James 5.19-20: Wandering and Finding
January 17, 2010 Series: James | Retro-Faith
Topic: New Testament Passage: James 5:19–5:20
James 5.19-20 Wandering and Finding
January 17, 2009
19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
You will not like this sermon.
Let me prepare you now. No one is going to like this sermon—but it’s James’ fault. James doesn’t end his letter like many of the typical epistles in the N.T. with a formal greetings or benedictions. That is probably why many think that this is just a publish sermon of James. He is a DOER. “There are more imperative verbs per word in James than in any other N.T. book.” (Moo, D. PNTC, James).
And he ends with a command MOST difficult for us. Though the Bible describes us as a people, a family, a body, unified and interdependent— we live as if we believe differently: We are not a people, I am a person; we are not a family, we are a club with individual memberships; ones we can withdraw or change when we want. We are not actually one body, but we’re a collection of parts that work better alone not as groups. It is clear that our culture is one of independence, self-reliance, praising self-sufficiency and individual interpretations of things. We live by the mantras of “believe what you want as long as it doesn’t impact me”…”we just believe completely contradictory but equally true things”…” If you stay out of my business, I’ll stay out of yours.”
James teaches us that faith without action is dead. A dead faith is the way of the world, a false confession of words. A living faith is the way of God, a genuine transformation confirmed by works. As we read James, most of the “proof” of faith is lived out in community. In other words, the things that God commands us to do through the words of James, we CANNOT do without others. The implication is that Jesus saves more than individuals. Though you have a personal relationship with God, Jesus died for a church, a people who have a shared identity AND, a mutual responsibility.
We have a RESPONSIBILITY to one another.
In other words, we have more than a responsibility to read God’s Word, to attend church, to worship, to sing, to pray. Dare I say that we are all called to be more PASTORAL then we would ever admit. You have a responsibility to participate in the body. This is beyond service, beyond giving, beyond corporate worship, it is an active, mutual, love for one another where we concern ourselves with caring for others. We share responsibility for the body and all who are in it. Hebrews 3.12-14 12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
But we don’t want to do we—it is very hard for us to care for someone else—it’s not by business. We justify our rebellion (that is what it is if it is a command of God), justifying it with really good sounding excuses like—they don’t want my help, they are making their own decisions, but in the end, you do not want to put the effort into rescuing someone. If you are concerning yourself with only yourself, your own comfort, your own family as you define it, your own needs, wants, and desires, then you are missing out on blessing that comes from…. “good ideas”, no, from obedience to God’s command to love this way. It is sinful. How does that make you feel? Why do you feel that way?
19 My brothers, if anyone among you
James uses “My Brothers”, as he has in many times, to correct them with gentleness. But the letter is correction. He is trying to do the VERY thing that he is going to command them to do. He wants to bring those who hear his words back into obedience to the gospel—this is the truth he is talking about. Anyone can confess the gospel, but anyone cannot live the gospel.
Anyone among you
James asks if there is anyone “Among you”. The implication of “AMONG YOU” is that there are a people to be among. There is an implied recognized relationship, an organized body, a group that is gathering regularly. And this group is familiar enough WITH one another to know what is going on in each other’s lives. It is possible look like you’re a part of something and not actually be a part of something. In our FACEBOOK happy culture, it is possible to have hundreds of “friends” and have no real relationships. It seems like FACEBOOK and other social type networks help satisfy our desire to have connection with others, yet insulate us from actually having what God says we need—community (but still feel like we do). I have struggled since we started the church understand at what size it became easy to hide in a church, where you can just become a face in a crowd. I have realized that the number is much smaller than what I first thought. It is possible to participate in the activity of church and not actually be saved. And it is possible to be saved and not act like the church.
wanders from the truth
To truth from which we wander
It is difficult to know WHO EXACTLY James is talking about wandering here. Either it is a believer who is denying what he knows to be true or a non-believer who is denying the truth he’s blind to. BOTH are at least outwardly part of the church community. And THAT COMMUNITY is clearly unified around particular truth claims and, as a result, a particular way to live. In other words, there is SOMETHING to wander from. This cannot and should not be minimized. There is a truth that is biblical and lies that are Satanic—even if they ‘sound’ biblical; there are churches that are biblical and those that are not, even if they say so; there are individuals who are believers and those who are not, even if they say so. The truth claims of the Christian faith are exclusive, the road is narrow, the claims of Jesus WHO is the truth are radical and result in radical behavior (counter cultural): Matthew 10.34-39 34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
What happens when we wander
Today, there are too many people and churches more fearful of men than they are of God. There are many people who will argue that knowing doctrine or focusing so much on theology is simply divisive or anti-relational. James seems to argue that biblical truth is in fact what UNIFIES us, and that truth gives a foundation and a direction for ALL relationships. Jesus himself said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8.31b-32). The Truth is what frees us, though our culture believes it enslaves us. And as people begin to wander, instead of holding to the truth they question it. Instead of calling people to turn from their sins to the truth, they turn the truth into something sinful. There are too many people and churches denying biblical truth while still claiming to have Christian standards. You cannot have Christian standards without having Christian convictions.
What does it mean to wander? Does it mean to screw up, to sin, to stumble? To wander is “to ramble here and there without any certain course or with no definite object in view; to range about; to stroll; to rove; as, to wander over the fields,” (Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary). I believe, as Romans 1 teaches, it means to reject the truth of God in exchange for a lie. Through this entire book, James has challenged our claims to “know the truth.’ If we say we know the truth, we must prove our claim not only by reciting verses, singing songs, and doing church but by a new way of living. When truth grips our minds and hearts, it changes our lives. The truth is not only something that is believed, it is something that is done; belief dictates behavior.
Though we believe that relationships are more important, Romans 1 tells us that a rejection of the truth leads to a life of chaos. Paul, as he teaches a young pastor about how to lead us church charges him to hold to the faith, to doctrines that are in accord with the gospel as of primary importance. He writes,
1Timothy 1.19 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith. And if one’s faith is shipwrecked, then their meaning, purpose, hope, joy, security have all been sunk.
someone brings him back
James then tells us that SOMEONE has the responsibility for ANYONE AMONG us who wanders. Is that someone you? It is certainly NOT our responsibility to be sin hunters but to be indifferent to the wandering of those around us is sinful. At the same times, how do you discern who is wandering and who is not? Identifying those who are wandering does not require super-powers, it requires relationship. The fact is the only evidence we have is what people profess with their LIPS and with their LIVES. But even if we have those relationships, what is our attitude toward a wandering brother or friend? We can do a great many things, most of which James has warned us against—criticism, gossip, etc.
Anyone and someone are very vague terms. James seems to use these ambiguous terms specifically as he has used the term elders just a few verses ago. He appears to want to expand the circle of responsibility in the pastoral care of the church. “In other words, the church is a fellowship of mutual care” in which everyone watches over the other’s welfare IN THE THINGS OF GOD, and is on the alert to rescue if need be. IF we love the truth, IF we love one another, we do not just sit back and do nothing. Jesus said in Luke 17. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. And the rebuke must not be harsh, though the truth may feel like it. Paul warns us in Galatians 6.1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.
Our goal is always restoration, not punishment. But I don’t know if we struggle so much with knowing WHAT to say or HOW to say it. We struggle with saying anything to anyone. I don’t think that is necessarily because we aren’t loving, though we can be. A lot of it has to do with fear. We have a greater fear of men than we do of God. It is not as if those who have wandered think they are lost. It is not as if the person who has erred is passively waiting for you to show them the light. The easiest thing to do is to do nothing—though we could, we don’t even pray. But we’re called to do more than pray. If you are the SOMEONE dealing with an ANYONE…God will hold you accountable:
Ezekiel 3.17-19 6 And at the end of seven days, the word of the Lord came to me: 17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 18 If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.
will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Save His Soul
We cannot bring that person back—it is not in our power. But the greatest hope for ALL people we know and those we don’t, is that they will come to the cross. Our desire is to see people saved from hell. Our desire is for people to know that Jesus died for sinners, that his shed blood is sufficient enough to cover everything—that forgiveness, freedom from guilt, and shame is possible. That Jesus lived a perfect life and offers it. And for those who believe, we must see that outside the church are a myriad of people trapped in sin and unable to turn from the error of their way. We must know that the most important thing for them to do is to hear the message of salvation. The truth must be proclaimed. In Romans 10.17, Paul writes that faith comes from hearing the Word of Jesus—the gospel. And, as James as declared in this last chapter, HEALING comes from that gift of faith.
Covers a Multitude of Sins
1Peter 4.8 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Throughout this entire two intimately connected questions are clear. Do you really love God? And if you do, then do you really love people? It is against most of our natures to confront people in love over sin—to tell them that Christ died for ALL of those sins OR tell them that Christ died for THAT sin you think isn’t that big of deal. We either feel it is more loving to let people work out their own issues or avoid conflict all together. James challenges the wisdom of allowing your brother to wander away without saying anything. If someone is blatantly straying from the faith in their actions, or lack thereof, it is our responsibility to help them get back on the right path. This view of love is nauseating to many, because they imagine the worst. They assume that any such action is always rooted in pride and will only result in public humiliation. This is not the picture James has in mind. Everything is to be done with gentleness, respect, and privacy, because they love them enough to want them freed from their sin.
Conclusion – the message we bring
This does not mean that love “sweeps the dirt under the carpet.” In fact, just the opposite—in calling out sin, in calling people to repentance, we proclaim the truth of a loving God cleansed us and brought us back to him. 2Corinthians 5.14-21 14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Many refuse to love others in this way because they feel unworthy. Because we have our own faith struggles, we avoid speaking truth with any sense of authority. How can I help someone with their sin, when I am a sinner myself? Such a qualifier would prevent everyone from helping anyone in this world. We do not help because we have it all together. We help because Jesus’ LOVE outlasts our failure and we want our love to outlast the failure of our brothers and sisters. That is the gospel, that is the core of our church, and that is the message we proclaim with boldness. When sin was confronted with his sin, Cain said, “Am I my brother’s keeper”. James says, yes you are. We are a family, committed to certain truths, and gathered together to stir one another one towards good works and THIS KIND of Love.