NOTE: Please read Parts 1-4 first.
It is very important to consider – what “planks” are in our eyes that possibly leave us a bit blinded in regard to our own sins; even as we so clearly see the sins of others. It might be that “fixing” others is not our first agenda item; but rather we should first “remove the planks that blind us.” Then, we might see more clearly to help our brother.
Some people will protest, “But it’s the word of God…God instructs us to expel the immoral brother.” Well, we should take a close look at this passage before we so easily come to that conclusion. In regards to our own sins…absolutely….expel it….expel our sins….Jesus said “gouge it out”, “cut it off.” But in regards to others sins – particularly Prodigals – we really are wise to consider the full meaning in this passage and the full context of each individual situation before we so easily start talking about expelling them from our presence.
Let’s dig in… (you might want to read 1 Corinthians 5 before proceeding)
This 1 Corinthians 5 passage is dealing with two issues:
(1) the flagrant sin of one of its members; and
(2) the prideful acceptance of such sin.
Paul exposes the ugly nature of the sin involved – a man is having sex with his father’s wife. Yet Paul has a bigger complaint – he says to them, “And you are proud!” So the issue is not just the man’s sin; the real issue is the church’s pride in being so accepting and tolerant of sinners. This is important because it seems to reveal that this church is not at all interested in the repentance of this man; they are basking in the freedom of cheap grace. The point is this: the sin of others is only one part of the problem; the “heart” response of the church is the other problem.If we were to say that all sexually immoral people were to be expelled from the church…if we were to read the text this way…then I expect that we should be expelling a load of people from our churches; not just the easy targets. But this is NOT the only approach. In other places throughout the New Testament, the Apostle Paul speaks of winning a weak brother to repentance with gentleness. So there are two approaches. Let’s be clear about that. There are two approaches:
(a) the high impact “pull them from the fires of hell” approach; and
(b) the “be gentle to the weak brother” approach.
If we ONLY use the harsher approach in response to sin, then we will have a lot of people missing from our churches next Sunday. So we must recognize that this is not the ONLY option for dealing with a sinful brother. It is also important to note that we are speaking of a BROTHER in Christ; not a seeker. Paul says, “Oh no, if you want to get away from sinners…you’d have to go outside this world! For this world is and will always be full of sinners!” It is almost as if he is saying, “Oh my, don’t be shocked by the sins of the world! They don’t have Christ! Don’t you remember that I was persecuting and killing Christians until the day I met Jesus Christ? No, we cannot ever expect to get away from sinners; and we should not be so surprised by the diversity of their sins.”
This is a very interesting point because we tend to be most shocked by the sins of unbelievers. We fail to call remarriage after divorce sin and we proudly remarry such couples; yet we are shocked that certain kinds of sinners deny that their particular lifestyle is sinful; and we are doubly shocked when they celebrate and express pride in their sin. There is a double standard that we apply and we must recognize this. Or else we will live life through the “planks” that blind us…So if we were to apply this, we might all come under the wrath of this kind of punishment. I am not suggesting that it never be applied; I am saying that it should be used appropriately. I would even say rarely. Or else we ought to start applying it to everyone across the board and watch our churches rapidly decline in size. This is the larger point, however. The second part of this two part situation – (1) first, there is the flagrant and awful sin; and (2) second, there is the church’s prideful acceptance of such sin. The second part of the problem really begs us to consider the intentions of our heart; or the intentions of our church leadership. If we fail to use the harsh “expel the immoral brother” approach to discipline, is it because we are pridefully cheapening grace and building a reputation for accommodating all kinds of sexual immorality? Or are we refusing to use a harsh discipline approach because the desire and intention of our heart is to win our brother to repentance? Honestly, I know of few churches and few people who want anything else than to win a brother back to Christ; back to surrendering their entire heart and life to Christ; back to the place of “accepting being found.” If that is the desire of our hearts, then we have the Scriptural authority to consider a range of options we can take with the believer who sins. Gentleness might just be the best option in most cases. Particularly when someone is acting in sin out of an area of particular brokenness in their lives. To be sure, repentance is needed. God commands it. Yet that process to “surrender” may be a journey. And it might be that a gentle but firm response is more effective in many cases – more effective than the harsh expulsion option.This does NOT mean that there are NO boundaries. Even without expelling an immoral brother, there most certainly are boundaries. If such a brother is seeking God, it may be that allowing him room to work out his repentance in our midst is most productive. If such a brother is seeking an open and audible agenda to get the church to accommodate his particular sin, we set a boundary and we will not allow that. If someone is seeking Christ and desiring to follow Him but caught in a battle with sin in the process of working out his salvation with fear and trembling, then patience and tenderness are needed. If an active agenda is being promoted and extolled, then expulsion may ultimately be required; yet it is probably wise to first try establishing some healthy boundaries.
If such a brother does not accept such boundaries, then further action may be required. Yet most people I know who have been kindly and compassionately confronted are more than reasonable in abiding within healthy boundaries. No doubt, some will feel judged even by boundaries – and they will leave hurt. We cannot prevent this in every case. But it is worth it to try to – whenever it is possible for us to do so. This is why it is worth it to take great care to exercise our Christian Kindness toward our own brother…it is better to win him by patience and long-suffering than to lose him by quickly resolving that the only viable solution is expulsion. Again, we have to really consider and should be highly convicted by the fact that we so easily move to this option ONLY with certain kinds of sinners. This is a huge red flag.
It is important to note that those in positions of formal or informal leadership may need to be dealt with more aggressively simply because of their position of influence. So that is another distinguishing factor that makes each situation unique. With regard to certain sins, we must recognize that some sins flow out of extreme forms of human brokenness. One might be tempted by and even engaged in a particular sin because of a notable and devastating wound in their life. They may be emerging into adulthood unable to know how to manage their sexuality from growing up in a family with little discipline…or little tangible love. They might be acting to medicate some deep abuse that was committed against them.
In other words, they might already be acting from the wounds of condemnation. So when we so easily and quickly come to the “expulsion” solution, we fail to win a brother…we often lose that brother because we add further condemnation upon their already weak soul. They are heavy laden and burdened and have not quite found the road to repentance and surrender; and then we lord over them imminent consequences that cause them great anxiety; they feel rejected; they give up; they leave feeling condemned. I am particularly sensitive about how we treat youth and young adults 12 to 30 years old. Just because our children are believers at 6 does not mean that they will automatically escape the path of the Lost Son when they are 16 or 18 or 21 or 25. Young adults may have to journey off into their Prodigal status before they are truly ready to own their own faith and come to Jesus with their whole hearts. This may be less than ideal to us; but at least they are living honestly…instead of putting on the covering of a sold-out Christian but outside of church living a double life. I tell you that the latter is much more dangerous than the former. And this is where we get an additional Biblical basis for Christian kindness; a kindness that does not collapse into compromise. Jesus told the story of the Lost Son to reveal to us what the Father is like. He told this story because the Pharisees grumbled about all the sinners Jesus was entertaining and spending time with. And what He reveals is astonishing in that culture; it was enough to make the Pharisees repulsed by Jesus. Jesus reveals a Heavenly Father who is not shocked by our sins; He does not reject us in the midst of our sins; He does not try to talk us out of our sins; He does not aggressively respond in a way that causes us to feel we are being rejected or asked to leave. He always, at every point in the story of the Lost Son (found in Luke 15), is extending patience and mercy.
He is investing patience and mercy for He KNOWS that the day will come when His son will come to His senses. He wants His son to remember when he looks back…to remember that the road back home is a safe one. And sure enough, when that boy loses it all and becomes desperate, he remembers the mercy of his father…and he knows it is safe to come back…and he does come back.
If the witness the Father had left was one of “expulsion” (as would have been common in that culture), the son might not have returned home. The ultimate goal of the Father is not to cheapen grace…but to enliven grace…and the only way to enliven grace is to extend mercy to others when they don’t deserve it. Mercy, tenderness, patience, tolerance…and Christian Kindness.Can we extend Christian Kindness without watering down the Gospel’s call to repentance? Yes, we can. It is not a false kindness that masks our internal judgment of others; it is not a casual kindness that collapses into compromise; it is not a silent kindness that fears confronting others; it is the kindness, tolerance and patience that the Apostle Paul speaks of in Romans 2; it is “God’s kindness that leads us to repentance.”
It is the kindness that seeks to win a brother or a seeker to hear Christ calling them, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest for your souls.” It is the kindness that leads us to the place where we, like the Lost Son, can “accept being found” by our Heavenly Father.Having been found and accepted by God in the midst of our own sin, let us extend God’s kindness to others around us…not to condone their sin and not to overlook the need for health boundaries in the church. Rather, to win the heart of sinners to our Great God…who is also THEIR Great God.
Thanks for joining me throughout this series…
SPECIAL NOTE: If you have been treated unfairly by the church, I would love to hear your story. God bless you.