The Activities of Faith
August 15, 2016 — James 5:13–15
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone 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 will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
One thing that is guaranteed to make me bristle is when my fellow believers begin to talk about the actions that make Christians “useful” to their Savior. While the words of encouragement are well intended, and motivated out of spurring one another on to love and good deeds, it can start to ring hollow to me as a way for us to sign to one another that we are on the same team, rather than proving it.
Often these actions that are supported fall into the category of personal righteousness — Bible study, personal reflection, prayer life, etc. Less often are the actions of faith rooted in communal activities like caring for the poor, fighting injustice, or coming together as the body to commune with one another and with our Lord.
It is no small secret that I have been tiring over the past couple of years of the hyper individualistic lens that some Evangelicals look at the words of Scripture through. It was not uncommon for me a few years ago to think that the only reasons that we gathered weekly for worship was: 1. Because Jesus told us to, and 2. Because these people all think like me and act like me and we get along, and sometimes eat tasty pot lucks (yes. I’m a fan. Don’t judge me — or Aunt Sally’s Jello).
Whenever I point out that there are a lot of passages in the Bible that seem to point to more of a collectivist way of living over an individualistic one, I tend to be buffeted by the wealth of passages that clearly call for personal responsibility. Let me be clear here, I completely agree with you. Yep. That’s right. I said it. The Bible is overwhelmingly clear that your ultimate fate is determined on you as a person’s relationship with the God of the universe. Your parents’ faith can’t save you, nor can any other relation. You aren’t saved by the faith of Saints, or Prophets.
But you are not just saved from sin and death. You are saved to a new reality. And even though your salvational is a personal and intimate event, you are no longer an independent entity. Let’s remember to look to our mystery of marriage as a reminder that even though there are two distinct persons that act separately, they are part of the One of marriage, and operate as a divinely united unit. It would be foolish to talk about marriage while only speaking about men or women separately (although that isn’t unheard of either unfortunately). We ought to talk about the actions taken within a marriage in full view of the community of two that a marriage is.
Likewise, when we are talking about the Christian faith, we ought not to lose sight of the reality that we are a person in the community of two of Christ and His bride. And we must confess that just as Christians are members of the Church, therefore being a part of the bride of Christ, they are also members of Christ’s body, making them Christ Himself to the world. The lines are not clear, nor are they meant to be.
With that in mind, when we read passages like this one in James, we must remember that all of these events are happening within the community of faith, and not in your personal prayer closet. While there are times where the exercise of your faith requires some privacy, and discretion, the majority of the actions of faith ought to occur in full view of the body, the actual physical, real body of Christ.
In our suffering we ought to pray for one another. Weeping with those who weep. In our cheer, we ought to sing together, because we are a freed people. In our sickness we must gather together in faith that God is a God of healing and love and desires the best for His children. When we sin, we ought to confess to one another so that by the extension of being Christ to one another we might forgive the sins of our brothers and sisters. And when things don’t go as we hoped they would, we comfort one another knowing that there is a bigger reality that is unseen to our eyes at this time.