(Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 28)
My brothers, if any among you goes astray from the truth, and anyone turns him back, let him know that the one turning back a sinner from the straying of his way will save his soul from death—and will cover a great number of sins. (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 5:19-20, mjlt)
For as much as we look inwardly to appraise our progress as followers of Messiah, there yet remains a far greater purpose for us. Yes, all the self-assessment and challenging and strengthening we undergo is designed to make us better—though ultimately not just for the sake of ourselves. Our purpose is not to stay locked inside, merely seeking to perfect our personal holiness, but rather to be equipped to see, and then to act, as Yeshua’s eyes and hands—as bearers of the truth that saves lost souls.
Why, then, do we step back even as one of our own ventures ever nearer to the edge? To say nothing of the countless souls wandering in ignorance (or running in defiance) from their Judge, what is it that keeps us from noticing, much less reacting to, the digression of a fellow follower of Messiah? Are we so blind that we do not see? Do we see, yet feign sightlessness? Do we fear they will judge and reject us for not minding our own business, and for sticking our piousness where it doesn’t belong?
But the “brother [who] goes astray from the truth” has already passed his judgment and cast his rejection. His only hope of turning back, then, may be you.
The stray brother has lost his moorings. He knows what is true, but has turned away from it, going after something he somehow deems more beneficial. Somewhere along the way, he let go of the truth—either by choice or by coercion—to follow a way of unbelief, complicated by affections and circumstances. Perhaps unaware, perhaps with purpose, he has stepped over a bright line that is now ever-dulling in his sight. Though all on his own he detached from what is true, must he be made to face the lies alone?
Rather, what truth do we purport to have if it does not drive us to leave our own safety behind, and then go out to find our brother and try to bring him back? The truth of God, the truth of Messiah, the truth of the Scriptures all enjoin and obligate us to forsake our security and comfort, get up, and chase after the brother who is facing falseness. It may feel intrusive, it will often seem fruitless, but it is something we are indebted to do. Because regardless of the outcome, we have the truth, and God has authorized us to turn him back.
The potential for “turning back a sinner from the straying of his way” lies squarely in our hands. God, in His infinite power and wisdom, has allowed us this privilege and duty to make a difference in each others’ lives—to participate with Him in decisions of life and death. Since the stray brother is deceived, obscuring the truth in his mind, he teeters toward his destruction. But through our own exertion of love, we may carry back to him the reality of God, and thereby “save his soul from death.” What an awesome, dreadful role—what a terrible responsibility! The truth to which we are bound is fraught with eternal consequences. And yet, sometimes, God leaves it all up to us—will we give or withhold this glorious gift?
When we see our wayward brother, and then choose not to act or speak, our passivity makes us complicit in his demise. Though the Master Yeshua holds the keys to death and Sh’ol, we share the Messiah’s burden because we also bear His truth. By staying silent, we give consent to our brother’s sin, and keep ourselves from becoming an urgent obstacle to his doom. But when we turn back a sinning brother from his swerving, straying ways, we save him from certain death, having “cover[ed]” and rescued him from “a great number of sins.”
To be a follower of Messiah is the greatest joy and honor, for which the Master deserves all praise. But in the end, it is not for ourselves, but for emulating the selflessness He showed toward us. If you do nothing else in this life, let it be that you find that bright line and bear the saving reality of the Messiah Yeshua, so that should the day ever come that your brother starts to stray, you may be the one to turn him back to the truth—and, yes, to save his soul.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!