Jesus said that Jehovah loves the world of humans, but at the same time, he hates wickedness. Satan is the ruler of this world, and it is full of wickedness. Some of this wickedness has influenced a part of Jehovah’s servants, and therefore, Jehovah has introduced ways of treating those who are wrongdoers. In this article, I will show how these wrongdoers should be treated and how they should not be treated.
JUDGEMENT WITHOUT MERCY AND LONG-SUFFERING IN THE HANDLING OF JUDICIAL CASES
I am certain that many elders in the judicial committees feel compassion for wrongdoers whom they are going to judge, and that they want to show them mercy. But the instructions the members of the Governing Body have given, to a great degree prevent the judicial committees from showing mercy and long-suffering. The slogan “keep the congregation clean” has been greatly overstressed.
JEHOVAH MUST DECIDE WHETHER THE WRONGDOER CAN CONTINUE TO BE A PART OF THE CHRISTIAN CONGREGATION — NOT THE MEMBERS OF THE JUDICIAL COMMITTEES
What must be done to reverse the situation? The simple answer is to let Jehovah do the judging and not the members of the judicial committees. How can this happen? Jehovah inspired Paul to write in 1 Corinthians chapters 5 and 6 that persons who are practicing one of the 11 disfellowshipping offenses and refuse to stop must be disfellowshipped. Here we have Jehovah’s decision, and the simple task of the members of the judicial committees is to get confirmation from the wrongdoer that he refuses to stop with his sins. And then they will disfellowship him, as is Jehovah’s decision.
Long-suffering means, as I have demonstrated, to be patient because there is hope that the situation may change for the better. This is not the case when a person practices serious sins and refuses to stop. Because such a person is viewed as being wicked, there is no mercy for him. But the situation is different in connection with most other wrongdoers who are summoned to meet with a judicial committee. And here it is particularly important that Jehovah must judge and not the members of the judicial committee.
These wrongdoers say that they have stopped doing serious sins and that they have asked Jehovah to forgive them. Therefore, it is appropriate for the members of the judicial committee to be long-suffering because there is hope that these wrongdoers again will regain a good relationship with Jehovah. We must keep in mind what Paul wrote in Romans 2:4:
4 Or do you despise the riches of his kindness (khrēstotēs, “kindness; goodness”) and forbearance (anokhē, “forbearance; patience”) and long-suffering (makrothymia, “long-suffering”), because you do not know that the kindly [quality] (khrestos, “kind; gracious”) of God is trying to lead you to repentance?
These words show that it is not interrogations and demands that the wrongdoer prove that he has “works that befit repentance” that may help the wrongdoer. Such things do not appeal to the wrongdoer’s heart, but Paul shows what will be such an appeal. Paul subsumes God’s “kindness,” “patience,” and “long-suffering” under God’s graciousness, and says that it is God’s graciousness that will lead a sinner to repentance.
There is only one way by which the elders can know that God’s graciousness has led the wrongdoer to repentance and that God has forgiven his sins. The members of the judicial committee must accept the words of the wrongdoer without any questions about his motive, and they must let him remain in the congregation. When he remains in the congregation, and they see that God blesses his work in the congregation they know that God has forgiven his sins. This will be the application of long-suffering on the part of the members of the judicial committee. At the judicial hearing there is hope that the wrongdoer will regain his good relationship with Jehovah, and therefore, they show that they trust him by letting him remain in the congregation. This will be a fine appeal to the heart of the wrongdoer.
URIM AND THUMMIM AND JEHOVAH’S DECISION
Between the Christians today and Jehovah, there is a one-way communication. His people can pray to him, but Jehovah does not answer their prayers directly. So, his people must look at their situation and see if Jehovah is blessing them according to their prayer.
There was a similar situation in ancient Israel. The people could pray to Jehovah, and they had to look for Jehovah’s blessings. There were some exceptions, though. James 5:17, 18 says:
17 E·liʹjah was a man with feelings like ours, and yet in prayer he prayed for it not to rain; and it did not rain upon the land for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the land put forth its fruit.
Jehovah directly answered the prayer of one of his servants in a tangible way. But in most cases that was not the case. However, there was on tool by which the priests in important situations could ask what Jehovah’s decision was. This tool is called Urim and Thummim. Exodus 28:30 says:
30 And you must put the Uʹrim and the Thumʹmim into the breastpiece of judgment, and they must prove to be over Aaron’s heart when he comes in before Jehovah; and Aaron must carry the judgments of the sons of Israel over his heart before Jehovah constantly.
Exactly what Urim and Thummim were is not described. But it is likely that they were holy lots that were cast by the priest to get the answer yes or no, thus showing what Jehovah’s decision was in a particular case. There is one example of the use of Urim and Thummim in Numbers 27:21:
21 And it is before El·e·aʹzar the priest that he will stand, and he must inquire in his behalf by the judgment of the Uʹrim before Jehovah. At his order they will go out and at his order they will come in, he and all the sons of Israel with him and all the assembly.”
The apostles wanted to have one brother who could take the place of Judas. The apostles did not have Urim and Thumim, but they followed the pattern of the use of the Urim and Thummim, and they cast lots, as we read in Acts 1:20-26:
20 For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his lodging place become desolate, and let there be no dweller in it,’ and, ‘His office of oversight let someone else take.’ 21 It is therefore necessary that of the men that assembled with us during all the time in which the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 starting with his baptism by John and until the day he was received up from us, one of these men should become a witness with us of his resurrection.”
23 So they put up two, Joseph called Barʹsab·bas, who was surnamed Justus, and Mat·thiʹas. 24 And they prayed and said: “You, O Jehovah, who know the hearts of all, designate which one of these two men you have chosen, 25 to take the place of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas deviated to go to his own place.” 26 So they cast lots over them, and the lot fell upon Mat·thiʹas; and he was reckoned along with the eleven apostles.
Today, the Christians do not have Urim and Thumim or holy lots. But in connection with the situation when a brother or sister is guilty of committing serious sins, we can use the pattern of Urim and Thummim to find the decision of Jehovah, whether he wants that the brother or sister shall be disfellowshipped or remain in the congregation. According to Paul, Jehovah has decided that a brother or sister who is practicing one of the 11 disfellowshipping offenses mentioned in the Christian Christion Scriptures and who refuses to stop, must be disfellowshipped.
And conversely, the words of Paul show that a brother or sister who no longer practices one of the disfellowshipping offenses and seeks Jehovah’s forgiveness, must not be disfellowshipped, regardless of the seriousness of the sin and how long it has been practiced. When this brother or sister is allowed to continue to remain in the congregation, Jehova’s decision regarding this brother or sister will become clear, just as in the case of Urim and Thummim.
In order to continue to live as a Christian in this wicked world, it is necessary to get Jehovah’s spirit. In order to get the spirit, the person must sincerely want to worship Jehovah and his or her heart condition must be good. If a brother or sister who has committed serious sins, but who no longer does that, continues to serve Jehovah in the congregation in a fine way together with his or her brothers and sisters, the elders can see the decision of Jehovah: “This is one of my servants whom I love.”
It is impossible for a person who does not have the right heart condition to function in the congregation in a fine way. This means that a person who has practiced sins, and who says that he has stopped but does not have the right motives, will not be able to function in the congregation in a right way. So, the elders will understand that Jehovah’s decision is that this brother or sister should not be allowed to continue to be a part of the congregation.
It is very important that the members of the judicial committee do not act in a way that it will not be possible to see what Jehovah’s decision is regarding a brother or sister who has practiced sins. The only way by which the elders can see Jehovah’s decision is to let the one who has practiced sins but has stopped and asked for Jehovah’s forgiveness to remain in the congregation. If they disfellowship him or her, they have spoiled the possibility of seeing Jehovah’s judgment. The principle behind Urim and Thummim is still valid.
THE CHANGES THAT GOD’S GRACIOUSNESS REQUIRES
The power that the members of the Governing Body have given themselves to introduce human commandments must be discarded. All the 37 disfellowshipping offenses without basis in the Bible that the members of the Governing Body have invented must be made invalid. This is 77% of all the disfellowshipping offenses, and only the 11 disfellowshipping offenses that are based on the Bible will remain.
The power over life and death that the Governing Body has given the elders must also be taken away. This is done when the elders always let a wrongdoer who says he has stopped with his sins and asked Jehovah forgive him be allowed to remain in the congregation, so Jehovah’s decision regarding this brother can be seen.
The elders will no longer consider whether a Witness has a job that he must change under the threat of disfellowshipping; they will no longer consider the moral behavior of a great number of Witnesses in the light of the unclear and ambiguous laws of disfellowshipping that have been invented by the Governing Body; they will no longer consider whether a Witness who is guilty of a serious sin has repented or not; they will no longer make subjective assessments in a number of situations deciding whether a Witness must be disfellowshipped or not. And the number of judicial cases will drop to a fraction of the number of such cases today.
The only decision the members of the judicial committee must make is whether the brother has been hardened in wrongdoing, and that he refuses to stop doing the serious sins. Their work will be much easier, and now they can apply their long-suffering and mercy on a much greater scale than earlier.
MERCY EXULTS TRIUMPHANTLY OVER JUDGMENT
According to Romans 2:4, God’s graciousness includes his mercy, and this is what is leading to repentance. We must never diminish God’s mercy because it is offered to all humans.
THE IMPORTANCE OF MERCY AND LONG-SUFFEREING
One important point in the letter to James is his stress on mercy (eleos). The meaning of the word is “to show kindness or concern for someone in serious need” (Louw and Nida). In 1:27, he admonishes his fellow believers “to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation,” and in 2:1 he exhorts others not to show favoritism by treating rich people differently from poor ones. In 2:13, James shows the consequences of showing mercy and not showing mercy. We read:
13 For the one that does not practice mercy will have [his] judgment without mercy. Mercy exults triumphantly over judgment.
If we show mercy, we will also be shown mercy. What does it mean that “Mercy exults triumphantly over judgment.” The Watchtower of March 1, 2002. Page 30, says:
When such merciful ones are brought into judgment, Jehovah takes note of their conduct and mercifully forgives them on the basis of his Son’s sacrifice. Thus, their merciful conduct triumphs over any adverse judgment they might have been liable for.—Proverbs 14:21; Matthew 5:7; 6:12;
Why does Jehovah show mercy to humans who are sinners? We can understand this better by considering one of his fine attributes namely his long-suffering (makrothymia). The Watchtower of July 15, 1966, page 424, defines long-suffering in the following way:
2 Long-suffering is endurance of ill-treatment without irritation or retaliation. It means possessing a spirit that is tolerant of those whose conduct or speech exasperates and provokes to anger or indignation. The literal meaning of the Greek word of which “long-suffering” is the translation is “long-tempered,” the opposite of our familiar expression “short-tempered.”…
6 Long-suffering is, therefore, more than patience. The word implies not merely patient endurance in the face of provocation, but a refusal to give up hope for improvement in the disturbed relationship.
A short definition of long-suffering would be, “showing patience as long as there is hope.” In order to show the importance of Jehovah’s long-suffering I quote Romans 9:22-25 (above) and 2 Peter 3:9, 15 (below):
22 If, now, God, although having the will to demonstrate his wrath and to make his power known, tolerated with much long-suffering (makrothymia) vessels of wrath made fit for destruction, 23 in order that he might make known the riches of his glory upon vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory.
9 Jehovah is not slow respecting his promise, as some people consider slowness, but he is patient (makrothymeō) with YOU because he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.
13 Furthermore, consider the patience (makrothymia) of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul according to the wisdom given him also wrote YOU.
Because of his long-suffering God tolerated “vessels of wrath” (persons not worshipping Jehovah). Paul shows in Romans 11:23 that some of the “vessels of wrath” could change their course and begin to serve God. So, God’s long-suffering was based on hope. Peter uses the verb makrothymeō (“be long-suffering) to show that God’s final judgment has not come because there is hope that more people will turn to God. Therefore, God’s long-suffering means salvation for many people.
SHOVING MERCY TO THOSE WHO HAVE COMMITTED SERIOUS SINS
I am certain that many elders who are appointed to a judicial committee feel compassion for the wrongdoer that they have to judge. But the instructions of the Governing Body prevent them in many cases from showing mercy. I have shown that the great part of the instructions that are not based on the Bible should be discarded. On the basis of James’ stress on mercy, I will point out how the elders can show long-suffering and mercy toward a brother or a sister who has committed serious sins.
To illustrate the issue, I will use the following example: What will a Christian father and mother do if their young son misuses alcohol and becomes drunk several times, or they get a report that he has been shoplifting several times? Will they throw him out of the home? Certainly not. They realize that he has a problem, and as good parents they will try to help him with his problem. They will go very far in their attempts to help him, also when there are several relapses. And first, when they believe there is no hope that he will change his behavior and they feel that he is destroying the family, they will ask him to leave the home. This is a good application of long-suffering and mercy.
What will Jehovah do with his dear children, persons who have dedicated their lives to him and have served him faithfully, if they deviate from his standards and have committed serious sins? Will he follow the example of the parents? What is Jehovah’s justice in such a situation? We find the answer in the words of James in 5:14-20.
14 Is there anyone sick (astheneō) among you? Let him call the elders of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him, applying oil to him in the name of Jehovah. 15 And the prayer of faith will make the sick (kamnō) one well (sōzō), and Jehovah will raise him up. Also, if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.16 Therefore, openly confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed (iaomai). A righteous man’s supplication has a powerful effect. 17 E·liʹjah was a man with feelings like ours, and yet when he prayed earnestly for it not to rain, it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the land produced fruit. 19 My brothers, if anyone among you is led astray from the truth and another turns him back,20 know that whoever turns a sinner back from the error of his way will save him from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
I will demonstrate that the sins which are mentioned, are serious sins, and therefore, the advice of James can be applied to the elders in the congregations when they become aware of serious sins that have been committed.
IS THE BROTHER SICK OR WEAK?
I will analyze the words of James and start with 5:14:
14 Is there anyone sick (astheneō) among you? Let him call the elders of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him, applying oil to him in the name of Jehovah.
The Greek word in verse 14 that is translated as “sick” (astheneō), with the meaning “to be sick; to be in a state of incapacity or weakness.” (Louw and Nida) The verb astheneō occurs 32 times in the Christian Greek Scriptures. And in 2 Corinthians 12:10 (above) and 13:9 (below) the meaning is “weak”:
9 We certainly rejoice whenever we are weak (astheneō) but you are powerful. And this is what we are praying for, your being
10So I take pleasure in weaknesses (astheneia), in insults, in times of need, in persecutions and difficulties, for Christ. For when I am weak (astheneō), then I am powerful.
In 12:10, both the verb asteneō and the noun astheneia are used. I will now look at 5:15:
15 And the prayer of faith will make the sick one (kamnō) well (sōzō), and Jehovah will raise him up. Also, if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
In verse 15, the noun kamnō is used, and its meaning is “to be ill, with a possible implication of being worn-out or wasting away.” (Louw and Nida). The form is nominal (present active participle masculine singular), and NWT13 translates the word as “the sick one,” but it could have been translated as “the weak one.” James has used two verbs that both can refer to being sick, being weak, and being weary.
However, verse 15 has the verb (sōzō), with the meaning (“to rescue from danger and to restore to a former state of safety and well-being; to cause someone to experience divine salvation,” (Louw and Nida) The verb sōzō occurs 99 times in the Christian Greek Scriptures, and in most instances, the meaning is “to save” in the religious sense of the word. James uses the word in 1:21; 2:14; 4:12; and 5:20 in this religious sense, and therefore it is likely that it also has the religious sense of “save” in 5:15. I look at verse 16:
16 Therefore, openly confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed (iaomai). A righteous man’s supplication has a powerful effect.
In verse 16, the verb iaomai is used, and NWT13 translates it as “may be healed.” The meaning of the verb is “to heal, cure; met. to heal, spiritually, restore from a state of sin and condemnation.” (Mounce) The verb is used 26 times in the Christian Greek Scriptures, and it refers both to literal and spiritual healing.
We have seen that the verbs asteneō and kamnō have been used, and both can refer to physical and spiritual healing. We have also seen that the verb iaomai, that both can refer to literal and spiritual healing, have been used. Because the verb sōzō is used as a parallell to iaomai, and James uses sōzō in the religious sense of “be saved” three times, the most likely conclusion is that James speaks of Christians who are weak but who will be saved. I will therefore translate the first clause in verse 14 as “Is there anyone weak among you?” instead of “Is there anyone sick among you?” And the middle clause in verse 16 with the verb iaomai I will translate as, “that you may be restored” rather than “that you may be healed.” The issue James evidently is discussing is the restoration to a saved condition of a Christian who has become spiritually weak or wearied down.
ARE THE SINS MINOR OR MAJOR?
In 5:15, James speaks of sins that the weak brother or sister may have committed. In order to put the whole situation in the right setting, it is important to know whether the sins that are mentioned are minor or major. In other words, does James speak about sins that are so serious that a brother or sister can be disfellowshipped from the congregation?
All Christians are sinning every day, and they pray to Jehovah and ask for his forgiveness. There are several reasons to think that James had more serious sins in mind. One reason is that Christians should not confess minor sins to the elders. Another reason is that the weak Christian did not have the power to pray to Jehovah for forgiveness; he needed help from the elders so they could pray for him. A third reason is the use of the Greek word “to save” (sōzō) that evidently is used in the religious sense of gaining salvation. Minor sins would not have to do with a person’s salvation, but serious sins could prevent one’s salvation.
Supporting the view that James had serious sins in mind are the words in verses 19 and 20:
19 My brothers, if anyone among you is led astray from the truth and another turns him back, 20 know that whoever turns a sinner back from the error of his way will save (sōzō) him from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
These two verses are the conclusion of the discussion that starts in verse 14. And there is one word that connects verse 20 with verse 15, which shows that what prayer can do, and that is sōzō (“to save”). Verse 15 says the prayer of faith (or, “in faith”) will save (sōzō) the weak one (kamnō). The one who will be saved according to verse 15 is “the weak one,” and the one who may be saved according to verse 20 is “him.” What is the antecedent of “him”? It is “a sinner.” And what is the sin of the sinner? Verse 19 says that the sinner “has gone astray from the truth,” and verse 30 speaks of “the error of his way.”
The verb planaō is translated by “go astray,” has the meaning “to no longer believe what is true, but to start believing what is false” (Louw and Nida), or “lead astray; mislead; deceive; and passive: ‘go astray’,” (Mounce) James uses planaō in 1:16 with the sense “mislead, lead astray,” and in 1 John 2:26 and 3:7, the word is used with the same meaning. This shows that to be guilty of planaō is a serious sin. In verse 20, the corresponding noun planē is used, and it is translated as “the error (of his way)” by NWT13. The meaning of the noun is a “behavior which deviates seriously from that which is morally correct.” (Louw and Nida). That the error that is expressed by planē is serious, is seen in Ephesians 4:14 (above), 2 Thessalonians 2:11, 12 (middle), and 1 John 4:6 (below)_
14 in order that we should no longer be babes, tossed about as by waves and carried hither and thither by every wind of teaching by means of the trickery of men, by means of cunning in contriving error (“deceitful scheming” NIV, plane).
11 So that is why God lets an operation of error (“powerful delusion” NIV, planē) go to them, that they may get to believing the lie, 12 in order that they all may be judged because they did not believe the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness.
6 We originate with God. He that gains the knowledge of God listens to us; he that does not originate with God does not listen to us. This is how we take note of the inspired expression of truth and the inspired expression of error (“spirit of falsehood” NIV plane).
It is clear that the sins that are mentioned in James 5:19, 20 are serious. The goal in verse 20 is that a Christian can save the sinner that is mentioned, and the goal in verse 15 is that the prayer in faith by the elders will save the sinner. The similarities in the situation where a sinner called the elders to help him (verses 13-16) and in the situation where the elders were not called (verses 19, 20) are that both persons were in the middle of practicing sin. In the last situation, the sins were serious. And that was evidently the case in the first situation because a person will not call for the elders in connection with minor sins.
In the situation that is mentioned in verses 19, 20 had occurred today, the person would not have been helped, but he would have been disfellowshipped even if he had changed course immediately before the judicial hearing. But the focus of James was to help the person and not to throw him out of the congregation. This means that the words of James represent an instruction on how the elders can help all members of the congregation who have practiced sins but have changed course, regardless of how serious the sins have been and how long they have been practiced. Only persons who still are practicing lawlessness and who have been hardened in sin must be disfellowshipped. All others must be helped to regain a good relationship with Jehovah. And as James said: “whoever turns a sinner back from the error of his way will save him from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
The words of James corroborate the great love the Christian couple that I used as an example had for their son. When he committed several sins that were serious, they would not ask him to leave the home. But they would do all they could to help him. And first when there no longer was any hope that he would accept the help and repent, would the parents ask him to leave home. The words of James show that the Christian congregation should act in a similar way.
THE LONG-SUFFERING AND THE MERCY OF JEHOVAH AND THE ELDERS
I will now compare the long-suffering and mercy of Jehovah with some of the instructions of the Governing Body. The Body of elders are instructed to find out whether the repentance of the wrongdoer is genuine. The Shepherd book 16:10 has the following nine points that the members of the judicial committee must consider:
(1) Was his confession voluntary, or did he have to be accused by others? Some offenders are so deeply ashamed or have such difficulty expressing themselves that they are reluctant to speak.
(2) Is the individual truthful? (Acts 5:1-10) When questioned, are his answers forthright? Is he cooperative with the judicial committee? The judicial committee should be especially cautious if the individual has shown himself to be guilty of hypocrisy, lying, or deliberate efforts to deceive.
(3) Has he prayed to Jehovah and asked for his forgiveness? Keep in mind that some wrongdoers, though repentant, find it difficult to pray.—Jas. 5:14. (4) What has he done to repair his relationship with Jehovah and with others he has hurt by his actions? Has he made amends, expressed willingness to do so, or apologized to those damaged by his sinful course? Has he asked for the forgiveness of those he has wronged?
(5) If he has committed adultery, has he confessed to the innocent mate and asked for forgiveness?—w73 pp. 351-352.
The option to forgive adultery rests with the innocent mate. The guilty mate cannot be viewed as repentant if he refuses to inform her and allow her the opportunity to forgive. If the wrongdoer is unwilling to confess and ask for forgiveness because of fear of violence by the innocent mate or for some other reason, the elders should contact the Service Department before proceeding.
(6) Does he manifest a spirit of heartfelt regret over having damaged his relationship with Jehovah?—Ps. 32:3-5; 51:1-4
(7) Does he demonstrate godly sadness or worldly sadness? (2 Cor. 7:8-11) Is his sadness primarily because of hurting Jehovah and bringing Him into reproach or because of the disappointment he has experienced? (Ezra 10:1; Luke 22:59-62) Individuals vary in their emotional makeup and control. Tears do not necessarily indicate sincere repentance; neither does a lack of strong emotion show a lack of repentance.—Gen. 25:29-34; 27:34.
(8) Does he accept responsibility for his error, or does he rather minimize or justify his bad course?—1 Sam. 15:24; 2 Sam. 12:13.
(9) Does he recognize that lesser sins may have led up to serious wrongdoing, and is he determined to avoid?
In order to answer the questions in these points, a long interrogation of the wrongdoer is necessary. Most of the elders in the congregation have no education or experience in interpreting the reactions of a person in a stressful situation. So, the final conclusion of the judicial committee whether his repentance is genuine or not must be based on their gut feelings.
Let us again look at the words of James which are a contrast to the interrogation of the wrongdoer the members of the judicial committee are instructed to do. I quote James 5: 14-16, 19-20:
14 Is there anyone sick (astheneō) among you? Let him call the elders of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him, applying oil to him in the name of Jehovah. 15 And the prayer of faith will make the sick (kamnō) one well (sōzō), and Jehovah will raise him up. Also, if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.16 Therefore, openly confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed (iaomai). A righteous man’s supplication has a powerful effect
19 My brothers, if anyone among you is led astray from the truth and another turns him back,20 know that whoever turns a sinner back from the error of his way will save him from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
The situation is that a brother or sister gets a feeling of weakness. He or she is not able to pray to Jehovah in a way that helps him or her to recover. The advice is to call the elders of the congregation, and James is certain that the elders will do what they can to help the brother or sister.
The elders are not interrogating him, asking questions whether he has “fruits that befit repentance” or trying to find whether his repentance is genuine. But they accept him as a Christian who is in need of help. Therefore, they will pray over him to Jehovah and apply oil to him. The application of real oil to the head can be soothing and refreshing. And in a similar way, they will apply the word of Jehovah in a soothing and comforting way.
Verse 15 says, “Also, if (kan) he has committed sins.” The translation “also, if” of kan is the most natural rendering. However, the word can also mean, “although” and “and,” according to Mounce. The construction of the Greek words opens for the following rendering, “And the sins he may have done, they will be forgiven.” So, James either asks whether the weak one has committed sins, and these will be forgiven, or he assumes that he has committed sins, and the sins he may have committed will be forgiven. The last suggestion is the most likely one because James says, “Therefore openly confess your sins to one another.” But in any case, the sins will be forgiven.
An important point is that the members of the judicial committee should let Jehovah be the one who decides whether a wrongdoer could continue to be a part of the congregation or not. James shows that when the elders treat the weak one in such a compassionate way, they cooperate with Jehovah—Jehovah will raise him up, evidently by giving his spirit to the weak one. And when a Christian openly confesses his sins, which shows his sincerity, the sins will be forgiven.
By the actions mentioned, the long-suffering and mercy of both Jehovah and the elders are clearly seen. The weak one is not interrogated in order to find his motives. And he is not thrown out of the congregation with the words that when he can prove that he has “works that befit repentance” he can apply for reinstatement. No, the weak one is treated in a compassionate way, and the goal of the elders is that he must be saved.
The words of James are a fine pattern for the meetings of a judicial committee. We can see this from verses 19 and 20 because the sins that are forgiven are serious. In verse 19 we read about the sinner who “has gone away from the truth.” The meaning of the word planaō that is used in verse 19 is “to no longer believe what is true, but to start believing what is false.” And the meaning of the noun planē that occurs in verse 20 and is translated as “the error on his way” is “behavior which deviates seriously from that which is morally correct.” So, the person whom James speaks about believes what is false and has a behavior that is seriously wrong.
Such a person would today have been viewed as a wicked person who was practicing lawlessness, and he would have been disfellowshipped from the congregation without anyone trying to help him in any way. But even such a person should be helped according to James. And if one or more of the elders are able to turn this person around, this person will be saved from death and his sins will be forgiven.
So, what we can learn from the words of James, is that if a person has committed serious sins, but if he openly confesses his sins, the elders will pray for him and applying spiritual oil to him. And he will continue to be a part of the congregation without any interrogation. We can also learn that even a wrongdoer who no longer believes what is true and who has a very bad behavior should not be written off. But the elders should try to turn this person around. And if they succeed, his sins will also be forgiven.
Jehovah is a merciful God, and he knows that because of inherited sin all humans, including his servants. are committing sins every day. Some of these sins are serious, and by comparing the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 with the words of James in James 5:14-20 we learn Jehovah’s ways of treating those who have committed sins.
His long-suffering, which means “patience with hope” is the basis for all his actions. Persons who are practicing serious sins and refuse to stop are according to Paul wicked. There is no reason to be patient with these people because there is no hope that they will change. Therefore, Paul says that they must be expelled from the congregation.
However, because of God’s long-suffering the elders have all reasons to be patient with brothers and sisters who say they have stopped doing serious sins and have asked Jehovah for his forgiveness. Because of their own words, the elders will have reason for their hope that these servants of God will continue to serve Jehovah faithfully. Because of this, they will treat them after the pattern given by James, and when Jehovah blesses their Christian service, the elders will know that Jehovah has forgiven their sins.
Interrogations of sinners and demands that the sinners must prove that their repentance is genuine are the human way of treating those who have committed serious sins. Expressing trust in the sinners and giving them the chance to continue to serve Jehovah in the congregation without any demands is Jehovah’s way of treating those who have committed serious sins. And we must remember that it is God’s graciousness that leads you to repentance-