Recovering an Errant Brother
James ends his letter with what is really a plea—a plea for brother to watch over brother and sister over sister. What he does in effect is pronounce a blessing over the one who rescues a brother or sister who wanders from the truth—the truth of the gospel which is made real by being doers of the word. Perhaps the errant brother has wandered off into sinful living or simply stopped attending church. The church doesn’t save but the lack of attendance thereunto is certainly a sign that one has wandered away and cut himself off from the teaching, the fellowship, and the table. The question must then be asked, “Why?” If we are dealing with an elderly or infirm person, that is one thing. Otherwise, the cause is due to anything ranging from apathy (a sin in itself) to manifest and open sin. And if one simply refuses to return to the household of the saints in defiance of God’s word (Hebrews 10:24-25) we might rightly wonder if they ever experienced saving grace to begin with.
Once again, Paul and James walk hand-in-hand. Paul writes: “If anyone is caught in spiritual transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness, lest you too be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1). This is particularly the task of elders, but James suggests that anyone may approach another in the endeavor of reclaiming a lost soul. Paul reminds us to do so with humility.
And what is the reward for rescuing the wanderer? The greatest reward of all: The saving of the wandering soul from eternal death by the covering of his many sins through the forgiveness of Christ! And to know that one has played a part in that—what a blessing! In this case, the reward is in the deed itself. And when we think about it, the reward always is the deed itself—the participation of the believer in the work of Christ, the sharing of the rich bounty of God’s grace as we go about being doers of the word. This is the teaching of James’ letter and the blessing of gospel service.
And here the letter of James ends. Unlike Paul, he does not include closing greetings and benedictions. Perhaps he was in a hurry. Perhaps he was not the man of letters that Paul, Luke, and other of the apostles were. It matters not; he got his message across. Christianity is faith working through love manifesting itself in a life of righteous deeds and justice (1:26-27; Galatians 5:6). Anything less is not the gospel. And on this point, there is no daylight between the godly Bishop and the apostles.