guaranteed healing. But should healing fail, then either there isn’t enough faith, since the text mentions a prayer of faith; or the person praying isn’t righteous enough, unlike Elijah who demonstrated great praying power. Using this formula, you can see why many famous faith healers have arisen in the past century.[1] With great faith and great righteousness, they held great healing rallies and drew great conversions into churches great in numbers.

If the reality were this simple, and the results this obvious, then I would gladly play my part in evangelizing to the world through faith healing. All I need to do is mobilize all my elders, equipping them with olive oil. I don’t even need to figure out which are the ones with faith and righteousness, because the results of the healings would speak for themselves. But reality is not this simple. Let us face the facts here. There have been many academic studies and research into the effects of prayers on the sick.[2] So much that we have even meta-analyses, which are studies that analyse all these data collectively. And the verdict is mixed. Prayers have been shown to be better than placebo effects in some studies.[3] But you also have comparable numbers of studies which showed that prayers have no effects or even negative effects.[4] I would say that the results of these studies are consistent with my own experiences. Sometimes prayers lead to healing, and sometimes they don’t. In addition, since faith healing rallies are so popular in some circles, there have also been investigations into such rallies. And the result was ugly. These investigations exposed frauds and trickeries behind some of the most well-known faith healers.[5] I don’t want to name any names. You can google them on your own. But I’ll reveal that reading about these people really makes my blood boil.

What is my point? I’m not saying that faith healing is not real. As a Christian, I continue to pray for the sick, and often do so in faith that God will do what’s best. What this tells us isn’t that there is no faith healing; there are many, and we have many testimonies of this in Jubilee. Instead, what this tells us is that there is no formula for faith healing. If faith healing works like a formula, then with the right formula healing should occur, as is the expectation with all clinically-tested drugs. If we interpret today’s passage as a formula, then we would be right to seek healing from these Elijah-like righteous men of faith. But the facts have fallen below expectations, and I think it is wise to exercise some caution.[6] Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Our faith is in God, who has given us the wisdom of discernment. Research for yourself the claims of all these faith healers and see if the statistics of true healings hold water. My personal belief is that true miracles are meant to be miracles, they are and have always been few and far in between.[7] We continue to pray to God for healing but we should not put our faith in faith healers.

You might ask, then what about the text today? Does it not guarantee faith healing? Let's revisit the text and see if we have missed anything. (*Shows the text again*) Do you see anything? If you have concluded that this passage is about faith healing, you are only seeing half the picture. Of equal importance is the topic of sin. Side by side with the verses on faith healing are verses on forgiveness of sins, mutual confessions, and righteousness. James then ended the passage by talking about the one who strayed away because of a multitude of sin. This should be a clue to us that the sickness here was no ordinary sickness. “For sin and sickness were often associated in the ancient world. Certainly the book of Job, as well as Jesus (John 9:2-3), make it clear that drawing a direct relationship between illness and sin is impossible to do. But the NT continues to recognise that some illness are, in fact, the product of sin (Mark 2:1-12, 1 Cor 11:27-30).”[8] I believe this is the ground for James’ certainty. For illness caused by sin, healing would surely also come from divine forgiveness. This is also why righteousness and faith are mentioned by James. When the bible speaks of a righteous man, it is not primarily about moral righteousness, but about spiritual discernment. It is a righteousness that comes from being in sync with God. Instead of saying that it was Elijah's prayer that caused the drought and rain, it is more correct to say that Elijah was merely asking for what God was already planning to do. When our prayers are in accordance to God's will, they are always powerful. It is the same for faith. Not once in the bible can you find an instance of the term “enough faith”. When faith is little, there is no faith in God (for that prayer).[9] And when faith is great, well, there is faith. It is never “you have faith, but not enough faith”. (My point is: all you need to do is just pray with faith, you don't need "enough faith".) “The faith that is exercised in prayer is faith in the God who sovereignly accomplishes his will. We may at times be given insight (like Elijah) into that will, enabling us to pray with absolute confidence in God's plan to answer as we ask. But surely these cases are rare – even rarer than our subjective, emotional desires would lead us to suspect.”[10] When is it time to pray for comfort, and when do we pray for forgiveness for the sickness that comes from sin? “The key to resolving this apparent dilemma is found in the discerning prayer of the elders.”[11] They are the men of faith and righteousness elected by us; they will do the right thing based on their spiritual discernment from God.

There is a recent fascination with anointing for sickness. I heard that one megachurch was promoting this formula for faith healing, and olive oil went out of stock in Singapore during those weeks. I must tell you that anointing of the sick is nothing new, and it is an ancient Christian practice done for centuries called the Sacrament of Extreme Unction.[12] Basically, when a person is dying and all hope is lost, the priest will come to pray and anoint him, essentially leaving him in the hands of God. Though one may pray for healing, the usual expectation is for peace and comfort during those final moments. For those fascinated by this formula for faith healing, I must tell you that throughout history, most people do this to die peacefully. Now that you know the odds, be careful about the outcomes of your formula. John Calvin discontinued this sacrament during his time. It wasn't that he disbelieved in faith healing, but he wanted to remove all superstitions of a formula, be it consecrated oil, or a consecrated priesthood. Anybody can pray about all kinds of illness. I think that we would be wise to follow Calvin's progressive understanding on this matter.

I know that we can be at a loss when we have to pray for a sick person. Often we do not know if it was God's will to pray for speedy recovery, or endurance for a long fight, or an eternal rest in peace. I have a piece of personal advice: Ask with childlikeness but listen with maturity. My kids have no qualms about asking me for the sky, even if they had just made me angry. But it is not so cute when they refuse to listen. They don't always understand when I have to refuse them. I think there is nothing wrong in bringing our deepest hopes to God. We can be like children when we pray, but we also have to listen like a mature adult.

Since the topic of faith healing is unavoidable with this passage, I have dealt with the elephant in the room. But I call it the elephant in the room because I do not believe that it is the main topic of today's passage. The one who is sick is only one of the four types of people that James addressed. James first asked, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.” You may recall that in our first sermon of the series on James,[13] James did not ask that we pray to remove our troubles. Instead, our suffering can be considered a testing of our faith.

James 1: 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

So when James said “Let him pray”, it was a prayer for wisdom. James was quite the sadist. He asked to let our trouble complete its course so that our perseverance may complete its work. He then asked, “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” This cheer refers not to fortunate situations, but to contentment in whichever circumstances. This is the pure joy that comes from wisdom during trials. For the maturity he gains in faith, this person should sing praises to God. Then James addressed the one who was sick. He should confess his sins to the elders who will pray for him. And finally James addressed the one who brings back another who has wandered from the truth. He wanted him to know that he has saved a soul from his sins. Through these four target audiences, James concluded the main theme of his letter, which was trials and tribulations. Sometimes we are suffering and we need wisdom. Sometimes we find joy in the midst of difficulties and we share our wisdom. Other times, we need the help of others. We need those with faith and righteousness to pray about sickness that comes from our sins, we need those with the conviction to bring us back when we wander astray and when we fail our trials. This passage looks like it is about faith healing. But it is really about trials and tribulations. What can we learn today about the topic of suffering from this conclusion?

There are three recurring words from James towards all four audiences: one among you. One among you is troubled. One among you is joyful. One among you is sick. One among you has wandered. It could be someone. It could be anyone. This is my real message for today. James speaks even to the “one among you”. We face suffering as a community. And it reaches even to the “one among you”. When we are in the midst of trials and tribulations, whether we are sick or we are lost in a faith crisis, we often think that we are alone and nobody cares. We are just one among many. James addressed many issues in his letter, from the untamed tongue to the faith without deeds, from the broken social class system to the self gratification of the rich. All these arose out of a false ideology, that it is every man for himself, and whether I sin or die, nobody cares anyway. Some of you may feel this way, choosing to remain invisible to the church, you think that your troubles are your own. This is not true. I want you to think about why James wrote this letter, and why he chose to end it in this way. The entire community was in hardship, yet James intentionally addressed the generic “one among you”. James wanted to speak to the concerns of each and everyone. We face suffering as a community. Yes, troubles can be endured, but they can also be shared. The one who brings us back to God “brings back a sinner from his wandering, he will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

In the vein of James' conclusion, I wish also to address one among you. Dear someone, anyone, you may be just one person, but you are not alone. We cannot fully understand your pain and sorrow, we cannot pretend what it's like to be in your shoes. But one thing I know, Jesus has called us to be one, and I know you believe that too. Dear someone, you could be anyone, if you are struggling, then pray to God. But if it helps, let me pray for you, and pray with you. If you find joy and comfort, then sing for me. Your worship, just like the Hallel Psalms, will one day become my source of strength. And if one day I fall, I want you to know that I need you to bring me back. Dear someone, anyone, you may be just one person, but you are not alone.

Footnotes
[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Faith_Healers
[2] http://scholar.google.co.uk/scholar?q=faith+healing+meta-study&hl=en&as_sdt=0&as_vis=1&oi=scholart
[3] http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/faithandhealing/2009/04/the_power_of_prayer_part_i--scientific_studies.html
[4] http://www.ahjonline.com/article/PIIS0002870305006496/abstract
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benny_Hinn#Criticism_and_controversy
[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faith_healing#Christian_theological_criticism_of_faith_healing
[7] Even at the famous Lourdes, only 68 miracles were officially approved after proper Catholic investigation despite the millions that had been there. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lourdes_Medical_Bureau
[8] Moo, The Letter of James (Pillar Commentary), p 243
[9] http://concordances.org/greek/3640.htm
[10] Ibid, p 244
[11] Nystrom, James (NIV Application Commentary), p 307
[12] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anointing_of_the_Sick
[13] http://www.jubilee.org.sg/sermons/id/365/

James 5:13–20 (Listen)

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. 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.

(ESV)