by Mike Ratliff
ἐξομολογεῖσθε οὖν ἀλλήλοις τὰς ἁμαρτίας καὶ εὔχεσθε ὑπὲρ ἀλλήλων ὅπως ἰαθῆτε. Πολὺ ἰσχύει δέησις δικαίου ἐνεργουμένη. (James 5:16 NA27)
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray on behalf of one another so that you may be cured. The petition of the righteous, being effective, has great power. (a personal translation of James 5:16 from the NA27 Greek text)
While I took some time off over the Memorial Day holiday to be with family, I received some very disturbing news vial email from two separate sources. I am not prepared to address either, but I will as God enables me to do so. The first has to do with claims by a group that we collectively refer to as “New Agers” based upon a new video that some of them have released claiming that mankind and the Earth are preparing for the next stage or step in the evolutionary process. Here is the link to their website. If you watch their videos or read anything there, please do so prayerfully. The second set of “disturbing news” was the reappearing of the John Piper/Rick Warren Interview. I really haven’t a lot of time to go over it, but I have received emails from some of you wanting me to Biblically address some of what these men say. I did look at a few of comments and was not surprised at the usual automatic defenders of John Piper and/or Rick Warren who have NO CLUE what true Reformed Theology is say absolutely idiotic things in order to smoke screen what is going on there. Again, I will address this as God enables me to do so.
Notice that my ability to do these “works” of apologetics or theology or whatever are within a very specific framework. It must be for God’s glory alone and for the edification of the Body of Christ. I can only do these things if it is God’s will for me to them and as my will to do them is lined up with His in this regard. Out side of this framework, it would be like chasing after the wind. It would be me motivated according to the ways of the world with the flesh in view, would not bring glory to God, and would only cause confusion and who needs that? Therefore, before I would tackle either of those, what must I do?
In the passage at the top of this post is a very familiar verse. Here is how the ESV renders it.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:16 ESV)
Isn’t it obvious that we often quote the last part of the verse while ignoring the context? Here is the whole context.
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. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:13-20 ESV)
So, the context is talking about “the prayer of faith,” however, that last part of v16 has caused much confusion. Does it mean to just pray hard? We already know that proper prayer is used by God to line up our will with His so that cannot be the right interpretation. Here is the Greek for the v16b, “Πολὺ ἰσχύει δέησις δικαίου ἐνεργουμένη.” Literally, word-for-word, this says, “Has great power the petition of a righteous man being effective.” The first word is the adjective πολὺ, which is the Accusative, Singular of πολύς or polus, which, in this context, “has great” is a very good translation. Next, we have the verb ἰσχύει, which is the Present tense, Indicative mood, Active voice form of ἰσχύω or ischuō, “to have or exercise force.” Next, we have the noun δέησις or deēsis, “a petition: – prayer, request, supplication.” Next, we have the adjective δικαίου, which is the Genitive, Singular of δίκαιος or dikaios. The noun this adjective is defining is, of course, δέησις. So James is referring to the prayer of the righteous. The word “man” is often added because the gender is masculine. The last word in this very important statement about our prayer is the participle ἐνεργουμένη, which is the Present tense, and Middle voice form of ἐνεργέω or energeō, “to be at work, to effect something.” We get our English words such as energy and energize from ἐνεργέω. In its noun form, ἐνέργεια or energeia means, “energy, active power, operation.” In its use in the Septuagint as well as in the New Testament, it is used almost exclusively for the work of divine or demonic powers ( for example: Ephesians 1:19; 2:2).
What is James telling us then here in this passage on prayer? He is not telling us that we accomplish much by our own energy in prayer, but rather that our prayers are strong because they are energized by God. Therefore, a good way to translate v16b could be, “The God-energized prayer of the righteous is strong.”
I shall pray for God to guide and enable me in how I am or even if I should address those things above. No matter how wicked the world gets or how unbiblical things get in the visible church, God is still Sovereign and those who are His are the Righteous and their prayers, as they pray according to His will are powerful indeed. Shouldn’t that be what we should be aiming for my brethren?
Soli Deo Gloria!