How involved are you in the lives of other believers? Do you share your personal concerns and struggles? Do you listen for the concerns and struggles of others? Have you opened up your heart and life for other Christians to see inside? Maybe not. Maybe you are worried about what others might think? Or, maybe you’ve been burned before and fear being embarrassed again.
It is important to our spiritual walk as believers that we be involved in one another’s lives. God not only commands it, He models it. The Lord is a three-in-one: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. He perfectly communes within His triune existence. And, the Lord has put it in us to commune with Him and each other in the same way.
In a kind of benediction, James focuses on the subject of prayer as the key that unlocks joy in trials. His concern is for the beaten down, wounded, and persecuted church to be restored, rejuvenated, refreshed, and “raised up” in Christ (Ja. 5:15). It happens through prayer. Prayer restores our strength, renews our joy, recovers our faith, and now, as we continue, it rebuilds our fellowship.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.James 5:16
Leading up to this verse, there is a slight shift of audience. He asks, “Is anyone suffering? Is anyone cheerful? Is anyone sick?” (Ja. 5:13-14). It is a call to individuals who are “among you,” who is the church (Ja. 5:13-14). He is literally plucking out specific people from the greater whole. Then, he invites the “elders of the church” to interact (Ja. 5:14). Now, he expands to include the local church body as a whole.
The words “your” and “you” in this verse are plural. In Texas, it is linguistically correct to translate this as “y’all” respectively. In other words, “confess y’all’s sins” so that “y’all may be healed” (Ja. 5:16). Furthermore, the words “one another” suggests a reciprocal relationship between multiple people. James is clearly addressing the local church body. He gives them two commands that fold into one result.
Confessing to One Another
The first command is to “confess your sins to one another” (Ja. 5:16). Confessing, as used here, simply means to speak honestly about your sins. In the Greek language, the words implies a real belief in what is confessed. It never refers to confessing what you doubt. It is always confessing what you believe to be true and accurate.
Furthermore, the word “confess” is mostly connected to the admissions of sins for the purpose of finding forgiveness from God. In the gospel of Matthew, we find multitudes coming to John the Baptist “confessing their sins” (Matt. 3:6) in response to his proclamation to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2). John, in his first epistle, teaches us that God is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins” when “we confess our sins” (1 Jn. 1:9).
The context of James’ epistle suggests that this command might refer to the admission of sins against each other. Earlier, he implies that they were being partial to some in the church (Ja. 2:1-7) and “committing sin” against one another (Ja. 2:9). Then, he identifies some who were being evil with their speech (Ja. 3:10), acting out of “jealousy and selfish ambition” (Ja. 3:16), and stirring up quarrels and fights among each other (Ja. 4:1). They were also coveting (Ja. 4:2), slandering (Ja. 4:11), robbing (Ja. 5:4), condemning each other (Ja. 5:6), grumbling “against one another” (Ja. 5:9), and more. They might need to be open with one another in order to be forgiven by one another.
On the other hand, the immediate context seems to point to the command being one of sharing one another’s weaknesses for the sake of fellowship. Sin has a way, no matter who it is against, of isolating us causing us to turn inward and set up unnecessary boundaries that prevent genuine community. In other words, sin destroys fellowship. So, by openly and honestly speaking to each other about our weaknesses, we work to uphold righteous fellowship.
To be clear, the command is to confess your sins, not other’s sins, to one another. The admission of the sins of others is a form of gossip which has the reverse effect on fellowship. Also, James doesn’t have sin dumping in mind. He is not telling us to vomit our darkest vices on some unexpected victim. This is an act of bonding to seek righteousness together. Furthermore, the “one another” doesn’t include random Facebook friends and public audiences on Twitter. He has the people of faith in mind, particularly your local body of believers. The term “one another” denotes mutual care and confession.
Praying for One Another
The second command is to “pray for one another” (Ja. 5:16). And, like the first, it is in the present tense and plural form. It should be understood as, “y’all should be continually praying for one another,” that is, if he was Texan. Confessing to one another prompts the praying for one another. They go hand-in-hand. When your brother opens up about his sin, you should turn with him in prayer. Basically, it is the idea of bearing one another’s weaknesses.
In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul urges them to “walk in a manner worth of the calling to which they have been called,” namely, the walk of faith (Eph. 4:1). He describes it as a walk “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2) having an eagerness to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). In other words, fellowship with the church should motivate us to walk humbly with each other by bearing with one another in love, which includes confessing our sins and praying for one another.
The interesting thing about this kind of eagerness is that it is to “maintain” the unity of the body, not create it. He tells us that the “there is one body and one Spirit” and “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Eph. 4:4-6). God has established our spiritual unity. We only need to get in the flow of that oneness. To maintain means to perform upkeep. We do this by walking in humility and gentleness, bearing with one another in love.
Again, the word “prayer” means to face God and speak. And, “one another” refers to mutual action. The prayer is “for” one another, and not “for” ourselves. We are to turn to God for the sake of our brothers. Asking God to strengthen them where they are weak, and lift them out of their sin. And frankly, this kind of prayer cannot happen in isolation. It calls for intentional involvement in the life of one another. So, how are you involved in the life of other believers?
The two commands fold into one result, “that you may be healed” (Ja. 5:16). In light of the terms “sick” and “sins” and “forgiven” in the previous verses, we should assume that James is referring to healing of the soul. And, since he has addressed the fellowship of the local church, he must have in mind the healing of the “bond of peace,” as Paul put it (Eph. 4:3).
It shouldn’t be hard to imagine. Bearing the weaknesses with one another, and seeking the Lord for help, could have a multitude of positive effects. For starters, it would bring relief to the one who confesses. Sins left in secrecy cause unwanted grief and guilt that churns in our mind and pollutes the soul. It can create worry, confusion, delusion, paranoia, unjust anger, and anxiety, which can lead to more problems. Confessing sin turns all that loose.
There is also the benefit of victory over sin. Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Satan desires that we be victims of sin, not victors. By concealing sin, we set ourselves up for loss. However, by forsaking and exposing our sins, we assure victory over them and win mercy from God.
Another reward is accountability. Once sin is confessed to another, the battle is won. But, the war is not over. Sin will return again. Next time, the temptation will be more fierce. Sin is stubborn and doesn’t die easily. However, by exposing sin and sharing it with others who also hate sin, you essentially join forces and fight sin together. Instead of a lonely soldier combatting a ruthless and militant army, you become part of a multitude of soldiers, bound arm-in-arm. Moreover, since you are aligning on God’s side, you are with God’s army. The enemy doesn’t stand a chance.
Support is another benefit. Like accountability, support means that others will help us lug the load that we carry. Confessing sin to others allows them to empathize and hold us up when we are weak. It causes us to be understanding and compassionate, not judgmental and cold. As Paul commanded, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:1-2).
It should go without saying that love is yet another benefit. When we bear with one another those who are overburdened, we fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). The law of Christ is love. Jesus told us to “love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (Jn. 13:34). John applied this principle to our lives by relating that this commandment proves love for God: “Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 Jn 4:21). Confessing sin is the spark that initiates deeper love and compassion, and it is the mark of divine love.
Also, when we bear with one another, we bring clarity to the battle. Sin has a way of blurring our vision. It causes us to divert blame and grumble against one another. It plants division and leads us to think that our brothers and sisters are our enemies when they have wronged us. Hebrews tells us, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:12-13). Confessing sin will clear up the obscurity of truth around us that sin causes and gives “no opportunity to the devil” (Eph. 4:27).
Of course, there are many more benefits. We could speak about how confessing our sins to and praying for one another strengthens unity among us (Heb 10:25). We might point out that it causes humility among us (Gal. 6:3), encourages forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:9), and is obedience to God. When we confess our sins, it is like us crying out to each other, “The enemy is here with me!” And, it positions us to lock arms with others and wage the battle together. Therefore, prayer can rebuild fellowship.