World English Bible translation
5:19 Brothers, if any among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 5:20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins.
The Epistle of James is a letter written by a man of faith and a man of passion. It is a collection of admonition and ideas to encourage the Christians that James believes that God has placed in his care. He encourages them to endure through suffering and persecution. He encourages them to help each other, to pray from one another and to confess to each other where they have offended others in the family of God. He also encourages them to prepare for the coming of the Lord; to establish their hearts by faith and to prepare their lives to be judged.
There is no overriding singular message that dominates this letter. But, there is an overriding consistency. James writes from the perspective of a devoted Jew. He uses the example of the prophets and quotes heavily from the Jewish scriptures. More importantly, James deals with themes that are consistent with those that are dealt with by the Jewish prophets: consistent treatment for the poor, polemics against the abuses of the rich and being patient in the midst of suffering.
This book is also filled with startling images that come from James' unique perspective. God is the Father of Lights and in Him there is no shadow. Every good and perfect gift comes from Him. James is the only writer to convey the wonderful image of the implanted word of truth. God plants this word in the heart of believers and nurtures its growth through the work of the Holy Spirit. James is also the only writer to make his very interesting comments about the need to control the tongue. The tongue is a restless evil, capable of praising God at one moment and speaking evil at the next.
Typical of the rest of this book, the last verses pull no punches. In some ways, these last two verses are indicative of James' attitude throughout the book. He sees himself as a voice, turning aside the sinner and restoring the lost to God. Throughout this book James has emphasized that it is what people do that is important, not what they claim to believe. It is actions, works, which are important to James.
In this James also appealed to the Jewish scriptures for an example. In this case, James uses the life of Abraham to show that God gives righteousness to those that act by faith. In this he is consistent with other New Testament authors. But, James puts much greater emphasis on the need to act than other writers do. James repeatedly emphasizes that faith that does not result in action is not true faith. He does not say that works alone will save. He does say that faith that does not express itself in works is not true faith.
James is a letter about practical Christianity. He emphasizes the need to care for widows and orphans. He speaks about whether or not rich people are given the best seats in a worship service. Even in these last verses, James emphasizes the need to turn back a sinner from the error of his ways. The words that are used are action words. Practical words.
We need practical teaching. It's good to study the deep theological ideas of Christianity. But, it's also important to remember that God is concerned with our day to day lives. God is in the business of affecting our lives in the here and now. He wants to plant the word of truth in us and nurture it every day. For as long as we need practical theology, the Epistle of James will speak to the hearts of Christians. For as long as there are Christians that need to endure temptations and suffering, the Epistle of James will be worth our attention.
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