James 5:19,20


Bible Study Notes
Do Not Stray From the Truth
James 5:19,20


The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh, Senior Pastor at Indian Hills Community Church in Lincoln, NE. The text has been edited and condensed by IHCC staff for use as a Bible Study aid.

Intro. - The Book of James ends rather abruptly with no closing words of personal recognition or greeting. Yet it is a fitting closing to a letter that places strong emphasis on the importance of demonstrating our faith in the way we live.

As he closes his letter, James is concerned to show the importance of living consistently with the Word of God. Departure from the truth by a child of God results in discipline from the Lord. This discipline often takes the form of physical illness and even death.

This being the case, it is of utmost importance that believers be involved in restoring the walks of others who have wandered from the truth. This is the focus of James as he closes his letter.

Verses 19 and 20 connect closely with verses 13-18.

5:19 -
My brethren
again draws attention to the bond that James felt with his readers. He has spoken very dogmatically, using some harsh words. But these have come from a love for them as fellow members of the body of Christ.

if any among you - This identifies the person that he is talking about as a fellow believer (cf. 5:13,14). The phrase strays from the truth pictures the sin that this believer is guilty of committing. He has wandered away from the truth as God has revealed it (cf. 1:18; 3:14).

The word to stray (planethe) is used in the Old and New Testaments of those who depart from the path that God would have them follow. It is aptly pictured as a sheep wandering away from the flock (cf. Matt. 18:12; 1 Pet. 2:25).

The truth is both something to be believed and something to be lived. A person can depart from the truth by not believing what God has said (cf. 2 Tim. 2:18) and also by not living according to what God has said (cf. 1 Cor. 5:11).

turns him back (epistrepse) - This was used by Christ in reference to the defection and restoration of Peter (cf. Luke 22:32).

The word one would indicate that this process is not limited to the elders who were mentioned earlier. Every believer should be open to involvement in this kind of situation. Perhaps verses 19 and 20 fit before verse 14 in the order of events as they would actually take place.

5:20 -
The command let him know (ginoskete, pres. act. imp.) is something that believers need to understand and appreciate. The work of restoring a wandering Christian is of tremendous importance and well worth the toil and agony that are often involved.

turns a sinner - Again, this is a reference to bringing a wandering believer back to a right relationship with God (cf. verses 15,16). It involves helping the sinning Christian turn away from his sinful behavior and walk as God intends him to walk.

The word error (planes) is the same basic word translated strays in verse 19.

Two things are accomplished when a sinning Christian is turned from the error of his way:

  1. A soul is saved from death.
  2. A multitude of sins are covered.

The word translated will save (sosei) is the same word translated will restore in 5:15.

his soul from death - This refers to the preserving of his physical life. The word soul is referring to the man himself.

The phrase will cover a multitude of sins is also expressed at the end of verse 15. It is the forgiveness of the sin of the believer who is under the discipline of God. To cover sins is to "cause them to be forgotten," or "procure forgiveness" (cf. Ps. 32:l; 85:2). This expression is used in Proverbs 10:12 and 1 Peter 4:8.

By turning a sinning Christian from his wandering ways, we provide the occasion for God to wipe away the sins rather than bring discipline for them.

What James has been saying here is consistent with what is taught in the rest of Scripture. The principle was set down by James in 1:15.

Physical death was often associated with rebellion on the part of the people of God in the Old Testament:

  1. Moses (Num. 20:12; Deut. 34) - Note his death did not follow his rebellion for several years.
  2. Korah (Num. 16).
  3. David's son (2 Sam. 12) - The consequences of our sin are not limited to us alone.

In the New Testament Paul talks about sickness and death being used as discipline by God upon His children for sin in their lives (cf. I Cor. 11:30-32).

This is the same thing John wrote about at the close of his first epistle (cf. 1 John 5:16).

God's discipline is always exercised out of love for his children. In fact, His discipline is a testimony of His love for us (cf. Heb. 12:4-13).

What James has said demonstrates the importance of our being involved in helping fellow believers turn from sin. The procedure set down by Christ gives us guidelines to follow (cf. Matt. 18:15-20).

Sin is a serious matter before God. It necessitated the death of His Son on the cross to pay the penalty for sin. We ought never to deceive ourselves into thinking God excuses or finds our sinful conduct acceptable (cf. James 1:15,16).

Godly living by His grace is God's unchanging requirement for all His children (cf. Titus 2:11-14).

Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977. All quotations used by permission.

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Permission was received from Indian Hills Community Church for the posting of this file on Bible Bulletin Board. Our gratitude to the Holy Spirit for leading Pastor Gil Rugh to preach/teach messages that are bold, and doctrinally sound—they are so needful to this generation.

Tony Capoccia
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