16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. James 5:16-18
23 Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. Matt. 5:23-24
James 5:16 From the promise of v. 15 an inference is drawn (“therefore”). Since confession of sin and the prayer of faith bring healing, Christians should confess their “sins to each other and pray for each other.” It is not merely the elders who are told to pray, but Christians in general. If a person has sinned against a brother, he should confess the sin to him. This will no doubt result in mutual confession—“to each other.” Then the two believers should “pray for each other.” If the sin has caused sickness, healing will follow confession and prayer. James proceeds to add the assurance that prayer “is powerful and effective.” The “righteous man” here referred to is the man whose sins have been confessed and forgiven. His prayer is fully able to secure results, such as healing of the sick.
17–18 Verses 17 and 18 offer illustrative proof that a righteous man’s prayer is “powerful and effective.” “Elijah,” James says, “was a man just like us.” He had no superhuman powers; he was by nature a human being and nothing more. However, when he prayed “that it would not rain, … it did not rain” (cf. 1 Kings 17:1; 18:42–45). The explanation of his power in prayer is twofold: he was a righteous man, and “he prayed earnestly.” So James assures his readers that such answers to prayer are within the reach of any believer. It is true that 1 Kings 17–18 does not explicitly say that Elijah prayed, but this may be assumed from 17:1 and especially from 18:42. The three and one-half years is a round number based on 18:1.
Matt. 5:23, 24 If a person offends another, whether by anger or any other cause, there is no use in his bringing a gift to God. The Lord will not be pleased with it. The offender should first go and make the wrong right. Only then will the gift be acceptable. Even though these words are written in a Jewish context, that does not mean there is no application today. Paul interprets this concept in relation to the Lord’s Supper (see 1 Cor. 11). God receives no worship from a believer who is not on speaking terms with another.
Study Guide – Use whichever questions below work best for your group!
- Read—The passages.
- Recap—Summarize the sermon for your group in two or three sentences.
- What was something in the sermon that stood out to you? Share it with the group.
- What are some of the key words in the passage that jump out to you?
- Reflect—Unpacking/going deeper
- Why is a right understanding of the content, context and intent of the author important for us to get right when reading scripture?
- Think of some examples of when these three (content, context, intent) have not been followed when reading scripture. What were the results?
- Look for the ways in our passage that serve as the connection between relationship with God (effective prayer) and relationship with one another (confess your sins).
- Look at the passage as a whole. Read the following from James 5:13-16:
13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
- How are continual joy, continual prayer and continual thanks all tied together?
- Why is it not “trying to be joyful and thankful?”
- How might we train to be joyful and thankful?
- Thank about what it means to train. How does it differ from a finished state of being?
- How is prayer at “all times” training us to trust? Why?
- Read James 5 again. So what do we do with this passage?
- Is it possible to apply all of scripture to your life even if you don’t have all the facts to do so?
- Many have lost confidence in God because they believed something God had not promised them. Why does this happen?
- Read Matt. 5:23. The principle is “right relationships with one another are essential to right relationships with God.” How does a principle differ from a formula?
- What is it that you need to turn away from? What have you not dealt with in the past?
- Will you repent and confess it to the Lord? Will you humble yourself, take responsibility for our part?
- Going Forward: practice keeping short accounts
- Rejoice – Thank the Lord for the truth of the Gospel; For community; For having others to walk alongside you and confess our sins to one another.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1220). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.