Friday, 2 September 2016

Dealing with Sin in the Church

Ideally, it wouldn't happen. But it does. If sanctification is a process that continues throughout our whole life, then there will be times when all of us fall short of God's perfect standard.

But we don't want to stay there.

Some people say we need to be 'forgiving' and 'accepting'. Let's have a look at Jesus' life and how he interacted with sinners.

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
- John 8:2-11 (NIV)

In this story, Jesus is asked to give a judgement on whether to respond with the law or with mercy. He chooses mercy. He shows us that we are all sinners worthy of judgement, and that we should not be the ones to condemn people. That is God's role. (Jesus is God, yes, but his role during his time on Earth was not to bring condemnation - John 3:17.)

But even though Jesus didn't condemn, he still made a judgement. Some people are scared of the word 'judge', quoting the first three words of Matthew 7:1 - "Do not judge." We'll get to that in a moment.

Jesus didn't condemn the woman, but he still commanded her to leave her life of sin.

Now lets look at that 'do not judge' passage in context:

1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. - Matthew 7:1-6 (NIV)

People quote the first three words of this section and forget the context. I don't think Jesus is saying not to judge in this passage - he's saying to think carefully before judging. There can be no double standards - if you judge others, you yourself will be judged in the same way. In verse 5, it clearly explains when you are to 'remove the speck from your brother's eye' - which is when the plank is taken out of your own eye.

I think verse 6 talks about who we are to 'judge'. If we judge those outside the church, they will not appreciate it and will 'turn and tear you to pieces'. Those we are to judge are those inside the church, those striving for holiness. Those people will be grateful for your rebuke:

Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you. - Proverbs 9:8 (NIV)

Also, since we are judged according to how we judge, we need to be sure that our judgement is for the purpose of building each other up, of inspiring each other onwards and upwards towards holiness. We need to judge in humility, recognizing that we ourselves have faults.

So this passage says how to judge and who we are to judge, and what our motives are to be in judging. It doesn't actually say we have to judge though. It's not a command...

... but Matthew 18 is:

If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church, and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. - Matthew 18:15 (NIV)

These verses tell us how we are to deal with sin in the church - and we are to deal with it firmly. Also in Paul's letters:

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.” - 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 (NIV) (go read this one in context as well!)

This isn't a blank check that permits us to judge as we see fit. We still need to remember the principles that Jesus taught of love, and mercy, and meeting people where they're at, and humility, and patience. I think ideally, this judging would be done by someone who knows the basic facts about what had happened and who knows the person or people in question fairly well.

But if there's isn't someone in that position, that is no excuse for others to ignore the responsibility that we have to our brothers and sisters in Christ. It's for their salvation! (1 Corinthians 5:5)

Wake up, church! Let us imitate Christ.

I guess the only challenge I can truly make to finish is this: If I'm sinning, please rebuke me.

S. D. G.

1 comment:

  1. This is a really important post, David. It's a really important issue. The fact is that, no, we can't judge someone's heart. Only God can say what is deep in someone's heart. But we can see actions, and we can judge those actions against God's standards. When they don't line up, I think we have a responsibility not to let things slide. You are so right, though, about recognizing that we ourselves are certainly not without sin. Judging should never be, "Oh, I'm perfect and I'm going to tell you everything that's wrong with your life." No, that would make us Pharisees, which I definitely don't want to be compared to. Criticism should be given in a spirit of love and humility, guided by God, not by our own impulses. Great post!