community group discussion guide


James 5:19-20


James ends his letter with a brief section on restoration. The prayer of Elijah for drought and rain (James 5:17) seems to set the high water mark for the power of faith. But it’s the restoration of a wanderer from God that may have the higher stakes. This powerful statement on spiritual help concludes the letter of James: “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (v. 20).

opening question

Share a time when someone helped you see things in a new way or helped you change your mind. What was that experience like?

read James 5:19-20 (NIV)

19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

Take a few moments to reflect on the Scripture. Share some insights, questions, or points that strike you. Then read what follows.

restoring the wanderer

This final section begins with an address familiar by now in the letter, “My brothers and sisters” (v. 19). James exhorts the churches to prioritize what may be most important of all: restoring others to God. Specifically, James has in mind those who were walking with God but then wandered (v. 19: “if one of you should wander”). The problem is cast as wandering, error, death, and sin. The solution is bringing back, turning from, saving, covering over.

On the issue of wandering, commentator Peter Davids says, “This phrase is used for serious departures from the faith, not an occasional slip into sin. If it happens to a believer, someone should bring them back … It is not just that a sinner is turned from the error of his way and so there is less sin in the world, but that the person is also saved from death, meaning eternal death, although physical death could, of course, also result.”

On the covering over of sins (v. 20), Peter Davids references Proverbs 10:12 (“Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs”), a concise summary of the biblical idea of atonement. “A frequent [Old Testament] image is that of the blood of an offering ‘covering’ sin. The opposite of love is hatred which spreads rumours and stirs up strife. For James love acts through bringing the person as gently as possible back to repentance. That repentance will be accepted by God, who will forgive the sins. Then the forgiven person can continue on the right way, rejoicing in their tests, for they know that their reward is coming.”1

For James to say you can save others from death and cover their sins (v. 20) is a remarkable way to frame spiritual help. Restoration is participating with Christ in the lives of others.

1 New Bible Commentary, IVP (1994). Some citations and formatting removed from original quotation.
  1. How do you know if someone is really wandering from God?
  1. What is the significance of James addressing everyone directly (v. 19: “if one of you should wander”)?
  1. What does James want the church to “remember” (v. 20) and why do you think that is?
  1. What are some uniquely modern challenges to doing what James says? What are some helpful and less helpful approaches you’ve experienced or seen?

group application

To restore others is to participate in the saving and atoning work of Jesus. 

Take some time to share about those in your life, including others in the community group, who have participated in your spiritual formation.

invitation to pray

Would you join us in praying for Redeemer West Side? You can use the following meditative prayer guide to reflect on God’s living word and to intercede on behalf of our church.

Tips for small groups:

  • Two volunteers can be the scripture readers.
  • The facilitator can read the silent reflection questions aloud and keep time (30–60 seconds).
  • During the prayer times after the 2nd reading, we encourage you to use the style of conversational prayer, which emphasizes listening and uses short prayers that build upon one another. Review the Conversational Prayer Guide together before you begin.

meditative prayer

Psalm 46:10

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

1st Reading: Read the Scripture aloud twice.
  • Silent reflection: What words or phrases stand out to you?
  • Share with the group: Take turns saying those words or phrases aloud.

2nd Reading: Read the Scripture aloud.
  • Silent reflections (30–60 seconds each):Based on these verses, how can you confidently and expectantly intercede on behalf of Redeemer West Side and our city?
  • Pray conversationally about these topics: 
    • This transition period of our church
    • Pastors, staff, lay leaders, congregants
    • Our new senior pastor, Bijan Mirtolooi, and his family, Michelle, Esmé, and Oliver, as they transition and move over the summer
    • Redeemer’s future as part of God’s continued movement in the City

© 2024 Redeemer Presbyterian Church West Side

All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

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