Main point summary
The one who brings back a brother from his wandering is doing a service of eternal value.
My brothers, f if anyone among you wanders from the truth
My brothers and sisters, if anyone from among you strays from the truth
and someone g brings him back,
and someone brings him back
let him know
then let him know
that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering h will save his soul from death
that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death
and i will cover a multitude of sins.
and will cover many sins.
The 'him' here seems ambiguous. Maybe it is clear in the original, or maybe it is intentionally that way, and both the 'anyone' (19a) and the 'someone' (19b) are intended. Both should 'know' what James goes on to say.
This is a motivation to be involved in each other's lives and reminding each other of the truth. We may wrongly prefer to keep some distance in our relationships - since they bring misunderstandings and complications - but in doing so we miss out on reflecting and benefiting from God's love through a community of believers.
The condition is true for the one who brings back a sinner from his wandering, not for the one who identifies the sinner's waywardness.
The passage is addressed to the brothers and sisters in the church 'my brothers', for what they should think when someone brings back a wanderer from among them.
What does James mean by 'the truth' in verse 19? James explained in chapter 1 that we enter into fellowship with God through the word of truth (James 1:18), and throughout the letter he has described behaviour and attitudes that correspond with the truth, and those that don't (James 3:14). I take 'the truth' to mean God's revelation through his word, ultimately through his Son Jesus. What does it mean to wander from the truth? I think it means wandering away from Jesus to follow after my own sinful desires ( James 1:14-15 ). When I wander I will display behaviour and attitudes that depart from the truth. James exhorted the readers to remain in the truth (though he doesn't use this language) through receiving with meekness the implanted word (James 1:21) and being a student of the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25). This should feed our fellowship with God, and guide our actions in the world. F aith in Jesus (James 2:1) goes hand in hand with works (James 2:17), and walking with Jesus will result in us bearing 'fruit' that conforms to the truth ( James 3:17 ) . To wander from the truth is to pursue my own sinful desires rather than God's revealed truth. Who is James talking about by the 'someone' who brings back the sinner? I think it could be another brother or sister in the church. James is telling this brother/sister that in bringing back a sinner from his wanderings they are doing a service of eternal significance. Providing such a 'service' to your brothers and sisters is not optional. For if you are a believer, you will recognise your own propensity to wander and your urgent need for brothers and sisters to likewise help you. See also Hebrews 3:12-14 . Both James and the author of the letter to the Hebrews indicate that eternal consequences are at stake. Could it also be that God is the one who brings the wandering sinner back, and the 'him' (in 20a, who should know the truths in 20b-c) is the sinner who is brought back?As I read through the letter and God shows me his goodness, perfection and mercy, I am invited to repent again and again. He draws me back to him by showing me that his ways are good, and my own sinful desires ultimately lead to pain and destruction. Understood this way, James could be exhorting the sinner to understand the gravity of (the sinner's soul has been saved from death!) and fullness (a multitude of sins are covered over!) of God's work. God has brought us forth by the word of truth (James 1:18), but the implanted word has an ongoing effect of saving our souls (James 1:21). How does a Christian bring back a wandering sinner? How does this work? One way to ponder this is to look at what James has done in his letter. He has consistently held forth to us God's justice and mercy (e.g. James 2:11-13), and he has not glossed over man's sin and it's deadly consequences (e.g. James 4:4). He has not assumed to judge - he knows that God is the only judge (James 4:12) - but he has exhorted his brothers to turn to God, to sincerely submit to him (James 4:7-8a), to repent of sin (James 4:8b), and to respond in obedience (James 1:25), with earnest prayer in all circumstances (James 5:13-17). By holding forth the word of truth, both of comfort and warning, and through his own persevering obedience to the truth, James exhorts his brothers to turn from sin and draw near to God in grace. This is a work of eternal significance, which we also need to do for each other. Finally, what if the wandering brother will not come back? I'm not sure if James specifically answers this question, but he does set the example by himself persevering in faith, and continuing to hold out the truth, regardless of the brother's response. He continues to encourage and warn his brothers, even as they do go off after their own sinful desires. He knows that there is only one Judge, who is able to save and destroy (James 4:12), and who is standing at the door (James 5:9). And he knows that mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13).