Most folks focus on the last six verses of James 5, wondering about the anointing with oil for the sick, but I believe we’d do well to spend more time on the first 12 verses.
I find it more than of a little interest that James would address Christians and accuse them of living in self-indulgence and murder. But perhaps he wasn’t speaking of Christians. Perhaps he was speaking of those the Christians wanted to be among their number. After all, earlier he condemned the practice of favoritism toward rich, giving them seats of honor and displacing the poor in their assemblies. Either way, James is adamant about the dangers of wealth and the kind of lifestyle it affords – especially the tendency to step on the weak in an effort to get one’s way.
And then there is the matter of patience.
The church is the community of the recuperating, all attempting to recover the lost image of God He intended us to display. There is ever present the despair of failure in our own lives, and the lives of those we count on. But the call is to patience and perseverance. God is working. He will bring about in His own time the results he wants. Until then, we look to His compassion and mercy.
In now over 40 years as a minister, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard folks discuss whether we ought to anoint the sick with oil. Seldom has anyone come to discuss with me the lack of patience and perseverance in church life. Please note that oil serves no function in healing in this passage. It is the prayer of faith that saves the sick.
Seeing with right values, hanging in and hanging on, a healthy prayer life and an eager expectation of the Lord’s return: these are more important than oil.