“Is any sick among you? 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: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” (James 5:14-15 KJV)
The elders… Why the elders? Even more penetrating, why shall the sick be forgiven on the prayer of the elders? If this were a book of spells, it would seem a simple enough prescription. Obviously it is not, but why call for the elders? What does it mean to call on the elders? Are they not just the crusty old men that meet every other Tuesday, before each service, and are present at ground breaking ceremonies to pray for the new youth building? Why in the world would both forgiveness and healing be tied to the elders? Who are you really calling on when you call on the elders? Let us investigate. Look with me at what the actual requirements are to be an elder in the Church. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 provides a great place to start. Take a second to scan over the list. Do terms like “husband”, “father”, or “teacher” jump out at you? They sound like attributes of Christ. When God created the world and formed man out of the ground in His image, does it surprise you that it would be someone in His image that He would give the authority to heal and forgive to? Then it should not surprise you that characteristics like patient, sober, vigilant, and hospitable also should dress the very essence of someone who has learned to surrender their will to the will of almighty God. Notice that these attributes can never be the characteristics of a well managed person. The phrase, “physician heal thyself” (see Luke 4:23), is a phrase that is spoken by people who expect the recipient to manage better and put it on display. The painful sting is that we (like Christ) should have no desire to manage better, but instead to release in surrender a trust of the outcome to God. It cannot be ourselves we trust in to turn back the wickedness around us.
Let us scroll back in our memories to a story that illustrates the very best elders that few pastors ever acknowledge as such. “And again he entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house. And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them. And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four. And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” (Mark 2:1-5 KJV) Wow! How would you like to have four friends like that? Four men who would carry your sickly self by the very corners of the bed in which you lie. Men who, like their savior, would not take “there is no room” (see also Luke 2:7) for an answer. Men who were diligent, creative, persistent, and patient enough to stick with you even when the rest of the home town crowd was both skeptical and judgmental of what Jesus would say once you finally got to see Him. Who are these men who would risk their reputation, position, business, and possible retribution to make sure you got the chance to see Jesus? These are the elders who know God and sell everything they have inside to buy that which is really valuable (see Matthew 13:44, 45). These are the elders who God has given to the Church as the means by which they can in turn touch the sick and humbly reflect on the power of what God has done for them and their household (see Joshua 24:15). These are the men about whom God’s Word says “availeth much” (see James 5:16) not because of their righteousness, but in all honesty the righteousness which they reflect from Christ as the lesser light reflects the greater light (see Genesis 1:16) and to whom they have completely surrendered. These are like the elders we see in Revelation 4:10 who have cast their crowns before His throne. It is interesting that these elders understand (like Paul later in Philippians 4:1) that it is the “dearly beloved” which is the “crown” which is set before Jesus.
“Is any sick among you? 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:” (James 5:14 KJV)
“Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:18 KJV)