Good morning Summit Family!
We live in a world where the art of writing letters has declined dramatically. Rather than sending handwritten letters, today we send text messages, emails and tweets. However, even when sending an email, we frequently provide a closing salutation. They are personal in nature. We close our letters in a way that reflects the depth of our relationship with the intended recipient. James follows the same blueprint as he closes his letter. His closing remarks provide a glimpse of his pastoral heart for his brothers and sisters.
“My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover a multitude of sins.” (verses 19-20)
He has used the phrase “my brothers and sisters” throughout this correspondence. He uses it again in closing. It represents those who are dear to him, family members so to speak. These are people who are a part of the body of believers. Remember, this letter was written to Christians.
He has spent time sharing with them the importance of praying and in each instance, he has connected prayer with healing. His readers were challenged to be involved in personal prayer when they were in trouble resulting in emotional healing. He has encouraged them to pray when seriously ill, calling for the elders. They would be healed with the prayers offered in faith. He has encouraged them to confess their sins to each other and pray for each other for relationship “healing.” Now in addition to encouraging his faith family to pray for each other for spiritual healing, he is adding turning them away from their wandering.
There is a difference with this last example. The difference lies in the fact that James’ readers are being encouraged to response when they identify a brother or sister falling into sin. The implication is that we take action to turn them back. James has been focusing on the power of prayer. It seems the first and most effective action that can be taken is praying for the individual. The prayer isn’t being initiated because someone has ASKED for it. It is being initiated out of a concern and love for another who is “wandering from the truth.”
This exhortation is also important because it identifies who should be consulted when we observe a brother or sister wandering from the truth. Praying is communication with God. This is private intercession. It does not include public discussion with others. We have probably all experienced the destructive results that come when gossiping occurs within the family. Something shared about another person doesn’t have to be false to qualify as gossip!
The NIV translates the passage as “wandering from the truth.” I would imagine the temptation to wander from the truth was very prevalent in the world these Christians lived in. I would also imagine most Christians today would agree the world is quickly moving away from the truth of scripture. As bold as this may sound, we no longer live in a Christian society. Christian principles are becoming less mainstream within our society with every passing year.
This passages also implies that action should be taken when he refers to bringing that person back to the truth. Matthew 18 records the words of Christ which provides great guidance when action is required. “If your brother or sister sins (isn’t wandering from the truth sin), go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.” The passage continues with instructions if the wandering person fails to listen and respond. But the point is that we should love each other enough to be concerned for their spiritual welfare.
When “wandering from the truth” results in false teaching within the body of Christ, action MUST be taken to turn the wanderer from their erroneous path. Paul instructed Timothy to be aware of the teaching of Hymenaues and Philetus. He declared these men had “departed from the truth.” (2 Tim. 2:17) He refers to Alexander who “did me a great deal of harm.” It is believed Alexander provided false testimony at Paul’s trial.
The reality is that the church has suffered from false teachers since the early years of Christianity. When the church is being infiltrated with those who are promoting a form of religion that is not biblical in nature, it must be addressed. Liberal and progressive proponents of non-biblical perspectives have not only had a significant impact on secular society but Christian environments as well.
James is sharing that we do not have the freedom of sitting back and doing nothing when we perceive those within the body are wandering away from the truth. These situations do not create an opportunity to consider responding, but a mandate that we must respond if they are to be saved. Notice James indicates they will be saved from death and loving action will result from their escape from being guilty of a multitude of sins.
The truth we are to hold onto is the truth of God’s Word. James has already challenged his reader to hide God’s Word in their heart so that they may not sin against God. They were challenged to IMPLANT the Word in their hearts so that it would grow and produce fruit. We must do the same thing today.
Leading someone back into the truth of God’s Word results in COVERING a multitude of sins. The term ‘covering’ is a reference to a financial transaction where someone’s bill has been covered – forgotten. Sufficient payment has been offered. The conclusion is that when we lead others to the truth of scripture, it results in the covering of their sins – salvation!
Think about the current season we are experiencing in our world. It is possible the ease of staying home on Sunday morning, maybe or maybe not watching worship, and becoming removed physically and emotionally from the local church family will result in a sense of complacency and further isolation from one’s church family. With that separation comes a decline in our opportunity to watch out for each other’s welfare and a continuing commitment to the truth of scripture.
Notice finally who has the privilege of bringing someone back to the truth – anyone. This ministry of reconciliation with God’s Word is not limited to the pastoral staff, the elders, or the evangelist. It is a calling for anyone who is a part of the family of God.
The ultimate question to be asked is this: What kind of commitment do I have to my brothers and sisters as it relates to watching out for them? This action should never be one that is generated from an arrogant or prideful attitude. It is one that is should be given birth out of a genuine and sincere love for each other as members of the family – both the local family of Christ and the universal family of God!
And thus ends one of scriptures most powerful letters!