Elijah was human with similar sentiments to ourselves, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed once more, and the heavens gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest. My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders away from the truth and is put back on track by another, you should know that whoever turns a sinner back from wandering will save his life from death and will cover a multitude of sins. - James 5:17-20/transliteration by Bruce C Wearne

Stray sheep

The stray sheep. PICTURE: Red Morley Hewitt/Unsplash


The letter concludes decisively with an appeal to the disciples of Jesus to maintain their pastoral and prophetic praying ministry. 

Rather than petering out in a formalised conclusion - Yours sincerely, with best wishes etcetera, etcetera, - James brings everything to a climax. There is a historic line of persistent, prophetic, praying, pastoral care that has not only been justified with the coming of the Messiah, it has been completely renovated, so that the people of God can take this vocation with them wherever they go.

Their lives, from beginning to end, have been declared valuable and important. The Lord has said it and He will bring it about. While these stewards of God's grace wait for the Lord to wrap up what He has been busy bringing to fulfilment, they are to reassure themselves by a patient waiting together in quietness, without contention, seeking to assist those who have decided to take the wrong path, even if these sinners do not recognise it.

It is, of course, for the glory of the Lord that these attempts to restore the lost and wandering will persist from among those who hear God's mercy to them. But it is only because the Lord has decisively announced that His glory is to be found among those whose lives have been rescued, among those whose sins have been covered.

This is not, and never has been, a matter of God's arm's length remote control. To assist one's neighbour with "Don't go that way!" or "That is a dead-end!" or "God never intended you to destroy yourself!" is not a matter of winning an argument. It is merely a matter of living a winsome life, a life within which God allows Himself to extend an extra measure of His mercy.

His aim is found in what is now to be proclaimed through all the Earth. James is simply affirming the new covenant that Jeremiah had declared: "this the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord, I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, 'Know the Lord!', for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord, for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sins no more". (Jeremiah 31:33-34).

It was the announcement of that new covenant which prompted James to write this letter. It is a letter of world-wide significance for all times and all places.