Pastor David B. Curtis


Lifesaving - 101

James 5:19-20

Delivered 09/05/1999

How would you respond if you were to see someone drowning? Would you try to help or call someone who could, or would you simply watch or turn away? You would most likely try to help because of the seriousness of the situation. It would be a matter of life and death.

When I was a teen, I worked as a lifeguard for the summer. I pulled several children off of the bottom of the pool. Kids who couldn't swim would walk right off the diving board and go straight to the bottom of a fifteen foot pool. Without lifeguards there those kids would be dead.

When Julie was a toddler, she was with me on the deck of my mother's pool. I was doing something and had my back to her. The pool had a solar cover on it, and Julie stepped out on it and went straight to the bottom and the cover went back into place. I turned around and she was gone. I went over to the pool and pulled back the cover and there she was on the bottom. I jumped in and pulled her out. I saved her life. Any one of you would certainly do the same thing. Why? Why would we be so quick to save her? We'd do it because we value life.

Well what is true in the physical realm should also be true in the spiritual realm. When we see someone about to die spiritually, we should seek to save them. In the epistle of James, James warns believers of the death dealing consequence of sin.

James 1:14-16 (NKJV) But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

Sin is serious, it leads to death. James talks about this same idea in 5:12-20. In 5:13-18, he says that sin could bring judgment in the form of physical sickness. And he exhorts the believers to confess their sins and pray for each other. Then in 5:19-20, he continues his theme of the judgment sin brings (death). He goes from sickness in:

James 5:14 (NKJV) Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

To death:

James 5:20 (NKJV) 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.

So, verses 19-20 are a continuation of verses 13-18. But they are also a fitting conclusion to the entire letter -- by turning from sin you can save your life.

Throughout this whole letter James has exhorted the believers on how to save their lives from the damage that sin brings, and now he adds that they can also be involved in saving the lives of others. He is telling them and us that we can be spiritual lifeguards.

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

"Brethren" - James is writing to believers! "If any among you" - any believer in the fellowship.

James 5:13-14 (NKJV) Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

He is speaking of anyone they have fellowship with.

"Wanders from the truth" - The word "wanders" is the Greek word planao. It means: "to roam (from safety, truth, or virtue):- go astray, err, wander, be out of the way." "From the truth" - he is speaking of any departure from the truth as set forth in the Word of God, whether it be doctrinal or practical. Truth is not just something just to believe, it is to be obeyed.

Galatians 5:7 (NKJV) You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?
1 John 1:6 (NKJV) If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.

The truth is something we are to live out. We are to act on what we believe to be true.

James says that there is every possibility that the members of the family of God will stray. As the hymn says,"Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love." There is a tendency on the part of all of us to stray away from the truth. Do you understand this? There are many believers who don't. Many think that if someone is a true Christian, they will never stray form the truth. This is not biblical! Obedience in the Christian life is not automatic and it is not guaranteed. Let me ask you this, could a Christian allow sin to reign in his life? When I ask Christians that question, I usually get a "No" response. The Bible teaches differently.

Romans 6:12 (NKJV) Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.

The word "reign" is the Greek verb basileuo, it means: "to exercise kingly power, or to exercise uncontrolled authority." The verb is present, active, imperative with the negative me. This construction forbids the continuance of an action already going on. We could translate it this way, "Stop allowing sin to reign as king in your mortal body." It is a command to stop an action that is already going on. Sin was reigning in their lives.

Believers, sin will reign in your body if you allow it. It takes discipline and diligence to keep it from reigning.

1 Corinthians 9:26-27 (NKJV) Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. 27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

Paul went to great efforts to keep sin from reigning in his life.

What happens when a member of the body strays? Does James say to criticize him, to ostracize him, to cut him off, to turn your back on him? NO!

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

"And someone turns him back." The King James Version says, "and one converts him." He is not talking about evangelism here, he is talking about turning around a straying believer. Who is to do this? Someone, anyone who is aware of it. This is every believer's responsibility.

Galatians 6:1 (NKJV) Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.

He says to rescue him! Go to him in love seeking to turn him from the sin, and to restore him.

"And someone turns him back" - this is not an exhortation to carry out this important duty, but rather it assumes that the task has been achieved because someone cared. I jumped in the pool and pulled Julie out because of love, not duty.

I am sure that all of you have heard the story of the boy who was trudging through the ghetto with a little crippled boy on his back. Someone asked, "How can you carry such a heavy load?" The boy responded, "He ain't heavy. He's my brother!" When we see a brother or a sister who is falling, it is our responsibility to go to him, to pick him up and support him, to encourage him and turn him back to the truth. Paul put it this way in Philippians:

Philippians 2:4 (NKJV) Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

The writer of Hebrews put it this way:

Hebrews 10:24 (NKJV) And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,

The word "consider" is from the Greek word, katanoeo. Katanoeo is a compound word composed of kata, which means: "down" and noeo, which means: "to exercise the mind." It has the idea of thoroughly and carefully noticing someone or some thing. A good English equivalent would be "to contemplate." This is a strong and emphatic exhortation; consider others, contemplate others. Our responsibility to others is a theme that we see all through the Scriptures:

John 15:12 (NKJV) "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Romans 12:10 (NKJV) Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another;
Romans 15:7 (NKJV) Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.
Romans 15:14 (NKJV) Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.

"Admonish" is the Greek word noutheteo: "to put in mind, to caution or reprove gently, warn."

Ephesians 4:2 (NKJV) with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love,
Ephesians 4:32 (NKJV) And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 5:21 (NKJV) submitting to one another in the fear of God.
1 Thessalonians 4:18 (NKJV) Therefore comfort one another with these words.

How can we fulfill any of these "one another" commands to receive, love, comfort, and forgive if we don't consider one another? If we are so wrapped up in ourselves that we don't know what others need, then how can we fulfill these exhortations?

Do you realize that, individually, you and I are personally responsible for the physical and spiritual welfare of each other? This exhortation to consider is not given to the church elders- it is given to all believers. We all are to consider one another. We are to look to the needs, problems, struggles, and temptations of one another. The spirit of rugged individualism, so prevalent in America, is wholly incompatible with the church of Jesus Christ. American believers think that they have discharged their responsibility to the Lord because they are individually living in holiness, but they are wrong. We are not only to look out for our own lives, but we are to consider others. Christians have a corporate, as well as an individual, responsibility. Christianity is others oriented! But most of us care only about meeting our own needs; we ignore the many instructions in the Bible about our responsibility to others.

Galatians 5:13 (NKJV) For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NKJV) Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.

The kingdom of God is not designed for believers to exist in isolation from each other; we are interdependent. We need each other if we are truly going to be what God has called us to be.

Romans 12:5 (NKJV) so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.

Each believer has unique abilities and insights that are invaluable for building up other believers in the body of Christ. Christianity is to be lived out in community, and God has created us to be dependent both on Him and on one another. God said in Genesis 2:18, "It is not good for a man to be alone." That principle does not only apply to the marriage relationship; none of us has the spiritual wherewithal to go it alone in our Christian lives. Proverbs 27:17 says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." As we share our lives with each other, we sharpen and encourage one another. Solomon put it this way:

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (NKJV) Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up.

We need each other because that is how the Lord created us. We are to teach, to serve, and to bear the burdens of one another.

Notice the purpose of our considering one another according to Hebrews 10:25 "In order to stir up love and good works" The words "stir up" are from the Greek word paroxusmos, which is a strong word implying a real effort to provoke each other into love and good works. This word appears only one other time in Scripture:

Acts 15:37-40 (NKJV) "Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention [paroxusmos] became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God."

Paroxusmos usually means: "irritation or exasperation." It is unusual to have it used in a good sense, and the choice of the unusual word makes the exhortation more striking. We provoke one another a lot by irritating and exasperating one another. But we do not usually provoke each other to love and good works; we provoke to anger, jealousy, and envy. When is the last time that you were provoked to love and good works by another believer? Or when is the last time that you provoked another believer to love and good works?

How are we to provoke one another to love and good works? He tells us in the next verse:

Hebrews 10:25 (NKJV) not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

On the negative side, we should not forsake our assembling together. We can't help each other much if we don't see each other. On the positive side, when we come together, we are to exhort one another. The Greek word for exhort is parakaleo, which means: "to encourage, to comfort, beg, or beseech." It speaks of coming alongside to help. When we get together, we are to encourage one another, build one another up. Peter and James express it this way:

James 5:16 (KJV) "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."
1 Peter 4:9-10 (KJV) "Use hospitality one to another without grudging. As every man hath received the gift, even so minister [Greek: diakoneo: to be an attendant, wait upon menially or as a host, friend or teacher, serve] the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God."

What does Hebrews 10:25 mean when it says we are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together? The assembling called for here is not just going to church on Sunday morning, because these things don't usually happen when we meet on Sunday. The teaching on Sunday morning is very important, and we cannot abandon it, but this verse doesn't say we are to assemble to be taught. It says we are to assemble to exhort one another. This can only effectively be done one-on-one or in small groups where we can get to know one another and help one another to live as God would have us to through provoking one another to love and good works, and by confessing our faults to one another, and praying for one another.

We don't usually question each other about our sins or victories. If someone ever should question a person about a sinful practice in his life, he gets very defensive and hostile. Our Christianity is very shallow; the writings of the early Methodists contrasts with our shallowness.

In The Rules of the Band Societies (an early Methodist meeting which consisted of no more than twelve, and no less than two), drawn up on December 25, 1738, give us insight into their group's transparency.

The design of our meeting is to obey that command of God, "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed."

To this end, we intend,

1. To meet once a week, at the least.
2. To come punctually at the hour appointed, without some extraordinary reason.
3. To begin (those of us who are present) exactly at the hour, with singing or prayer.
4. To speak each of us in order, freely and plainly, the true state of our souls, with the faults we have committed in thought, word, or deed, and the temptations we have felt, since our last meeting.
5. To end every meeting with prayer, suited to the state of each person present.
6. To desire some person among us to speak his own state first, and then to ask the rest, in order, as many searching questions as may be, concerning their state, sins, and temptations.

Any of the following questions may be asked as often as occasion offers;

1. What known sin have you committed since our last meeting?
2. What temptation have you met with?
3. How were you delivered?
4. What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?

How would you like to be involved in a group like that? To tell you the truth, I have mixed emotions. I would love to be involved in that kind of a group because that is real accountability. But on the other hand, it scares me; this is serious stuff, this is not playing church. This is the type of assembly that I believe the author of Hebrews is talking about.

Before we can build one another up , there must be an understanding of each other's spiritual needs. Only close relationships and small groups provide a context where this can happen.

Believers, we are to assemble together for the purpose of provoking one another to love and good works. The supportive love of Christians for one another is a powerful factor in maintaining our spiritual vigor. If we would follow this prescription, we would be able to live victorious lives to the glory of God.

We can't "consider" others if we don't spend time with them, where we can share intimately with them. If we don't spend time with others, we might not even know if they wander from the truth.

James 5:19-20 (NKJV) 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.

James says that the result will be that we will turn a sinner from the error of his way, we will save his soul from death, and we will cover a multitudes of sins. James uses death broadly in this book. He is not referring only to physical death, but also to the death-like state that exists when people don't respond to the truth. It is death to fellowship with God. We have all experienced this death - the boredom, frustration, and emptiness which is the consequence of disobedience to the truth. James says that when someone wanders away from the truth, we are to go to that brother and lovingly seek to restore him. In this way we will save his life from death, and we will cover a multitude of sins.

Please understand that physical death is very often spoken of in Scripture as a consequence of sin.

1 Corinthians 11:28-30 (NKJV) But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 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 John 5:16-17 (NKJV) 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.

For example, two sins that we see leading to death are; sexual sin -- if a person contracts aids, it will most likely kill him. Murder -- you can end up with the death penalty.

James 5:20 (NKJV) 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.

The phrase that James uses here, "sozein ten psuche" (save a soul), is a standard and normal way of saying, "to save the life." Sin is very serious and it can lead to death; to turn someone from sin to obedience is to save their life.

Now, those two actions - salvation from death and forgiveness of sins - are the actions of God. Only God can save a soul from death. And only God can forgive sins. And yet we are given the privilege of being co-laborers with God. We can do what He is doing in the lives of people, and can share with him in the ministry of restoration.

James closes this epistle by saying that not only are we to walk in obedience (be doers of the Word) and save our lives from damage, but we also are to notice how others are doing: and when someone errs from the truth, we are to go after them and turn them around.

James ends his epistle very abruptly. There is no benediction, no doxology, no gesture of farewell. It is as though he doesn't want to deflect our minds from the privilege and responsibility of caring for one another.

Who do you know that has erred from the truth? What are you doing to restore him?

Let me close this morning with the analogy of a lifeguard. To be a good lifeguard you must:

1. Be alert - a lifeguard needs to be paying attention to everyone who is in the water. We also need to be alert -- we need to consider others so we'll notice if they err from the truth.

2. Be in good shape - if a lifeguard is flabby and out of shape, how will he be able to rescue others? We also need to be in good shape spiritually. If our lives are a spiritual mess, it is really hard to help others.

3. Trained - if a lifeguard does not know how to save a drowning victim, he may lose his own life trying to save him. In lifesaving classes, they teach you how to approach a drowning victim, and they teach you how to break holds that a drowning victim may put on you. In this same way, we need to be trained by the word of God so we can deal with an erring brother correctly.

2 Timothy 2:15 (NKJV) Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
Galatians 6:1 (NKJV) Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.

We must be trained by the Word of God if we are going to help others.

4. Close by - a lifeguard must be close enough to get to the victim before they drown. The same is true of us, we must be close enough to someone to be able to be an influence in his life. This closeness only happens by spending time with that individual.

The body of Christ is desperately in need of more lifeguards. Sin is very serious, and it is destroying many. Being a lifeguard is not easy, but the benefits are fantastic!

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

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