Sunday, August 28, 2022

The Intercession Session

Paradise is lost beyond recovery as far as man is concerned. There will be weeds in your garden, pain in your body and distress in your mind until the Lord returns; not all the time and in the same measure perhaps, but frustrating conditions will come and go in everyone’s experience; those who have faith and those who have none.

Appropriate Advice

James recognizes this and gives us appropriate advice for the ups and downs in the life of Christians: “Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” These are two vents provided for our relief by our compassionate Lord. Woe to friends who suggest their use in an inappropriate way or who, like Job’s companions, see severe suffering as inevitably being the outcome of secret sin!

But physical suffering may be visited on believers persisting in evil conduct, as in “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” A suffering saint, finding no help in the hospital or from specialists may naturally begin to wonder if this is the case. God begins to be seen in a different light and far away, prayer becomes difficult and the growing mental and spiritual distress now render it less likely for physical healing to occur. Who can help in such a situation? James says, “Let him call for the elders of the church.” They will not come as substitutes for whatever medical help is at hand, but with the healing of the soul in mind, something beyond the reach of the prescribed medication. This is the context in which we are exhorted to pray for one another.

Physical and Spiritual

It seems to me as though James is using that phrase “Pray for one another that you may be healed” in a way that goes beyond the minor distresses of life; a healing that is required not for the body only but for the inner man. He raises the possibility that — in some cases, not all — confession will be in order, for he says, “if he has sinned”. In any case, it is a situation calling for serious attention by the local church where he fellowships and more especially its elders. (Warning! If you are not identified in a special way with one assembly don’t expect any churches you visit to be enthusiastic about responding to a call for help. Church elders are shepherds of one flock and the Lord will not call them to give account for those not accepting their regular counsel and care.)

The word “healed” in this context may not refer to physical healing but to moral or spiritual restoration, as in Hebrews 12:13 where it refers to those turned out of the way, stumbled and become lame; they need to be lifted up, supported and so “healed”. This may not fit the usual view but it should not be lightly dismissed. In his Expository Dictionary, W.E. Vine shows that the same noun is used for both sickness and weakness and J. Ronald Blue expands on the latter idea pointing out that “The word asthenei literally means ‘to be weak’. Though it is used in the Gospels for physical maladies it is generally used in Acts and the Epistles to refer to a weak faith or a weak conscience.”

A Time to Confess?

There is so much confusion over the role of confession! Some churches teach that it is something to be done in the presence of a priest; others seem to believe we should confess on a weekly basis to all in the church; still others, only to God when we are alone.

Its value is also misunderstood. Do you believe that all our sins are forgiven up to the time we are saved, but afterwards we have to keep confessing each sin we commit or be lost? Because there are so many variations on this theme, it is not possible to unravel such tangled threads in this short post. Let it be enough to say it is spoken of with a slightly different emphasis by the human authors of the scriptures, but never so as to result in a contradiction. For example, in 1 John 1 we learn that just as it is the hallmark of unbelievers to deny their sins, so it is characteristic of believers to confess them, not at any special time or place or to any special person, but wherever and whenever sin is under review. And they do so because they “have been [past tense] forgiven”, not in order to obtain that blessing.

Bedside Intervention

James does not have anything like extreme unction in view, in which the totality of our sins is supposedly being dealt with by a priest. Confession is in order, not to one individual, but to the elders of the local church. The sufferer is the one who has called them to his bedside. His conscience is troubling him. We cannot say why, but in the light of the fact that generally, and on a human level, confession of sin need only be made to those who have been affected by it, we would suggest the local fellowship’s testimony has been hurt or hindered in some way. Or perhaps his conscience is weak (see 1 Corinthians 8 for this) and he conceives it to be the case. The elders would be able to confirm or lift that burden and, in faith, pray for his healing. The Lord raises him up and if he has committed sins, they shall be forgiven.

What freedom the once deeply troubled saint now enjoys as he/she again meets with the saints! What joy fills their hearts as they see they enjoy the rich reward to be gained in praying for one another!

— Colin Anderson, “Pray for One Another”, May 2013

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