This Sunday we conclude our text in the Epistle of James.
This letter has more exhortations than any book of the New Testament, yet we see over and over James’ heart for the people of the church, as an elder and pastor. Fourteen times James addresses the church “my brethren,” exhorting them to heed what he has to say! He is often calling the church to make our calling and election sure and to persevere in the faith. He does this first by stressing that trials have a purpose. “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:2-3). James goes on in this letter to give us the tools we need to run our race in this world; we need patience, wisdom and true saving faith. He also fills the epistle with vivid illustrations from the Old Testament that strengthen his points about perseverance. James 1:22 exhorts, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” He closes chapter 1 with an example of true religion in verse 27 – “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”
In chapter 2 James looks at the hypocrisy of looking at the outer man and the riches of the world at the expense of the poor. We are not to show partiality and in doing so bear fruit characteristic of one saved by God. He continues with that classic illustration of faith and works in 2:14-26 and closes the illustration with these words, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”
Chapter 3 first considers the teacher and his responsibility before God, but then quickly moves into a deep look at the tongue, – the words that flow out of our mouths – announcing that one who bears the name of Christ will control what he says, in the meekness of wisdom.
Chapter 4 discusses one who loves the world and the earthly pleasures that it gives. James 4:4 warns, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Over and over James contrasts the life of a believer and one who wanders.
In chapter 5 James opens with a call to persevere under condemnation, we are called to suffer with patience.
James 5:8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. As James closes, he addresses the prayer of the righteous and confession of sin in verses 13-18.
All these things and more that James handles in this epistle, highlight what a true Christian’s walk looks like, and what it looks like when one errs or wanders from the truth. This is the very thing that James leaves us with in 5:19-20: Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.
This is a call to every believer! If one among us should wander from that which James calls the truth, it is the responsibility of the rest of us to try to turn him back! This stresses the care we are to have for one another. It’s easy to ignore sin and look the other way, but we are a family, adopted children of God, and James calls you to be used by God at times to bring one back into the fold. He’s not calling you to be a heretic hunter, or to condemn your brother or sister to the fires of hell, but to turn them, to bring them back into the fold, with the goal of restoring the wandering one to a knowledge of their salvation, and that their sins are covered by the death and resurrection of Christ alone.
My brethren what a blessing it is to be used by God to bring an erring brother or sister back from whatever they may be erring in. Its worth is unfathomable! How do we do this? James doesn’t elaborate, but from the rest of Scripture we see that it is to be done gently, in love, prayer, correction, patience, and when necessary by discipline as a church body. But in all cases, the goal is restoration of a brother or sister in Christ.