5:14 sick. The promise of healing in this passage applies only to the special case of one whose sins have brought about the Lord’s chastening in the form of sickness. The word “sick” in this verse means “ill.” In James 5:13, on the other hand, the word “afflicted” means “suffering trouble” (same as in James 5:10; also, the same as “endure hardness” in II Timothy 2:3; see also II Timothy 2:9 and 4:5). In such a case of affliction in a believer’s life, assuming it is not clearly a specific chastising because of sin, the admonition is: “Let him pray.” The Lord in such cases will answer in whatever way best serves His greater purpose (note Paul’s testimony in II Corinthians 12:9). In cases of divinely imposed illness, however, when the sick person has injured the body of Christ by his sin (as in I Corinthians 11:18-34, especially verses 30-31), he must first confess his sin to God and to those injured, as represented by the elders of the church, asking them to pray for him—the initiative coming from him rather than the elders.
5:14 oil. There is nothing magical in the anointing oil, of course. It could well have been used as merely a soothing ointment to alleviate the suffering (note Isaiah 1:6; Mark 6:13; Luke 10:34). The oil was merely a spiritual symbol, representing God’s hoped-for anointing of the sick person by the Holy Spirit, in order to bring him back to active service for the Lord. This symbol recalled how priests and kings had been anointed in ancient Israel, symbolizing their divine call to service.