. Eternal Saviour or Eternal Doctor (Part 8)

SAVIOUR OR DOCTOR (PART 8)

Calling upon the elders.

 

We saw last Sunday that if anybody is suffering, he must pray, if he is not suffering, he must sing Psalms, he must praise. Then we saw that there are those who are so overcome by their trials that they must call on the elder or elders to pray for them. The Greek word here which is translated ‘sick’ does not refer to physical sickness, but a long list of troubles that a person can be going through, to the point that he cannot handle it by himself. So, therefore he calls on the elders.

 

As I said last Sunday, there is a curious addition, however, to the text in verse 14. It says at the end of the verse, “Anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”

 

A lot of issues rise out of this passage that need to be addressed, but I think if you get the right flow, it becomes a tremendously important passage for our understanding. The issue with this passage is to understand it rightly because it is so practical for our Christian lives. Not to understand it, it is not just to miss the point of the text. It is to miss the application of the text to your life. Proper understanding of Scripture has tremendous implications. Context is always King.

 

What is verse 14 about? Well to summarise. On behalf of the cause of Christ, in the Name of Christ, expressing the will of the Lord in an act representative of Jesus, the individual is to be anointed. Now what does that mean? Well, most of us have grown up with this idea of a drop of oil on the head and prayer with elders laying hands on the person and a miracle of healing should happen. So, what does it mean? I did my own homework on this many, many years ago, and thought that I am a lone theologian holding to my views, then I discovered that many theologians hold to the same view. Sadly, their motives were queried based on tradition mixed with a bit of Catholicism and their holy water, and these theologians were called liberals who are not interested in what the Word of God teaches. Then to my joy I found out about two years ago that Dr John MacArthur a theologian well respected around the world, who is a radical conservative is honest with the text and agrees 100% with my views.

 

Now the word here is aleipho {al-i'-fo} Meaning: 1) to anoint aleiphō. And it means to rub, to oil in the sense that, to massage, literally to crush over, to literally rub oil in like you would rub oil into a piece of furniture, or you would rub oil into a piece of leather, or you would rub oil onto a person’s body. It is used of an outward anointing of the body. In this case, with olive oil. And the text actually says here, “Let the elders pray over him after having oiled him,” literally. After having oiled him.

 

To quote Dr John MacArthur. He says: “Well, look, the word aleiphō means to oil somebody, to massage them. It was used of washing someone. It is used of pouring oil over someone’s head or pouring oil over their feet, rubbing them with oil. You see, the word aleiphō is never – I will say it again – never used in Scripture to speak of a ceremonial anointing. That is a completely different word. It is the word chriō. It is a completely different word.”

 

 

What in the world does that mean? Well, as I said before, some people think this is some kind of a symbolic anointing where you drop a dab of oil, sort of a ceremonial right. That is mostly what I have heard taught through the years, and that that drop of oil somehow represents the Holy Spirit. Well, the problem with that view is that the word for such ceremonial anointing is a completely different word namely chriō.

 

 

I have an excellent set of books on my shelf by AT Robertson, called Word Pictures of the New Testament. It is 6 thick volumes. Robertson is regarded by most theologians as a front runner for the understanding of Greek Words in context. He says: Aleiphō, is a mundane and profane word. It just means to rub oil into something. Chriō is a sacred word, a religious word, used with reference to God. Actually the – the word aleiphō should be translated to oil or to rub oil in. The root of the word lipos is grease or fat, to grease somebody, to apply oil, or to massage someone. Robertson continues to say: “it is God and medicine at work here, God and the physical healer, God and the physio, God and the Masseuse, God and the doctor, God and anybody such as elders who are able to minister to the physically weak.” Further on he says: “the best physicians should believe in God and pray for Him to help them in their healing ministry to a patient, just like the elders did in those days.”

 

 

Well, what is it talking about? Well, simply this. Often in ancient times after a bath or after a journey when the skin was dry and parched, people would take olive oil and they would oil their skin with it, especially the feet. You read about that in Scripture. This kind of oil was even used as a soap. People at times would mix it with fermented wine and rub it into wounds to kill the infection and soften the scab.

 

Athletes were rubbed with oil. People with bodily stress were rubbed with oil. At times fragrances were added to the oil which is still done around the world. Remember Mary oiling the feet of Jesus and wiping His feet with her hair. There was no issue with that. Judas protested the expensive oil being used, but nobody protested the deed.  It was used to clean and to stimulate, and the verb, metaphorically I believe came to mean to stimulate or to encourage someone.

 

They would sometimes do this when a guest came to the house. Luke 7 talks and Matthew 6 talks about it. You would anoint the head of the guest; you would just put a perfume on the guest and anoint their head as a way of stimulating them and giving them an added comfort. That does not refer to medicine and it does not refer to some spiritual ritual. There was nothing spiritual in the oiling, the holistic event of oiling and prayer was spiritual. The oiling could be done by anyone. Some have said, “Well, what it is saying is if you want to be healed from a disease have the elders pray for you and take medicine.”

 

The problem here is they did not take this as a medicine; it was rubbed topically. It had no inner value as a medicine. The verb indicates an external application to physical and emotional stress. I believe some of these people who were depressed had actual physical injuries, body spasms or knots in their back or neck. They may have been beaten by these rich masters, they may have been tortured, they may have been beaten and abused while they were in prison. There may have been some real wounds that these people bore, and it may have been that the elders actually did try to soothe some of their pain. Maybe because the people were so depressed and struggling so greatly, they just tried to give them some measure of physical comfort which oiling will do. Nothing wrong with that. It reminds us of the Good Shepherd in Psalm 23 who anoints our head with oil.

 

I quote Dr MacArthur: “People who are weak and weary and defeated, and perhaps have been injured in their body by their persecutors, who are weary from the battle and severely wounded, come to the spiritually strong. If they need some physical care and some external anointing, I am sure the elders would do that. But I think metaphorically the idea is to encourage and to stimulate them and to do all you can to refresh and renew their strength. Give them words to encourage them, words to restore their broken spirit and to pray for them.”

 

I quote John MacArthur again regarding this topic. He says: “Somehow, this is just as absolutely foreign to the church today as it can be. I don’t know that we even instruct on how to do this. I’m not sure you need much instruction. This is the ministry of prayer. And I want to say to you that as a pastor and elder here – and I say this on behalf of the rest of us, that we want not only to teach God’s Word to you, but we want to be strength to your spiritual weakness. We want to be the spiritually strong to whom you may come, that we may gather around you, and if need be, oil you in the sense of stimulating, massaging, encouraging, comforting, strengthening, restoring you, and crying out to God on your behalf with the prayers of righteous men.”

 

This is a ministry of comfort; this is a ministry of encouragement. Isn’t this what the Holy Spirit does? Isn’t He the paraklētos, the one who comes along side to help? I think what you have here is battered and bruised and abused believers who have been defeated, coming to the elders of the church, and the elders of the church pray for them having already stimulated them and encouraged them and ministered to their needs, whatever those needs are, and done it all in the name of the Lord.

 

The promise comes in verse 15 according to the ESV. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.”

 

The NAS says: The prayer offered in faith” – that is believing, of course, in God’s wonderful power to restore that wounded soul – “will restore the one who is sick.” Restore or ‘raise up’ is sōzō which is to save rescue or deliver. It can mean to restore, it can mean to preserve, it can mean to make sound or whole again. But what about the word sick? Is this the same word that we saw earlier, astheneia, that basically means to be weak? No, it is a different word. It is a word from the verb kamnō. It is used only two other times in the New Testament. It means to be weary, to be tired, to be exhausted, and to be fatigued. James is not concerned here for prayer in relation to those who are physically sick; he is not concerned with prayer for those who have some disease, but those who are mentally and emotionally suffering the effects of their trials, temptations, and persecutions.

 

Arndt and Gingrich, which is a classic Greek Lexicon, says kamnō is primarily used for weariness of the soul. So here we are again, back at this idea of weariness of the soul. In fact, it is specifically used for tiredness or weariness because of continued succession of wars. It is so used in secular Greek of somebody who has just fought too many battles and is completely exhausted. It is used to refer to people who are weary in spirit and even those who are tired of living.

 

So, what is the promise in verse 15? “The prayer of faith will restore” – rescue – “the one who is weary.” The other uses of this word in the New Testament, I think, confirm this. It is only used, as I mentioned, two other times, and one is in Hebrews chapter 12, verse 3. Says, “For consider Him” – Jesus Christ – “who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.” Clearly, it is a word not about physical illness but a word about spiritual weariness. It is also used in Revelation. That is the only other time, chapter 2 in verse 3, where it says in commendation of the Church at Ephesus that they “have not grown weary.” Both cases they speak of being weary in the spiritual struggle, weary in the spiritual battle.

 

So here you have the praying of the elders to restore the wounded weary soul. The oil does not do it, that just refers to ministering comfort to that person, sort of rubbing them down with oil for their physical wellbeing and encouragement, very much a feet washing exercise. And when the elders pray, those who are the strong praying for the weak, it says, “The Lord will raise him up.” Literally egeirō in the Greek, restore him. Not heal, but arouse, awaken, rebuild, restore. Prayer and restoration, prayer, and restoration. And the Lord will hear and answer that prayer. The Lord hears and answers the prayer of godly people.

 

And I say to you today, church family, if you are struggling in the spiritual battle and you have found yourself so weak you cannot pick yourself up, then go to the spiritually strong. The Lord will hear them. But look what it says further “And if he has committed sins” – if the person has committed sin. Is that not likely? Let me put it to you simply; if you are in a condition of spiritual weakness how prone are you to sin? Very, aren’t you? If you are in a condition of spiritual depression, how likely are you to sin? What kind of sins would you be likely to commit? Grumbling, griping, complaining, failure to praise God, questioning God’s wisdom, doubting God’s care, and maybe falling into all kinds of various temptations during your weakness and your depression.

 

And if you have committed sins which have contributed to your further weakness, by the faithful desire of your heart to deal with those issues, you go to the elders. The elders come along side you and go to God on your behalf, and along with praying for your spiritual strength, they pray that God would be merciful and cleanse whatever in your heart needs to be cleansed. And if you have committed sins the promise of the verse, is they will be what? Forgiven.

 

The “if” here is the third-class conditional. It is a possibility. If possible, sin on the person’s part has been a contributor to the weakness and the weariness, this act of coming to the elder to confess weakness, defeat, need for strength includes a prayer of confession of sin, the Lord will restore that individual and the sin will be forgiven, aphiēmi, which means to send away. The sins that bound him, the sins that tied him up and compounded his weakness will be dismissed.

 

Well, this is a picture of a marvellous duty of pastors to be engaged in a prayerful ministry of restoration. It is really kind of like Galatians 6:1 “If someone’s overtaken in a fault, you that are spiritual” – what? – “come around and restore such a one.” And then there is another element that I want you to see here, prayer – not only prayer and comfort as – as a believer prays, prayer and restoration as he seeks the spiritually strong to pray for him or her, but prayer and fellowship. Look at verse 16. This strong praying for the weak person is such a great ministry that he takes it a step further. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed."

 

Wow! Because of what he has just said about the importance of confessing sin, which was implied in the coming to the elders, the – the individual who came to the elders recognizes his spiritual weakness and the sin that is there because of it and the sin that compounds it, that becomes a particularly important element of prayer.

 

I love what John MacArthur says: He says: “let me tell all of you, all of you in the fellowship, the whole congregation needs to be engaged in what the leaders are modelling. You all are to openly agree that there is a general element of fellowship that calls for confession of sin, mutual honesty, integrity, sharing the struggle. You want to be there to lift each other up. You want to be there to admit your weaknesses and admit your struggle. Why? So that you do not become weak and defeated and weary and exhausted and wounded because you have isolated yourself.”

 

When you are weak, and weary, and under the pile and depressed, sin is there. Deal with the sin your life. Be honest enough to tell someone, and then the other person responds by praying for that individual. Open our lives to each other, that is what he says. Open your lives, pray for each other “so that you may be healed.”

 

That works so well at that level, it ought to be going on all the time in the congregation, right? We ought to be seeking the help of each other, sometimes being honest with each other, confessing our struggle and the battle, and our weariness, so that they could pray for us. And the promise of verse 16 again is when that goes on the Lord will bring about spiritual restoration. If you need comfort, seek it in prayer. If you need strength, seek others who are strong to pray in your behalf and make it a part of the fellowship.

 

And the last point James makes here is with reference to prayer and its power. He has already said in verse 15 that the one who is weak will be restored, raised up. And then, in verse 16 he repeats it again, that the one will be healed or made whole again. He will receive spiritual wholeness. And here is the culmination of it. He sums it up in verse 16 at the very end. How is this that this could happen? Here it is, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

 

Prayer works church family. That’s why the weak and sinful believer goes to the elders, because he is a righteous man. That is why the struggling sinning believer goes to his brother or sister who is walking with the Lord and seeks the prayer of that individual because, to put it simply, prayer is powerful. Sometimes you feel kind of silly. Somebody comes to you, and they unravel some absolutely hopeless complexity of what’s going on in their life. And then they say to you, “What should we do?” And you say, “Pray.” There is never a better place to go than to God. A whole bunch of advice never trumps prayer.

 

Too often we feel like we must unfold for them some system that they can apply, some counselling methodology, some set of gimmicks. But the purest and truest answer is that prayer is powerful, it works. Some translations use the words, “the effective prayer.” The edition of ‘effective’ is unnecessary as the word energoumenē, which is where we get our word energy from is implied in the text. It is empowered prayer. In all nine cases of this form of the word, the prayer is mighty in what it is able to do.

 

So, energetic, earnest, passionate, prayer offered by a righteous man is heard by God. Prayer is powerful, that is why you want to go to the strong when you are weak.

 

And sometimes you find people in great weakness, struggling with not only the physical infirmity but struggling with the issue of what the implications of this illness could be and what they might be and what they know they are. And some of you have been there and we have met together. And you take their hand, and you begin to lift them up before the Lord. And in their time of weakness, they lean on your strength. And it is amazing how many times later after they recover or you see them again, they will remind you of how significant it was that you were there to pray. And you look in your own mind and your own heart and you say, “All I did was, I just prayed. And certainly, there was nothing in me, there was no magic in the words, but you learn that God brings heavy power to bear on lives through prayer.”

 

I do not have time to deal with the Elijah issue, so I am just going to summarise my findings. This is a remarkable illustration. James says: “Elijah was a man (just like us) with a nature like ours” just a normal guy, his feelings were just like our feelings. He suffered like we do. He knew hunger like we do, 1 Kings 17. He knew fear like we do, 1 Kings 19. He knew tremendous weariness in battle, 1 Kings 19. He was human. He was just like us so let us use him as an illustration because we can learn from somebody who was just like we are. He was human.

 

“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.”

 

Isn’t than an interesting illustration?

 

And he prayed. He did, he prayed passionately. And he prayed that it might not rain. And you know what, it did not rain for three years and six months. That is pretty powerful praying wouldn’t you say? This is just a normal guy; this is just somebody like us. Later on, he prays again and it rains.

 

Why does James pick an illustration like this? Well, if James were talking about healing physical diseases this would be a pretty insignificant illustration, wouldn’t it? If he wanted to illustrate how you could pray and be healed from an illness, well, then he would use an illustration of Elijah praying for the sick.

 

I believe in closing what James is doing here is to use Elijah as an analogy. In Elijah we see the power of prayer to restore blessing, to restore joy, to bring refreshment to the parched, dry, weary, exhausted weak believer struggling for a touch from heaven, this is a perfect illustration. What is more barren, what is more parched, what is more drier, what is more wasted, what is more exhausted, what is more unproductive than land that hasn’t had rain for three and a half years? It is a perfect illustration of a parched soul, isn’t it? Perfect analogy.

 

May the Lord bless His word to our hearts? This is such a practical application that is too often made extraordinarily complex. I trust that the Lord has showed you in context what the text means and they we will draw our application from the word. We need one another.

 

Amen!

Soli Deo Gloria

Logos Community Church: - 18 July 2021