Wandering Sheep in Our Midst
“Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” James 5:19-20
Many of us tend to think that the only members who wander from the truth are the ones who have left the church. I would certainly agree with that conclusion, but I would like to offer a couple of ways that a Christian can wander from the truth while in the midst of the Lord’s church. Proverbs 5:13-14 shows us that this person does exist. “I have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined my ear to those who instructed me! I was on the verge of total ruin, in the midst of the assembly and congregation.” Is it possible for a member who knows God’s truth and hears the same sermons that we hear, to wander away from that truth? Yes. The Lord warned the Israelites of this very thing in Deuteronomy 29:18-19. He tells them that it is sinful for a man to hear God’s word and rebel against it. This person would even say to himself, “I shall have peace, even though I follow the dictates of my heart.”
A sheep can wander from the flock and its Shepherd while in the midst of the flock. This wandering away is a condition of the heart. Consider a few ways that this might happen to us, and how we can tell if we have become a wandering sheep. One way that I have seen this happen in the church is when a member becomes convinced that everyone is failing in their service to God except for them. “You’re all hypocrites” or “the elders aren’t doing their job” or “the preacher needs to bring tougher lessons” is often said by such a person. While these statements might be true, there is a godly way to handle situations such as these. This brother or sister needs to understand their role in helping the hypocrite, elders, preacher, and whoever else might need correction. If you have a complaint or a concern with a member of the church, examine your heart before you deal with these issues. The Bible plainly teaches that we are to love one another and give preference to one another (Romans 12:9-16). The Biblical solution for dealing with a brother or sister in sin can be found in Galatians 6:1-2. “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Where is your heart?
Another way that a brother in Christ can wander from the truth while in the assembly is by having a heart like Diotrephes. 3 John 9 tells us that this man loved to have the preeminence among those in the church. This type of person usually has a strong personality and a likeable character. He is a natural leader but he has usurped the authority that belongs to Christ. He is also working contrary to God’s will when he does not receive the brethren and he is forbidding those who wish to. This man does not see that he is in sin. “I shall have peace, even though I follow the dictates of my own heart.” Deuteronomy 29 tells us that there is a reason for this man’s delusion. A root bearing bitterness has grown up in his heart. Hebrews 12:14-15 says, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;”
Can a member of the Lord’s church be a wandering sheep while in the midst of the flock? If so, how do we follow the admonition in James 5:19-20 and bring that person back? We are to restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. If we know that a member has wandered from the truth because of a hardness of heart, Pharisaical judgment, or having the spirit of Diotrephes, we must strive to help that person recognize their sin and deal with it in a godly way. As Christians, we know the value that God has placed on every soul (Mark 8:36). Remember, “If he hears you, you have gained your brother.”
A Little Compassion Please
Compassion is the deep feelings of sympathy and sorrow we have for another’s trouble, accompanied by a longing to help. Jesus is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, in part, because He suffered like we do. (Heb. 4:15) He also did something about our greatest troubles by offering Himself for our sins. (1 Peter 2:24)
Should we not be able to give compassion for the same reason? (Col. 3:12-15) All of us go through hard and difficult times. We suffer heartache and illness and we know what it is like to need someone to lean upon. (2 Cor. 1:8-11) If we know what it is like to need a little compassion, and we all do, then why would we be so harsh and uncaring not to give a little ourselves?
Most problems could be solved and much of this world’s hatred and meanness would disappear if we were more compassionate people. If we all give a little compassion, the world will be a better place. It is not easy, but we must purpose to be kind and caring in our treatment of others.