Powerful and Effective Prayer- James 5:16
James 5:16 reads as follows in the NIV: “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”. Upon examination of this verse, several questions arise, which will examine in order here. The first is : What is meant by confessing here? The Greek word translated confess is exomologeomai, which in general refers to the concept of making something “open”. It is not referring here to confession as a means of absolution, but a means to openness, and what we are to make open is “sins”. So now we must discover what James means in his usage of the term “sin”, which in this letter refers to the not doing of the good we know we should (James 4:17) and the failure to keep the entire law (James 2:10). So, in James, we find that sin essentially refers to our shortcomings, the issues which prevent us from being conformed to the image of Christ. We are basically told here to make open to one another the issues with which we struggle, the things which keep us from being conformed to the image of Christ. We are told to make things open to one another, to other believers (since all of this is written to the “brothers”- James 5:7). The purpose for this “openness” is prayer, here as euchomai in the Greek (which fundamentally refers to a wish or a vow), which will result in our being “healed”. As we put these thoughts together, we can quickly conclude that the healing here is not physical, but refers to being cured of our possession by the “issues” which keep us from growing in Christlikeness. The idea of confession here, then, refers to our making our “issues” known to one another that we would pray for one another in a manner which will help one another deal with our individual issues. This particular instruction will, by definition, only be properly given to believers, for true believers will not use these “issues” against others, but use their awareness of these issues to help one another, primarily through prayer. So what we find in James’ original imperative is the “command” to believers to be open with each other about our issues and to help one another overcome these issues, fundamentally through prayer. This admonition is then reinforced by James telling us of the efficacy of prayer, saying that “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”. The word prayer here is deesis, to make supplication or entreaty, or to ask or request. The nature of this request is that it is rather specific, a specific request dealing with a specific situation. The Greek “righteous” here is the adjective form of dikaio, which tells us what someone or something is, and is used by James to refer to all born again believers. The righteous man here, then, refers to all Christians, and James tells us here that the prayer of every Christian is “powerful and effective”. The Greek translated here as “powerful” is polu ischuei, literally “of great strength or usefulness”. The Greek translated “effective” is energeo, literally “effective, active or operative”. The usage of these terms together here tells us that the prayer of one believer for another is “actively useful” in the life of another believer, that we can help ourselves greatly by being open about our issues with other believers we know and trust, and help one another greatly by praying specifically for each other in relation to one another’s issues. So what we can conclude that James is telling us here is that we are greatly encouraged to share the issues we are struggling with in life with other believers, who can then pray for us in a way which is truly “powerful and effective”.