James in chapter 5:13 writes that we need to have the right sort of attitudes in life.  “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy?  Let him sing songs of praise.” If that is so, what is the person who becomes ill meant to do? James gives us the answer in  5:14,  “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.”  


James 5:14,  “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church  to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.”  

What were the advantages of a sick person calling for the elders?

a.        It was an invitation to other people to support the sick person in his time of need.

It is not easy to be positive and affirming of God’s love and power when you feel weak.  Sickness takes many forms. In the New Testament there are several words used to describe sickness or weakness. They include words such as:-

  • [astheneō; ἀσθενέω] means to be weak or feeble. This is the word in James 5:14. 
  • [kamnō; κάμνω] is used in James 5:15, “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” This has a sense of weariness and the lack of physical strength. 
  • [noseō; νοσέω] in 1 Timothy 6:4, “He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words.” This has to do with mental imbalance or unhealthy preoccupation.
  • [sunechō; συνέχω] in Acts 28:8 meaning to be  held fast or constricted, “It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery.”  The adverb [kakōs; κακῶς] is used with a derivative of this verb to denote illness in Matthew 8:16. “That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick.”

Moses once needed the support of others as he prayed for victory over God’s enemies. Exodus 17:10-13. “So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11  Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12  But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13  And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.” Praying for someone is similar to this in supporting them in their weakness. 

b.        It was an invitation to God for His help in his sickness. 

The prayer that is uttered by the sick person and by the elders, is called here the prayer of faith. It means that all present look to God in faith, believing that the healing has to come from Him. The prayer of faith is not some magical chant that always works or some set form of words. Rather it is the prayer coming from the faith in an individual or in a number of people as they pray for God to work in the life of the person being prayed for. 

c.         It was an invitation to God for Him to work His work in the individual.

The prayer of faith is the means by which we humans can draw upon the resources God has for His people.  It is not faith in prayer, nor faith in faith, but faith in God Himself. Thus as James says in 5:15, the Lord will raise up the sick man, “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.” The elders don’t raise up the sick man. God does, in answer to their prayers. 


James in chapter 5, links physical healing with spiritual healing. Not only will the Lord raise up the sick person, but the person’s sins will be forgiven.  Compare the story in Mark 2, where Jesus healed a paralytic and forgave him of his sins. God is interested in wholeness in every part of our lives. 

Indeed the word for “salvation” is [sōtēria; nσωτηρία] which means wholeness, healing,  preservation, safety. The verb [sōzō; σώζω] can mean both to save and to heal as in Mark 5:34‘And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”’

The healing ministry of the church seeks to bring physical, emotional, spiritual and relationship healing to those who come seeking help. 


We need to look to the Bible to see its significance. We first look briefly at the Old Testament.


1]. It was used metaphorically to denote punishment by God. 

  • Exodus 7:4, “ Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment.”
  • Jeremiah 15:6, “You have rejected me, declares the LORD; you keep going backward, so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you— I am weary of relenting.”
  • Ezekiel 39:21, “And I will set my glory among the nations, and all the nations shall see my judgment that I have executed, and my hand that I have laid on them.”
  • Nehemiah 13:21. ”But I warned them and said to them, “Why do you lodge outside the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you.” From that time on they did not come on the Sabbath.”

2]. It was used to express human identification with God in His punishment.

Leviticus  24:14, ‘Bring out of the camp the one who cursed, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him...  

3]. It was used to describe being consecrated for service. 

  • Numbers 8:10, “When you bring the Levites before the LORD, the people of Israel shall lay their hands on the Levites.”
  • Numbers 27:18, ‘So the LORD said to Moses, “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him.”’
  • Numbers 27:22-23, “And Moses did as the LORD commanded him. He took Joshua and made him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole congregation, 23  and he laid his hands on him and commissioned him as the LORD directed through Moses.”

4]. It was used to describe the laying on of hands on animals for sacrifice for sin.

  • Leviticus 8:14, “Then he brought the bull of the sin offering, and Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the bull of the sin offering.”
  • Lev 8:18, “Then he presented the ram of the burnt offering, and Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the ram.”
  • Lev 8:22, “Then he presented the other ram, the ram of ordination, and Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the ram.”
  • Exodus 29:10, “Then you shall bring the bull before the tent of meeting. Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the bull.”
  • Exod 29:15, “Then you shall take one of the rams, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the ram”
  • Exod 29:19, “You shall take the other ram, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the ram”
  • Leviticus  1:4, “He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.”
  • Leviticus  16:21, “And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness.”
  • Numbers 8:12, “Then the Levites shall lay their hands on the heads of the bulls, and you shall offer the one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering to the LORD to make atonement for the Levites.”

5]. It was used to describe the conferring of blessing on people.  

Gen 27:22, ‘So Jacob went near to Isaac his father, who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.”’

(IN SUMMARY. It was a means of identifying with God in His purposes. )


1]. It was used to impart the gift and gifts of the Holy Spirit.  

  • Acts 8:17, “Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”
  • Acts 19:6, “And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.”
  • 1Tim 4:14, “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.”
  • 2 Tim 1:6, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.”

2]. It was used to commission or ordain.  

  • See above and 
  • Acts 6:6, “These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.”
  • Acts 13:2-3,  “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3  Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.”
  • 1 Timothy 5:22, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.”

3]. It was used to impart blessing. 

  • Matt. 19:13-15, “Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14  but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went away.
  • Revelation 1:17, ‘When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last.”’

4]. It was used to impart healing and for expected healing

  • Matt. 9:18, ‘While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.”’
  • Mark 6:5, “And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.”
  • Mark 7:32, “And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him.”
  • Mark 8:23-25, “And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 4  And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.”
  • Luke 4:40, “Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them.”
  • Luke 13:12-13, ‘And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. 12  When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” 13  And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God.’
  • Mark 16:18, “they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
  • Acts 9:11-12, “And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”
  • Acts 28:8, “It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him, healed him. “

(IN SUMMARY. Again, it was a means of identifying with God in His purposes).


Identification.  We identify with God in His desire to bring blessing. We see that in Jesus’ ministry as He laid His hands on children to bless them and on sick people to heal them

We also identify with people in their need. It is not just symbolic when people reach out to touch someone in need. An appropriate compassionate human touch often brings a great deal of comfort to those who are hurting. Those of us who have responded positively to the command in James 5 to lay hands on and pray for the sick are often amazed at the healing that follows. As I wrote in a previous article on this site, healing may be instantaneous, come progressively or come after some delay. It may come in a different way to what we might expect.  

Ultimately God Himself is the healer and He heals in His way, in His time and through whom He wishes. Our part is to identify with His desire to bring blessing and healing to His people and to make ourselves available to be used by Him in the way He wishes.

Impartation.  As I mentioned above, our responsibility is simply to identify with people in their need, and to ask God to use us as His instruments through whom His blessing and healing can be imparted.  This means that God alone gets the glory. In Acts 4:29-30, it’s the hand of the Lord that brings blessing and healing, “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30  while YOU stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”He alone heals.

We need to be humble enough to recognise and act on the difference!

It is always our responsibility and privilege to identify with people in their need and to identify with God’s purpose in wanting to bless and heal them.

But it is God who imparts His blessing and healing. It is not our responsibility to do so. But the great privilege is ours when He chooses to use us as His instruments to impart the blessing or healing through prayer with the laying of hands on those who have requested us to pray for them. He alone gets the glory and praise for what He does!

Blog No.438 posted on Wednesday 19 October 2022.

About Jim Holbeck

Once an Industrial Chemist working for the Queensland Government but later an Anglican minister in Brisbane, Armidale and Sydney. Last position for eighteen years before retirement in 2006 was as the Leader of the Healing Ministry at St Andrew's Cathedral Sydney.
This entry was posted in BIBLE PASSAGE OUTLINES, Bible verses. Comments, Creation, Evangelism, Faithfulness, Forgiveness, Healing, Holy Spirit, Judgement, Justification, Mental Health, Prayer, Salvation, Sanctification, spiritual warfare, Temptations and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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