Is Anyone Among You Sick?

Man in hospital bed

Sickness is a natural part of human life. One of the reasons why heaven is so appealing is because it is a place where “there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). While here on the earth “our outer man is decaying” (2 Corinthians 4:16) and we will have to deal with the infirmities of the flesh.

How are we to handle the times in our lives when we are sick and suffering from various illnesses and diseases? The Scriptures help us answer this question. Let us notice a few points.

Pray to God

For Christians, prayer ought to be a regular practice (1 Thessalonians 5:17). This is especially true when we are sick. James said that those who are suffering should pray and ask for others to pray on their behalf.

Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick” (James 5:13-15).

It is clear that prayer is important. But when James wrote, “The prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick” (James 5:15), was he telling us that praying for the sick would bring about guaranteed results? In other words, if we believe that God has the power to heal someone for whom we pray, is it then an absolute certainty for that one to be healed?

We need to remember that when James wrote his epistle, it was during the miracle age. One of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit was healing (1 Corinthians 12:9). James mentioned “anointing [the sick] with oil” (James 5:14). When Jesus sent out the twelve on a “limited commission,” He gave them the power to perform various miracles. The healing of the sick was connected with the sick being anointed with oil (Mark 6:13). Furthermore, the example James cited to show that the sick would be healed was that of Elijah praying for the rain to stop and then, after three and a half years, resume – obviously a miracle (James 5:17-18). While this passage certainly contains principles that apply to us today, we should not conclude that if we pray fervently enough, those who are sick will always get better.

If we do not have the same promise of miraculous divine intervention that the early Christians in the first century had, are we still to pray for the sick? Absolutely! Consider the following reasons:

  • We are told to pray. Besides this passage in James’ letter, Paul told the brethren in Philippi, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). We should not be hesitant to offer our requests to God through prayer – including our request that one who is sick might recover.
  • Prayer reminds us of our reliance upon God. Jesus said, “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:7-8). God knows what we need. He also knows our thoughts (Hebrews 4:12-13). Prayer is not to inform God of a need or request of which He is not already aware. Yet He wants us to pray. Our prayers ought to serve as a constant reminder that we are dependent upon God. He is the giver of all good things (James 1:17). Without Him our existence would not be possible.
  • Through prayer we can have the “peace of God.” After telling the Philippians to make their requests known to God through prayer, Paul said, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). God is in control. It is His will that will be done (1 John 5:14-15). Therefore, we know that all will be well in the end if we trust in Him. Job said, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15). Even through death, we have victory in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:53-57).

Even without the miraculous gift of healing today, prayer is still of great importance when we or those we know are sick. Some will recover, but others will not. Yet prayers must continue to be offered to God.

Call Upon Others to Help

It should be a normal reaction for Christians to want to help one who is sick. Jesus cited the second great commandment in the Law: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39; cf. Leviticus 19:18). This was not just for those under the Law of Moses, but it applies to Christians today. John wrote, “And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also” (1 John 4:21). Showing love for others includes helping them when they are in need. Paul said, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). The help we give to the sick is not limited to prayer, but can include other acts of kindness and assistance as we have the opportunity to provide them.

But how can we provide help to those who are sick? Naturally, we must be aware of the sickness. That was why James said that those who are sick “must call for the elders of the church” (James 5:14), rather than waiting for the elders to check up on them. This does not mean that Christians should not check on those who they know or suspect are in need. But James emphasized the role of one who is sick to inform his brethren. Albert Barnes, in his commentary on this passage, offers a helpful explanation as to why this is important:

“It may be added, as worthy of note, that the apostle says they should ‘call’ for the elders of the church; that is, they should send for them. They should not wait for them to hear of their sickness, as they might happen to, but they should cause them to be informed of it, and give them an opportunity of visiting them and praying with them. Nothing is more common than for persons—even members of the church—to be sick a long time, and to presume that their pastor must know all about it; and then they wonder that he does not come to see them, and think hard of him because he does not. A pastor cannot be supposed to know everything; nor can it be presumed that he knows when persons are sick, any more than he can know anything else, unless he is apprized of it; and many hard thoughts, and many suspicions of neglect would be avoided, if, when persons are sick, they would in some way inform their pastor of it. It should always be presumed of a minister of the gospel that he is ready to visit the sick. But how can he go unless he is in some way apprized of the illness of those who need his counsel and his prayers? The sick send for their family physician; why should they presume that their pastor will know of their illness any more than that their physician will?”

Though his comments reflect certain denominational misconceptions, the overall thought is in harmony with James’ words. If we are sick and in need of help, we ought to inform our brethren. There is no shame in doing this. Rather, it gives others the opportunity to serve and provide help (through prayer and other assistance) for one who is sick.

Implied in the instruction for the sick to “call for the elders” is that we should be willing to help when called upon to do so. Though James mentioned elders, the responsibility to help the sick is not limited to elders or even to preachers. All Christians are to “do good” as they “have opportunity” to help (Galatians 6:10).

Take Care of Yourself

When we are sick, we are simply not in a condition that will allow us to do what we are used to doing. While it may not always be easy to make ourselves do this, it may be necessary, depending on the nature of the sickness, to stop what we are doing and rest. One of Paul’s traveling companions was a man named Trophimus (Acts 20:4). I can only imagine how great of a blessing it would have been to accompany a man like the apostle Paul. Yet at one point, Trophimus was “left sick at Miletus” (2 Timothy 4:20). Despite the great opportunity and blessing to travel with Paul, Trophimus needed to be left behind because of his illness.

While Jesus was here on the earth, He healed Peter’s mother-in-law when she was sick. “When Jesus came into Peter’s home, He saw his mother-in-law lying sick in bed with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she got up and waited on Him” (Matthew 8:14-15). While she was sick, she rested. Once she was healthy, she went back to her work and waited on Jesus.

There may be times when sickness causes plans to fall through or projects to be delayed or left undone. While we should certainly be busy when we are able, we must be willing to slow down when our health requires it.

While rest is an important thing to do when we are sick, there may be other things we might need to regain our health. Many in our culture will automatically turn to various medicines. No matter how serious or insignificant the health matter, there is a drug for it and a doctor willing to prescribe it. While these medicines certainly have their place at times, we should not forget the natural remedies to be found in God’s creation. In the Bible we read of balm being used for medicinal purposes (Jeremiah 46:11); oil for injuries (Luke 10:34); and as Paul told Timothy, “Use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Timothy 5:23). Of course, modern medicines certainly are not bad necessarily. But as Paul warned about “sorcery” – from the Greek word pharmakia, which is rooted in “the use of medicine, drugs, spells” (Vine’s) – as a work of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-20), we should not place our faith in drugs. When used, they should be used carefully and as a way to help rather than cause harm to our bodies.

When we are sick, we can also take care of ourselves by seeking help from medical professionals. Jesus said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick” (Matthew 9:12). Though He was making a spiritual application in the immediate context, Jesus used an illustration that all people could understand. Sometimes it is necessary to call upon a doctor or some other medical professional to help when we must deal with a particular illness or condition.

Paul also mentioned exercise as being beneficial to our physical health. “For bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). Even though Paul was emphasizing the importance of our spiritual health in this verse, he certainly acknowledged the fact that “bodily exercise” (KJV) can benefit us here on the earth.

None of these take away from the instructions to pray (James 5:13-14) – this must still be done. But just as we are told to pray for our food (Matthew 6:11), while also being responsible to work for our food (2 Thessalonians 3:10), we are responsible to do what we can when it comes to dealing with illnesses that may come upon us.

Remember What Is Important

Often when one is sick, he will recover. However, there are also times when sickness leads to death. Life is temporary. James wrote, “You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). Yet life in heaven is eternal (John 3:16; 2 Peter 1:11). Suffering in this life makes us long for heaven. Notice what Paul told the brethren in Corinth:

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven” (2 Corinthians 5:1-2).

We must focus on reaching the goal of heaven (Philippians 3:14; Colossians 3:2). Sickness and suffering, though unpleasant, help us turn our attention toward heaven where “there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). Do not lose sight of this goal!

While we suffer sickness, we must remain faithful. When Hezekiah became ill, he turned to God (2 Kings 20:1-3). However, when Asa was afflicted with a disease, “he did not seek the Lord” (2 Chronicles 16:12). The New Testament warns us that Christians can fall away from the Lord and be lost (2 Corinthians 6:1; Galatians 5:4; Hebrews 3:12; 2 Peter 3:17). We must not allow sickness to cause us to lose faith in God. Instead, we must “be faithful until death” (Revelation 2:10).

If (or when) we face sickness to the point of death, we ought to be confident in our reward. Paul told Timothy, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

Of course, confidence in the face of death requires faithfulness during the time leading up to death. We must be able to echo the words of Paul: “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Let us remember, even in times of sickness, that our home is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). Let us praise God (Job 1:20-22), rather than curse Him (Job 2:7-10), when we suffer in this life. We may become sick or suffer from terrible diseases, but this is just “momentary, light affliction” when we compare it with the “eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Remember what is truly and eternally important. Be faithful to the Lord, no matter what happens in this life, so that you can enjoy eternal life in heaven with Him.

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  1. Larry DeVore says

    This is an excellent and edifying article, Andy.

  2. Thanks, Larry!

  3. DAvid Clark says

    Another great article indeed.

  4. This piece is very encouraging.

  5. David & Randy, thanks!