Meditations in James: 56: Recovering the Wanderer
Jas 5:19,20 My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins
Someone in the past has said that the church is the only army that shoots its injured! Having watched the church over quite a number of years, it does seem that there is this tendency that writes off, or ‘shoots’ those who fall. The only thing is, that when Jesus said, “This is my command: Love each other,” (Jn 15:17), he didn’t add, “only when you are all doing all right!” Paul, in his letter to the Galatians said, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” (Gal 6:1). Note the word, restore. Yes, there are times, when there is no repentance, when it is right to bring spiritual discipline (see 1 Cor 5), but we need to constantly remember that Jesus died for sinners and is there for us when we fail (1 Jn 2:1), desiring to draw us back into a good place with God.
Now why, I wonder, does James finish his letter on this note? Is it perhaps that he is aware that he has spoken a lot about having a right relationship with the Lord and he has almost given ammunition to the ‘Pharisees’ among us to pick up on some of what he has said and use it like the Law to point fingers at those who appear less spiritual. This is the point, isn’t it, that living in the world as we do, we are prone to drift. Hence he says, if one of you should wander from the truth. It is easy to get distracted living in this Fallen World, and drift off the path. These are a whole range of things that James has covered, that indicate this possibility. So James is picking up on the possibility that his readers may be left pointing fingers at those who don’t quite measure up. It’s interesting that he seems to assume that the response will be and someone should bring him back but perhaps that is his gentle way of nudging his readers into that position. The fact that he then continues, Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins seems to indicate that he is having to remind or encourage them into doing that.
It’s as if he is saying, “Look, isn’t it much better that you should reach out to those who are drifting and draw them back. If they are left to themselves they could completely drift away to the worst possible end. If you draw them back you’ll be recovering them and their past failures will be just that, in the past!” Although there are times in this letter when James appears right in your face over particular issues, as he comes to the end of it, the real concern of the pastor comes out, grace abounding.
When we consider, as we have done all the way through, that this is a letter to the church that is now dispersed into the world these are word specifically for this situation. The final closing words of this pastor-teacher are basically, “Keep it together guys, pick up those who are falling, hold together and be there for one another.” That in a nutshell, is what the corporate Christian life is all about – God is there for you; you be there for one another. It may appear an abrupt ending when we first see these words, but when we consider the context and all that has gone before, we see they are words of concern for the church to be the church. Where else do you find a group of people who are not driven by discipline (army corps), competition (MP’s and companies), or legalistic rule-keeping requirements or cultural expectations (some world religions)? Within the church, the motivation is the love of God that has been experienced and the presence of God who is love (1 Jn 4:8). Love is the motivating and energising force that we know. May our lives reflect the heart the James shares as he closes this letter.