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)
This is a text that I do not know we have paid much attention to. The reason why is because we might be uncomfortable with what the text says and we do not know what to do with it. We have been studying each month various texts that text us how we are to act and live with “one another.” Our series has been called “Together” so that we can come together to be what God has called us to be. This is an important text that reveals the kind of family connection we are to have with each other. So what does it look like to confess our sins to each other and pray for each other and why is this good for us to do?
What It Is Not
It is important to begin the study by talking about what this is not. This is not confessing our sins to each other because we have some sort of power to forgive sins. We do not confess sins as if the preacher or elders are able to give you some sort of absolution from your sins. None of us are mediators between God and us. That is not what we are nor why we are here. We never see any place in the New Testament where we confess our sins to each other as the means of finding forgiveness. So if we do not have the power to forgive sins, why would we confess our sins to each other?
Confess and Pray
I think we must keep the two commands together and not take them as individual, stand alone commands. We are confessing our sins to each other for the purpose of praying for each other. We do see examples of this in the New Testament. A renown example is that of a man that we know of as Simon the sorcerer. Simon attempts to purchase the power of giving others the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:19). Listen to what Peter says and how Simon responds.
20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” (Acts 8:20–24 ESV)
We confess our sins and call upon others to pray for us. We are learning that our walk with God is not as personal as we sometimes make it out to be be. Our walk with God is a community effort. We should understand this since we are to be joined together as a community of believers in Christ. We not merely a bunch of individuals who happen to serve the Lord in West Palm Beach. We come together as a community. Our partaking of the Lord’s Supper is an act of togetherness and unity. Our walk with God is not intended to be something that we try to do alone. We must reject individualism and privacy when it comes to our faith. We come together to help each other, encourage each other, and pray for one another, as James states in this passage.
The worst thing we can do is allow sin to remain private and secret. Consider how many have fallen way because they will not bring people in with them to help them in their walk of faith. We are supposed to be involved in each other’s lives spiritually. Listen to what the apostle Paul said:
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. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. (Galatians 6:1–3 ESV)
Notice that we are a community and family. If you see someone who is stumbling in sin, you are supposed to do something about it. Again, we must reject individualism and privacy in these things. We are to bear one another’s burdens. We are a spiritual family, the household of God. We are to share our lives together, in the good times, and in our struggles through life. We are to seek the help we need which God has given to us through the church. We are to be resources for each other.
We need to be open and honest with each other. This is to be a safe place where we can trust each other. If we can’t be open and trust each other, then where will we ever find the help we need for us to bear each other’s burdens? What we are not talking about is coming forward after a sermon every once in a while, asking for prayers. This is certainly something that we can do. But the picture in the scriptures is something even more personal than this. We are not talking about saying, “I have sinned” before the closing prayer is offered. We are talking about having a community so that we can truly bear each other’s burdens and help each other. We are talking about relationships where we know what is going on with each other so we can help each other.
Stop and think about this question for a moment. Who knows you? What I mean is who knows the real you? Who do you have relationships with so that those people know who you really not? Not your public persona but who you are. We need to have these kinds of relationships. There is no way that we are going to confess our sins to each other and pray for each if we do not have relationships with each other so that we feel safe to do that. Do people here really know you? Have you allowed people into your life who know you beyond the public persona? With a hundred people in this church we cannot have this kind of relationship with everyone. Not all of you know me closely. But there are some of you who do. We need to have certain people that we have such a relationship with so we can confess our sins and pray for each other, helping each other and bearing one another’s burdens.
Why Do We Need This?
James tells us why we need to have this relationship with one another. Look at the rest of verse 16.
The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:16 ESV)
The ESV matches the structure of the Greek the closest which says the prayer of the righteous “is very powerful in its working.” This is not the only place that teaches us the power of prayer. In Proverbs 28:9 and Psalm 66:18 we read that the prayers of those who turn to sin are an abomination to God. Why should we confess our sins to each other? Because a bunch of people who are serving the Lord praying for you has great power as it is working. Notice that prayer has great power. This is the point of verses 17-18.
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. (James 5:17–18 ESV)
The power in Elijah’s life was God. The power was in praying to God. James 5:17-18 describes the power of God that you are praying to on behalf of one another. Prayer has great power as it puts our requests before the Almighty.
So here is the big deal: why wouldn’t you want people praying for you, particularly about your sins where you need spiritual strength? Are we going to pretend that we are not all sinners in this room? Are we going to pretend that we are not all deep, habitual sinners in this room?
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. (1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV)
No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. (1 Corinthians 10:13 NRSV)
You are not alone in your fight against sin! Hebrews 12:4 says that we are all in a “struggle against sin.” How sad for a group of people who have been saved from their sins by the blood of Jesus come together and pretend that we are not in the process of holiness as we work to put to death the old self every day! Do you want prayer from the people who care for you and are going through the same struggles as you? We are the household of God. We are a spiritual family. Let us take our sins to the Lord and call for one another to pray for us so that we will not be hardened by sin, but transform us in holiness as children of God.