Summary: Caring Christians rescue straying sinners
Take a look around you and answer this question? Who is not here today that should be? Think about that for a minute. Some of you have been members here at TFC for many years and as you think back, you can probably think of a lot of people who were once part of this body who are no longer here. And even if you’ve only been here a short time, you can probably think of some people who you no longer see here.
There are obviously a lot of reasons that those people are no longer here. Some have left this earth and gone to be with the Lord. Others have moved out of town. Some are not here this morning because they are sick or on vacation. Some have left for various reasons and are now active in another good Bible-teaching church here in town. But we all know that there are some who have just kind of drifted away from the church totally. I want you to think for a moment particularly about those people. Who does God bring to your mind?
Take a moment and write down the names of those who God brings to your mind. I’ve given you some space on your sermon outline to do that. And I’m going to ask you to pray about this some more this week and see who else God brings to your mind. And at the end of this message this morning I’m going to ask all of us to do some rescue work in those lives. We’ll use our time together this morning to be better equipped to do that.
Turn in your Bibles to James chapter 5. This morning we’ll wrap up this nearly six month journey that we’ve been on through James’ letter to the Jewish believers. Since we’ll only be covering two verses this morning, let’s go ahead and read the passage out loud together:
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 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.
(James 5:19-20 ESV)
This passage, like some others we’ve encountered in James’ letter, raises some difficult issues and, not surprisingly there is far from universal agreement about these matters. So I’m certainly going to get up here this morning and claim that I’ve got it all figured out. But as I struggled personally with some of those issues over the past couple of weeks, the conclusion I reached is that there is more than enough here that is clear that we can make practical use of it in our day to day lives. And I’m confident that is exactly what James would want us to do.
I don’t know about you, but I’m really struck by the bluntness of the close of James letter here. It’s certainly unlike the other letters we find in the New Testament. With the exception of 1 John, every other New Testament epistle ends with either some kind of greeting to the readers of that letter or a benediction or doxology of some kind. But it seems that James is more of a “get to the point” kind of guy. So instead of using some kind of flowery words at the end of his letter, he closes with one last call to action.
Before we move on let me just quickly address a couple of the controversies regarding this passage. I don’t want to waste our time arguing about the correct interpretation, but since you are likely to come face to face with these issues at some point, I want you to at least be aware of them.
Two questions that this passage raises:
1. About whom is James writing – believers or unbelievers?
When James refers to those among his audience that have wandered from the truth, is he referring to his fellow believers who have fallen into sin or is he referring to those within the body who claim to be believers, but who have never been genuine Christ followers? Well known scholars and pastors have made well reasoned arguments to support both positions.
On one hand James calls them “sinners” and in the New Testament that term is usually, but not always, used to refer to those who have never dealt with the sin in their lives through faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. We’ll deal with the issue of what James means by death in just a moment, but at least on the surface, the idea of saving a soul from death also tends to lend support to the idea that James is writing about unbelievers here.
On the other hand, James does address his audience as “my brothers”. And the idea of bringing back someone who has wandered from the truth sounds more like James has a fellow believer in mind here.