At the first reading of this passage, one might conclude that it sets a precedent for how Christians should react every time there is some other Christian who is sick. Before concluding this, look at the entire passage.
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (James 5:13-15).
The pertinent part of this passage gives instructions that when anyone was sick that they should call for the elders of the church, who would come and anoint the sick person, with the assurance that the sick would be cured. Two points immediately stand out. First, it is the elders who were authorized to come and anoint with oil. There is no authorization in this passage for anyone else to do this if they are not elders. Secondly, there is the absolute assurance that, without failure, the sick would be cured. It does not say the Lord might raise the sick up, but that He would!
The practice of many, having leaders from the church, both male and female, going to the home of the sick is not authorized. Then there is the fact that many who practice this today leave the home with the sick still in their beds. The Lord has not raised them up, hence a study of the passage shows the common practice is not what was happening when James wrote these words.
There are those who make the same mistake in interpreting the Bible when they read about handling snakes (Mark 16:18; Luke 10:19). They read a verse which had application in the first century and conclude it is for the church today. The fact that when this is practiced today that men are bitten and die shows that these verses have limited application, just as the failure for the curing of the sick has limited application.
What then does this passage mean? There was a time when miracles were part of the church, but God shows that age would come to an end when the church was no longer “a child” but had become a “man” (1 Cor. 13:8-13). Note that there never was a failure when miracles of healing were attempted. God gave not only powers to cure everyone, but He also gave the gift of miraculous faith (1 Cor. 12:8-10). This is why the passage in James speaks of “the prayer of faith.” Who would have such gifts? Obviously those in leadership in the church, especially the elders. In that day and age, men bitten by snakes were not harmed at all, and in that day and age, those who were anointed with oil by the elders always were raised up.
Then, should we ever pray for sick? Absolutely! Many passages show this use of praying. This, however, is far different from the elders praying the prayer of faith and never having a failure.