“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20)
Teacher alert! If you are teaching students today of any age, you are called to train them up in the way of the Lord, either directly and conspicuously or indirectly and subtly (for those of you teaching in public schools). As a trainer of teachers, I used to instruct them that all things need to be taught to children and never assumed. We should never presume that a child of any age recognizes sin in him or herself. A teacher’s words are powerful to influence their students and should be used appropriately to intercede and guide minds and hearts. Christian teachers in Christian schools have environments conducive to strong biblical instruction and should not shrink from this duty.
What about the rest of us? Do we have a responsibility to teach or rebuke a child or adult? Of course, we are commanded to address the sins of others in Scripture. Luke 17:3 is to the point, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” (Also see Matthew 5:23-25; 18:15-17.) Yes, this is sticky!
This week we will look at the influence and weight of our words, especially wise words, before we study their characteristics. If we are not convinced that God empowers our biblical words and speech, we will not use them appropriately, or perhaps speak at all when we have the opportunity to sway someone to the Lord. I have started with one of the messiest aspects of communication between Christians because it is vital to know that our wisdom is not just for our convenience or comfort. God gives us wise words to be used in difficult situations, as well as in pleasant circumstances. If we are unwilling to enter into the chaotic, confusing intersection of personal holiness colliding with worldly tendencies, we will not be of much use to Christ with our words.
The point of today’s devotion is not the “how” of correcting, instructing, or rebuking another Christian, but the necessity of doing so, rather than giving into our comfort and “letting it go.” I know this is not the first time I have addressed this and it won’t be the last, because it is addressed in Scripture more than once or twice. Here James is concluding his letter to the church with the admonition to care about the body of Christ enough to help those who have backslid or fallen into sin and not repented. Although James mentions saving “his soul from death” most commentators I have read consider these sins as those belonging to Christians, members of the church to whom James was writing, similar to the instruction given by John and Jude (1 John 5:16; 1:23).
If you are casual with your words will you use them more seriously today? If you tend to hoard your words, keeping to yourself, will you consider speaking more for the Lord? If you are harsh, will you be softer; if you are mild, will you use your knowledge to share your wisdom? Will we be concerned about the Body of Christ today?
“Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.” (Psalms 51:13)