Question: To what degree should we confess our faults to others (James 5: 16)?
Answer: James 5: 16: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.” This passage represents a general principle of humility and willingness to acknowledge when we commit a fault, particularly to the one against whom the fault or wrong has been committed. The confession should also be accompanied with proper apology and reparation so far as possible. It is quite proper for us to freely admit that we are not perfect, in fact, no one should attempt to pose as perfect, but rather to acknowledge what the Scriptures declare that “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3: 10). The best that we can hope to attain at the present time is to be righteous in our intentions and efforts, and to trust for the full covering of our faults in the sight of God through the merit of our Lord Jesus Christ.
There might be times when the confession of a fault should be made publicly to the advantage of others. If we feel sure that the telling of our own shortcoming would be of advantage to others, we should not hesitate to tell of the matter in a proper way with a view to assisting others. But in general we do well, not only to hide our imperfections, but it should be our daily endeavor to put away our faults completely.
The Apostle, however, has a deeper thought in the above passage. He is discussing the case of one who has committed a sin that has alienated him from God, causing a cloud to come between them. It has either been a repetition of sins, or something similar. He is spiritually sick, whether physically sick or not. The prescription for him is to call for the elders, the most mature consecrated members of the church, that they may pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord (James 5: 14). “The prayer of faith shall save the sick” (the spiritually sick), “and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him” (James 5: 15).
The brother is not in a condition to advocate his own cause with the Lord, and the Lord therefore arranged it so that we should feel a sympathy with our brother, go to his relief and make intercession for him. Not that our intercessions would avail of themselves; it must be the intercession of our Lord, our Advocate, that would avail for the wrongs and imperfections before justice. But our Advocate may at times withhold Himself for the good of one in error and for the sake of drawing out the sympathy of the brethren who have knowledge of the case. In this way they may seek to assist, remembering themselves lest they also should be tempted, lest they also fall from their steadfastness, and that therefore the spirit of sympathy and mutual helpfulness may be encouraged in the church.