Friday, January 25, 2008

Carefulness in Treating Sin

by FellowElder @

I'm enjoying Mark Lauterbach's book, The Transforming Community: The Practice of the Gospel in Church Discipline. It's a rich and full treatment of this important aspect of our corporate life in Christ. Chapter 4 is called, "For What Sins?" Mark attempts to help us with spiritual diagnosis and triage, with determining how to treat various cases before us. Below are several quotes that helpfully guide us in thinking about the sins we may be called on to address as fellow members of the Body of Christ and as pastors/leaders. They're offered as coaching based on years of experience applying God's word to the lives of God's people.
The General Need for Relationships
"Over the years, I have observed that the worst cases of sin in the church have always been in believers who lived a life isolated from the intimacy of sharing the things of God with their brothers. No one knows them. They have no spiritual friends. I believe every believer needs a friend in Christ who knows them and watches over them. I also believe that believers need to be encouraged to go to their overseers when they face troubled consciences or habits of sin they cannot stop." (p. 83)

"We need to cultivate in our churches the expectation that people have a few spiritual friends, who keep an eye on them and vice versa! Then we need to coach them in how wisely to address a concern when they feel a drifting in someone's heart and a change in their behavior.

Seven Principles to Apply
"Let's look at a few more principles. First, it should be evident we are dealing with sin, not violation of church taboos or traditions. We must be careful not to go to a brother or sister for 'sin' for which I have no biblical basis. This takes great care." (p. 85)

"Make sure that the sin you are seeing in the other can be addressed by reading a verse of Scripture, without commentary. for example, perhaps you think a sister you know is becoming greedy. The proof of this is her purchase of a nice car. So, what verse reproves her? Is it 1 John 2:15 'Love not the world'? Will she see the application without any comment from you? Even if you make the connection of this to her car, are you certain of her motive?" (p. 86)

"Second, I must guard the church against an atmosphere that is always pointing out sin. I think the Scripture speaks to this on two fronts. It addresses the danger of a judgmental spirit, and it speaks of love's making kind judgments of others (Matt. 7:1-5)." (p. 86)

"Third, the general tone of the New Testament is encouragement. This does not mean there is no place for reproof. We build character and godliness by listening to reproof. However, we wear people down by constant reproof." (p. 88)

"Fourth, there is the sin that is the normal lapse of the believer in their state of remaining corruption. The first question to ask is simple: Is this sin I am seeing part of the ordinary stumbling of the Christian? If so, then I need not speak to it immediately. Is it hardening their hearts or are they judging themselves? If the latter, I may forbear." (p. 89)

"Fifth, we must take into account the work of the Spirit. He is wisely shaping us into the likeness of Christ in his sovereign love. Rather than expose all our corruption at once, he is gentle. To see ourselves as God sees us would undo us. He points out one thing at a time. As I intend to reprove someone or speak to them of my concern for them in sin, I must be aware of this." (p. 90)

"Sixth, where the believer is judging his sin and admitting it, I have no reason to be harsh. They, like me, are seeking help and encouragement to keep on fighting the holy war. It is not helpful to rub salt in a wound." (p. 92)

"Seventh, sometimes we must intervene quickly. Look at Paul's concern in 1 Corinthians 5 with public sin. Some transgressions are private. Others are public. The list given seems to deal with a believer who has a reputation for these things. Moreover, the sins are evident to others. Immorality, adultery, greed that is evident, idolatry, or swindling and slandering--these are often public offenses." (p. 92)

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