One of the most grievous things in the life of a pastor is to see people, even those who have served well at one time, walk away from the values of truth and the things of God. Having done this now for about 40 years, it would not take long for me to make quite a list of sad departures. I often think back upon sweet times together and warm conversations about spiritual truth in the midst of mutual service, and then wonder how that same person could have drifted and dropped so far.
James, the pastor of the church in Jerusalem, writes to his scattered brethren …
James 5:19 – My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
If you know anything about astronomy, you know that the word “planets” means “wanderers” – named such by the ancients as they saw stars that did not stay in place but rather wandered across the sky. That is the exact same Greek word used here, speaking of someone who has gotten off the path and is lost.
When people drop away from a public profession of faith, does this reveal that they never actually knew the Lord with a genuine relationship; or are they Christian family folks who have drifted from the truth due to sin, confusion, poor responses to difficult circumstances, etc.? Commentators differ as to which of these categories James has in mind of the wandering sinner.
I am not sure we can often know which of these categories a wandering person fits within. In several situations that come quickly to mind of some of our own church-raised youth who have not now gone on to follow Christ, I feel like I saw some very genuine works of Christ in and through them. I have hopes and prayers that they will one day return to the high value of faith that they are now sublimating for some earthly reason. Yet again, people are able to play a role with all of the attendant phraseology that is but a mere appearance of genuine eternal life. We can’t know for sure.
But in any event, the responsibility is the same – to call them back from the error of their way. The need is to love them so much that you communicate that you can’t just let them go on a path toward death and destruction … that they need to return with you to the right path.
This can be difficult to do. It does not always end well. I have both family and former friends who won’t relate with me anymore because I’ve spoken to them about their state of wandering.
But there are those who are (perhaps not even consciously) just waiting and hoping for someone who will care for them enough to come rescue them from a situation where they see no escape.
In either event, the effort is worth it. James exhorts the believers to make this a regular pattern of life in the body. It is the correct thing to do. On one hand, you might have a person angry because you came after them, and on the other hand a person who is irritated because you didn’t. But the rescue responsibility remains as an action of compassion and ultimate caring. The rewards could be truly eternal.