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AM Bible Study Archives
"Rescuing One Another"
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.
I THE DANGEROUS SITUATION HE DESCRIBES (v. 19a).
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
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.
II. THE RESCUE OPERATION HE EXHORTS. (v. 19b).
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
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
III. THE RESULTS OF FOLLOWING THROUGH (v. 20).
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