“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
Explanation of the Text: We now come to the conclusion of James’ epistle, and James concludes in a direct and convicting manner, just as he has done throughout the entire letter. James ends the letter almost abruptly with one very long sentence. Interestingly that long sentence consists of a conditional clause, and the condition placed on that clause is a command. That command is instruction regarding living together in the body of Christ. In the previous section, James has instructed how the church can come together in prayer for one another and confession to one another. The concept of living within the body sets the tone for verses 19-20 as well. It is noted that the command here communicates to the readers a responsibility that each has in how they relate to one another within their interpersonal relationships.
The relationship to be had within the body is one of restoration into a right relationship not only to each other, but also to God. The idea is to restore people who have began to wander away from the truth. The wandering here is not referencing someone who unknowingly walked down the wrong path, but rather it is indicating one who has deliberately rejected God’s truth after previously accepting it. Therefore, believers should be vigilant of their fellow believers, taking note when they may have turned aside and seek to restore them. This concept of accountability is not unknown. We see it Paul’s writing (see Galatians 6:1 and Colossians 3:1-17). We see how God used men like Samuel to keep men accountable and convict them of their sin. While it is difficult, we must seek to keep each accountable and guide one another in a right relationship with God. However, the act of accountability must be done in love, because indeed, it is a loving act. We guide and direct one another because we love one another and want to see each person experience the joy of a full relationship with God.
Thomas Manton reminds readers that it is not the believer who does the restoring though, but instead, it is God who does the work and He has simply allowed each of us the privilege of being an instrument of His work. The question is whose soul is saved then and what does it mean that they are saved? The correlation between the use of his in the phrase “his wandering” and the phrase “his soul” the logical conclusion is that the soul being saved is the person who has wandered. Although some claim that the person who brought the strayed wanderer back is the one whose soul is saved, this does not make sense based on both the correlation mentioned above and the fact that there would be no need for this person’s soul to be saved, because it is apparent that they are already in right relationship with God. The next question then is what does it mean that the person’s soul will be saved from death. In terms of a person who was not a true believer, the meaning is clear that they are being saved from eternal separation from God in an eschatological sense. Likewise, it brings a person to a point of restoration in their relationship with God. The covering of a multitude of sins is exactly what is found when one has peace in Christ. The death of Christ covered the sins of the people, and to those who have accepted Him, they have been given eternal life. Likewise, we are called as believers to keep short accounts with God, knowing that He is faithful to forgive (1 John 1:9).
As a believer, why would you not want a person to experience the same type of relationship with God that you are also experiencing? We should have a desire for believers and non-believers alike, that they would find that true joy that one has when they are in constant communion with the one, true God.
Examination & Application of the Text: While the text consists of one, long sentence, James is quick to draw three important theological conclusions within that sentence:
1) The penalty for sin is death
2) A multitude of sins is covered through reconciliation
3) Christians are responsible to care for one another through correction
This responsibility to care for one another is not a burden, but rather is an opportunity to pour into one another’s lives and see God glorified.
Simply put, James is calling on believers to love one another. That is to love one another through care for one’s relationship with God. This is done through teaching and correcting one another. Although sometimes difficult and painful, it is a loving action if it is shrouded in love.
As we close out the devotions in James, the following is a synopsis of the call that James places on the life of believers as outlined by Christopher Morgan:
“James holds expectations high, keeps warnings urgent, and yet acknowledges the present reality that church members are prone to temptation and sin and thus exhorts them to be consistent and calls for confession and repentance. Like a loving pastor, he urges perseverance, even concluding his letter with a plea for the church to promote such continued faith (5:19-20).”
 Chris A. Vlachos, James, B&H Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament, Ed. Murray J. Harris & Andreas J. Kostenberger (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2013), 196.
 George Guthrie, James, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 273.
 Ralph P. Martin, James, Word Biblical Commentary, Ed. David a Hubbard & Glenn W. Barker (Waco: Word Books Publisher, 1988), 218.
 Thomas Manton, James, Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1995), James 5:19.
 Craig L. Blomberg & Mariam J. Kamell, James, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 249.
 David Nystrom, James, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 318.
 Christopher W. Morgan, A Theology of James (Philipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2010), 160.