In the final section of his letter, James encourages his readers to help each other do right.
Jam. 5:19-20 Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; (20) Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.
Err … Convert
Err is one translation of a Greek word that is also translated “go astray,” “wander,” or “be out of the way.” As much as we don’t like to see it happen, God’s people sometimes stray from the truth like lost sheep. How do you react when you see a brother wandering off?
In some churches, like the church at Corinth, people felt better about themselves when they saw others fall. Paul describes their reaction in this passage:
1Co. 5:1-2 It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. (2) And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.
That’s not how God wants us to react. We should mourn when a brother or sister strays. Not only that, but we should pray for them:
1Jo. 5:16 If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.
God also expects us to pursue wandering saints in an effort to restore them to fellowship with Him:
Gal. 6:1-2 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. (2) Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
The Marine Corp taught us to set up intersecting lines of fire on the battlefield. Each Marine was responsible to defend the area in front of him, and for the Marines on his left and right. This tactic was rooted in the knowledge that losing one Marine weakened all of us and made it more likely that we would be defeated. The same is true in our spiritual warfare. We have to watch out for each other. When one member of the Body of Christ falls, all suffer for it.
We are to seek the conversion of the sinning brother. It sounds strange to talk about converting someone who is saved, but the idea is to “turn around.” Christ was talking about the same thing when He said to Peter:
Luk. 22:31-34 And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: (32) But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. (33) And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death. (34) And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me.
Jesus knew Peter was going to go astray and deny Him, but He also knew Peter would turn back, or be converted, to Him again. (God’s sheep don’t stop being His sheep when they wander off. If they did, He wouldn’t seek them.)
Save a Soul … Hide Sins
It’s natural to avoid getting involved in other people’s problems, but intervention can make a huge difference. James reminds his readers that turning a sinner back from error can save a soul from death. That’s because rebellion against God can lead to death. There are several cases of this in Scripture: Aaron’s sons (Lev. 10:1-3), Korah (Num. 16:35), the men of Bethshemesh (1Sa. 6:19), Ananias and Sapphira (Act. 5:5, 10) and some members of the Corinthian church (1Co. 11:30). So it’s literally true that helping a Christian get back on track can save their life.
Restoring a sinning brother also covers a multitude of sins. When a person sincerely repents, they have this promise from God:
1Jo. 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Besides covering past sins, I think the author has in mind the prevention of future sins. Think of all the sins that won’t happen because someone cared enough to reach out.
How Are You Doing?
- How do you react when you see other believers sin? Does it make you feel better about yourself, or do you mourn?
- Do you seek to restore those who go astray, or do you assume someone else will do it?
This practical book begins much like it ended. James doesn’t close with the “say hi to everyone” ending that is so common in Paul’s letters. He ends with plain, practical advice and quits when he’s finished.
Next week, Pastor Joe Roof of Calvary Baptist Church in Albany, NY will be presenting a one-week series from Proverbs 30. Be sure to check in for a blessing each day.