Good Words

James 5:13-20

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you ill? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

In the community of God there are times of sadness and happiness, sickness and health, sin and forgiveness. James knows this and offers encouragement and direction for all who live in this community of Jesus called the church.

For James, words are crucial for the community of Jesus. James talks a lot about talking. He uses a lot of words about the power of words for faithfully living through all times.

The older I get the more I resonate with James’ emphasis on the crucial importance of words. I can see that in life and in the church, words are the most important means of living in relationship to others in the sad times, the happy times and every other time.

Sure, as James says, words need to be backed up by actions, but he has spent some time impressing upon his community that words have enormous power: ability to cut or heal, despise or affirm, encourage and support or dismiss and hurt other people.

James has outlined how that little rudder, the tongue, and the words it speaks into existence among others has the power to kill or build.

James rather dramatically flashes the truth about what damage words can do and how we Christian people are not immune to doing that damage with our words. Just as our emotions and our minds are fickle, so too our words that come out of us are fickle.

Message? Be careful with words with people because people other than you matter as much as you do in God’s community.  

But then James goes to the positive side when speaking of the power of words. He shows a vision of a Christian community using words well.

What are the ways James shows to use words well for each other?

Praise to God

Prayer for people

Peace words between us

Truth words between us

And they all come from faith in God’s word.

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 

Prayer words for people in need – church leaders and everyday church people. Priestly words of prayer – interceding for people in need in their presence or alone. That is a good use of good words.

Praise words to God – sung or spoken alone and together.

Words of peace

If a person has sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.

Words of peace – honest admission of wrong and honest gift of forgiveness. The practice of naming the wrong, not to shame and put down, but to seek forgiveness and to respond with forgiveness. Words of forgiveness making peace full again.

Truth with compassion

19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back… 

Truth with compassion – delicate words, timely words, words from a heart of compassion and kindness, but not weak words or wishy-washy words, with the goal of bringing a person back to peace, back to belonging, back to relationship, back to Jesus’ love and hope.

And the thing in with and under all these good words?


15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 

Faith. It is trust in the words of the Saviour about us more than trust in the words about us from another or many others that lies under words that are good, words that are God’s.

I am hearing two things from the Spirit today;

  1. Trust the Word of Jesus because his words are trustworthy.
  2. Use his word in your words carefully and kindly.

Here’s how Martin Luther put it when reflecting on the second commandment;

“We should love and honour God and so we should not use God’s name to curse someone, tell lies about or do witchcraft or deceive anyone. Instead, we should use God’s name to ask for help in any trouble and to praise and thanks God” (Small Catechism)


There is so much damage in the world between people. So many harsh words, untrue words, judging words, loveless words are spoken between people – even in the church.

It seems like this has increased with the advent of social media and it’s spread into politics and general public conversation on radio, tv and everywhere else.

I feel for our children and young people who have a whole new world of bad words with which they have to somehow contend.

Those destructive words are so easily said in the comfort of an anonymous on-line account or a throw away tweet or post. Your mistakes can be amplified a thousand times – whether you have actually made a mistake or not!!

Surely it is upon us who have had the Living Word of God himself speak his healing, forgiving words of peace and life spoken into us day by day, when we never deserved it any day, to speak good words at every turn we can; to speak the very best words we can find – God’s words of forgiveness, acceptance, peace, truth and sacrificing love in our words with people.  

How good it is to be in the company of a group of people who speak good words to you. What a transforming thing it is to be in the company of people who affirm, care, welcome you,

I instigated a new practice for myself and maybe for our family recently. I wrote down and said the best words I could find about my partner in life for the birthday party instead of buying more things.

Sems like we have enough things, but we can never get enough kind words, thanking words, appreciation words. I suggested that instead of giving each other thigs for birthdays into the future we also give some good words to be said aloud at birthdays. See what happens!

Friend, I am sure the Lord is saying aim for good words as much as we can.


Aim for;

Praise words: Words that say how good the Lord is to you and us and his world.

Praying words: Words that ask for things for others in their need, either with the person or alone for the person.

Peace words – “I am sorry for the hurt I have caused you” – no ifs or buts. Not ‘If I have hurt you…”, or, “If I was not under so much stress I would not have…”, or “If you had not said that I would have not have…”, or, “I did say that but it was only a joke…”.

No. Peace words are, “I am sorry for the hurt I HAVE caused you and ask for your forgiveness”. Then “I forgive you and so does Jesus”. Then nothing more needs to be said or brought up again about that.

I do wonder whether James has in mind a practice that has fallen out of favour among Christians – probably because of abuses of it in the church…. The special rite of private confession and absolution.

We do this rite in full public view when we gather in worship. But there is also the very personal and specific way to do it just Christian to Christian or person to pastor. What a gift it is to simply confess what is burdening you to another Christian or your pastor and hear those words of absolving you so you can go on your way with a light spirit and a clean conscience.


It is available any time from each other and from me too. Please make use of it by making a time for this private confession and absolution gift. It is wonderful for your spirit.


Friends. Words matter. They matter a lot because they can do a lot – for good or bad.


Jesus, the Word, does his good work in us as we carefully use his words in ours and we as a community of forgiven sinners receive life and hope that overcomes all the bad words we hear and the pain their cause.

The prayerful words of a righteous person

is powerful and effective.

Praise Jesus for his words that are powerful and effective.

They forgive our guilt and cover our shame and give us a present and future peace that transforms us from bad conscience to good, from heavy burden to light, from aloneness and self-greatness to community and his greatness by which we are free to live with good words to say and do.

Use your words

Use His words.

His words are in you.









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