Confronting a brother or sister about their sin can be awkward, but Jesus reminds us in Matthew 18 that such confrontations are not only a part of our normal care for one another, they are necessary if we are to rescue one another from wandering away from the faith. Imagine, then, a church culture where it is normal to encourage one another towards holiness AND where it is normal for us to speak to one another in love about our sin. Sadly, though, the church is not the safest place to talk about our sin. And, we have to confess, we’re not always the safest people for others to talk to us about their sin.
Mark Lauterbach, in his book, The Transforming Community: The Practise of the Gospel in Church Discipline, suggests that “The church must be a place where people can grow, can begin as immature, and come to maturity. No matter where we draw the line of ‘when to speak to a brother’ we must do so in a context of the Gospel and knowing that we are all maturing in Christ. Every day believers need the Gospel. The new community is not a place where people are perfect. It is a place where people are honest about their sin. It is not a place of perfection, but of humility and the cross.”
How do we change our church’s culture from one where it is not safe to speak to one another about our sin, to a place where it is safe to grow in maturity, a place where we can speak to one another honestly about our temptations and our sins? Listen to Lauterbach, as he gives us seven considerations for wisely addressing concerns about sin with one another.
How to wisely address concerns about sin with brothers and sisters in Christ:
- It should be evident we are dealing with sin, not violation of church taboos or traditions [or personal preferences]. “Make sure that the sin you are seeing in the other can be addressed by reading a verse of Scripture, without commentary” (86).
- Guard the church against an atmosphere that is always pointing out sin (Matthew 7:1-5). “The call to reprove my fellow believer for sin must be put in the context of the call to encourage them and build them up” (88).
- Remember that the general tone of the New Testament is encouragement. “I find it helpful,” notes Lauterbach, “to assume that another believer wants to please God. Therefore, they welcome my encouragement. The attitude behind reproof is to help them grow in Christ, which they want to do” (89).
- Remember that it’s every Christian’s experience to battle remaining sin. “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 it themselves? If the latter, I may forbear” (89).
- Remember to take into account the work of the Spirit. “[The Spirit] 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” (90).
- 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” (92).
- Sometimes we must intervene quickly. “Some sins have an unusual seriousness (and danger) to them. If I see a friend flirting with someone of the opposite sex, it is not time to be patient. It is time with wise and gracious words, to intervene, see if suspicions are correct, and seek their repentance before adultery is committed” (92).
Imagine pastoring a church where it is safe for people to speak to one another about their temptations and sins. Imagine a church where it is safe for you, the pastor, to speak to other leaders about your temptations and sins. May the Lord grant us the grace to lead churches that display the power of the gospel and the glory of our holy and forgiving God. And may the Lord grant us the grace to influence the cultures of our churches from being characterized by judgmentalism to being characterized by encouragement and forgiveness.
Featured image credit, edited for size.