Final Exhortation -- Notes on James 5:19-20
We have learned from our prior study that two essential parts of the believer's life is prayer and praise, whether in times of joy or times of sorrow. (Ponder on Romans 8!)
As we focus on the last two verses of James' epistle, we find a final exhortation-- that is, for believers to bring back one who is among them, if he wanders from the truth.
What is the "truth" referred to here? God's word as the truth? (John 17:17) Jesus as the truth? (14:6) The Gospel as the truth? (Eph 1:13). John 1:1 and 1:14 make clear that Christ is the living Word, he is the truth, and the reason we have the Gospel.
To stray from the truth, then, is to be led away from Jesus, His word, from the Gospel that we are to proclaim and live out.
Concerning the "one" who is led away, two trains of thought can be examined. Could James be referring to one who is a part of the assembly but is really not a genuine believer, as described in 1 John 2:18-19; or is James thinking of one, who although a genuine believer, is living a life that is inconsistent with the truth? If the latter, such a one can be described as one who is no longer walking in a manner worthy of his calling (See Eph. 4:1-3).
Based on James' repeated call in his epistle for "brethren" to show their faith by their works, the straying one that James refers to here is more likely a genuine believer who needs restoration. Indeed, we find a similar exhortation in Galatians 6:1-4 during which Paul calls for the spiritual to restore a brother who is caught in any transgression. Also, in the case of Peter, we find an example of a genuine believer being restored by Christ himself.
What James says next is an encouragement to the one who restores a wandering brother-- that is, "he will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins." Heb 9:11-14 is clear that it is through Jesus that we are saved, which reminds us that we need to be continually dependent on the Lord. By His grace and through the enablement of the Holy Spirit, we can obey His command to watch for and care for each other. Let us, therefore, encourage one another and when one strays, let us pray for and work towards his or her restoration.
Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be
Let that goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here's my heart, oh, take and seal it
Seal it for thy courts above.
-Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing