James 5:17 Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.
18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.
19 Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;
20 Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.
James was directed to remove any doubt as to what effectual prayer is. Elias, who is Elijah was a man of prayer. Elias is just the Greek spelling of the word Elijah. James reminds us that he was a normal man. He was directed by God to pray regarding the wickedness that was taking place in Israel. God directed him to pray for a drought to help the nation of Israel to listen to what God had commanded them to do. They were steeped in idolatry and were trying to mix God with idols. That can never work and God does not allow His people to do that. Even though most of the Jews of that time did not believe in God, the nation of Israel was to be God’s people. The nation was to be a light to the Gentiles. God raised up the nation of Israel specifically to be His people. He would deal with them in such a way as to help them to see the importance of obeying Him.
God answered Elijah’s prayer for drought because it was according to God’s will. Elijah did not cause the drought. His prayer was effectual because he listened to God and prayed according to His will. Fervent, effectual prayer is prayer that is in accordance with God’s will. Israel faced a drought for three and a half years.
In verse 18 we read that Elijah was again directed to pray that it would rain and God again heard Elijah’s prayer and brought rain. Elijah did not have some special powers. He was a prophet of God. He was obedient to God’s will and that is what is required. The elders of a local church need to be obedient to God’s will and pray according to God’s will. God is the One Who does the work. He chooses individuals who truly know Him and who walk humbly with Him.
We know that God directed Elijah to do some very unusual things as part of this account that James pointed to. The prophets of Baal had opportunity to call down fire from their gods to burn up their sacrifice. Their gods were false gods, and yet many people in Israel, including the king and his wife, were believing in false gods, rather than the true God. After the allotted time with no results, Elijah called the people to his sacrifice. He rebuilt the broken down altar of God that was there. He laid the wood on the altar and prepared the bullock for the sacrifice. He then called for barrels of water to drench the sacrifice and the ground around it. Twelve barrels of water were poured on that altar. Then Elijah cried unto the Lord for fire. Elijah knew that it was not normal for wood that was that wet to burn. He also trusted God to show Himself strong before the people. He was not acting on a whim. He was directed by God in what he was doing here. Elijah knew that God wanted the people and the king to believe in Him.
God honoured Elijah’s prayer because he was not trying to show off. Elijah was not trying to make himself big. He was pointing the people to the true God. Elijah was not tempting God. He was acting in accordance with God’s will. The person that prays effectively is one who follows God’s instructions and makes sure that what he prays for is according to God’s will so that God receives the glory for what is done.
There are many false teachers who pray to a god and then they claim that it is the true God that is directing them and when they get some kind of results, they suggest that it is from God. Many people are deceived by these false teachers into believing things about God that are actually from the devil. The devil is capable of doing lying signs and wonders. He will be directing the antichrist in doing lying signs and wonders as well.
The nation of Israel understood that the LORD had done a spectacular miracle on Mount Carmel. They also understood that the LORD sent the rain. Jezebel had an intense hatred for Elijah. She knew her gods were not able to bring rain. She was greatly upset that Elijah had killed so many of her false prophets. Elijah had simply honoured God in all that he did.
In verse 19 James challenged the faithful saints to show compassion for a brother that erred from the truth. Showing compassion is not accepting the error. It is confronting the error. It is seeking to help the errant brother to turn to the truth.
We have mentioned before that a true church cannot function like a political organization. A true local church must confront sin.
I heard of a politician recently, who called a member of a different party a liar. The speaker of the house asked the member to withdraw the accusation of lying, and she did. Then the speaker asked this politician to apologize for using “unparliamentary” language. The member refused to apologize and was thus kicked out for the rest of the day. It is interesting that a person can lie in parliament and not be called out as a liar. The person who would dare to call the person out is punished but not the liar. Parliament is a sham. It is to be expected that ungodly people would behave in an ungodly manner.
A true local church is the house of God. Truth must rule in a true local church at all times and by all those who are members there. There can be no inequality there. All need to be treated in a God-honouring manner. True doctrine must be upheld at all times. That is what James has been doing in this epistle. He has obeyed God and addressed the issues that God wanted him to speak about.
James tells us that the saved person who is willing to confront the errant brother is doing the will of God. The sinner that listens and is converted from the error of his way is spared from death. We see here that the “hiding of sin” is done when the sinner is converted. Hiding sin is not about ignoring sin. Sin is hidden when it is forgiven and forsaken. God is always ready to forgive a repentant sinner. Notice here that the “sinner” is a brother. It is sad that God had to address a saint in this manner. However, as noted before, God does not beat around the bush. He is faithful and He addresses sin honestly and truthfully. The context here is to saints.
All sin must be addressed and cannot be left unchecked among true saints. God cannot bless a local church that seeks to ignore His holiness. True joy exists when God’s people are obedient to His will. James has already pointed out that he is not teaching “works salvation”. He is teaching that true faith will be seen by actions that are in line with the will of God. That is important for us to know and follow if we are saved.