“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” ~ James 5:16a
Explanation of the Text: In this first part of James 5:16, we see an expression of community living, that is living with each other in a manner that provides accountability and encouragement to one another. In the Didache, it states, “In church you shall confess your transgressions, and you shall not approach your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life” (Didache 4:14). This is surely the same concept that James had in mind. He is telling the believers that they need to come together and confess their sins openly. Likewise, the believers are to come together and pray for one another as well. This phrase ‘to one another’ gives us a look at the meaning of “priesthood of all believers, the significance of koinonia in the messianic community and the clear non-need of a priest for confession to be what it is intended to be.” That is to say that we should be living in community with one another, as fellow believers, a matter of fact that James draws on in emphasizing his point here of mutual prayer and confession. This point is emphasized in noting that James says to confess sins to one another not against one another, meaning, James is not necessarily focusing on those we sin against, he is making the point that in community living, we should be accountable to one another.
The word confess is made up of a compound verb that means ‘out’ and ‘to say the same thing.’ The significance that is often conveyed with this is that we are to say the same thing about our sin that God does during confession; that is, rather than soften it, call it sin just as God would. D. Edmond Hiebert expands on this though and explains that the compound word also conveys the through of an open, frank, and full confession. It is easy to water down our sin and make it sound not quite so bad. However, the reality is that it offends God, and causes separation. This is a serious offense, and thus it is important to come forth before Him, keeping short accounts and acknowledge openly the ways in which we failed, trusting in His forgiveness and provision of atonement for our sins. “Confession is a mark of repentance and a plea for forgiveness.” This is the manner in which we should confess our sins, to one another and to God, in a manner that is repentant and willing to turn from the sin and seek forgiveness for it.
Confession is not the only thing that marks time together. Prayer is also mentioned in this verse. The concept of mutual prayer suggests that James is making the point that those to whom confession has been made are also willing to lift the brother or sister up in prayer and is also willing to forgive the offender in an effort that they be restored to a right relationship with God and with fellow believers. We must not forget how powerful and how important prayer is. Joshua 10:12-13 recounts the story of Joshua praying for the sun and moon to stand still, which they did.
James tells us that the purpose of this mutual confession and prayer is so that one may be healed. There are various understandings to what it means to be healed. Some think that healing is spiritual while others suggest that the healing in mind here is only physical. In keeping with the context of the text, it makes more sense that it would be physical healing. This can be understood because the verb is more consistently used with physical rather than spiritual healing, which is why Douglas Moo takes this confession to involve those sins that hinder the physical healing. This does not undermine any spiritual element that may exist in the physical affliction that the elders are praying for (verse 14). We know that the effects of our sin ultimately have resulted in the breakdown of our bodies as part of the effects of the fall (Genesis 1-3). It very well could be that God brought the physical affliction as a result of the sin that one has in their life as well, as a form of punishment (as was often thought in the culture of the day). However, we must not automatically assume that because we are physically ill, it is because of some specific sin against God. It should also be noted that our physical ailments may affect our spiritual life in how we respond to them.
Examination & Application of the Text: What comes out of this text is the concept of community living. The Christian life was not called to be lived alone, but rather in community with the Trinity and in community with other believers. We must ensure that we are not content to live a solitary life, but live within the body, getting to know our fellow brethren. However, this cannot simply be a marginal relationship in which we see each on Sunday long enough to say hi. Instead, it is an intimate living, as evidenced by the fact that James is calling on believers to confess to one another and pray for one another. That is to know the most intimate details about each other’s lives, even those most difficult things that are hard to share. This mutual confession forces individuals to examine themselves, and thus confess to God the sins. It ensures a right living before God and before the body through accountability, something that is important. Likewise, it is an uplifting experience in engaging in the privilege of prayer for others, and being encouraged by the fact that they are also praying for you. This concept of mutual confession and prayer cannot be overemphasized, especially at a time in which spiritual failure seems to be rampant within the church. Let us love one another through being accountable to one another and praying for one another to God.
 Scot McKnight, The Letter of James, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011), 446.
 Chris A. Vlachos, James, B&H Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament, Ed. Murray J. Harris & Andreas J. Kostenberger (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2013), 188.
 D. Edmond Hiebert, James, (Winona Lake: BMH Books, 2009), 299.
 Simon J. Kistemaker, James, Epistles of John, Peter and Jude, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1986), 178.
 Homer Kent, Faith that Works: Studies in the Epistle of James (Winona Lake: BMH Books, 2005), 186.
 Douglas Moo, James, Tyndale New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 188.