Tuesday, December 19, 2006

True Confessions – Another “One Another” Passage

Several weeks ago I posted on the use of “one another” passages in the New Testament. Specifically I noted that the context of Ephesians 5:21 demonstrates that submission is not mutual (as among equals), but exclusive (within God ordained hierarchy).

Here is another “one another” passage that I don’t think should be taken as reciprocal among equals.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
James 5:16 (ESV)
Taken out of context it might appear that this broad statement of confessing sins to one another should be done among equals. However, the context demands that this confession be done by the congregant to elders and that the prayer should done by the elders on behalf of the congregant.

James 5:14-15 are not only the immediate context of verse 16, but verse 16 is the direct inference of 14-15 as shown by the conjunction “therefore.”

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 one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
James 5:14-15 (ESV)
So what is James saying? And how is verse 16 related to verses 14 and 15?

James is saying, “If you are sick, call the elders to pray for you so that you might be healed.” And, “If your sickness was the result of sin, you will be forgiven.”

Verse 16 then is an inferential restatement of the facts stated in verse 14 and 15. Since the prayer of a righteous man is effective, confess your sins to the elders that they might pray for you in order that you might be healed and forgiven.

Lord willing I’ll post about the pitfalls of confession among equals tomorrow.

I took this photo of a semi load of hay burning in Colorado Springs this past year (driver got out safe).


Matt said...

I know from your follow-up post that you are not saying accountability among peers is necessarily bad or wrong, however, I don't think that the passage even in context indicates that you should only confess your sins to the elders which your post suggests. You're the Bible scholar (I can't read Greek, ya know. ;-) ), but it seems to me that this also doesn't necessarily jive with Jesus teachings.

I've often taken a different look at the application of Jesus teaching when he washed the disciples feet. I relate it more to this passage in James. I will paraphrase a little bit here, but if you take a look at John 13, you can see what I mean.

Starting in verse six, Peter is incredulous about Jesus approaching him to wash his feet. When Jesus insists, Peter asks that Jesus wash all of him. What is Jesus response to that? He says, "The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean." (John 13:10, ESV) Then later in the passage he says, "Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you." (John 13:12-15 ESV). I understand what the verse is saying about humility, however, I have come to apply this also to mean that the washing Jesus is referring to is an image of regular confession of sin.

When Jesus tells Peter that the whole is clean, but only the feet need washed, I can see a metaphor for the Christian life. When we walk, our feet get dirty, that is, we sin. We are not in need of salvation all over again (bathing/baptism) for we are already saved, but we are in need of regular renewal through confession of sin. I believe that Jesus is instructing his disciples to provide this accountability for one another.

I can certainly see how some might see my application as a stretch, but I think that Jesus wants us all to rely upon one another for accountability. I personally think accountability should not be groups. I keep it either one on one or a group of three people at the max. We need to confess sin in order for it not to take a foothold. Do we run the risk of tempting other men? Certainly, however, in my own experience I have found that the temptation subsides over time when other men know about it and can hold me accountable. I don't confess sin to just anyone, mind you, but sin kept in secret, which I know you're not suggesting, is a Godly man's Kryptonite.


Christopher said...

Hey Matt,

Thanks for your feed back! Hope you don't mind but I responded to this comment in my latest blog entry.

Glad to see you're posting on your blog. I'll comment later.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!