Few things in all the world will tell a church as much about where its heart is at and how mature we are than how we respond, ready for this, to open, blatant sin in the camp.
And we just sang a song about our heart and worship and nearness to God and all that good stuff. Now, let me repeat that: Few things in all the world will tell a church about where a church’s heart is and the level of maturity in that church as to how the church responds to open, blatant sin in the camp.
When there is something happens in the life of the church, I don’t mean different perspectives and could this be right or maybe? But, it is black and white, you know it’s wrong, how a church responds to that really tells you a lot about it.
In fact, I’d go one further. I would suggest that how you respond and how I respond to open, blatant sin in our relational network among other Christians will tell you a lot more about your heart and your own maturity than maybe you ever want to know.
See, what I have observed over the years… you meet with pastors all over the place, you meet with people, you read. When it comes to something that happens in the life of a church where it’s bad and people make some big, bad decisions that reverberate through a group, there are normally two responses.
In fact, usually they are extremes. Exhibit A I call, “Passive Indifference.” I remember being a young Christian, I was in West Virginia in a little church and there was a real key leader. Everyone looked up to him. And out of the blue, it was one of those classic stories.
But I had only been a Christian a couple, maybe three years at the most. And he left town with another woman and left a wife and a couple, three kids. And it was one of these slam dunk, just - whoa!
But no one ever said anything. People would talk about it here and you’d hear people talk about it in the halls over here. And someone else would say something here. And I was kind of naïve and kind of dumb and I’d only been in the Bible for a couple years so I thought, “Well, I’ll just go to the people who are supposed to know.”
And so I went to one of the leaders and a pastor, I said, “I kind of hear second, third, fourth hand – this guy that we all really respect – now, is that story true? Did he just bail on his family and is involved in a immoral affair with another person?”
He said, “Yeah, that’s true.” I said, “Well, what do you do about that?” And I’ll never forget this leader, pastor, they just sort of shrugged their shoulders and said, “It’s a shame, isn’t it?” And I thought to myself, “You know, I’m not the most mature guy,” and I have never even heard the words “church discipline,” and I have no idea what the right, godly response ought to be to those kind of situations. But I just have an inkling that I didn’t hear it right then either.
The opposite extreme I call Exhibit B, instead of “Passive Indifference,” it’s, “Painful Insensitivity.” This happened in a small, little town in Texas. And a similar situation, not nearly as dramatic or drastic but it was outside the clear, moral boundaries – a little iffy.
But there was a lady that became the object, not only of a church’s but of an entire community’s scorn and wrath. I mean, if you wanted to, if you wanted to write a movie about, “Let’s make Christians look as ugly, as mean, as heartless, and doing something completely not out of love,” you could have seen it here.
I remember a couple, three years later sitting with this woman in a coffee shop type setting with a small group of other people. And I asked her about this situation and she was the one, they did everything but kind of brand the letter “A,” a scarlet letter, on her chest. And that wasn’t the case.
And she said, “You know, I would walk in a drug store, I would walk in the grocery store, and people would give me the kind of looks and they would turn away in such a way that I have never felt, not like I had done something wrong, but like I was the devil incarnate.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but it seems that those two extremes are probably not God’s way to deal with people that have fallen.
We all struggle, we all make mistakes, and we’re in a series talking about what did Jesus say? How do we love one another? Well, one of the things you have to figure out, if we’re really going to love one another, is not only how do you love people when they are well, how do you love people when they fall. I don’t mean a little bit, when they just flat blow it, what’s the response?
And so rather than those two extremes, let me ask you, if you haven’t already, to pull out a little teaching handout. And what I’d like to do is walk through what Jesus would say. In fact, what He did say about these situations.
We ended last week’s message and we talked about living in harmony with one another. Remember I said at the very end, once you go through the steps of conflict resolution and you really try to preserve the unity but the people go south, they just won’t hear of it, then I said, “Then follow the biblical guidelines that Jesus said in Matthew 18.”
And we just touched on them but really didn’t get into them. I want to walk through those because instead of Exhibit A, passive indifference; and instead of Exhibit B, painful insensitivity, here’s the way Jesus said we should handle those situations.
Step one is a private conference. When you know or if I know, someone who has really dropped the ball, has fallen, it says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault.” Just between the two of you. “If he listens to you, you have won your brother.” Ninety percent of the time, that’s all it takes. Ninety percent of the time, people who make a mistake and they are moving in a bad direction, a close, trusted, loving friend, it’s amazing what that will do and it’s also amazing how rarely we do it.
Second step, if you go to them and there’s no movement, step two, small group confrontation. “But if he will not listen, take one or two others along so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”
Now notice the legal terms there: Testimony and witnesses. This is not get a big group of people to gang up on someone to guilt them into doing what’s right.
This has the idea of testimonies, witnesses, objectivity, establishing the credibility, make sure that this is exactly what happened. Make sure all the facts are correct, make sure that all parties agree that this is, in fact, the data in question.
Third, if after the small group confrontation doesn’t work, there is public disclosure, verse 17, first half, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.” In a real small church like where I came from in West Virginia, the church is at thirty, forty, fifty, maybe a hundred people. If anyone does anything that has any kind of public notice, everybody knows about it because half the people are related anyway.
And so tell it to the church would probably mean take it to that group because that’s a sphere of influence. And you take it with a heart of love and compassion that says, “Hey, Bob” or, “Mary,” or whoever it is, “are involved in this situation, it’s clearly outside of God’s will for them, I want you to pray for them, I want you to care for them, as you see them in the grocery store, if you have a personal relationship with them, go to them. Tell you love them, tell them you care, urge them, encourage them to do what they know is right.”
If that doesn’t work then the final step is public exclusion, verse 17, second half, “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” And the idea here is withdraw the support, the underpinning of love. The relational network, the care.
It doesn’t mean… you don’t treat unbelievers in a harsh, rude, negative manner, but you don’t have a moral responsibility to move in to meet the needs of their life.
The apostle Paul says it well. In I Corinthians chapter 5, there was a man who was involved in sexual immorality with his mother-in-law. And the church started out with passive indifference and saying, “Well, you know, who are we?” And the apostle said, “You’re the Church.”
In fact, he talks about, don’t judge other people outside the Church, but inside the Church, you have a moral responsibility.” And then Paul said something very unusual there, as though the Church provides and umbrella of protection and grace and concern he says, “I removed that one and,” literally, “turned him over to Satan that he might be buffeted.”
The idea, turn him over to the world system, let the consequences weigh on his life, and like a velvet vice, let the consequences come and bear down to the point where he says, “You know something? That was a dumb thing, I know that’s not God’s will.”
But all this is done with one purpose: To restore. And so that means it’s always done in truth and it’s always done in love and those things balance. It may be very firm but it’s never with an, “In your face.” It’s never with a pointing finger in the face. It’s a, “Look, this hurts us as much or more than you. We long to see you restored. We’re not going to go away.”
Now, here’s the good news. The good news is when we do that God’s way, not passively saying, “Oh well, what the heck, we just lost another one.” Or not with this self-righteous, thumping people in the face, but when you do it right, when you do it lovingly, when you don’t give up on people, here’s the good news: God’s way works.
The great majority of discipline situations end at steps one, two, or three. When done in love and gentleness, God uses the testimony and concern of His people to jar us out of our deceived state and return to Christ and His people.
See, when people end up in situations like this, often they just start by messing around. It’s kind of like there’s a big river and there are rapids in the middle and the current is strong but there are little coves and the water is not very deep and, it’s okay here, and you start walking over here and then pretty soon you’re playing and you don’t pay any attention and, “You know, I’m just flirting, I’m just goofing around, I mean, I’m a married man, I’m a Christian, I would never do… me? No. I’d never do that to anyone because there’s no way because I know you could really get in trouble if you ever did that,” and pretty soon you’re in the current.
And that’s the picture. They are people who are caught, people who are surprised, people who get sucked in and they realize, “Oh my gosh, what have I done?”
But if you catch them early and if you do it biblically, a great majority of the cases, people say, “Oh, thank you.” It’s like reaching a hand or throwing them a life preserver and you pull them in before they get caught in the current and go over the falls and do something really bad.
In fact, you’d probably be surprised but in our church, at the elder level, in the last eight, eight and a half years since I have been here, there are anywhere from two to five church discipline situations that we meet every other week. And every meeting, almost, with a few exceptions, some a lot more and some fewer, but at any given time in the last eight years or so, we have two to five church discipline situations going on at any given time.
Now, the good news is that it has only become a public thing maybe three or four times in all the time that I’ve been here. What am I saying? I’m saying when you do it right, when you do it God’s way, when you love them, when you care, when you meet them, you pray for counseling if you need to, you go to whatever extent, you know what? People repent. They turn.
Now, here’s the question I want to ask and answer, though, today. What do you do? What do you do with that person, and let’s make it the sexual sin because it gets so much press, what do you do with the person that has stepped out and is involved in immorality of some kind? What do you do to the person who has made devastating decisions, who has broken apart families, who has done things that are… you just say, “How in the world did you get involved in that?”
And people are disappointed and people are disillusioned, and there are consequences, and the ripples – how do you restore them? How do you bring those people, once they say, “Hey, I see the error of my way but, man, I’m in the rapids going toward the waterfalls or, I’m at the bottom of the waterfalls. I’ve already crashed.” How do you restore those kind of people? And what does God have to say about it?
The answer is in Galatians chapter 6 verses 1 and 2. It’s what we’re going to look at today. It says, “Brothers,” notice it’s written to a group, “if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” When you discover that that’s the situation he says, as a group responsibility, the spiritually mature in the group should restore this person, and notice how it should be done: Gently.
Verse 2, “Carry,” or, “bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of,” and add the word in your notes, “the Christ.” In the original text there’s an article there. “The law of the Christ,” which, what was the law of the Christ? What’s the singular law that He made? It’s John 13, “A new commandment, a new law I give unto you,” what? “that you love one another,” how? “just as I have loved you.”
So, he is saying that when we restore someone, when we take someone’s life who has been shipwrecked, they have done what they shouldn’t have done, they have blown, they know it’s wrong, everyone else knows it’s wrong, when you can restore, bring that person, not only out of the situation but to a point of fruitfulness, he says, “You have fulfilled the law of the Christ.” You have done for Him what Jesus did for Peter.
Now, here’s the deal. Now and then we take the Bible - you know, I didn’t grow up reading it and so since I didn’t there are times that it’s helpful. I wouldn’t wish [not reading the Bible] for my kids – but sometimes when you get so close to something, you miss some of the points.
We sanitize it. We make some of those Bible characters nice, pristine, wonderful, little people. Hey, that’s not who the heroes of the Bible are. Most of them had to be restored. Moses was a murderer! He wasn’t a nice guy who shot a slingshot or a BB gun at someone and said, “Oh gosh, I didn’t mean to do that.” This is a guy, out of anger, who maliciously killed a person and it was wrong. And yet God put him on a program where he would be the Law-giver of the Ten Commandments and be greatly used.
Peter… you know, sometimes we think of Peter of, “Oh yeah, Peter puts his foot in his mouth and, oh yeah, that night he did betray Christ.” Do you understand what happened there? See, we get these sexual sins way up here. I’ll tell you what, in the eyes of God, I don’t think He has the same ranking that we do.
I think spiritual adultery and spiritual idolatry is probably a little higher on His list, if He ranks them, than some of the sexual sins. You know what Peter did? He committed spiritual adultery. That very night he said, “Lord, I’ll tell You what, I’m loyal, I’m with You, man. No matter what. If I have to die. You can count on me.”
Later on, he is cursing! He said, “I never knew the guy!” And if you want to put it in context imagine, if you’re married, imagine how Theresa would feel if someone comes in my face and I say, “I don’t know her! Those four kids must be hers! I don’t know! House payments? They are hers, man!” And imagine Theresa looking at me and saying, “What about that? Have I met you before?” That’s what Peter did. That’s what Peter did. And Jesus took him out on the beach and He restored him.
David was a double dipper. He not only committed murder, he committed adultery too. And he’s the author of the Psalms and he’s a man after God’s own heart. Why? Because he did terrible things? No! But what I’m trying to tell you is that God uses imperfect people. God is the God of second chances.
Now, in all those people did He just wave a magic wand and take away the consequences? No. Did they go through heartache? Yes. Did they ruin relationships and have just years of rebuilding? Absolutely. But were they restored? Were they used? Yes.
Before we look at what Galatians 6:1 and 2 means, I want to ask you to do a little mental work with me. I’d like you to think of someone in your relational network that you might describe as a fallen Christian. Who do you know that used to really walk with the Lord that’s not now?
Who do you know that had a moral lapse? Who do you know of someone who just, phoo, went off the end of the waterfalls? Because I want you to listen to this with ears about how God may want you to be a part of the solution of restoring them. And, by the way, if that person happens to be the person who is in your seat, listen to them with those ears.
Last night, I had one of the most encouraging things happen. A fellow came up after the service, I know him, we have been involved in some ministry together, I knew some of his background but I didn’t know it all.
And he had this big grin last night and we were milling around afterwards, he said, “Boy, did that encourage me tonight.” I said, “Really?” He said, “Yeah.” He said, “I was publically disciplined years and years ago for a blatant moral sin of which I was guilty.” And he said, “I was brought before the church, I repented, I confessed, they put me on a plan of restoration, it was a long journey, and through that long journey God gave me my wife back, our family back, and then over the years He has actually restored and has allowed me to begin to minister again.”
He said, “I want you to know that when it’s done God’s way, it works. And I see what He’s doing around here and I thought, ‘Wow. Thank you, Lord, I needed that.’”
So, what does it mean? Have you got the person in mind? What’s it mean when it says we are to restore those who have fallen? Here’s the situation. The situation in this is a fellow Christian is caught or overcome by a sin, okay?
Now, the word “caught” there, it’s a decent translation because it’s trying to capture a thought. But it doesn’t really capture the one. When we think of “caught,” what do we think of? We think of opening a bedroom door and going, “Ah! Gotcha.” That’s not it. That’s not here.
The word “caught” here, literally, means “to come upon, to take unaware, to be overtaken,” it means, it’s “caught” as in something catches you. It means “to be surprised,” literally.
It’s the picture of that person who is moving out toward the rapids and as he moves out toward the rapids, once he gets into the rapids and realizes, “Oh my gosh, I’ve done something I never dreamed I would do,” he’s surprised.
The apostle Paul, in Galatians 3:19, uses the word “trespass” instead of the word that’s translated here for “sin,” and they are different words. In 3:19 it means God draws a line in the sand and says, “Thou shall not,” and you say, “You want to bet?” And you walk across it.
The word here for “a fault,” or “sin,” is a different word. It was used, before the New Testament, in the papyri to mean “to slip or to blunder unintentionally.” In the New Testament, it has the idea of sinning but it’s a sinning that’s more like a blunder. It has the idea of you have crossed a moral boundary but it wasn’t with willful, volitional, angry intent. It’s like that person who finds himself caught or overtaken by sin, only to say, “How did I get here?”
It doesn’t mean your heart might not get hard and you defend yourself and go into denial. But it means you are caught, you’re overtaken, you’re surprised.
I’ll never forget, the best picture of this in my life, it was many, many years ago. I got a phone call; I had a meeting downtown in Dallas. And a fellow was going to be at that meeting and his voice was frantic. He said, “You’ve gotta come forty-five minutes early, I gotta talk to you.”
And I didn’t know, he said, “I can’t talk on the phone, I gotta, meet me there.” And, see, it was a restaurant we were going to meet at and so I met him in the parking lot, no one was there, I pulled in, he motioned, I got out of my car, got in his car, closed the door, he turns to me, his face is flush. I mean, whoo, just white. Red, then white.
And then he starts to tremble and he’s a pretty big, strong guy. And I said, “Man, what’s going on?” He said, “I don’t even know where to begin.” And then he begins to recount a history, he became friends with another couple and they did some things as couples and then he became friends with the other man’s wife, and they were both rather athletic and they got involved in doing some athletic type things, and played in some different things.
And so they said, “Well, you know, we’ll go out and practice a little extra,” so they went without their mates and one thing led to another, and then they talked a little bit more deeply.
And this was a Monday afternoon, I remember, because apparently Sunday afternoon they had been involved in their athletic activity, and at the end of it they sat down, began to talk, and he said, “I kissed her.” He said, “Then afterwards, and it wasn’t a little peck, and then she pulled back and she looked at me like there was fire in her eyes and she said, ‘I don’t want any half-baked affair. If we’re going to have one, I want a good one. If you’re not willing to leave your wife, your kids, marry me, and make a commitment to me, I will not be involved in this affair.’”
At least he got a good warning. And here’s a guy, a godly guy, a great wife, great kids, theologically trained, greatly used by God, and here’s a guy who, “Oh, it could never happen. I mean, we’re friends! I’m mature. She’s mature. We would never, of course not. And…”
He was one leg in the rapids, pulling him downstream, and he had the wisdom to yell for a life preserver. And so I drove down and threw him the life preserver. And by the grace of God, we not only talked, we prayed. We decided when and how he would tell his wife, we decided when and how those two couples would meet with pastors and elders of the church, we decided what it would mean long-term for ministry implications and how we would plan to have a restoration plan. And we walked through it all and he was restored.
But I wonder, by the grace of God, probably because I was in shock, I just listened. But you know something? I wonder how he would have responded if I would have crossed my arms and said, “What?! You’ve gotta be kidding me! That’s wrong! That’s sin! I thought you were a better man than that! What is wrong with you? I can’t believe what you’re, that’s terrible.” I’ve got a feeling, two weeks later, the other foot would be in the rapids and he would be over the waterfalls.
See, a fellow Christian is caught or overcome by sin, that happens all the time, doesn’t it? And before we get too self-righteous, the person it may happen to next may be sitting in your seat.