James 5:16 - “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, so that you are healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous one accomplishes much.”
What is James (Jacob in Hebrew) speaking about in this verse? Is he demanding that we openly confess to each other, or to the congregation, all of our sins?
Matthew 5:23-24 - “If, then, you bring your gift to the slaughter-place (altar), and there remember that your brother holds whatever against you, leave your gift there before the slaughter-place (altar), and go, first make peace with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
(TS2009, parenthesis added by me)
When James penned these words the Temple was still standing in Jerusalem. He is referring to the trespass offering which we can read about from the Torah in Leviticus 5:1- 6:7.
When a person committed a trespass, or a sin, against another person they were required to “confess up” to the person that they had wronged. Maybe the injured party was unaware of the wrongdoing. Perhaps it was only because something borrowed had been lost and could not be returned to the owner. It didn't matter the circumstance. God gave specific instructions for making things right between two people, even if the trespass was done unintentional. I encourage my readers to read the Leviticus scriptures above to see just how important this was to God and what He required to be in right-standing with Him regarding this issue.
The offender was required to make whatever restitution was necessary to foster a right relationship again. After doing this the offender was to bring a trespass offering to the temple so that he could be forgiven before Yahweh.
Sins against God could be forgiven by regret, confession, and returning to the correct path of obedience. However, sins against another person could only be forgiven once the wrong had been made right. Then and only then would God forgive the person of that sin.
The concept of restitution seems to be lost in the world today. Most people don't see the need to practice “right relationships” anymore. They certainly don't see the need to “admit” to someone else that they have done them wrong in some way. The person wronged could even be a stranger. It doesn't matter to God, for He expects His children to make it right. We cannot have a right relationship with God if we do not have a right relationship with other human beings because we have trespassed against them.
The point of the scripture in James is that if you bring your gift to God (which would have been any of the prescribed sacrifices) and while you are there you remember that you have wronged someone, then God will not accept your sacrifice. The person was to go and make it right with the person and then he could bring his gift back to the altar and God would accept it. Hence, “confess your faults to one another” means that you are to confess to the person that you wronged them.
How does this affect us today when there is no Temple standing? Sometimes we may wonder why our prayers are not being answered. Sometimes we may wonder why God seems distant. Have you wronged someone in any way? Do you need to confess that you did something against them? Do you need to make “right” a “wrong”? It doesn't matter to God if it was yesterday or 20 years ago. The wrong needs to be made right.
This is never easy to do for most human beings. Saying “I'm sorry” or “please forgive me” is extremely difficult for some people. Pride is a large factor in these situations.
What if it is no longer possible to make something right with someone because they have already died? Well, we do the best we can. Of course, you can't make something right with someone who has already passed away.
Doing the right thing would also involve strangers. What if I bump someone's car in a parking lot and put a dent in their car but there is no one around that saw what happened? My fleshly instinct tells me to drive away because I can get away with it. After all, I don't want to pay to have their car fixed. Wow, I have found dents on my car where someone drove away! It did not make me too happy! What would a true child of God do if he/she obeys the scriptures listed above? They would leave a note on that persons car explaining what they did and how they could be reached to make it right. Ouch! That really hurts doesn't it!
Yes, God really requires restitution from His children, even in the smallest things.
Do you want to be healed? James says to “confess to one another” so that you may be “healed”, or made whole. A lot of us are walking around not even realizing that we are not “whole” in God's eyes.
Then James goes on to say “the ernest prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much”. Notice it’s says “a righteous man”. A righteous man would be one who is in right standing with God because he/she obeys His teachings and instructions. His teachings and instructions require restitution. Are your prayers accomplishing much?
Let's work on re-establishing the lost commandment of restitution! Let's bring our gifts to God with a clean conscience that we have made things right with our fellow human beings, then God will hear our petitions with a more attentive ear.
I pray that this has shed light on the Jewishness of the New Testament writings.