Ok, this week will be the conclusion of our study of the book of James. I hope that you have enjoyed this series as much as I have. Last week was a whirlwind of information that included a strong rebuke of rich oppressors, encouragement to persevere in trial-hardship, and not to allow our trials-hardships to cause negative behavior like anger, resentment, grumbling, or complaining. James also reminds us of the power of prayer and encourages us to confess our sins one to another so that we can find healing and victory. However, most of our attention and focus was on James 5:19-20. So, I’ll try to finish that today.
“My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” James 5:19-20 NIV
The importance of truth can never be understated, but again what truth is James referring? If he is telling us not to “wander” away from the truth, then it’s probably a good idea if we know what kind of truth he is talking about, right? Of course, the truth that James is telling us not to wander away from is ἀλήθεια (alétheia), which is the Greek word used for truth in this passage. Again, it’s the same word that Jesus used when He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6). It’s also the same word for truth that other Biblical writers use. This is no ordinary truth. It’s not “my truth” or someone’s idea or version of truth. It is a “divine truth” revealed to man by God himself. Therefore, this truth is absolute or not qualified or diminished in any way because God cannot be qualified or diminished in any way. God is all powerful, all knowing, and always present. He is absolute, total, or complete in every way.
Human beings don’t like absolutes or absolute truth. Many choose not to believe that absolute truth exists. Why? Because and absolute truth requires submission and adherence. There is no debate because it is absolutely true. Most of humanity prefers a truth that is more subjective or based on perspective, feelings, or opinions that we have more control over.
Let’s go back to James 4:7-10 that says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up”. James is not the first or the only Biblical writer to talk about submitting to God. Submission to God is commanded and referred to throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Jesus summarizes it in Matthew 22: 37 when He says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” This “love” or Ἀ
Even the human part of Jesus was subject to a higher truth and authority. In Luke 22:42 Jesus says, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Jesus is praying in the garden of Gethsemane right before He was going to be arrested, tried, and crucified. He is asking or requesting that His heavenly Father remove or take this cup or burden of suffering away from Him. Who wouldn’t be terrified, want out of this situation, and say that this wasn’t in their best interests? But the incarnate or fleshly embodiment of Jesus submits to His Father’s will, authority, and absoluteness because it is the greatest expression of His love for His heavenly Father.
If Jesus would have sinned and failed to submit to God’s will, He would have been an unworthy sacrifice. In order for us to receive complete atonement for sin, Jesus had to be spotless, undefiled, and untainted by sin. I Peter 1:18-19 says, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” Other Biblical translations say a “lamb without blemish or without spot”. The Greek word for “defect” in verse 19 is ἀσπίλου (aspilou) and it means spotless, undefiled, pure, without stain, and sinless. Jesus couldn’t “wander” away from the will or truth of God out of preference, feelings, or His own opinion, and still be the perfect-sinless-spotless sacrifice.
Ultimately, disobeying the will of God or wandering from the truth of God is sin and has to be corrected according to James 5:19-20. This wandering away from the truth of God leads us into “error” and needs to be corrected to ”save us from death and cover over a multitude of sins”. Again, it’s meant to be protective, not restrictive. The Greek word for “error” in this passage is πλάνης (planēs). This is defined as deceit, delusion, or sin. The good news is that God has given us an opportunity to “correct the error of our ways”. That opportunity is provided by Jesus Christ who was errorless, sinless, and completely qualified to save us from destruction.
However, this doesn’t stop humanity from trying every possible way to get out of it. Instead of saying, ”yet not my will, but yours be done”, we wander, deny, ignore, and suppress the truth of God. Romans 1:18 says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,” To suppress or κατεχόντων (katechontōn) the truth is to hold or push it away; to bind, arrest, or restrain it in such a way that it can’t be used against us. In a sense it’s being held hostage or hidden. The truth is being denied access to our reality. We don’t want to deal with it, so we get rid of it or try to escape from it. We cast it out or suppress it into the deep recesses of our minds. We don’t want to hear it like when we’re little kids and put our fingers in our ears and repeat loudly “I’m not listening. I’m not listening”!
Humanity has become very skilled in our ability to suppress the truth of God, but it hasn’t diminished or disqualified it. Paul explains this in Romans 1:21-23 when he says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.” We can fool ourselves and others, but we can’t fool an absolute and omnipotent God. His truth exists whether we choose to recognize it or not.
Before I finish, I just wanted to revisit James 5:20 which reminds us that “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” James doesn’t go into any detail on just how to do that, but Jesus does in Matthew 18:15-20. In verse 15 Jesus says, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” That’s step 1. Steps 2 and 3 ramp up the intensity to involve others. Ultimately, If the sinner doesn’t listen or turn from their error, they are to be treated as a “pagan or tax collectors”, which is not very pleasant. So, this passage should help dispel the myth that Jesus is okay with everybody doing whatever they want whenever they want without any consequences or repercussions.
The Apostle Paul also gives us some direction on this topic in Galatians 6:1 where he says, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” In Philippians 4:5 Paul says, “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” 1 Peter 3:15 also refers to being gentle and respectful when giving “an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” So, it’s important how we communicate with those who either don’t believe or who have wandered from the truth. We have to be careful and compassionate. Our objective is restoration and reconciliation with God not an opportunity to judge, condemn, or lord it over someone else. We have no right to do that anyway because we have “all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. (Romans 3:23 NIV) Instead of becoming overzealous, overbearing, mean spirited, judgmental, holier than thou, or weaponizing our faith, we are encouraged to practice our spiritual gifts like gentleness, kindness, respect, love, patience, long suffering, etc. We also have to keep in mind that we’re not responsible for how the wayward sinner responds, but we are responsible for our presentation. If we’re not careful, we can do more harm than good.
The truth of God that is outlined in this tiny book of James is powerful. It is also consistent with the rest of scripture. He is not writing his own version of truth. He is relying on the inspiration of God, and what he witnessed and heard from his brother Jesus to share these truths with us. As always it would be great to know more, but I trust the Lord that this is enough for now. I’m not worried about what God didn’t say but what He does say in the Bible including the book of James. I agree with Peter when he said, “His (God’s) divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”
Okay, that’s it, a lot to take in, digest, and unpack. I’m sure I’ve missed some things, but I hope that this series and others have been encouraging, uplifting, challenging, and thought provoking. I know it has been for me. Most of all I hope that it brings us closer to the Lord in every way.
Have a great weekend! Love y’all!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC