The Prayer of the Righteous Man (James 5:16b-18) ~ A Daily Devotion for April 22, 2014

“The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 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 5:16b-18

Explanation of the Text: James concludes his emphasis on prayer with these verses. The conclusion that can be reached from these verses is that prayer is powerful and effective. The phrase ‘has great power’ is actually a verb that means to be strong. It is the same verb that is found in Acts 19:20, which is used to indicate that the word of the Lord prevailed mightily. In this context, it draws on the power of prayer, so powerful in fact, that it will prevail over the opposition.[1] Likewise, prayer is effective in that in endeavoring to pray, things will get done. It is not only power, it is effective power because things will be accomplished by it.[2]

James notes that prayer is powerful as it is working. This phrase has offered some confusion for scholars, because it can be taken in two different ways. It can be taken as being in the passive voice, thus emphasizing that God does the work, or it can be taken as the middle voice in order to emphasize man’s part in continuing in prayer.[3] Davids suggests the passive voice, while Abramson suggests the middle voice. While each of them is very convincing in proving their case, it is important to understand that really both sides are important in that it is commanded that people continue steadfastly in prayer, but the work alone is God’s according to His own sovereignty.[4]

The question then becomes is who is the righteous person that James refers to? Unlike the righteous person referred to in James 5:6, this one is anarthrous, thus suggesting that the righteous person is a broad group, rather than the poor person as earlier mentioned.[5] Simon Kistemaker rightly notes that we usually think off a righteous person as one of the spiritual giants of the Bible, and yet James gives us an example in Elijah, and his only qualification is that he a man just like the rest of us.[6]

James uses an account of Elijah that is found in 1 Kings 17-18. What it interesting is the account does not actually use the word prayer, or any function of it. It is understood that Elijah was a man of prayer based on his posture and attitude found in 1 Kings 18:42. “His silent posture is an eloquent testimony to his earnestness.”[7] It is interesting that James chose this particular even to illustrate his point, especially when there are so many better-known examples of Elijah. However, there is an important point that is brought forth here. Like the restoring of one who is sick, this particular event represents the restoration of God’s people.[8]

Explanation & Application of the Text: In emphasizing the power of prayer, there is a major point to be had here. In order for the power of prayer to be realized, one must pray. James even gives an example of a godly individual and his prayer. First off, note that James notes the prayer was by a righteous man. Our prayers must be the same. Of course, we are never fully sinless until we get to heaven. However, one must strive to maintain the integrity of their lifestyle in a manner that is reflective of Christ. This does not mean that in order for one’s prayer to be answered they must be absolutely perfect, but it is one that is walking with the Spirit, seeking to live a godly lifestyle, keeping short accounts with God. The example we are given is Elijah. “Elijah’s ability to pray and obtain results did not stem from his differing from us in any way. Rather, Elijah was a fallen, stubborn person just like us, but one who on these occasions was in touch with the Spirit.”[9] It is important to recognize that it is not man that does the work by praying, but it is the work of God. However, prayer is a command for every believer. When we pray, we recognize that we are dependent on God for all things, and that nothing can be done of our own power. Likewise, as was brought forth, Elijah’s prayers were answered because he was in touch with the Spirit. He lived such a holy lifestyle, that He understood what the will of God was and prayed for God’s will above all. Therefore, there are two major points to this. First, each of us must seek to live a godly lifestyle, and second of course, is to pray. As Calvin suggests, “We must observe the rule of prayer, so that it may be by faith…if Elias was heard, so also w shall be heard when we rightly pray. For as the command to pray is common, and as the promise is common, it follows that the effect also will be common.”[10] Therefore, simply put, spend time in prayer with God, continuously, moment by moment submitting to Him.


[1] D. Edmond Hibert, James (Winona Lake: BMH Books, 2009), 300.

[2] J. A. Motyer, The Message of James: The Tests of Faith, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1985), 204.

[3] Homer Kent, Faith that Works: Studies in the Epistle of James (Winona Lake: BMH Books, 2005), 187.

[4] D. Edmond Hibert, James (Winona Lake: BMH Books, 2009), 301.

[5] Scot McKnight, The Letter of James, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011), 449.

[6] Simon J. Kistemaker, James, Epistles of John, Peter and Jude, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1986), 179.

[7] William Varner, The Chariots of Israel: Exploits of the Prophet Elijah (Bellmawr: Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Inc., 2004), 66.

[8] Craig L. Blomberg & Mariam J. Kamell, James, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 246.

[9] Craig L. Blomberg & Mariam J. Kamell, James, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 246.

[10] John Calvin and John Owen, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 360.

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