James 5:20

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

…let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. James 5:20

James finishes his epistle on a sudden, even abrupt, note. It is also one which is highly debated as to who and what James is referring to. In other words, it is a complicated set of words. As it is only a part of a greater thought, the verse must be taken together with the previous one –

“Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.”

As he is speaking to the brethren, the first words of the verse are directed to believers. It is any believer who turns another back from wandering from the truth. Such a person is to understand “that he who turns a sinner.” This “sinner” is referring to the one who has wandered from the truth. A believer has shown the sinner his error and has returned him to the right path and from “the error of his way.”

To this point, nothing overly complicated is seen. A person has wandered off on a bad path, a believer has intervened and returned the person from that bad path to the way which is right. From there it says he “will save a soul from death.”

The soul is that which animates the body. It is that part which continues on, even after a body is dead (as in Revelation 6:9, etc). The word death signifies the cessation of life. The debate begins with the question of “whose soul?” Is it the one who is turned, or is it the one who is the instrumental cause of the turning, meaning the person who turns the other from the error of his way? The words of Paul in 1 Timothy 4:16 leave the matter unresolved –

“Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.” 1 Timothy 4:16

The word “save” can mean various things at various times, but in the case of James’ words, it is probably not referring to salvation of a soul, but saving from physical death.

The natural assumption is that he is speaking about the one who has been turned. He is on a wayward path and it will lead to death. He may be into drugs or some other sin which will lead to death (see 1 John 5:16, 17).

From there, James then says, “and cover a multitude of sins.” Once again, it is debated what this means. The question of “whose sins” arises. Is it the one who strayed, or the one who brings him back from straying? And further, what is the meaning of “cover?” The word is not used in the sense of atonement elsewhere in the New Testament, unless this is what Peter, who uses the same Greek word, is also referring to –

“And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’” 1 Peter 4:8

The words that both James and Peter are referring to come from Proverbs 10 –

“Hatred stirs up strife,
But love covers all sins.” Proverbs 10:12

There, like in the Greek of the New Testament, the word is not used in the sense of atonement, but rather something which is covered and hidden from sight. However, in Psalm 32:1 and in Psalm 85:2, the same Hebrew word is used along with another clause which refers to forgiveness of sins which are then covered –

“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered.” Psalm 32:1

“You have forgiven the iniquity of Your people;
You have covered all their sin. 
Selah” Psalm 85:2

And so the question then arises as to whether James and Peter are speaking of forgiveness of sins by God which are then covered, or are they simply speaking of sins which are forgotten by the parties involved. The safest interpretation is that this is speaking of the sinner’s life being saved from death, and the sinner’s sins being those referred to. This would be in line with, for example, Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5.

They sinned and died because of it. The passage concerning Anania and Sapphira form a descriptive example of what could happen to those caught in sin. They strayed from the path and they died because of it.

The covering of the sinner’s sins is another matter. In Christ, there is a one-time for all time judicial atonement of sin. If James is referring to a non-believer, then his words here refer to that. However, taken in connection with Peter’s words, who is certainly speaking of believers, it appears that the covering of the sins is not speaking of forgiveness by God in Christ, but by the overlooking of the sins of the sinner. They are covered and forgotten.

As an example: Tom becomes a compulsive gambler. He starts to borrow money and not pay it back. Jim intervenes and corrects Tom’s way of life. Tom is saved from death (probably from getting killed by the people he had been borrowing from) and also from whatever other events have arisen from his walk down this wayward path. In the process, his sins are covered (forgotten) by those who see his life-change. His debts are forgiven, and he is brought to a whole state once again. Further, a multitude of sins which otherwise would have been committed as he continued down his wayward path have been averted. They have been covered by the change in his course. And this was because of the love of one for another. Thus, the loving act saved his soul from death and covered a multitude of his sins.

Life application: There are a multitude of blessings which come about from leading a soul back to the proper path, so look around you with open eyes and when you discover a backslider, help them back to restoration. The Lord will be glorified and the wayward soul will be saved from death. Be responsible in your care and attention of your fellow believers.

This is the last verse of the book of James. 1 Peter begins next. So take time today to tell others about this magnificent coming event, and encourage them to join in.

Thank You, O God, for the wonderful lessons of Your precious word. It is a book which provides abundant learning and growth in what You would have for Your people, if they would just read, pay heed, and apply those words to their lives. And so, may we take to heart the lessons found there and always bring great glory to You through their right application. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

James 5:19

Monday, 16 September 2019

Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, James 5:19

This is the opening to the final thought in the book of James. Many Greek manuscripts say, “My brethren” here. This is more likely based on how he opened his epistle. In verse 1:2, it uses the word “my,” and that is probably the true rendering here. Either way, he then begins his final thoughts with, “if any among you wanders from the truth.”

The word is not uncommon, and it is variously translated elsewhere as deceived, misguided, go astray, wander, mistaken, and so on. It signifies going off course or deviating from the correct path.

The word is planaó, and it is the root of our word “planet.” As the planets are wandering bodies in the heavenlies, this word is fitting for someone who is not fixed and grounded, but who has swayed from the truth. This can be both in doctrine or in simple logic. It can also be in straying morally from what is right, and so on. If such is the case, James then says, “and someone turns him back.”

The idea here is not specifically of someone who has never been saved. It could be a saved person or even an unsaved person. Either way, the individual is someone who is following the wrong path. One can think of someone truly looking for proper faith and yet he wanders into a Jehovah’s Witnesses assembly. Or it could be someone who has faith in Christ, but who then wanders into the Hebrew Roots movement. The person was heading towards the truth and got misdirected.

A perfect example of this, right from Scripture, is found in Galatians 2 where Paul had to redirect Peter to the truth of the gospel. Peter was fully aware of the freedom found in Christ, but he strayed from that truth. Eventually, he got his feet properly directed and returned from the Heresy Highway to Right Doctrine Road.

Life application: Even though this verse is incomplete without verse 20, lessons can still be learned from it.

1) People do wander from the truth after having accepted it. Peter, in his second epistle, states that some people can actually forget that they have been saved, and yet he notes that they remain saved. It is a point that cries out for the doctrine of eternal salvation.

2) Those that have strayed from the truth can be brought back. They have not lost their salvation, nor have they committed some unpardonable sin by straying.

However, in the coming verse, we will see what some of the consequences are when we do fall away. Are you keeping an eye out concerning your walk with Christ? It is so easy to let a day go by without reading the Bible, then another, and then another. Likewise, when we let our prayers lapse, it is so easy to continue down that path. And, even if you are walking with Christ faithfully, are you making sure your family and friends are as well? Keep an eye on those you love and help them to walk with the Lord and not stray. Turn them back and you will be doing them a favor and be found pleasing to the Lord as well.

Lord, help us to be watchful over our walk with You. Also, help us to keep our eyes on our family and friends. We all need to be re-directed from time to time, so help us to be watchful and faithful servants so that we may be there when others stumble in their walk. To Your glory O Lord! Amen.

James 5:18

Sunday, 15 September 2019

And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit. James 5:18

These words are still referring to Elijah. As James noted, he was a man with a nature like ours, and yet through his prayer, the rain did not come upon the land for three years and six months. Now James adds, “And he prayed again.”

Though the first prayer is not given in Scripture, it is evident that he prayed. All that is recorded is the statement in 1 Kings 17 that it would not rain except by his word –

“And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.’” 1 Kings 17:1

From there, it is not until 1 Kings 18:41 that this is confirmed –

Then Elijah said to Ahab, ‘Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of abundance of rain.’”

After saying this to Ahab, it then says the following in 1 Kings 18:42, 43 –

“So Ahab went up to eat and drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; then he bowed down on the ground, and put his face between his knees, 43 and said to his servant, ‘Go up now, look toward the sea.’”

The fact that the initial prayer is not recorded leads some to question the reliability of James’ words. But that is a faulty assumption. The Bible doesn’t record everything in the Old Testament that is stated in the New Testament. It often makes logical assumptions based on the context. Elijah said there would be no rain and there was no rain. Elijah then told the same person that rain was finally coming, and it then records that he prayed, and the rains came. The logical assumption is that he also prayed for the rain to be withheld.

Elijah’s prayer was for the rain to come, and James notes that “the heaven gave rain.” This is exactly what occurred as is seen towards the close of 1 Kings 18 –

“Now it happened in the meantime that the sky became black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy rain. So Ahab rode away and went to Jezreel.” 1 Kings 18:45

After that, James finishes his verse with, “and the earth produced its fruit.” Like the first prayer, this is not stated in the Old Testament. It is a logical assumption made by James. When it rains, the earth produces fruit. Later accounts in 1 Kings show that life continued on, demonstrating that the famine had ended and the people did not perish. Instead, we can logically continue to deduce from James’ words that things went back to the normal cycle of life.

Life application: If you take the time to read the full account of 1 Kings 17 & 18 (why don’t you stop right here and do so – it will be healthy for your brain cells), you will notice that Elijah prayed seven times before the cloud appeared. This should be a lesson to us all.

If our prayers seem to have gone unheard the first time, we need to get on our knees and make them again, and again, and…. again if necessary. Perseverance demonstrates a heartfelt desire. It also demonstrates faith that you believe your prayer is effective. If we quit praying after the first round, what does that say about our faith? “Oh well, I guess God isn’t listening.” But repeated and heartfelt prayers indicate that we really believe God is capable of granting our petition. If we did not believe this, we would not continue to pray. So have faith, be persistent, and wear out the knees of your pants if necessary. God does hear and God does respond to the faithful prayers of His children.

Lord God, forgive us for giving up so quickly when our prayers seem to have been unanswered. Give us a determined and dogged approach to our prayer life – something so powerful that heaven hears and the rains come upon the dry land. And when they do, may you give us the wisdom and the sense to turn and thank You for the blessing of a favorable response. Amen.

James 5:17

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. James 5:17

James just said in the previous verse that “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Now, to show that this is supported by Scripture, he turns back to the idea of rains which he spoke of in verse 5:7. This time, it is concerning a drought upon the land at the time of Elijah. He says, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.”

Here James uses a word found only elsewhere in Acts 14:15. It signifies similar passions or feelings. Thus, Elijah was just like anyone else. Being called as a prophet of God does not change the fact that he carried the same propensities, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes as any other person. And yet, despite his standard human nature, James says that “he prayed earnestly that it would not rain.”

The Greek reads in a standard Hebraic way of expression saying, “he prayed with a prayer.” Such repetition is a way of intensifying what is said. The prayer is not recorded in Scripture, but his statement that it would not rain is. There is no reason to assume that James is adding to Scripture by saying this. Any such drought would come as a response to Elijah’s prayer.

In John 11, Jesus said that Lazarus would rise. He could have simply called out for him to do so, but before he did, it says that He spoke to the Father in a prayer of thanks. James has made a logical deduction, based on the words of Elijah, that a prayer was what initiated the extended drought over the land. This becomes more obvious based on what will be said in the next verse, where James refers to Elijah’s prayer which ended the famine.

Finally, James shows the effectiveness of the prayer of this man whose nature was just like ours. He notes that “it did not rain on the land for three years and six months.” This is a treasure for us in the New Testament. The account of Elijah and the drought in 1 Kings doesn’t give the amount of time that the drought lasted; it merely says first in 1 Kings 17 –

“And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.’” 1 Kings 17:1

It next says in 1 Kings 18 –

And it came to pass after many days that the word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, ‘Go, present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the earth.’” 1 Kings 18:1

All it says is “in the third year.” However, Jesus says in Luke 4 –

“But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; 26 but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.” Luke 4:25

James repeats the words of Jesus, but this must have been commonly understood by the people. If Jesus erred in His words, He would have been called out by the people for His inaccuracy. As both Jesus and James give a specific time period, and as there is no record of their words being called into question, then there must be a reasonable explanation for the specificity of what they have said. Albert Barnes provides an obvious conclusion concerning the matter –

“Three years and six months – From 1 Kings 18:1, 1 Kings 18:45, it would seem that the rain fell on the ‘third year’ – that is, at the ‘end’ of the third year after the rain had ceased to fall at the usual time. There were two seasons of the year when rains fell in Judea – in October and April, called the ‘early’ and ‘latter’ rain; consequently there was an interval between them of six months. To the three years, therefore, when rain was withheld ‘at the usual times,’ are to be added the previous six months, when no rain fell as a matter of course, and consequently three years ‘and six months’ elapsed without rain.”

What Albert Barnes rightly deduces is that the land normally did not receive rain for six months each year. At the end of those six months, the people would be in high anticipation of the coming rains. However, Elijah told the people that the anticipated rains would not come. Instead, there would be a famine. This continued until the beginning of the normal rain season three years later. Thus, the entire period of there being no rain came to be three years and six months.

One cannot say that James is incorrect when he says, “and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months.” Elijah did not say, “It will not rain for three years and six months.” He simply said, “there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.” It is irrelevant that the drought was three years from the time he spoke. What matters is that he spoke and the rains were withheld. The first six months being a normal cycle of no rain are simply added to his words, thus making a total of forty-two months for Israel’s time of famine.

Thus, the rains which finally came for Israel would have been the standard rains, normally expected at that time of year. The lesson had been given, the people were taught their lesson, and the normal cycle of life would – from that time forward – begin once again.

Life application: There are quite a few instances in the Bible where it is important to read both testaments in order to get the full picture of a particular issue. Certain psalms which record no author in the Old Testament are credited to David in the New. Various facts about Abraham and other OT figures can only be known by studying Acts, Hebrews, etc.

The point is that Elijah was merely a man. He may have been a prophet chosen by God, but he is only a man. By his word, it didn’t rain. James is saying that we are humans just like Elijah and therefore have the ability, by faith, to have effective prayer lives which can truly move mountains. If you feel your prayers are not being answered, make sure they align with God’s will and then have faith that they are heard and will be responded to according to His great plan for us.

In 2007 in Georgia, rainfall stopped and water became scarce. The leader of the state, Sonny Perdue, spoke these words on the capitol steps, “We do believe in miracles. We believe you are the miracle Creator – the Creator that established the water and the land, and the air, and even us. God, we need You, we need rain.” The next day it rained. Yes, God hears and responds to the prayers of His people when they humble themselves.

What a great and awesome God You are! That You would bend Your ear to the people You created and respond according to their pleas is simply amazing! How can we not praise You and give You the glory You are due! Thank You for the rain, thank You for healing, thank You for attending to our every need when asked in faith, and when it is according to Your will. Glory to You, O God! Amen.

James 5:16

Friday, 13 September 2019

Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. James 5:16

The words of James assume that this is referring to sickness which is a result of some sort of sin. Paul refers to such a situation in his first letter to the Corinthians –

“For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.” 1 Corinthians 11:29, 30

John goes so far as to note sins that lead to death –

“If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death.” 1 John 5:16, 17

For this reason, meaning sickness, James says first to “Confess your trespasses to one another.” Vincent’s Word Studies notes that “The preposition ἐξ, forth, out, implies full, frank, open confession, and so in every case of its use in the New Testament.” There is to be honesty in the confession by the one who is confessing. When one hides a matter, there can be no trust. Therefore, a full confession of the sin to one another is needed so that the prayers are unhindered. If those praying don’t have a knowledge of what is to be prayed for, how can healing for that particular affliction be brought before the Lord?

In James’ words, there can be no doubt that he is tying the sickness to some type of committed sin. But is this a particular punishment that God has brought upon the person because of the sin, or is it merely a consequence of the sin? In other words, if someone is doing something he should not be doing, like over-drinking, is this leading to the sickness? Or could it also be that the conscience is its own means of bringing about sickness? A guilty conscience can bring about all kinds of other health problems as well.

What is probably the case is that all three possibilities are on James’ mind. He notes that there is sickness, he notes that there is sin in the person’s life, and he notes that the two are connected. The actual reason for the sin leading to sickness is less important than the fact that the two are, in fact, connected. He calls for confession, he then calls for prayers by those who have heard the confession, and he says that healing can be effected through this.

With this understood, he then says that “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” The Greek rightly puts the stress elsewhere. The English Revised Version says, “The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working.” It is the working of a prayer in this regard which brings much about. Using the word “effective” does not convey the sense of operation, but the outcome of it, which is simply a truth which is then conveyed by the words “avails much.”

The idea here is that the prayer of “a righteous man,” meaning a believer in Christ, has great ability to bring about change. But it must be understood that God does not change. Therefore, a prayer is something that God knew would happen or would not happen. It is asked, “If God does not change, then why pray?” The answer is that God responds to prayers in the sense of having prefigured them into His unfolding plans. Just because God knows the outcome of things does not mean that those things do not need to occur. Prayer is what we do in the stream of time. The response to a prayer is what God has done outside of time. So be sure to pray. A prayer not made is a prayer that will not be responded to.

Life application: This verse pretty much sums up the entire biblical basis for Roman Catholic confessionals and priests serving as intermediaries in the forgiveness process. It is one verse, taken out of context, to justify this unscriptural practice.

Rather, the Bible very clearly proclaims in 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” If Christ is our Mediator, then there is absolutely no need for priests to serve in this manner. Further, confession in a confessional is not what is implied here. Instead, healing and restoration can come about by simply getting the matter out, instead of carrying it inside – something that leads to stress, ulcers, neuroses, etc. Although descriptive in nature, the following account from Acts is what James is referring to –

“And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. 19 Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver.” Acts 19:18, 19

As you can see, these people openly confessed their wrongdoing. The result was that the “word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.” This is the goal of confession and prayers for healing – that the Lord may be glorified and that we may be healed. Take all things in context and do not be kept in bondage by misapplication of verses which leads to the gain of those who misapply them.

Thank You Jesus for being our Mediator! Help us to remember that it is God who forgives and it is You who sends our petitions to the Father. You are the Bridge of restoration and healing. All glory to You – our precious Mediator and Advocate on high! Amen.