Thursday, October 12, 2017

Bring Back the Backslider!


James 5:19-20
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.

There is a general tendency to be scared of rebuking and admonishing others. You well know that someone is falling into a ditch, or even into a precipice and you look the other way, or you pray that they will open up their eyes and see their danger, but you say nothing! I want you to know, that I will not let you go down the abyss without telling you. We must never be quite as people abandon themselves to folly and vanity. The passage before us exhorts us to be on the lookout for the brethren who wander from the truth and bring them back. Bring back the backslider!
Consider the progression of James’s line of reasoning - he began with the need for physical healing (14-15) and went on to the need of spiritual growth (16-18) and in this passage he addresses the need to reclaim the wandering brother (19-20). Here is an edification church where both members and the elders are doing their job.




1.      It is possible for a true Christian to backslide
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth… It is evident from these words that a true, blood-bought saint can actually wander from the truth. This is the last time James is using his favourite address, ‘brothers’. This term refers to fellow members of the family of God whether men or women, boys and girls. Those whom Christ has given the full rights and privileges of sonship (John 1:12-13). The Bible says clearly that even the saints can wander from the truth.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” If you think yourself to be too sanctified that you cannot fall, then you are very mistaken and deceived. You could fall, you may fall, you may have fallen already! Consider your ways and ask yourself if you are standing even as you read this.
The language James employs here of wandering suggests that he is not just thinking of inadvertent wandering, it may as well be intentional wandering. Therefore, these may be casual sins or backsliding – any deviation from the truth. He uses the word truth here to speak of all that is involved in the gospel and not just the Christian doctrine. Any deviation from the gospel, whether major or minor.
You are capable of deviating from the glorious truth of the gospel. You could neglect this great salvation (Heb. 2:3). You may trample underfoot the Son of God. You are capable of profaning the blood of the covenant by which you were sanctified. My dear brother, you are able to outrage the Spirit of grace (Heb. 10:29). So we conclude that it is no mark of a wise or a holy man to boast of being free from error or sin, or to refuse to acknowledge when he is in error or in sin.
The Bible constantly tells us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought but to think with sober judgement (Rom. 12:3). A passage like this helps us to sober up in our own judgement of ourselves – we are capable of worse than we think. Don’t be surprised when you fall into sin – you are prone to wander; prone to leave Christ; prone to reject the eternal love of Christ by your words and behaviour.
2.      It is possible for you to bring back a backslider
Many of you are too quick to resign from any attempts of helping an erring and wandering Christian. But Pastor James exhorts us to do all we can to promote the conversion, restoration and salvation of others. If any is found or known to be in error from the truth or be in sin, that is in opinion or in practice of the gospel you must endeavour to bring them again to the law of Christ.  And praise the Lord for it is possible to bring back a wandering brother!
You realize that errors in judgement and errors in life go together. What the heart believes, the mind thinks, and the mouth confesses and eventually the whole body must do! The point here is that there is some doctrinal mistake at the bottom of every practical miscarriage. There is no one habitually bad, but upon some bad principle. Now to convert such is to reduce them from their error, and to reclaim them from the evils they have been led into. The verse says nothing about accusing the brother. But the verse speaks of efforts at bringing back the wandering sheep to the fold of God.
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back… Someone can and should bring the wandering brother back to the truth. The ‘someone’ here is not necessarily a pastor, in fact it can be argued that it is not an elder for if it were a pastor, James could have told us. The point made here is you, a fellow believer, along with your pastor, have a responsibility to bring back a wandering, backsliding, erring brother to the sheepfold of God. Yes, the responsibility of restoring the backslider is potentially placed on your shoulders. I know some of you are deliberate in seeking out the wanderer. I pray that your efforts would be rewarded.
Therefore, we are to do more than pray for the grace of God to work in the backslider. We must be watchful all the time for one another’s welfare and continuity in truth and life. How easy it is to slide from the full commitment to the Saviour of our souls. We are called here to go to the person and do what Paul says in Galatians 6:1;
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
The word translated to bring back, is ‘epistrepho’ which refers to a person’s initial turning away from sin to God in conversion as it is used in Acts 14:15; 15:19; 26:18; 1Thess. 1:9.
James here makes reference to ‘anyone among you’ i.e. one who has openly identified with the Christian community. He is most likely referring to a church member. When he says, bring back, he means, turning back to faith from which one has strayed as used in Mark 4:12.
Salvation is of the Lord from first to last. But the salvation of the Lord is brought about through the instrumentality of sovereignly appointed means – the preaching of the gospel by a preacher and the believing of Christ for the sinner. If we are instrumental in the conversion of any, we are said to save them, even if this is principally the gracious work of God. therefore participate in the work of grace of the salvation of sinners by being the instrumentality used by this gracious, sovereign God.
I perceive that it is easy to love the brethren who are making good spiritual progress – they come to church early, spend the whole day, they are intentionally cultivating holiness, reading the Bible and disciplined in their devotion, mortifying the deeds of the flesh – of course it is so easy to love such as this! Such brethren warm our hearts and we ought to be thrilled by such brethren who are making wonder spiritual progress in their lives.
But if someone no longer comes to church, he is struggling with multiple sins, not submitting to the discipline of the church and are not listening to elders, then you feel unable to say anything. The exhortation here is to go out to them and convert them. Be careful not to encourage them in their waywardness. Be careful not to encourage them to wander further away from the Lord, of from the truth, or from the body of Christ, the church. Do you remember making efforts towards the spiritual rejuvenation of others?
Why should you make this effort? Because there is a promise of hope both for the wandering brother, and for the restraining brother.
3.      The two-fold reward of bringing back the backslider:
a)      Rescue from death
Pastor James says that when you turn a wandering brother back into the narrow way of truth, you will ‘save him from death’. James is not in any way saying that that a true believer can lose salvation, as some people have argued from such passages as Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26, 27; 2 Peter 2:20. He has simply said that a true Christian can backslide. He has also added that such a backsliding Christian can be brought back by the efforts of other Christians and be rescued from death. Thank God, for there is hope for you backslider!
What death is James speaking about here? Imagine a pastor who falls into sexual immorality, with a Sunday School teacher in the church. The Sunday school teacher is also the wife of one of the deacons. Then the pastor and the teacher abandons their spouses to live together in immoral cohabitation. Efforts to speak spiritual sense to both of them fails. The pastor is eventually excommunicated and removed from his pastoral responsibility. The Sunday school is also excommunicated. When you look at their lives, you are frustrated by the level of sin and transgression and you cannot help but imagine a fearful expectation of judgment. This is what James is speaking about here: within every fellowship there are those whose profession of faith turns out not to be real. Their attachment to Christ and to His church is tested by circumstances of life and then the true condition of their soul is exposed as still held by sin and death. It becomes evident to the caring eyes of those who watch and observe their progress within their church. For such as this, it is easy to come to the conclusion that they have no hope. Yet there is hope for them – the grace of God super-abounds and we should do something ourselves to bring them back to the Chief Shepherd.
Is it possible for us, with our limited wisdom, finite perception and fallen outward observance to discern the difference between the backsliding of a believer and the apostacy of a non-believer?  The fact is that the only evidence we have is the fruit of both. The Lord says that we shall know them by their fruit. So when the living and believing do not agree we have to communicate. And when there is no change, we no choice but to excommunicate and start the work of evangelism once again!
Thankfully there is hope of being brought back and yes, there is hope of salvation of his soul from death. The soul being the principal part of the man, the saving of that only is mentioned, but it includes the salvation of the whole man since a human being is not divided but one. The spirit shall be saved from hell, the body raised from the grave, and both saved from eternal death to eternal and glorious salvation in heaven.
b)      Restoration
By such conversion of heart and life, a multitude of sins shall be covered. Though your sins be many, or even be a multitude, yet they all could be covered or forgiven. Though your sins be as red as crimson, the blood of Christ can cleanse to be as white as snow. The most wicked sinner, even the king of siners can be sanctified to be a saint by the work of the Holy Spirit.
The word cover is a very gracious word drawn from the OT. It means to cover over so that no trace of sin can be seen. It is one of the Bible’s great salvation words, speaking of God’s gracious covering over of man’s sin by the sacrificial death of Christ. This covering of sin is what secures forgiveness for the sinner and the two concepts are brought together perfectly by David when he cries, ‘Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered’ (Ps. 32:1)[1]
The point is made then that sins forgiven or covered can never appear in judgment against us. The Lamb of God does take away the sins of the world. His blood covers all our sins. His death took our death and it’s sting away. The blood of the Lamb of Christ is the only hope for us.
Some think this text means that conversion shall prevent a multitude of sins. Of course it is true beyond dispute that many sins are prevented in the party converted. Indeed salvation prevents much mischief, and the spreading and multiplying of sin in the world. But the only way in which your sins can be removed from you is through Christ.
We also must never forget that those that turn many to righteousness, and those who help to do so, shall shine as the stars for ever and ever. May you then be a Christian who is willing to do anything possible to bring the restoration of a backsliding Christian to the kingdom of Christ. Do not just stare at those who are wallowing in their sin and waywardness – bring back the prodigal. Yes bring back the backslider by speaking with them, rebuking them, correcting them, that they would know the redeeming love of Christ and saviour the gracious mercy of our Father in heaven.




[1] Blanchard, John, Truth for Life (EP) p.402-403

Friday, October 6, 2017

Pray!

James 5:13-18
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, 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 again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

What is Prayer?
Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God has promised, or according to His Word, for the good of the church, with submission in faith to the will of God. John Bunyan
Isn’t it remarkable that God, the Almighty God, the King of kings, the Eternal Creator of all things, the infinitely holy God, the sovereign God has provided access for us into His throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace in times to help in time of need?

In this passage, pastor James tells some incredible things about prayer. In every verse of this passage, there is something about prayer! And he says very clearly that in any and every situation, prayer is always useful. The Lord commands prayer. Therefore the Lord hears and answers prayers. Consider the situations that James brings up:
1.      Suffering
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.
James is speaking here of a Christian who has problems, he is under trial. This trial may take any dimension, trials of various kinds (1:2)…blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial (1:12). Suffering here may be because of sickness, opposition, bereavement, domestic problems, poverty, distress, danger, famine among other troubles come upon us.
In case you may have imbibed too much Charismatic teaching, remember,
ü  Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. (Job 5:7)
ü  Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. (Job_14:1)
Thank God that we have a place of sweet relief at the throne of grace. Thank God that He hears… that He will answer us. All these difficulties and challenges find their place before the Great I AM, the Lord Almighty, who has called us to pray.
But how can one remain steadfast under trial? By praying. Personal prayer cannot be undervalued. This is why the Lord taught us to pray in Matthew 6:5-15. We constantly urged to pray.
-      Devote yourselves to prayer (Col. 4:2)
-      Pray without ceasing (1Thess. 5:17)
2.      Cheerfulness
Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.
The word translated cheerful means, ‘to be in good heart.’ It does not mean without any kind of trouble. Here is the second experience of life of being in a state of happiness, or joy and gladness. Our Christianity covers not only life in times of sorrow, but also life in times of joy and gladness. How are we to respond to times of happiness? We are told to go to the Lord with praise. That is with thanksgiving and gladness. There is no time when we are not welcome in God’s presence.

Psalm 100 is a psalm of thanksgiving:
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
3.      Sickness
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. The first two circumstances of life are private. But there are troubles of life that you cannot handle alone and you should not try to handle alone. That is why the Lord, having saved you, has placed you in a local church. In the local church, the Lord has given spiritual leaders, the elders. Make use of them especially when you are sick.
Here we have a glimpse of the private ministry of the elders in caring for the sick members. James expressly associates the healing ministry of prayer and anointing with the local church leaders. There is nothing to say that they have any healing powers as a spiritual gift (1 Cor. 12:30). Therefore, this ministry to the sick does not belong to any specially gifted person. This caring ministry has also not gone with the apostles. It is the work of the shepherd to heal the sick as Ezekiel said in 34:4 and here we are told how. But this has nothing to do laying on of hands or with the heretical sacrament of the Roman Catholic of Extreme Unction (the last of the seven Roman sacraments).
So the sick person calls for his elders from the church. It does look like a severe sickness, going by the phrase, the one who is sick (v.15) and that the elders are to pray over him. It is not the sick who go to the elders. It is also a plurality of elders not just one man. It is the elders who pray for the sick person. The sick person is not required or even expected to exercise faith to be healed, more than the summoning of the pastors to pray for him. The faith mentioned here is the faith of the elders!  Clearly, this is not a public healing service.
The ministry is two-fold:
1)      Pray over him
2)      Anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord
In NT times, oil was used as medicine like the Good Samaritan used it in Luke 10:34 to sooth the wounds of the person who had been injured by robbers. (C.f. Mark 6:13).
What James is saying here is that, prayer is a means as well as medicine. Both spiritual and physical means are divinely appointed for our welfare. We pray, give us this day our daily bread and we still go to the shop to buy food. In the same way the elders used anointing oil in the name of the Lord. The healing comes from the Great Physician who heals the sick. Peter healed the lame man in the name of Jesus (Acts 3:6, 16).
Three promises are closely connected to this two-fold ministry of prayer and anointing:
1)      The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick
2)      The Lord will raise him up
3)      If he has committed sins, he will be forgiven
It is expected that in sickness one will consider his ways and come to repentance, even if the sickness has nothing to do with one’s sins. The Bible does not teach that sickness is a direct consequence of some foregoing sin, but that sickness could be a consequence of punishment to warning.
4.      Sinfulness
Christians still sin. Until we die and enter into eternal glory, we battle with the remaining sin. How do we go about the business of killing sin in our mortal bodies?
When we sin against one another, James tells us to confess such sins and to pray for one another (v. 16). Confession goes as far as the sin as gone. Secret sins are to be repented to God privately. If a brother sins against another he should go to him privately and hope to settle the matter between them (Matt. 18:15). And if one has sinned publicly, he should confess it to God and in public.
At the same time, if a person who has sinned against you confesses their sins you must always be willing to forgive. This is the way “you may be healed’ or reconciled.
The power of prayer
James says, The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (v.16)
Do we doubt the power of prayer? Is this why we do not pray? James encourages us to consider the example of the prophet Elijah and his prayer. First of all, James emphasis that Elijah was like us in every way – he was a man with nature like ours! There was nothing extraordinary about Elijah except His God, and who is our God and Father.
Elijah prayed fervently, that it might not rain and there was no rain for three and half years. Then Elijah prayed again, and there was rain enough to make crops produce sufficient crop. The key thing is that Elijah prayed and again! Are we praying?
And James’s point is as plain as noonday. Whatever life brings our way – whether suffering or joy, ours is to pray and praise. And even when we are too weak to pray, we should invite others to come and pray with us. Whether we are sick or sinful, the solution is in confidently approaching the throne of grace. After all, by the efficacy of the work of Christ, we are assured of mercy and grace in times of need. Therefore, let’s make sure we do not forget to pray. And let’s make sure that our praying is not merely mouthing words, saying prayers, but a fervently seeking after the heart of God. Only then do we truly pray, and only then do we experience our own great things. As John Bunyan told us here,
Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God has promised, or according to His Word, for the good of the church, with submission in faith to the will of God.
Applications
1.      Pray at all times. Whatever you do or do not do, make sure that you are constant and fervent in prayer. You are to pray and praise in different life circumstances without fail for the Bible says, “…Let him pray… Let him sing praise.” The Elders of the church are told, “…let them pray. And the church is expected to pray, for we read, “…pray for one another.” Finally, we read of the prayer of Elijah, “… he prayed.”
2.   Be open with your needs, especially with your pastors. The Bible says here, Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church. That is, be open about your physical needs to the pastors. And later on, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another.
3.      Do not hide your sins but confess them. Confess your sins to one another. He who conceals his sins will not prosper, but he who confess and forsakes will obtain mercy (Pro. 28:13). We should be constantly confessing and constantly forgiving.
4.      We should learn how to pray from the Scriptures. James takes us to the Biblical example of Elijah. Indeed we can learn how to pray from others.  How do you learn to pray?
-      By praying
-      By meditating on Scripture
-      By praying with others
-      By reading about prayer

-      By praying other people’s prayers

Saturday, September 16, 2017

BIBLICAL HERMENEUTICS

Definition
The principles of Biblical Hermeneutics are those governing laws and methods and procedure by which the interpreter determines the meaning of the Holy Scriptures. These principles are of the nature of comprehensive and fundamental doctrines. They become to the practical exegete so many maxims, postulates, and settled rules. He is supposed to hold them in the mind as axioms, and to apply them in all his expositions with uniform consistency. Schleiermacher has rightly said,
The perfect understanding of a discourse is a work of art, and involves the need of an art-doctrine, which we designate by the term Hermeneutics. Such an art-doctrine has existence only in so far as the precepts admitted form a system resting upon principles which are immediately evident from the nature of thought and language.[1]

Importance of Sound Principles
The importance of establishing sound and trustworthy principles of Biblical exposition is universally conceded. For it is evident that a false principle in his method will necessarily vitiate the entire exegetical process of an interpreter. When we find that in the explanation of certain parts of the Scriptures no two interpreters out of a whole class agree, we have great reason to presume at once that some fatal error lurks in their principles of interpretation. We cannot believe that the sacred writers desired to be misunderstood. They did not write with a purpose to confuse and mislead their readers. Nor is reasonable to suppose that the Scripture, given the divine inspiration, is of the nature of a puzzle designed to exercise the ingenuity of critics. It was given to make men wise unto salvation, and in great part is so direct and simple in its teachings that a little child can understand its meaning. But the Bible contains some riddles and dark sayings, and many revelations in the form of types, symbols, parables, allegories, visions, and dreams, and the interpretation of these has exercised the most gifted minds. Many different and often contradictory methods of expositions have been adopted, and some enthusiasts have gone to the extreme of affirming that there are manifold meanings and “mountains of sense” in every line of Scripture. Under the spell of some such fascination many have been strangely misled, and have set forth as expositions of the Scriptures their own futile fancies. Lange points out,
As the sun in the earthly heavens has to break thought many cloudy media, so also does the divine word of Holy Scripture through the confusion of every kind which arises from the soil of earthly intuition and representation.[2]

True method of determining sound principles
Sound hermeneutical principles are, therefore, elements of safety and satisfaction in the study of God’s written word. But how are such principles to be established? How may we determine what is true and what is false in the various methods of exposition? We must go to the Scriptures themselves, and search them in all their parts and forms. We must seek to ascertain the principles which the sacred writers followed. Naked propositions, or formulated rules of interpretation, will be of little or no worth unless supported and illustrated by self-verifying examples. It is worthy of note that the Scriptures furnish repeated examples of the formal interpretation of dreams, visions, types, symbols, and parables. In such examples, we are especially to seek our fundamental and controlling laws of exposition. Unless we find clear warrant for it in the word itself, we should never allow that any one passage or sentiment of divine revelation has more than one true import. The holy Scriptures is no Delphic oracle to bewilder and mislead the human heart by utterances of double meaning. God’s written word, taken as a whole, and allowed to speak for itself, will be found to be its own best interpreter.

Ennobling tendency of hermeneutical study
The process of observing the laws of thought and language, as exhibited in the Holy Scriptures, is an ennobling study. It affords an edifying intercourse with eminent and choice spirits of the past, and compels us for the time to lose sight of temporary interests, and to become absorbed with the thoughts and feelings of other ages. He who forms the habit of studying not only the divine thoughts of revelation, but also the principles and methods according to which those thoughts have been expressed, will acquire a moral and intellectual culture worthy of the noblest ambition.[i]


[1] Outline of the Study of Theology, p. 142. Edinb, 1850.
[2] Grundriss der biblischen Hermeneutik, p. 77



[i] This is a quotation from the book, Biblical Hermeneutics, by Milton Terry, Zondervan Book pp. 161, 162