“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16a NIV).
[Note: “each other” in the NIV is equivalent to “one another” used in the NASB and NKJV.]
This “one another” involves trust and integrity.
The brother or sister doing the confessing must be able to trust the one they are sharing with, and the one hearing must have the integrity to handle the matter compassionately and confidentially.
This tells us to confess our sins to each other. Does that mean we should take up the practice used by the Roman Catholics of having a time of confession to the priest?
That would be a misinterpretation. There is only one Man we are to go through when talking with God for any reason, including confession. (read 1 Timothy 2:5)
So, then what is the purpose of confessing our sins to each other? James is not the only New Testament writer to discuss this, but John did as well. (read 1 John 5:16-18). This reference helps us see that the purpose is that another believer can also pray for us (where two or three are gathered in His name [see Matthew 18:19-20]). In fact if we look closer at today’s verse we also see this. Read the entire James 5:16 in your Bible. “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” That is why we confess our sin to another, trustworthy, believer, so they too may pray on our behalf. It is not confession. Our only mediator is Jesus Christ, but we can have others pray for us. Think of the example of Abraham in Genesis 18:16-33. The Lord desired Abraham’s intercession on behalf of Sodom (especially in regard to the righteous living there, though they were very, very, very few). And this prayer was answered in Genesis 19:29.
Let’s look at the entire context: James 5:13-20.
Sickness is not always caused by sin. Sometimes God allows us to be sick to allow our spirit to mature. The body grows weaker, but the spirit grows stronger. Sometimes He allows us to suffer that His name may receive glory (read John 11:1-4). However, there are times that our illness is caused by a sin. (Read and discuss 1 Corinthians 11:30) which is an example of this in regards to taking communion in a disrespectful manner.
Back to James: Our sin may cause us to be sick (5:14-15), or it may cause us to backslide (5:19). In either case we are out of fellowship with God and need restoration. Someone who is struggling with a sin to the point of illness or wandering from the truth will have cloudy spiritual judgment. They may not be seeking God in prayer or studying God’s word. This person needs help from a mature, non-judging believer, who can pray to God in faith on the sinning brother’s behalf.
It’s not about confession in the Roman Catholic sense. We can only truly confess our sins to God through Jesus Christ our Mediator. However, there are times that we need another believer to help us get back on track. And God will hear “the prayer offered in faith” by a “righteous man.”