21 April 2006

Should We Anoint and Lay Hands on the Sick, Praying For Them?

Dear Mr. Waddey:
I would like to know if James 5;14-15 in effect today? If so, why is it not practiced in the church of Christ today? If not, why would the scriptures right before it and after it be in effect today?

Dear Steve:
Thanks for your question.  James wrote, “Is any among you sick?  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 him that is sick, and the Lord shall raise him up...” (4:14-15).

To properly understand this passage you must remember that in the early days of the church, God gave supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit to some of his people.  Among those gifts was the gift of healing the sick (Mark 16:16-18; I Cor. 12:9). Thus it is easily understood why the disciple who was sick would call for such gifted men to lay hands on them and pray for them.

Olive oil was used among the ancient people for hygienic, medical and ceremonial purposes. It was rubbed on the skin and hair to refresh the person (Lk. 7:46). It was used as a balm for wounds (Lk. 10:34).  It was used ceremonially or symbolically for anointing priests and kings (I Sam. 10:1,9).  The use of oil along with the miraculous healing by Spirit-endowed men would certainly be symbolic. Jesus sometimes used such outward symbols when healing folks. He used spittle and clay to heal the blind man (John 9:6).  Clearly, the spittle and clay had no healing value. It was the power of Christ that healed him.  In James the outward symbol used in healing was oil. But olive oil will not cure any disease-born illness or serious injury. But the power of the Holy Spirit working through the gifted men could and did.

Since the miraculous gifts of the Spirit only lasted through the apostolic age and thereafter diminished and eventually disappeared, we have no one today with such healing powers. Consider the many different miraculous gifts Spirit gave in those early days (I Cor. 12:4-11). Just as we cannot raise the dead, cast out demons, walk on water, smite opponents blind; we cannot heal miraculously.  Hence when we are sick we call the physicians and submit to his treatments.  We do pray, because prayer was not limited to that early day, nor does prayer demand a miracle to be answered. God does hear the prayers of his people. Every Christian knows of cases where the doctors felt they had reached their limit and case was hopeless, yet God brought the person safely through.

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