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"Rescuing One Another"
James 5:19-20

Wednesday AM Bible Study
December 3, 2003

It would be hard to imagine a more fitting and more practical conclusion to the most practical manuals on pastoral counseling you'll find anywhere. James isn't content with the idea of he being the only one working toward the "good" of the people of God. He turns, in these closing words, to his readers - to us - and calls us to take all that we have learned in this letter and work toward one another's good as well.

The simple message of these closing words is that we have a duty to one another. We have the responsibility of looking out for one another, and coming to one another's rescue whenever we see any of us slipping from the truth that's in Christ and sliding into sin. And he tells us that the believer who comes to the rescue of another in this way brings about a tremendous amount of good.

A. In hiking, the most important rule of all is that the hiker stay on the trail. You must stay on established paths, carefully follow the directional markers, and not deviate from the trail. To wander from the trail can be dangerous. James would have agreed with that rule, and would have stressed it as an important rule in the Christian walk as well. He begins these closing words in his letter by describing a dangerous situation, "Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth ..."
1. He describes a fellow Christian - one of the "brethren" - as doing the wandering. Brethren is James favorite word for his Christian readers; and he uses that name to describe them 15 times in this short letter (1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:1, 10, 12; 4:11; 5:7, 9, 10, 12, 19). And so, the 'wanderer' that he's talking about is someone from within the church - a believer.

2. He describes the believer as "wandering". The word in the Greek that he uses (plana§) means "to go astray" or "to wander about" - that is, to deviate from the right path. It suggests that they were, first, on the path; but then "strayed" off the path.

3. He describes the believer as wandering "from the truth" - not merely "truth" in general, or one of a number of good "truths", but quite specifically and singularly "the truth."

B. Many living in our relativistic culture would consider James's words to be narrow-minded; and would, like Pilate, ask, "What is truth?" But James has not left us in the dark concerning his meaning:

1. Near the beginning of his letter, he speaks of the "word of truth" by which we are "brought forth" by the Father (James 1:18); that is, the Gospel message of His grace through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross as revealed to us through the "word" - the preaching of the Scriptures. This "truth" is something that is so "objective" and apart from ourselves that, when we encounter it, it causes us to be "brought about" or "born" (Eph. 1:13; Col. 1:5; 2 Tim. 2:15).

2. But it also concerns our behavior. It is a word of truth against which we can "lie" through our conduct (3:13-14). Being on the path of "the truth" involves not only believing "the truth" from God, but also "behaving according to "the truth" from God.

3. Truth, then, is not something "subjective", but something that can be objectively declared (John 18:37); objectively received (2 Thess. 2:10); objectively obeyed (Gal. 5:7); objectively manifested (2 Cor. 4:2); objectively practiced (John 3:21); and is objectively life-transforming (1 John 3:18-19). And if it is objective, then it's something that someone can stray from. To wander from objective truth is to be in error.


A. James adds, "and someone turns him back" - that is, turns a wanderer back from error and into the truth. This is the biblical idea of "conversion" - turning back and going the other way from the wrong, sinful direction that they were heading. The Bible tells us that there is a way that seems right, but that leads to death (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25). And it's never God's desire that a man or woman follow down the path of sin that leads to death (Ezekiel 18:30-32).

B. Why is it that, when we see a wandering brother or sister, we hesitate to do anything about it?

1. The pressures we feel from secular culture hinders us. If the prevailing attitude of pluralistic culture is that there's no such thing as an absolute right or wrong; then we feel we have no right to confront someone about their behavior or beliefs.

2. We might find it hard is because of our own sinful apathy. We live in the "Whatever ...!" generation. And that same apathetic attitude has crept into our thinking as Christians.

3. We simply don't know what to do. We aren't sure how to go about it. We're not sure when it's right to confront someone. And so, we do nothing.

C. In many churches, when someone who was a regular attendee for some time simply stops coming, the church just puts them on the 'inactive member' list. But if we don't out and get a wondering brother, then according to James it's not the wandering one who's "inactive" - it's we who are "inactive". The things that should motivate us are (1) a genuine love for the wanderer's soul, and (2) a genuine zeal for God's glory.


A. These two verses constitute what grammarians call a 'conditional sentence' ... an "if 'this' or 'that' is true; then it will follow that 'thus' and 'so' will be the case" sort of thing. The "if" part of the sentence is found in verse 19; and the "then" part is found in verse 20.

B. James introduces the "then" part with the statement, "let him know" or "let it be known". This is important to understand; because it means that all that James has had to say so far about the "rescue" of a wandering brother or sister is meant lead us up to this point, and to bring us to what he wants us now to "know":

1. That such a rescuer will "save his soul from death." (See also James 1:13-15). This is an act that is motivated by love for the soul of the wanderer. It's, if you will, the results from the human perspective. This isn't suggesting that "we" can save anyone. Rather his or her work of "saving a soul" is to be understood in more of an instrumental sense; that is, the rescuer, in presenting himself or herself to God in faithfully "turning" a sinner back from the error of his or her way, becomes the "instrument" in the hand of God by which He saves the soul of the wanderer from the destructive course they are on.

2. Such a rescuer will also "cover a multitude of sins." This is the result as viewed from the divine perspective. The meaning of the word that James used (kalupt§) means to "hide" or "cover" something - sometimes even to literally "throw a veil" over something. The Bible tells us that someone who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion (Proverbs 28:13). And that is what James means by "covering a multitude of sins". It isn't a matter of hiding them in a negative sense, but rather of those sins being confessed, atoned for, and forsaken - all to the glory of God's grace. Sin is "covered" only when God looks upon the sinner as 'justified' and made 'righteous' (Psalm 32:1-5; see also Micah 7:18-19).

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