Vol. 7, No. 12
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The text of James 15:13-18 gives us a glimpse of the power of prayer. To begin with, we are given reasons to pray: suffering afflictions (verse 13), sickness (verse 14) and confession of sins (verses 15-16). The healing of the sick (verse 15) and forgiveness of sins (verse 15) are listed in the text as results of prayer. The text also gives an Old Testament example of the power of prayer. Verses 17-18 site Elijah praying to God to stop the rain and then for it to return three and a half years later. This account is recorded in 1 Kings 17-18.
The main phrase from our text for discussion at this time comes from verse 16, "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." There are four main points to the lesson: (1) Prayers Are Effectual, (2) Prayers Must Be Fervent, (3) Prayers Must Come from the Righteous and (4) Prayers Will Avail.
The text reads, "The effectual fervent prayer..." The Greek word for "effectual" is energeo, which means, "to be active, efficient" (Biblesoft's). The root word also means "operative" and "powerful" (Biblesoft's). We see from the definitions of the Greek words that our prayers are operative in that they produce action.
Although our prayers do produce actions, these actions must not, cannot, be contrary to the laws of nature. We cannot pray for a miraculous recovery and expect it to occur because miracles have ceased (1 Corinthians 13:8; Ephesians 4:11-13). God does work, however, by means of providence. Providence can be defined as God using natural means to accommodate his will. Consider the following excerpt from Nelson's Bible Dictionary regarding providence:
Through His providence, God controls the universe (Ps 103:19); the physical world (Matt 5:45); the affairs of nations (Ps 66:7); man's birth and destiny (Gal 1:15); man's successes and failures (Luke 1:52); and the protection of His people (Ps 4:8). God preserves all things through His providence (I Sam 2:9; Acts 17:28). Without His continual care and activity, the world would not exist. God also preserves His people through His providence (Gen 28:15; Luke 21:18; I Cor 10:13; 1 Peter 3:12).
Here, we see how God uses his providential care. Here, we see how God can answer our prayers today without miraculous intervention.
The text reads, "The effectual fervent prayer..." Webster defines fervent as "intensely devoted or earnest" (Anges 524). A fervent prayer is one offered with great devotion, or with a great amount of feeling and conviction. According to Strong's, the Greek words for "effectual" and "fervent" are linked together, coming from the same word. In fact, the American Standard Version translates that Greek word "supplication." In his commentary, Guy N. Woods writes that this word comes from deesis, which means petition or "an approach to God in prayer, where the emphasis is on the sense of need characteristic of the one who supplicates" (306). Woods goes on to say that the word was used by an inferior to a superior and involved, among other things, devotion. Any way you look at it, a fervent prayer is offered with a great amount of devotion.
The text reads, "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man." Looking to the Greek, the word used indicates a just man, one who is equitable in character (Biblesoft's). Woods reasons "A 'righteous' man is one who does right. But, only those who keep the commandments do right; therefore, a righteous man is one who keeps the commandments" (Woods 306).
The text reads, "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." According to Strong's, something that avails is something that "can do" (Biblesoft's). Webster defines avail as "to be of use, help, worth, or advantage" (Anges 97). We also notice the word "much." This word is an adverb describing a degree or amount. Webster uses "great in quantity, amount, degree, etc." to define it (Anges 944). Availeth much, then, gives a meaning of great use or advantage.
Now let us put it all together: "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). An effectual prayer is one that is able to produce. A fervent prayer is one that is offered with much devotion. A righteous man is one who obeys the commands of the Lord. A prayer that availeth is one that produces benefits due to great power. Much indicates a large quantity. From this single verse, we learn that prayers offered with devotion by those who obey the Lord are able to produce a large quantity of benefit due to great power. As listed in verse 15 of the text, the benefit is the healing of the sick and the forgiveness of sins. We are able to, and should, utilize this precious gift and power in times of affliction, sickness and when needing to repent of sins (verses 13-16).
Agnes, Michael. Webster's New World College Dictionary. 4ed. Foster City: IDG Books Worldwide, 2001.
Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, 1994.
Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville: Nelson, 1986.
Woods, Guy N. Commentary on the Epistle of James. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1991.