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Turning people back from error (James 5:19-20)

James 5:19-20    “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.”

KJV says “If any of you ERR from the truth…”   The Greek there for “err” really does strongly imply “wanders” from the truth; a gradual movement away from God’s truth – and from Christ himself, since HE is the truth and the Way.

Do you practice this passage? Do you actively seek to turn people back to the truth when you see them wandering from it? How does one do that? Should you do that? Why should we bother?

A common expression is this:  “This is a free country. We are all entitled to our own opinion.”  And with that, we wander off ourselves, away from someone who is being led into error.  It is, we reason, none of our business.

But when we see someone wandering off the right path – shouldn’t we have more of an “I am my brother’s keeper” mentality?  God says we should.  I’m NOT talking about yanking someone out of their doldrums and loudly proclaiming their sin to them.  I AM talking about caring enough for a brother or sister to bring your loving concern to their attention, gently. 

Peter, Jude and Paul all speak about people straying. Paul says some stray due to overly seeking money (1 Timothy 6:10). Others stray from the faith by giving heed to “new truth” and idle babblings (1 Tim. 6:21).  In Paul’s day, there were brethren causing problems because they taught “the resurrection” is already past (2 Tim. 2:18). Peter warned that any of us could fall from our “own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked” (2 Peter 3:17). 

How many people could be alive today if more of us acted and gently intervened in the lives of our spiritual family? Or if you had carefully talked with someone who was starting to drink too much?  I’ve talked to younger brothers in the faith about alcohol and other issues, and they listened and changed.

So we don't use a sledgehammer approach but a gentle and careful approach that is preceded by prayer for help and guidance. 

Galatians 6:1 “Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you won’t be tempted also.

Click on “Continue reading” here to finish this instructive piece.

Remember Paul himself did this several times. Once, when Peter had come to Antioch, Peter tried to distance himself from Gentiles when Jews from Jerusalem showed up. Paul saw something, and did something: he confronted Peter (you can read about it in Galatians 2:11-14) about this error and hypocrisy.  Peter needed that!

This instruction is not about trying to correct everyone in the world. No, James says “if anyone among YOU wanders…”.  We’re talking about brothers and sisters in Christ.  James says it’s a really big deal. We can save people’s lives.

This blog is simply to encourage those who read my messages to stop and think: 

*** “Am I living James 5:19-20?  Whose eyes have I helped to see the light again? 

*** When was the last time I talked about truth and doctrine with a brother in Messiah whom I felt was going astray?

*** When was the last time I showed enough loving concern for anyone to chat with them about things I could see happening in their lives? How long has it been? Have I EVER done this?

What are some examples of someone ‘WANDERING” from the truth?

*** Listening to doctrinal error

*** Becoming lax about spiritual issues, Bible study, interest in spiritual things

*** Personal behavior that is hurting people or themselves

*** Real dangers you see in their spiritual conduct. I’ll say more on this later.

HOW do we go about it?

*** Realize your own spiritual problems, issues and weaknesses.

*** Pray for guidance and a heart like Christ’s own heart (Phil 2:5)

*** Pray for gentleness and yet proper firmness to get the point across.

*** Pray for wisdom, understanding and a desire to truly listen as well.

Ideally the person you’re going to talk to will see you as a truly loving person full of God’s spirit, and that you mean well.


First of all, even in my own life, I can sure look back and wish there had been people caring enough to come to me when they could see me wandering into problems and sins of my youth. I could have used that and it could have saved me from a ton of hurt and problems.

Go back and read Titus 2:1-5 and there you see that Paul teaches especially the older men and older women to speak up, to admonish younger women to love their husbands, for example (verse 4).

I know there have been people who have truly turned their lives and beliefs and actions around – because we had a talk together.  I spoke with a young man who obviously was over-drinking and his speech was sometimes slurred when we spoke on the phone. He is getting control of that aspect of his life, and he knows he’ll be healthier and happier for it too.

There was another younger man I cared deeply about who had a lovely wife and wonderful family, but he hollered at all of them it seemed, even in public. I decided to say something.

When I approached him, I mentioned that I wanted to share something – a big, big mistake I was making when I was his age, and how I hollered too much at my wife at times; how I was so impatient.  I mentioned that one day I realized that I was snuffing out the joy and sparkle that once was in my wife’s eyes.  At this rate, our marriage would have ended in divorce – or with a very unhappy wife and children. But I made the point that I finally woke up and prayed God forgive me and to let me bring joy back to my wife. 

I acknowledged that I continued to have to watch my impatience and temper, and how it was taking a lot of prayer and asking forgiveness, to make any progress.

And then I said, “I see you doing the same thing. (Long pause) Don’t kill the joyful sparkle in your lovely wife’s eyes. Don’t cut out the thrill of what could be an extraordinarily great marriage. I fear for you. But I also have big hopes for you because I know you are a ‘man of God’ and that you really do love your wife, your kids, and everyone. So I know you’ll do it. And please realize, I am not saying I’m better than you. I’m saying I almost blew it, and don’t want you to go through the mistakes I was making.” 

A couple years later that man came to me and mentioned that this particular talk we had together had turned him around and brought him back to honoring his awesome wife. GOD had answered my prayers.  And today that man and his wife are a terrific example of a wonderful and happy marriage.

So you be you, led by God’s spirit and presence in you. But DO be your brother’s keeper. Some of you will do better by writing a letter. Others are better having that talk over a cup of coffee. But whatever you do, pray about it a lot.

And then LISTEN, when you get together with the other person. Listen. A very wise person once said: “Seek first to understand – before you seek to be understood”. Listen with the intention of really understanding what he/she is saying. But most of us do– yes, me too – we “listen” but we’re really preparing what we want to say next. I have a terrible habit of that myself. 

I think if someone senses you really do care, you’re halfway home! Listening is a great way for someone to sense you really care.

Listen. Ask questions.  Be sure you really understand what’s being said.  Then re-phrase a summary of what they’ve just said and end with, “Am I expressing your thoughts correctly?” 

If he or she says “Yes, that’s it exactly”, then you can start to gently show your concerns about where they’re heading – either in conduct or in spiritual doctrine. 

You are uniquely you. You have to do this in a way that is truly YOU.  The point of this blog is really just to have you quietly analyze, with prayer, how you could best help someone who is wandering away from the truth.  Be there for them. Show you care enough to call them or write them.

Yes, some of you will do better by writing a note first. But whatever the “wandering” is, please do say something. You see something, say something.  Perhaps a brother is starting to flirt with married women and you see real danger. You see something – say something to him, gently but lovingly enough to wake him up.  You see, God uses you and me to be his presence to our brethren who are wandering away. 

Maybe you notice that so-and-so has gone “stealth” – they’ve “disappeared”.  They don’t call or text anymore. They don’t attend anywhere. Even on social media like Facebook, they’re gone. And when you do see them, there’s a blank look. 

This could be a sign of deep depression or someone about to “call it quits” – maybe they’re even suicidal. They just don’t care anymore. NO feelings are left.  When someone is sad, furious, or even hateful – at least there are feelings there.  But someone who says “I just don’t care anymore” is telling you the feelings are gone and they’re close to turning off everything in their lives.

You’ve got to wonder: “What’s happening with him/her?” – and love them enough to call and check.  It’s quite common for “loved ones” to wonder how a relative could commit suicide. We hear “there were zero signs ahead of time, nothing to clue us in”.  I’ve heard that so many times. It could happen to you, or to me. We get so focused on our own issues that we aren’t tuning in anymore to others.

So yes, please love one another so much that you’ll take the time to help re-direct someone who is wandering away in conduct or belief from the truth.  It takes courage and a lot of help from God’s spirit. But mostly it takes someone with a big heart to help others.

James 5:19-20    “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 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.”

It’s worth it, right?

Paul and Philemon – and you and I
Happy Father’s Day: HONOR your Father and Mother


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