“Is any among you sick? Let them call for the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will make him well and the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.” – James 5:14-15
This is no overbearing command, but godly advice on how to deal with an urgent situation. The sick may send for the elders of the church, whereupon they should gather and pray with the sick person. The anointing with oil, which symbolizes the full effusion of the Holy Spirit, is but an outward symbol that the elders are beseeching the Spirit’s operation upon the sick person. If the call is of God, the prayer should be the prayer of faith, and the sick one should be healed. The prayer of faith is nothing less than an intimation from God that He desires to heal.
It is not easy to see how a balanced reading of these verses could have led to extreme doctrines and exaggerated practices. The sins surely refer to those which have caused or contributed to the illness. All sickness is obviously not the result of sin in the patient, but if the Lord is pleased to heal a sickness caused by sin, we assume that it is because He has already forgiven the sin which caused it.
So far from a simple interpretation denying any inherent promise, these verses give boundless opportunity for the gracious operations of God without unhealthy excitement, unhappy publicity, or serious distraction from the weightier considerations of the soul. Why did Jesus seek to hush up His healing miracles? Because they were but sign-posts to higher things. A signpost, and the destination to which it points, are not the same.
– William Still