The Wednesday section of the Sabbath school lesson presents us with a verse that we are not so fond of. In fact, some may think that the Bible would do well without it. However, despite the eyebrows that the author must have surely known would be raised, the decision was made to include the terrifying words of James 5:16 which calls us to, “confess [our] sins to each other and pray for each other so that [we] may be healed” (NIV, emphasis mine). Frightful, is it not? Not exactly what we wanted to hear.
Not only does the author bring the verse into the relationship conversation, which is the theme for this week, but we are also given four lines to write our interpretation and how we can apply it in our lives. I imagined the eyes of my Sabbath school students rolling as they stared at those lines (smile). I certainly can’t wait for Sabbath morning to hear what will be said concerning this verse. I anticipate that much of the discussion will be aimed at a caution that is given concerning confessing to others: “there is always the risk that our friend will reveal the confidence to others.”
Is it true? It certainly is. Gossip, popular in our culture, seems to be a fundamental quality of our dysfunctional characters. If we are not the ones telling the tale, then we are the ones hearing it. Often times, this is overlooked in personal reflections because we don’t realize the seriousness of gossip. I’m sure that many sermons are preached on the topic, but for the most part we tend to brush the wrongness of it to the side. We are not concerned, unless, of course, it is about us.
The lessons points to two interpretations for the verse: confessing sins committed against someone “in order to secure forgiveness and to restore the relationship”; confessing sins in general to someone that, all evidence indicates, has a mature faith. In my personal analysis of the text, the second one was the one that quickly came to mind. In my reading, James 5:16 seems to be setting up a principal. If we are being called to confess to each other, then there is a need for a change in the way we are and the way we look at each other.
Let me clear those two points up. First, if we are in the church and are not considered persons that can be called upon to pray for others—what James calls a, “righteous man,” then there is a problem. What is the problem? What are we doing in the church if we can’t be identified among the faithful? That is a problem. By saying “righteous man,” James indicates that there are people of mature faith in the church. It behooves us to be amongst that company.
As I was reflecting on this point, it occurred to me that those who are to pray are functioning as mediators. They take the confessed sins and plead to God on behalf of the confessor for pardon, forgiveness and healing. This is a mighty and noble act, reminiscent of Moses and Christ. In order for us to partake of this great service on behalf of our brothers and sisters in the faith, we need to be what we claim to be.
Second, on the part of those who confess, there must reside within them not only the ability to trust, but the ability to discern character. The need for trust is not stated in the verse, it is implied. Discernment of character comes through prayer. With analysis inspired from God we can be directed to the best person to talk to. One of the best indicators of maturity is visible consistency in devotion to God. Of course, it can all be a show. This is why it is essential to not only ask God who or when, or if you should at.
Imagine what type of community the church would be if these things were so. Well, it can be so, but it would have to take some Bible believing souls who are interested in putting the principals into practice, trusting that God will work mightily through them as they do so. The togetherness of the church would rise to greater heights. We would be closer to the scriptural ideal for the church, a family.
 Julian Melgosa. “Jesus Wept: The Bible and Human Emotions.” Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide (2011), p. 34.
 There are two ways that I suspect one may look at James 5:16. The first is that it is calling for a moment in which people gather together, confess their sins—whether it is to that individual or not, is not indicated—and pray for each other. What may dismiss this argument is the fact that the word “healed” connects the verse to the three prior verses. The three prior verses deal with being sick and therefore verse 16 may be calling for those who are sick to be the ones to confess. The second way, which is the one I prefer, is that it is stating that we should confess to a trusted spiritual person.