Summary: “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*
*A Responsibility we Dare not Neglect*
“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.”
No sheep ever decided to get lost; but sheep do nevertheless become lost. No Christian ever came into the Faith with a determination to stray; but Christians do stray. No child of God ever began to follow the Saviour with the desire to turn aside after false teachers; but children of the Living God are led astray by false teachers. Worse still, believers can and do deceive themselves, straying into error and deserting the path of righteousness.
James concludes his letter to early Christians with a blunt statement emphasising our shared responsibility for the welfare of all the sheep. His statement flies in the face of contemporary ecclesiology, and undoubtedly insults the teaching of many church experts. However, we take our instruction and draw our faith from the Word of God, and not from the experts. Therefore, we are compelled to apply the instruction James gives us to our own life as a community of faith.
*Prone to Wander* — “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth…” The hymn writer has spoken a great truth that applies to each of us when he wrote:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.
A propensity for straying marks sheep—it is the reason they require a shepherd, often accompanied by a guard dog. And a proclivity for wandering marks the people of God. The Old Testament at times appears to be one dismal account of the people of God turning from pursuing hard after the Living God to following their own desires.
Consider, for instance, one of the Psalms of Asaph.
“Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
things that we have heard and known,
that our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.
“He established a testimony in Jacob
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
and that they should not be like their fathers,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
whose spirit was not faithful to God.”
That Psalm continues, adding incident to incident each pointing to the bent for rebellion that marked God’s chosen people. Despite delivering them repeatedly, they “sinned still more against Him” [verse 17a], rebelled against the Most High [verse 17b], “tested God in their heart” [verse 18] and “spoke against God” [verse 19]. Later, the author says that “despite His wonders, they did not believe” [verse 32b]. In summation, “they tested God again and again” [verse 41a]. A minority of the people that had been delivered from Egypt grumbled against Moses and Aaron [see *Exodus 15:24*], and their complaining led to widespread dissent [*Exodus 16:2*] that brought the newly delivered people to the brink of destruction [see *Numbers 11:1 ff.*; *14:1 ff., 28 ff.*].
It is a dark history, and one which Stephen uses to rebuke religious leaders in Israel when he was compelled to offer a defence of his service before the Saviour. “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it” [*Acts 7:51-53*].
Tragically, that propensity to stray has not been eradicated from God’s people in this age. Each of us is disposed to turn aside to our own way, imagining that we know what is best. I believe that the tendency is exaggerated among us who live in North America. We have developed a culture marked by rugged individualism, in which we are trained from infancy to stand alone against the ravages of life. Our heroes are stalwart individuals who require nothing of others and who stand firm against every form of evil. To a degree, this reflects a healthy sense of responsibility for oneself; however, it does not meet the biblical criteria for life in the Body. Here, within the Body of Christ, we bear responsibility for one another.