Confronting Sin in the Church
Isaiah 5:8-30—Woe to those who . . .
Our beloved green thumb Husbandman is quite willing to create a momentary mess to accomplish eternal blessing. Here He brings Israel’s sins to the surface and calls them by name. He confronts sin head-on and calls Israel to account.
Pastor, when this happens in our ministry, we should give God thanks! Latent sins below the surface in our vineyards are often the reason for fruitlessness. I know that when ugly things are revealed, it makes your heart sad and your shepherding work very hard. The hardest thing for me in my stewardship of shepherding was confrontation. But ministers who are unwilling to confront will see their ministries die a long slow death. How wonderful when our Chief Shepherd who absolutely “knows our works” (Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15) allows the cancer of sin to show up so the proper treatment of sin will pave the way to heal the church!
We have great limitations in knowing the full heart condition of our particular situation, but our Father-Husbandman helps us and works in perfect harmony with the True Vine to expose disease and neglect in the branches. Give Him thanks and pray for wisdom in stewarding the mess so that fruitfulness and joy may return.
From my heart, at this very time, our Christian community is grieving and lamenting some revealed private sins of a public figure. This person, so trusted like David, has given the enemies of God an occasion to blaspheme (II Samuel 12:14). For David, there were deep and wide consequences. His sin was private; his consequences were public (II Samuel 12:12). Therefore, if we love our flock, we must see these ugly revelations as a work of God. And take heart that God counted you worthy for this to happen on your watch. Like the prophet Nathan, God has chosen you to drop the hammer of confrontation when you are called upon to say, “You are the man” (II Samuel 12:7). As you well know, the real prophets of old spoke with God’s anointing and God’s authority without much respect. In some cases, they were greatly persecuted and even killed for telling the truth about sin. So you may find a great deal of disrespect and misunderstanding from those inside and outside the flock as you try to deal wisely in church discipline matters. A shepherd can experience a great deal of security and satisfaction as he moves forward with the positive agenda of restoration and a pure heart to please and obey God at any cost.
Confrontation is God’s way to get us back on track. Ours is not to write the final chapter in someone’s life but rather give hardy counsel for their next right step.
There are key passages in the New Testament which give clear directions for confronting sin and restoring the sinning believer.
Jesus does us a favor in Matthew 18:15-20 and tells us step-by-step how to proceed when sin and offenses surface.
Step #1: Go and speak to the offending brother privately to gain your brother (15).
Step #2: If he will not hear you and remains impenitent, take with you one or two more to establish every word with these witnesses (16).
Step #3: If he still refuses to repent, report the matter to the whole assembly (17) so the entire body can pursue his reconciliation.
Step #4: If still no repentance then the offender must be excommunicated and treated as one who is lost (17)—thus protecting the flock from his or her bad influence.
This is never easy, nor without controversy. The mercy-showers often think we are too harsh, and the prophets feel we were too soft and slow.
Sometimes we have to wait on our vindication from the Lord. One time my mother happened upon one of the men in our church that we had disciplined. When he saw her, he said, “I hate your son.” That was hard for her and me. Later, he humbly admitted his sin and God restored us to full fellowship and friendship. That didn’t happen every time but often through the years. So take heart when you know you did the right thing in the right way for the right reasons.
The Corinthian church had some major sexual sins surface (I Corinthians 5:1). Paul gave them instructions to mourn with the deepest and most painful kind of personal sorrow. Following such sorrow, they were to take action and purge out the old leaven, reminding them that Christ was their Passover, sacrificed for them (I Corinthians 5:7). The good news here is that the sinning member did repent and was restored (II Corinthians 2:1-11). It is always best to purge the sin (leaven) before its malignant nature spreads through the rest of the body. All of this tough task must be done in the spirit of gentleness with healthy accountability for ourselves (Galatians 6:1-4).
My pastor is an excellent example of one who seems to confront consistently and lovingly for the good of the sheep. He certainly is not arrogant nor does he seem fearful. He binds mercy and truth around his neck (Proverbs 3:3-4) and moves forward to speak the truth in love to the sinning person. He tenderly does this tough task. Of course, I don’t know the details, but I am convinced that our church is spared much grief because of his wise handling of surfacing sins.
Let us end our discussion at hand by reviewing a marvelous promise from our Savior. In the context of settling offenses, hear this.
Matthew 18:20—For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.
We have His promise of His presence when we obey God and ask those hard questions for the good of His body and the glory of our beloved Husbandman.
Here is a suggested format for prayer in these cases with the offender.
Welcome His presence.
Ask Him to take charge.
Ask Him to change us.
Ask Him to bring us into harmony with the Father and each other.
Remember, where sin abounds, grace abounds more (Romans 5:20).
In the hard times when I am tempted to be shaken, I am comforted by God’s immutability. God does not change in any way (Malachi 3:6). Neither does He experience emotional change in any way. He is both immutable and impassible. He is our Rock (Psalm 18:46; 28:1; 95:1; 144:1). Hide in Him and do the right thing.
God allows sins to surface.
God calls them by their name.
Hidden sins hinder prospering and health.
Revealed sins make a mess.
Confronting sins is a shepherd’s stewardship.
Follow the instructions and believe.
Don’t expect everyone to understand.
Sin is like leaven—it grows.
Be confident but kind.
Practice Christ’s promise of presence.
A Touch of Tozer
Always God’s goodness is the ground of our expectation. Repentance, though necessary, is not meritorious but a condition for receiving the gracious gift of pardon which God gives of His goodness. Prayer is not in itself meritorious. It lays God under no obligation nor puts Him in debt to any. He hears prayer because He is good, and for no other reason. Nor is faith meritorious; it is simply confidence in the goodness of God, and the lack of it is a reflection upon God’s holy character.
The whole outlook of mankind might be hanged if we could all believe that we dwell under a friendly sky and that the God of heaven, though exalted in power and majesty, is eager to be friends with us.
But sin has made us timid and self-conscious, as well it might. Years of rebellion against God have bred in us a fear that cannot be overcome in a day. The captured rebel does not enter willingly the presence of the king he has so long fought unsuccessfully to overthrow. But if he is truly penitent, he may come trusting only in the lovingkindness of his Lord, and the past will not be held against him.
The greatness of God rouses fear within us, but His goodness encourages us not to be afraid of Him. To fear and not be afraid—that is the paradox of faith.
The Knowledge of the Holy, p. 89-91
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