“Do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no…Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him…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. 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. 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. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 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.” (James 5:12-20)
I frequently feel like I am on a treasure hunt when I study the Bible. An idea in one passage connects with another, and then another until a concept, truth, or conviction takes on a fuller meaning than I had previously from the passages independent of each other. This is a type of inductive Bible study, starting with details and forming a big picture from them. If successful, inductive studies lead us to a more comprehensive understanding of God’s character and works, which is essential for growing in wisdom.
Other times we study the Bible deductively—that is, we move from the general to the specific, breaking down a passage to examine it more closely, and thus understand more about the context of the passage and how to make personal application of it to ourselves. Looking at our passage in James, let’s start with our theme for the week: our words have a powerful influence on others, whether for good or evil. Most of the passage is about prayer and comes at the end of James’s letter that admonishes Christians to stand firm in their faith, persevering in trials, resisting temptations, and patiently waiting on God as their works prove their faith. James addresses the need to control our tongues pointed in Chapter 3, where he also describes wisdom as “coming down from above” with its divine attributes (3:17). In James 5:12 he warns against making special promises or oaths. Instead we should use simple words—yes and no—in our regular service and witness for God to others.
In verses 13-15, James exhorts us to pray for the sick and suffering, physically and spiritually for God’s healing and salvation. God will use our words to do his work—how wonderful! In verses 16 we have another encouragement to confess our sins for forgiveness and reconciliation—again connecting faithful words with regeneration and renewal. Elijah is the example of a man whose words bore great fruit because they reflected his faith and desire to serve God. Here is proof of the power of Christians’ utterances. Finally, in verses 19-20 our words can redirect the backslider, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
How might you use your words for reconciliation today—with God, with others, or for others with God or each other? “The Lord…hears the prayer of the righteous.” (Proverbs 15:29)