Reclaiming the Wanderer (James 5:19-20)

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.

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About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed multiple hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and have been a sportswriter for various publications and online venues. My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with the Antietam Battlefield Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

6 thoughts on “Reclaiming the Wanderer (James 5:19-20)

  1. I don’t want to make a long comment because each point I’ll start to make requires clarification and additional scriptures to support.

    NIV Galatians 6:1 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. (Gal. 6:1 NIV)

    In one of Johns letters it was clear that someone was exalting himself and driving out true Christians from the church. So there are people outside the church who wander or who find themselves without a church because of the flaws of the church.

    More can be written but scripture says we are to do everything in love. Anything else I could write would or should just back that up.

    13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.
    14 Do everything in love. (1 Cor. 16:13-14 NIV)

    • Wow..

      Thank you Tom

      At my last church the women decided to have a fellowship meeting in a crowded restaurant. I went and I was told by one of the women there who I had been praying for for 3-4 years that “everyone hated me, nobody liked me, so why don’t I just go back where I came from”. She was a member for maybe 2 years, I have been a member for 21.

      I left that day…
      After of course talking to the Pastor and First Lady who told me they weren’t going to do anything, this was just something I had to take bc she was a new christian.

      All of this to say, we always think about the person causing the problem and those that confront. But we never really consider the man who was working for God, in their calling, and got called out for no reason. Aren’t we responsible for them too? If your right eye offends you, you are told to pluck it out. What happens when it offends me?

      I think that since the pastor member ratio at a church like Tristate is like (. 0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000475 to 1) we really have to start helping each other. Or we are going to see a lot more casualties

      • Your comment brings up a lot of thoughts.
        1) Cruelty of the comment made to you. (If it was made because of any of your faults — they did not address the fault in any way that you could grow from.)

        2) The immaturity of the person making the comment.

        3) How best to address the immaturity of the person making the comment.

        4) Did the immature person assemble with other immature people in that church (a possible subset) perhaps other worldly minded people in that church and the person was in what is called an “echo chamber” of several gossipy people who resented your spiritual focus …

        5) Could the minister and wife have replied differently … said they would give the matter prayer for example or even address certain attitude problems in a sermon or whatever?

        6) Is the minister the first “go to person” when we have a trial? Should there be other spiritual people in the church who can address issues without embroiling the minister? Or would the leadership of that church even get upset if other people than the ministers give spiritual advice? (Keep in mind a natural tendency to get jealous … Example Joshua telling Moses to have certain people stop prophesying or the disciples telling Jesus that other people than the apostles were preaching the gospel and the disciples told Jesus that they commanded those people preaching to “stop” because they were not in the inner clique.)

        7) We’ve all got our lives to tend to. “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.” (Prov. 14:10 NIV) (There are obvious limitations to this verse. For example we are commanded to rejoice with those who rejoice etc.) Yet the point is just as a normal fact of life we often have our individual triumphs and failures, joys and sorrows … and these things we tend to have alone.

        Our fractured society is very, very impersonal. In some societies like North Korea people need to keep their thoughts very private lest they get reported and sent away to a prison/labor camp. Wickedness in society leads people to be circumspect. NIV Proverbs 28:28 “When the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding; but when the wicked perish, the righteous thrive.” And because of wickedness in society people sometimes have to keep a bit quiet. “Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil.” (Amos 5:13 NIV)

        Even Jesus was quiet before Herod (though he had many reasons — including that God’s purpose was for him to crucified and Jesus wasn’t going to fast talk his way out of the difficult reason for his coming in the flesh — to die for our sins.

        Yet for most Americans we are cut off from normal interaction that took place in Jesus time. We don’t get our news from the people around us. We get it from radio or tv or the internet or some still get it from newspapers. We might listen to people with certain opinions and slants and other people who could live in a neighboring apartment or neighoring house might get news from people who sarcastically criticize opinions or politicians that another neighbor really likes. Not only that – we get our entertainment not from enjoying each other’s company but from books, tv or the internet or the radio that the person next to us doesn’t normally follow. In any case many things in life separate us from others …

        I could elaborate and speak about the huge role government has in people’s lives giving enormous (collectively) assistance to people. The key point here is that because the government “cares” for peoples physical needs … we lose a bit of personal connection. I’m not trying to argue about what “should be” the way in which assistance is provided … just that the government has that role (usurped or not) and that lessens the amount of assistance that people in the church tend to give each other. It also causes people to be blind to the needs of others in the church too. (Yet take that with a grain of salt because I am on the far outskirts of the church we attend.) (An analysis of why that is would probably take a chapter’s worth or writing and I’m not about to do that here. Beside I ought to get some sleep for work is busy right now … and I’ll need to go to work later.)

  2. Pastor Randy
    I think you and Pastor Tim are the greatest pastors I know.

    With that being said I have come here, to Maryland and have encountered, at the very least, a “smorgasborg”, is that a word here? Well, an overflowing buffet of terms and elegant preachers who have in fact tickled my fancy so to speak. But I look at the people in Tristate and I wonder is it real? Are grace and forgiveness real or are they just party terms? I find more than ever now that “people are just people”

    While what I’ve seen here is my first taste of the true God, and He IS GOOD! Most have not experienced Him. So I find myself ducking and looking for folks, sinners saved by this very same grace who dont look like me but my spirit jumps when I see them because they look LIKE me!

    As for the few others that would rather travel the broad road, I say let them. God may have many lessons to teach that broad way traveler. It wasn’t through caroling, gift-giving and stocking rolling that God taught Jonah but through that hard knock life. Hopefully they will wake up before its too late.
    Because well there’s this one scripture, God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. So right now they or I am awful proud. I am mighty good prodigal son proud and puffed up. But because I am proud, because I want to go my way, I believe satan gets excited because the world isn’t their enemy God is. He opposes me because of my pride.

    I’ve been there, am there and will struggle with staying away from there.

    I am this person everyday…

  3. And just one more thing…

    The bible says Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. Meaning these people are not just rebelling against God but they have made an ‘art’ or a ‘craft’ out of it. And they will employ whoever they can to fund their ‘arts’ and ‘crafts’. This is why I believe the witch at Endor was shook because she knew what her dark arts and crafts were going to take her.

    Please, please if I am rebelling against God put me out of the camp. Don’t let me infect, affect or have a negative effect on those that are there.

    James 5:16

    • At the risk of being brusque in a brotherly sort of way … We all have problems. (I was intending to write we all have “serious problems” but I don’t want to be overly dramatic nor do I want to get into splitting words about “serious.” If we are serious about obeying God we will take seriously things that we have to work on.

      It is the humble that recognize their faults. It is those that have a mindset of “God have mercy on me a sinner” who are justified rather than one who prays about himself and his thankful for how perfect he is.

      Sure the pharisee who was perfect in his own eyes didn’t want to put up with the tax collector —but the tax collector on the outskirts was more close to God than the religious person who seemed to have everything together.

      Anyone who is worrying about you corrupting them has such serious problems … perhaps a plank in his own eye. That isn’t to say that we should be overly exalting each other … well scripture says …

      Romans chapter 12 is worth reading. We need to think soberly about ourselves.

      If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. (Gal. 6:3 NIV)

      Even Paul considered himself “nothing.”
      I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. (2 Cor. 12:11 NIV)

      So yes, we are seriously flawed, and if we take our walk with Christ seriously we should probably realize that.

      If you are afraid of being a bad influence … pray that you not be one. God can answer prayers. I often pray multiple prayers along those lines … so I’m not singling you out. We need God’s help in doing good and I often pray about about not doing wrong. Paul prayed that for the Corinthians. “Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong…” (2 Cor. 13:7 NIV)

      This comment on your comment has probably gone a bit too long … apologies

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