On Saturday, June 23 of this year, the head coach of the Chiang Rai Wild Boars soccer team, the guy everyone called, “Coach Ek,” led his team in celebrating the birthday of one of his players on a team building outing much like many of our coaches did for us when we were young. The twelve teammates followed their coach into the cave in Chang Rai. It was a trip coach Ek had made many, many times in the past, but this time would be different. It was raining when the boys entered the cave, but coach Ek didn’t think anything about it. The rains picked up and eventually coach Ek and his team found themselves cut off from exiting the cave. It would take nine days before the coach and his team would be found, on July 2.
Finding the boys was nothing short of a miracle as the cave system is filled with possibilities; twists and turns, one cave branching off into other channels and opportunities to be explored. The boys were 2.5 miles from the mouth of the cave when they were finally located. One of the passageways the boys had to navigate along the way was a 16 inch opening. Finding the boys was like finding a needle in a haystack, but getting them out presented a whole different set of problems to be solved.
An international team went to work plotting and planning, looking at every possibility, and sparing no expense. It was said that 1,000 people were working together in planning and executing the plan to save the boys and their coach. There were another 1,000 people who volunteered to do anything needed to help. There were more than 90 divers who were involved in the operation. One of the divers, Saman Gunan, had been a Thai Navy Seal, but had retired a few years earlier. Saman was 38 years old, a triathlete who liked adventure sports, who, when he heard about the situation, volunteered to help. He told his wife, “I want to help bring the boys home.” Saman’s job, once the boys had been found, was to deliver oxygen tanks to various places within the cave so other divers could switch out their tanks and so the boys could have extra oxygen if they needed it. He had successfully delivered some tanks when he was making his way out of the cave and ran out of oxygen himself. It’s ironic isn’t it? Saman had just taken tanks full of oxygen to those in need when he himself ran out of oxygen.
Saman had served his country well. He had hung up his diving gear and was enjoying life with his wife. Why would he risk it all when it wasn’t his duty any longer? He recognized there were others in need and he just couldn’t sit back and do nothing. He had to do something.
I was reminded of this story this past week as I was studying James 5:19-20, the last two verses of James’ letter. Let’s read what James has written and then we’ll see what we can learn.
19 My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20 NIVO)
It’s an odd way to end a letter isn’t it? That’s probably not the way you end a letter or an email to your friends. It’s not the way Paul ended his letters to the churches, or individuals like Philemon, that we have in the Bible. Paul would typically end his letters along the lines of what we read in his letter to the church in Philippi. Look at Philippians 4:21-23 with me.
21 Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send greetings. 22 All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household. 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. (Philippians 4:21-23 NIVO)
Now that’s something we would expect isn’t it? Why did James end his letter in the way he did? Think about this with me for a minute. Throughout James’ letter he has been looking out for those he calls his “brothers and sisters.” His way of looking out for his brothers and sisters in Christ has been to teach them, to correct them where he had learned they had gotten off track, and to warn them of the pitfalls that lie ahead if they departed from the truth. Chuck Swindoll writes,
Throughout his letter, James has pinpointed specific areas in which Christians have begun to slip: doubting during trials, blaming when tempted, anger and prejudice, sterile intellectualism, a loose tongue, jealousy, arrogance, being judgmental, planning without God, taking advantage of others because of wealth, and lack of prayer—to name a few. For these five chapters, James has been coming to our rescue. (Swindoll, Chuck. How To Handle Straying Saints. June 15, 2009).
James had been watching out for his brothers and sisters. He chose to end his letter by urging them to look out for one another. You and I live in a day where the growing response to people in trouble is, “It’s none of my business. I don’t want to get involved.”
It was a Thursday morning in Philadelphia when a man began beating a woman on the city street. There were people walking by on their way to where they were going. Some people walked right past the woman being pummeled by fists and feet, others stopped to watch, some took out their phones to capture video or take pictures, but no one was willing to help. The beating went on for 20-30 minutes. One man captured the whole incident on his phone and handed it over to a local news station. After watching the video, the newsperson asked, “Did anyone try to help the woman?” The man said, “No one, just bystanders, smiling, laughing. Just standing around like a normal day, like nothing was even happening.”
God asked Cain, who had just killed his brother Abel, “Where’s your brother Abel?” Cain shot back, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain sounds like the typical modern-day American. What has become far too common in our society, is totally and completely unacceptable in the Body of Christ.
James writes, “If one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back…” We have to remember that in these last verses of James’ letter he has given us some great insight about the urgent need to help our brothers and sisters who are in need. He’s told us that those who are physically sick need to call the elders and the spiritual leaders of the church will pray for them. In verse 16, James moved from simply physical illness to sin sickness. He offered the remedy needed at such a time when he wrote,
16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:16 NIVO)
There is a common thread that runs throughout these themes of physical illness and sin sickness and it is that those who are sick are willing to reach out to others for help. The sick person calls for the elders and those who are aware of their sin-sickness reach out for help. Those James had in mind in verses 19-20 are slipping away from the fellowship, wandering from the truth, and either they are unaware of the direction in which they are heading or they have charted their course and do not want anyone to interfere with their plan. Either way we are called to do everything we can to bring them back to the truth.
We tend to be much more sympathetic towards those who have “fallen” into a mess than we are of those who have defiantly and willfully turned away from God and ended up in ruins. Our model is not how we feel or what we think about the severity of the sin and the predicaments our friends, family, or brothers and sister in Christ have gotten themselves into. Our model is Jesus, the One who told a story about the Shepherd who left the ninety-nine sheep that were safe in the Shepherd’s pen so He could go and find the one lost sheep. Our model is Jesus, the One who told a story about a Prodigal Son who willfully thumbed his nose at his dad and headed off on a path of destruction; and the father who threw his arms around his broken boy when he saw him headed home. It was the wandering son, the son broken by decadence, the son who looked like a ragamuffin, covered in shame and filled with disgrace and embarrassment, dragging himself towards his father’s house that caused the father to gather up his robe and sprint with tears streaming down his face towards his boy. “Get my best robe and bring it. Put a ring on his finger. Get my best pair of sandals, my son can’t walk around like this. And kill the fattened calf, the one we’ve been saving for a special occasion! My son was lost, but he’s been found!”
In the great hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” there is a stanza that I’ve been thinking about all week. It goes like this:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love
Take my heart, O take and seal it
Seal it for thy courts above.
That stanza resonates with me. “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it…” My heart is so easily led astray. I can so easily present myself to you and all of those who know me in the finest of Christian accessories. I’ve got the lingo down. I can quote Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Paul, and of course Jesus. I can teach the Bible on any number of subjects: The character of God, the salvific significance of Jesus’ death on the cross, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants, sin and salvation, regeneration and sanctification, but the truth of the matter is my heart is prone to wander. There is an ongoing battle with my flesh on a daily basis.
The man who wrote those words about a heart that is prone wander wrote them in 1757. His name was Robert Robinson. His dad had died when he was just eight years old. He became uncontrollable, his poor mother became exhausted trying to turn him around. When Robert was seventeen he and his buddies heard the great preacher, George Whitefield, was coming to preach in their town. The boys decided they would go and heckle him. They got drunk before the service, took their seats, and waited for Whitefield. George Whitefield read his text for the evening, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7). At some point during the night the heckling turned to a deep, deep conviction. Robert left the meeting and for the next three years was gripped by a deep sense of his own sin until, at the age of twenty, Robert confessed his sin and became a follower of Jesus.
Robert didn’t just become a Sunday morning follower of Jesus, he entered the ministry, two years later wrote, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” and preached God’s Word powerfully for several years. Some time later Robert began to stray, his heart began to wander, and he eventually found himself in the far country…far, far from God. One Sunday morning he hitched a ride on a stagecoach with a woman who was humming the hymn he had written years before . She stopped and asked, “Do you know that hymn?” He said, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.” The good news is, God used that chance encounter, if there were such a thing as chance, with an unknown woman, to draw Robert back to the One who provides “streams of mercy never ceasing.”
When James wrote about “wandering,” he had something specific in mind. He wasn’t thinking about straying off the path of achieving our goals or getting lost in the busyness of life. James wrote, “If one of you should wander from the truth…” “…Wander from the truth.” You mention the word “truth” today and many people will roll their eyes. Today, people are are much more concerned with living out their own truth than they are with seeking, discovering, and knowing the truth. Living out “our” truth means following our heart, finding what is most meaningful to us as individuals, and living it out unashamedly. Your truth is true simply due to the fact that is true to you, it is meaningful to you. A popular Los Angeles spiritual guru, Ram Dass, says, “Listen to your own truth.”
For the followers of Jesus we know that truth is not found deep in the recesses of our own hearts because our hearts are deceitful, they will lead us astray, and they are beyond cure (Jeremiah 17:9). We remember the words of Jesus when He said,
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 NIVO)
Truth is a Person. If we want to know the truth then we must get to know Jesus through God’s Word. God’s Word is our primary source for getting to know Jesus. It’s interesting that when Jesus was preparing to go to the cross, He prayed for His followers in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed in John 17:17, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” Knowing the truth is knowing Jesus. Knowing the truth is knowing the Word of God. Knowing the truth, biblically, is not simply knowing the words of God’s Word, it is being transformed through the knowing of God’s Word by the Holy Spirit. In Titus 1:1, Paul wrote,
1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness– (Titus 1:1 NIVO)
“…the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness.” Knowing the truth of God’s Word will naturally lead us to the living of a godly life, a life of following in Jesus’ steps. Knowing the One who is the Truth will bring about transformation in your life and my life. J.A. Motyer writes,
It is impossible (in Scripture) to make ‘truth’ a mere matter of holding some propositions or credal statements in our heads. Truth is a living thing; when it grips our minds it changes our lives. If we claim to know the truth, then the Bible would require us to prove our claim not only by reciting a creed and understanding it, but by the evidence of a way of life matching the truth. (Motyer, J.A. The Message of James. pg. 210).
The cultural definition of truth today is what is of greatest significance to you as an individual, but the definition of truth for the follower of Jesus is learning, embracing, and living out what is of greatest significance to Jesus. If we love Jesus we will want to know Him more and more. Jesus said that if we love Him we will obey Him. In John 14:23-24, Jesus said,
23 Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. (John 14:23-24 NIVO)
There are examples in God’s Word of those who wandered from the truth. There are two very obvious examples in the New Testament that come to mind. When we take the time to look closely at them we will find that they wandered in their beliefs and in their behavior. Let’s take a look at the first example, two men named Hymenaeus and Philetus. Paul wrote to Timothy about these two men in 2 Timothy 2:16-18.
16 Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. 17 Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:16-18 NIVO)
These men were teaching that the resurrection had already taken place and it was wrecking the faith of others in the community. Paul called their talk, “godless chatter.”
The second example is highlighted by Jude who was aware of some among the fellowship of God’s people who “change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus…” If you will turn to Jude 4 with me, I’ll show you what concerned Jude, and what should concern us.
3 Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. 4 For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. (Jude 1:3-4 NIVO)
Belief and behavior. They are two sides of the same coin. If we fail to understand, or deny the truth of God’s Word, then we will most certainly fail to live out Jesus’ commands. We see this all around us today. You will find people today calling themselves “Christians,” saying they are followers of Jesus, yet they deny Jesus claims to be the only way to God. They say things like, “Jesus is ‘my’ Savior, but there may be other Saviors for those in other faiths.” They deny Jesus lived a sinless life. They like the teachings of Jesus, but deny that His death on the cross has anything to do with modern-day people. Each Easter we see programs on television where pastors and theologians are interviewed who doubt the resurrection of Jesus.
More and more studies have been done that demonstrate that the lifestyles of people who have no faith and those who claim to have faith are becoming more closely aligned. Should our relationship with Jesus make us different from the average Joe or Jane walking the streets? You better believe it should. Jesus said,
16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16 NIVO)
The early followers of Jesus heard this message loud and clear. They set out to follow in Jesus’ steps, to live a life that was pleasing to God, and a testimony to the unbelieving world around them. Years later, one of those who heard Jesus speak those words, wrote a letter to his brothers and sisters in Christ. Listen to what he wrote,
12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:12 NIVO)
This life is tough. There are so many distractions, so many things that seek to lure us away from a faithful walk with the Lord, and that is why we desperately need one another. The writer of Hebrews gives us great advice.
13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (Hebrews 3:13 NIVO)
I know my heart all too well. I am prone to wander. If you would be honest then you also know your heart is prone to wander. That is why the Lord has placed us in the Body of Christ, the family of faith. We’re not spiritual policeman who are trying to catch one another wandering off, we are brothers and sisters who are called to look out for another. I love the story Dr. Howard Hendricks shared about a young man who had wandered away from the Lord. God used a friend to draw the young man back to the Lord, a friend who reached out to him, loved him enough to tell him the truth, and refused to give up on him. The young man told Dr. Hendricks about other Christian friends of his who had treated him poorly. Some had hurled accusations at him, others had condemned him, and cut off all ties with him. Dr. Hendricks asked the young man, “What was it that drew you back to the Lord?” The young man said,
There was one man who swam out to get me and he would not let me go. I fought him… [but] he pushed aside my fighting and he grasped me and he put a life jacket around me and he took me to shore. And he, by the grace of God, was the reason I was restored. He would not let me go.” (Howard Hendricks)
And that young man who made his wandering friend his mission saw God work in a way that he would never forget for as long as he lived. There is no endeavor in life of greater significance that turning a wanderer back home to the heart of God. Remember what James wrote?
20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (James 5:20-1:1 NIVO)
We need the passion and tenacity of Suman Gunan. The man who, when he heard the boys were lost, told his wife, “I want to help bring the boys home.” And he did. Come to think of it, we don’t need to look to Suman for inspiration. We have a much greater role model and source of inspiration. All we need to do is to look to the One who said,
10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10 NIVO)
And He did. He came looking for you and He came looking for me. I don’t know your story, but I’m more than familiar with mine. I made fun of Him and His followers. I joked about His people. I said only nerds and little old ladies would ever be a Christian and I didn’t want to be either. But He just kept pursuing me. He wouldn’t rest until He found me. And today, my heart is so full of gratitude that He never gave up on me. Aren’t you? So, now it’s time for us, each and every one of us, to enlist in the rescue mission and look out for one another, go after those who are lost, and love on those who have turned away.
I’ve met some who have strayed away, wandered, and others who have willingly turned away from God. You may be here this morning, sitting in a sanctuary, but your heart if far, far from God. I want you to know it’s time to come home. It’s time to turn your heart back home. The Father has brought you here this morning for this very reason. Won’t you stop your wandering and turn back to the One who loves you with an everlasting love?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
August 26, 2018