OPERATION RESTORATION – James 5:19-20

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INTRODUCTION:

We’ve come to the final two verses of James’ letter to the Hebrew Christians scattered all over the Roman Empire and beyond.  It’s not the typical conclusion of a letter, such as the ones written by the apostle Paul, or Peter, or John.  There are no parting words of farewell, and there is no closing prayer.  But James has a reason for ending his letter with the words he uses. We will soon see, as we fit these parting words into the context of the rest of the letter.

Having served as a chaplain in a hospital setting for many years, and having been “under the knife” several times myself, I’ve become somewhat familiar with the  procedures that are followed in some operations.  I think that there are some elements of comparison, and I will be pointing them out as we look at James 5:19-20 in the light of what has preceded it.

Here are two translations of this passage of Scripture, James 5:19-20:

“My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins.” (NASB)

“My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered off from God’s truth, don’t write them off.  Go after them.  Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering from God.” (The Message)

I.  THE UNHAPPY WANDERERS (verse 19a)

James calls them “brethren”, meaning that they are either believers, or at least members of the congregations.  “If anyone strays from the truth”.  The word “if” implies that there are some in these congregations who have strayed, and there are others who haven’t strayed from the truth.  He is saying that straying from the truth can happen and has happened.  The word translated “strays”, or “wanders” is the Greek word “planao”.  We get our English word “planet” from this word.  It was generally believed, in those days, that the planets wandered around in the skies, and appeared in different places and at different times.  They didn’t realize that these planets are in an elliptical obit around the sun, as is the earth.

James has been describing and dealing with these “wanderings” throughout his letter.  Many of his readers and hearers have been guilty of impatience, misuse of their tongues, self-centeredness, greed, or other evidences of failing to practice the truth.  The following saying is so true:  “If truth isn’t applied, we’ve either wandered from it, or never possessed it.”

It’s a scary thing to wander from the truths of God’s Word.  It usually happens slowly, imperceptible at first.  Then we realize that we have not only wandered from the truth, but we have also drifted away from our closeness to the Lord Jesus Christ and to other believers.  Feelings of guilt, fear and embarrassment may keep us from seeking help and turning back.  We may begin to feel that our lives are out of control and that the situation is hopeless.

Have you ever been in a helpless situation because of a physical injury or infection? When I was in my early 20’s I felt pain in my lower abdomen.  Within minutes I was doubled over, and the pain was so intense that all I could do was to cry out for help.  My mother heard my cries and took me immediately to a nearby hospital.  I was given a shot to ease the pain and told that  I was having an acute appendicitis attack.  I would be going into surgery immediately.  My family doctor arrived, and told me that he would be performing the surgery.  I would be sedated and would not be awake or feel any pain during the surgery.  His presence and assurances relieved much of the tension I was experiencing.  When I awoke there was a scar, stitches and minimal pain.   The inflammation was gone and I was feeling much better.  One of my aunts died from a ruptured appendix when she was a teenager, so my fears were real.  I look back at that event as a life-saving experience, thanks in part to the immediate action by my mother and the doctor.

II.  THE RESTORERS (verse 19b)

The end of verse 19 contains five simple words:  “And one turns him back” (NASB).  The Message uses the words, “Go after them.  Bring them back.”  In verse 20 James gives a more detailed description of the wanderer’s condition when he says “turns a sinner from the error of his way.”  James uses the Greek word “hamartolos”, an archer’s term meaning, “missing the mark”.  But the word is also used to describe a traveler who has left the familiar road and is following winding, twisted paths that cause him to lose his way.  He has chosen to go his own way, and this choice has affected his thoughts, words, actions, and attitudes.  We are either walking in God’s truth or in our own way.  Those are the options.  The “turning back” is descriptive of the acknowledgement of one’s sin, confession of it, turning from it, and once again walking in fellowship with God and in obedience to God’s truth.

The apostle Paul, in Galatians 6:1, wanted to make sure that his readers knew what their attitude should be in the restoration process.  He says, “restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, lest you too be tempted.”  I have an anonymous poem in my collection of illustrations, and it brings tears of regret to my eyes every time I read it.  I hope it has a similar effect on you.

Pray don’t find fault with the man that limps

Or stumbles along the road,

Unless you have worn the shoes he wears

Or struggled beneath his load.

There may be tacks in his shoes that hurt

Tho’ hidden away from view,

Or the burden he bears placed on your back

Might make you stumble too.

Don’t sneer at the man who’s down today,

Unless you have felt the blow

That caused his fall or felt the shame

That only the fallen know.

You may be strong; but still the blows

That were his, if dealt to you

In the selfsame way at the selfsame time

Might cause you to stagger, too.

Don’t be too harsh with the man that sins,

Or pelt him with word or stone,

Unless you are sure – yes, doubly sure –

That you have no sins of your own.

For you know perhaps if the tempter’s voice

Should whisper as soft to you

As it did to him when he went astray

It might cause you to falter too.

In order to effectively turn another believer back to fellowship with God through gentle reproof and correction, we will need to have that kind of an attitude toward the wanderer and toward ourselves.   The hymn writer, Robert Robinson, expressed his inner struggles when he said:  “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.” (Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing).  The wanderer will need love, concern, and encouragement in order to confess the sin which has dragged him down, and redirect his focus toward the God who loves him and wants to forgive him and welcome him back.  You might say that God is calling us to be part of the “welcoming committee”.

III.  THE JOYFUL RESULTS (verse 20)

At the end of verse 20, James describes the results of the restoration process. First, “He . . . will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins”.  These words can be confusing if taken out of their context, and without a grasp of the Hebrew concept of sin and death.  The word “he” refers to the restorer, as he is used by God. The phrase “save his soul from death” is probably referring to physical death, not spiritual death.  As a doctor often saves his patients from the harmful and continuing affects of an infection or an injury, the restorer has the responsibility and privilege of saving a wandering Christian from the continuing effects of his sin.  In the Old Testament scriptures, sin is often associated with physical death.  When Adam and Eve sinned, one of the penalties was eventual physical death.  Moses and a whole generation of the children of Israel spent 40 years wandering in the desert and dying because of their sins.  The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire because of sin, and only Lot and his family were spared.  The recipients of his letter didn’t need an explanation.  They already knew the record of God’s dealings with His people.

The other result of the restorer’s ministry is “the covering of a multitude of sins”.  By his own loving, listening, and forgiving attitude, the restorer mirrors God’s love and forgiveness, and becomes a model of forgiveness and acceptance to other believers in the fellowship.  As it says in Proverbs 10:12, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.”  King David said in Psalm 32:3-6, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me.  My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.  I acknowledged my sin to Thee, and my iniquity I did not hide;  I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; and Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin.”  As a restorer, God gives us the privilege of sharing in the joy of that forgiveness (covering) of sin and return to fellowship.  They say, “Misery loves company”.  Well, relief-from-misery loves company also, and we’re invited to the celebration!  If you’ve ever had a restoration experience, whether you were the restorer or the one who was restored, you know that it was a joy-filled experience for both parties!

IV.  SUMMARY AND PERSONAL APPLICATION

Pastor and Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe concludes his commentary on the epistle of James by asking a series of questions to help us examine our hearts and evaluate our own spiritual maturity.  Let’s reflect on each question and be honest with ourselves and with God as we answer them.

  1.  Am I becoming more and more patient in the testings of life?
  2. Do I play with temptation, or resist it from the start?
  3. Do I find joy in obeying the Word of God, or do I merely study it and learn it?
  4. Are there any prejudices that saddle me?
  5. Am I able to control my tongue?
  6. Am I a peacemaker rather than a troublemaker?  Do people come to me for spiritual wisdom?
  7. Am I a friend of God or a friend of the world?
  8. Do I make plans without considering the will of God?
  9. Am I selfish when it comes to money?  Am I unfaithful in the paying of my bills?
  10. Do I naturally depend on prayer when I find myself in some kind of trouble?
  11. Am I the kind of person others seek for prayer support?
  12. What is my attitude toward the wandering brother?  Do I criticize and gossip, or do I seek to restore him in love?

May the Lord give you diligence as you pursue godliness and divine wisdom.  May He also provide strength and a loving friend if you should begin to stumble or falter.

“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”  (James 1:22)

 

 

DIVISIONS IN THE CHURCH – I Corinthians 1:10-17

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INTRODUCTION:

How important is it that there be unity within the Church?  How important is it that there  be unity in the Church where you fellowship?  How important was unity to the apostle Paul, and to the Holy Spirit who moved Him to write this letter to the Church in Corinth?

This issue was so important that Paul devotes the first four chapters of I Corinthians to divisions in the church.  In verses 10-17 of Chapter 1, Paul establishes the fact that there are divisions and begins to deal with them.

I.  PAUL’S APPEAL FOR UNITY (verses 10-12)

In verses 10-12, Paul begins by giving an appeal for unity.  In verse 10 we see both Paul’s affection for the Corinthian church, and his authority as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He addresses them as “brethren”.  They are his family in  Christ.  And he speaks “in the name of” or by the authority of, our Lord Jesus Christ.  There are several important terms in this passage.  Paul exhorts them to “agree”.  The Greek word used here literally means “to say the same thing”.   This doesn’t mean that they have to agree on the minutest points in areas where there is no clear teaching in Scripture.  In these cases there should be freedom to “agree to disagree”.  But when it comes to the clear teachings of God’s Word, there cannot be two conflicting views that are both right.  God is not confused, and He does not contradict Himself.  His Word does not disagree with itself.  So Paul is insisting that the Corinthians, and all believers, have doctrinal unity that is clearly based on God’s Word.  He appeals to them “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”.  In other words, there must be agreement with Christ, with His will, and with His Word.  For a local church to be spiritually healthy and effective, and for there to be harmony in the local church, there must be doctrinal unity.

Paul continues in verse 10 by saying that “there be no divisions among you”.  The word “divisions” comes from the Greek word “schismata”, from which we get our English word “schism”.  This word was normally used to refer to a tear in a garment.  What happens when you get a tear in a piece of clothing and you keep washing and wearing that piece of clothing with the tear in it?  Unless it’s mended, the tear gets bigger and bigger, doesn’t it?  The church in Corinth was a group of people who were tearing themselves apart!

Paul doesn’t want these divisions to continue, so he offers them an alternative.  Instead of tearing themselves apart, he urges them to be “made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment”.  The words  “made complete” mean “to be perfectly joined together”, like a jigsaw puzzle.  How many of you have ever put together a jigsaw puzzle?  Every piece of that jigsaw puzzle is different, isn’t it?  But when each piece is fitted together into its proper place in the puzzle, you have a beautiful and complete picture.  Have you ever tried to put a jigsaw puzzle together with the pieces turned upside down so that they are all blank?  Try it some time.  It’s a lot harder!  On a large jigsaw puzzle of a thousand pieces or more, it’s almost impossible to put it together upside down!  That’s not the way a jigsaw puzzle was meant to be put together.  In the same way, that’s not the way the Church was meant to be fitted together.  God wants the local church congregation and the local community to see the beauty of a church that is unified and “fitted together” in love.

Unity in the chuch is something that requires cooperation with each other and with the Spirit of God.  We need to be “perfectly joined together” in the love of Christ.  One day in Africa, a small boy was lost.  The news went out but no one had seen the little fellow.  The search went on until nightfall, but no answer came to their urgent calls.  The anxiety of the child’s mother contined to grow, for she knew that her boy was somewhere out in the darkness where wild animals were constantly on the prowl.  When daylight again appeared, they looked for him with renewed energy but still without success.  In desperation they returned and held a meeting.  Perhaps, in their individual efforts, they had missed some spots;  so the suggestion was made, “Let’s all join hands and go through the long grass again.”  Finally the child was found, but it was too late.  When the lifeless body of the little one was carried back to the anxious mother, she cried aloud, “Oh why didn’t’ you join hands before?”

When it comes to seeking the spiritually lost for Christ, we can be much more effective if we are “perfectly joined together” in an unfailing zeal for God’s glory, not our own.  Believers who are joined in heart should not find it difficult to be joined in hand, working together for the common good and for the glory of Christ.  This applies also to the leadership in the church.  The elders should make their decisions with “the same mind and the same judgment.  There should be unanimous agreement.  Not even a three-fourths vote should carry a motion.  There should be oneness of mind, no matter how long it takes.  Because the Holy Spirit has but one will, and because a church must be in complete harmony with His will, the leaders must be in complete harmony with each other in that will.  The congregation then is to submit to the elders because it has confidence that their decisions were made under the Holy Spirit’s direction and power.

The words “made complete” in verse 10 are translated from a Greek word which was used to speak of mending such things as nets, bones, dislocated joints, broken utensils, and torn garments.  The basic meaning is to put back together and make one again something that was broken or separated.  Paul wants the Corinthian church to mend the broken relationships that have been caused by the divisions among its members.

In her book, “The Key to a Loving Heart”, Karen Mains includes a parable about the church entitled “The Brawling Bride”.  It tells about the most climactic moment in a wedding ceremony.  The families have been seated.  The groom and his attendants are in their places.  The minister is waiting, Bible in hand.  The bridesmaids have come down the aisle.  The organ begins the bridal march, and everyone stands.  A gasp bursts from the guests!  The bride is limping!  Her gown is ripped and covered with mud!  Bruises show on her arm!  Her nose is bloody!  One eye is purple and swollen!  Her hair is messed up!

In this parable, the groom in Christ.  “Doesn’t He deserve better than this?” the author asks.  “His bride, the Church, has been fighting again!”

Ridiculous?  Not when we hear of churches with factions or cliques of people who sit on opposite sides of the aisle.  Not when one part of the congregation meets in one part of the building, and the other part of the congregation meets in another spot.  Not when some people in the congregation won’t look at, speak to, or even acknowledge the existence of certain other people in the congregation.  These kinds of things happen when there are divisions in a church.

In verse 11, Paul gives the reason for his appeal for unity in the church at Corinth.  He had received a report from the household of Cloe that there were quarrels among the members of the Corinthian church.  We do not know who the people were who belonged to “the house of Cloe”, but we must commend them for their courage and devotion.  They did not try to hide the problems.  They were burdened about them, and they went to the right person with them.  They were also not afraid to be mentioned in Paul’s letter to the church.

Verse 12 tells us the source of this problem.  Four groups had formed in the Corinthan church.  There were:  the followers of Paul, the followers of Apollos, the followers of Cephas or Peter, and the followers of Christ.  The content of their messages were in agreement, but the followers of these men probably focused on personality differences and distorted their teachings.  Paul was the apostle to the gentiles.  They may have carried Paul’s teachings of justification by faith and freedom from the Law to an extreme and felt free to do whatever they wanted.  Apollos was an intellectual.  Acts 18:24 says that Apollos was “an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man”.  Alexandria was a center for learning and philosophy.  His followers in the Corinthian church may have viewed Christianity as a philosophy rather than a relationship with a Person – Jesus Christ.  Peter was an uneducated, common man and may have appealed to that group of people in Corinth.  The followers of Jesus may have believed in Jesus’ words only, and did not believe that the writings of Peter, Paul, and the other apostles were really Scripture.  We have “Jesus only” groups even today.

II.  PAUL’S CONDEMNATION (verse 13)

Paul condemns their behavior in verse 13 by saying, “Has Christ been divided?”  In other words, have different amounts of Christ been given to different people?  In Matthew 12:25 the Lord Jesus says, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself shall not stand.”

Only the Lord Jesus Christ could pay the penalty for our sins because only He is the Son of God.  Luke says in Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name  under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved.”  The ground is level at the cross.  We are all equally undeserving of salvation and a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Anyone who claims that he or she has an exclusive part in Christ is wrong.  Christ belongs fully to every believer in His spiritual body, the Church.  I Corinthians 12:12,13 says, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, and whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”  You and I can’t have more of the Lord Jesus Christ, but we can give Him more of ourselves, and experience more fully what is already ours as children of God.

III.  PAUL’S EXAMPLE (verses 14-16)

In verrses 14 to 16, Paul uses himself as an example.  In this passage of Scripture, Paul is very careful to focus the attention on Christ and not on himself.  There was nothing wrong with Paul baptizing people, but Paul didn’t want people to boast in the fact that he baptized them.  In Philippians 2:9 Paul said of Christ, “Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.”  No Christian, no Christian minister, is to put himself in Christ’s place, or allow himself to be put in Christ’s place, and take the authority and honor that is due to Christ alone.

IV.  PAUL’S CALLING (verse 17)

In verse 17, Paul says that his calling of God was to “preach the Gospel”, and the focus of the Gospel is the cross of Christ.  Paul says that he does not preach “in cleverness of speech” because the power of the gospel lies in the facts of the gospel, nnd not in any man’s presentation of them.

CONCLUSION:

We’ve seen how important unity was to the apostle Paul.  How important was unity to our Lord Jesus Christ?  If you will turn in your Bibles with me to John 17:20-23, I will read the passage to you.  The Lord Jesus is praying to the Father, and this is part of His prayer for us:

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one; even as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us; that the world may believe that You sent Me.  And the glory which You gave Me I have given them; that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (NKJV)

Having listened to Paul’s words and the prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ, how important is unity to each of us today?  Are we willing and ready to pray for unity in His Church, and work at building a stronger unity among fellow-members of the congregations where we fellowship and serve?  Will we do so by the strength which God alone can and will supply?  Are we willing to love each other as Christ loved us?  If we are, all our differences and difficulties would soon come to an end.  Remember, a believer who is at war with his brother or sister in Christ cannot be at peace with our heavenly Father.