Sermon on James 5:19-20

by Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on May 27, 2007 by Rev.
Adrian Dieleman, Pastor of Trinity United Reformed Church

James 5:13-20
James 5:19-20
"Rescue the Wanderer"

Our text tells us about one of the nicest things, one of the most important things, that we can do for a brother or a sister in the faith. We can be used of the Lord to rescue someone who is wandering.

I My Brother's Keeper
A In our study of James this is the 23rd message on this book we have been reminded again and again that we need to live out the faith, that we need to be both hearers and doers of the Word. James lets us know we are hypocrites if we sit in church Sunday after Sunday but do not act like Christians. James lets us know that those saved by grace through faith act a certain way:
-they rejoice in trials as a means to grow their faith
-they seek God's wisdom
-they don't show favoritism to the wealthy or expect favoritism because they are wealthy
-they don't take advantage of the poor
-they keep their tongues and pens and keyboards under control
-they are patient in suffering
-they look for the Lord's will in any and every situation

B Throughout this letter we see that James is concerned about and loves his brothers and sisters in the faith. He is taking the time and effort to correct their errors, to point out their faults, to keep them on the path of being and acting as servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. I hope you all realize that this has been my intention throughout these 23 messages too what has been said has been said out of concern and love for brothers and sisters.

C I want you to notice how James ends his letter. James tells us all to go and do the same thing to show concern and love for brothers and sisters.

(James 5:19-20) My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, (20) remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
Just as James has been concerned for his brothers and sisters in the faith, so all of us are to be concerned for our brothers and sisters in the faith. Just as James has corrected errors and faults, so all of us are to correct errors and faults. Just as James has tried to keep fellow believers on the path of being and acting as servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, so all of us are to do the same.

D Do you hear what James is saying about himself? James is saying, "I am my brother's keeper." Do you hear what James wants you and me to say about ourselves? James want you and me to say, "I am my sister's keeper."

We first hear this statement at the beginning of Genesis. You know the story of Cain and Abel. Cain persuaded his brother to go out to the field. And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" "I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?" Not only did Cain lie but he persuaded himself that his brother was not his responsibility.

Cain said, "I am not my brother's keeper." James says, "I am my brother's keeper." There you have it. There you have one of the differences between the believer and the unbeliever. Those who are servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ know they are responsible for one another. They know they are their brother's and sister's keeper.

E "I am my brother's keeper." Throughout the years I have seen two reactions to this statement. Some people are thrilled with the prospect of being their brother's and sister's keeper. They love the thought of getting to meddle in the affairs of others. This kind of thing makes their pulse race with excitement. They are more than eager to identify a problem in a brother's life so they can tell him how to take care of it.

This first reaction is not healthy. This is not the sort of thing James has in mind when he tells us to have concern and love for one another. James has no use for holy meddlers, for those who have a holier than thou attitude.

There is a reason why James' final words are found in the context of confession. Look at verse 16. James says, "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other ..." (James 5:16). This is meant to sound familiar. James is sounding like His brother Jesus. Remember what Jesus said to those who love to point out the sins and errors of others? Jesus said,
(Mt 7:3-5) "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? (4) How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? (5) You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.
Before I can correct my brother I need to correct myself. That is what Jesus is saying. And, that is what James is saying as well.

It is children who delight in pointing out the sins and transgressions of others while ignoring their own. If you have children or grandchildren you have seen this. A brother can pick on his sister, tease her, take her toys, and simply aggravate her. She finally retaliates by biting him or hitting him. He promptly runs to mom and tells her what has happened "she hit me, she bit me" but, of course, he says nothing of what he did that caused this. A wise parent usually asks, "And what did you do to her?"

All too frequently we are more interested in the sins of our brothers and sisters than in our own. We easily report and condemn the sins of brothers and sisters in Christ with no mention of our own. Neither James nor Jesus are impressed with this kind of behavior. That is what children do, those who are immature and childish in their faith.

F "I am my brother's keeper." The second reaction to this statement is more common at least in our culture. It is the reaction of Cain "I am not." "I am not my brother's keeper." "The way other people live is up to them and is none of my business." Those who follow this philosophy think it is highly offensive to stick their nose into other people's business. "Every man to himself." "To your tents, O Israel! Look after your own house, O David!" (1 Kings 12:16).
A man applied for a job as a usher at a theater in the mall. The manager asked him, "What would you do in case a fire breaks out?" The young man answered, "Don't worry about me. I can get out on my own."
"I am not my brother's or sister's keeper." "I am not responsible for what happens to him or her." "That is their responsibility and their problem." This is the most common reaction in today's world.

But what does James says? What does Jesus say? "I am my brother's keeper." There is not a single one of us who has not needed correction from time to time. There is not a single one of us who has not been headed down the wrong path from time to time. In those times, thank God for a brother or a sister who has taken us aside and corrected us or rebuked us when we have wandered.

II A Wandering Brother or Sister
A James speaks to us this evening of a wandering brother (or sister).

What does this wandering brother or sister look like? Who are they?

First of all, they are a brother or a sister. They are not outside of the church. They are a fellow believer. They are a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Don't forget, James is writing to believers who were persecuted and scattered for their faith. Some of these believers decided to leave the faith rather than endure persecution.

Here in America we don't suffer outward persecution for our faith. Yet, there are many who simply stop attending worship.

Then there are those brothers and sisters who somehow get caught up in the strange teachings of a sect or cult. They start believing unbiblical things and start doing unbiblical things.

Some brothers and sisters come under the control of a powerful sin or addiction. They don't recognize what is happening to them. They don't realize they are in the grip of something more powerful than they are.

Some brothers and sisters get so caught up in worldly things, in money or pleasure or children or work, that they have no time left for God.

Some brothers and sisters become angry and bitter because of a fight, because of money problems, out of jealousy, due to an illness. They allow their anger and bitterness to draw them away from God.

Are you as close to Jesus as you used to be? Was there ever a time in your life when you were more consecrated to the Lord than you are now? Was there ever a period in your life when you felt the presence of God more than your feel it now? Was there a moment in your life when your love for Jesus was more real than it is this minute? Was there an instance in your life when you were more faithful in Bible reading and prayer than you are now? If you say "yes" to any of these questions maybe you are wandering?!
Topic: Backsliding
Index: 993
Date: 5/1989.6

Robert Robinson had been saved out of a tempestuous life of sin through George Whitefield's ministry in England. Shortly after that, at the age of twenty-three, Robinson wrote a hymn:
Come, Thou Fount of ev'ry blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace,
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.

Sadly, Robinson wandered far from those streams and, like the Prodigal Son, journeyed into the distant country of sin. Until one day -- he was traveling by stagecoach and sitting beside a young woman engrossed in her book. She ran across a verse she thought was beautiful and asked him what he thought of it:
Prone to wander -- Lord, I feel it --
Prone to leave the God I love.

Bursting into tears, Robinson said, "Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then."

-- Kenneth W. Osbeck, 101 Hymn Stories, p. 52.
Robinson was backsliding. He had wandered from the faith.

B James uses the word "wander." This makes me think of a sheep. A lost sheep doesn't wander off with the intention of getting lost. It sees a tuft of grass and goes to it; then it sees another and goes to it; then it sees another ... and pretty soon it has wandered away from the rest of the sheep and is lost.

My experience tells me very few Christians intentionally wander away from the Lord and the church and the truth. It happens little by little. It happens gradually over time. It happens when we don't pay careful attention. This reminds me a bit of Samson. His girlfriend told him the Philistines were coming and he got up not realizing "the Lord had left him" (Judges 16:20).

This matter of straying sheep is more serious than we might want to admit. The loss of souls who were once faithful Christians is a disaster. Some have estimated that over a period of time the church loses up to fifty percent of those who are baptized. Whatever the figure, it is too high!

III Bring Him Back
A Sometimes brothers and sisters do wander from the truth. We can't say "I am not my brother's keeper." James says I have a responsibility to reach out to my brother or sister and "bring them back" (James 5:19). I have a responsibility to rescue the wanderer. The Apostle Paul challenges us in a similar way when he says:
(Gal 6:1-2) Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. (2) Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Isn't this amazing?! What an awesome responsibility God is placing on all our shoulders!

Here is a reminder that discipline is not just the responsibility of the elders and the pastor. We all have a responsibility to disciple one another. We are being challenged to rescue those straying souls!

Remember what Jesus said in the "Parable of the Lost Sheep"? His words are instructive here:
(Luke 15:4) "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?"
Jesus is placing the burden of seeking and saving lost sheep and lambs in our hands. The world, of course, is not interested in restoring lost Christians. Other lost Christians are not going to do it. If faithful Christians do not do it, it will not be done.

B When a brother or sister begins to wander and becomes unfaithful, there are a number of ways we can react. We can ignore the problem and do nothing. We can give up on the person in disgust and wash our hands of responsibility and say "I am not my brother's keeper." We can treat him or her harshly driving them further into sin. Or we can go to that straying Christian in love and "in a spirit of gentleness" (Gal 6:1). The last is the challenge given us by James.

C "If one of you should wander from the truth ... bring him back."

How do we do this?

It is no accident that James places these final words of his where he does. There is a reason why James' final words are found in the context of prayer. Just a few verses earlier James tells us to "pray for each other" (James 5:16).

It starts off with prayer. We need to pray for the wandering brother and sister. We need to pray for them by name. We need to pour out our heart before heaven's gate and God's mercy seat because "the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (James 5:16).

As Paul puts it, we also need to have "a spirit of gentleness" (Gal 6:1). No room for hostility. No room for a holier than thou or self-righteous attitude. No room for harsh words. No room for disgust and anger. We need to reach out in love and with love.

"I am my brother's keeper." It is my responsibility to bring back a wandering brother or sister. And when I do, when they return to the Lord, they experience God's abundant grace and mercy. When they happens there is joy in heaven and joy on earth.

You can e-mail the Pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church

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