Loving people can be tough. This is especially true when they’re doing things that are wrong, or things that hurt us. What’s the best way to reach out to people who are caught up in sin? How do we tell our brothers and sisters that what they’re doing is wrong, without pushing them away from God? When I see people around me sinning, do I say something? Do I want them to say something when I’m sinning? These are some of the questions I’ve been reflecting on this week.
The bible is clear about what we ought to do if we see our brother sinning. “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”-Matthew 18: 15-17
The first course of action should be as the bible says to go to the individual in private and tell them that their actions are not okay. I’d like to point out that there is a huge difference between saying what you’re doing is wrong, and saying who you are is wrong. It’s not good to define a person by their sins, especially when we’re all so much more than that. Not defining a person by their sins doesn’t mean we leave them in their sin either though. It could be that the person genuinely doesn’t know what they are doing is wrong. Simply telling them could spark change, at which point as the scripture says, you have won them over.
What about that other verse? The one that says “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-5 I believe this verse is warning against judging people more than it is saying not to tell your brothers and sisters when they are endangering themselves through sin. One of the differences is what your intentions are. You should never use other people’s sins to make yourself feel like you’re better than they are. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Romans 3: 23. God doesn’t want us to ignore our own faults and rush to point out those of other people. He does want us to help each other live better lives. He wants us to grow closer to Him.
If they won’t listen to you, the next step is to get a couple of people to tell the person what they’re doing is wrong. This should be done carefully, and with love. You want them to see how serious the matter is, but you don’t want them to feel like everyone is against them. Sin hurts people in addition to offending God. Sometimes all the person needs is to see that what they are doing is hurting more than just themselves, or just one or two people.
The next step would be to tell the church. In some cases, the church will excommunicate members who are obstinate in their sins. This is done very rarely and is meant to demonstrate to the individual the gravity of their actions. Excommunication is very serious, but also widely misunderstood. Some sins (heresy, total rejection of the christian faith, getting an abortion) are automatic and happen as soon as the sin is committed. Others are issued as a result of a judgement from a church authority. The local bishop is capable of lifting most excommunications once the individual repents, but there are a couple of sins that warrant excommunication only the pope or one of his delegates can lift. An example of this is desecration of the Eucharist.
It really sucks to have someone tell you that you’ve done something wrong. My perfectionist tendencies make this a tough pill to swallow. What sucks even more is when someone just lets you keep going. Keep hurting people, keep sinning when they could have just told you. On the other hand, it can be hard to speak up. I don’t want them to think I’m dumb/lame/uncool. I don’t want to start a fight. I want people to like me. There have been times when I’ve felt that nudge to tell someone what they’re doing isn’t okay, and more often than I like to admit I remain silent. In my silence I condone their actions. It can be really scary for one reason or another to talk to someone about what they’re doing wrong. Confrontation is often something people strive to avoid, but if we’re trying to follow God, and they are too, we have to be honest with each other.
After one becomes aware of a sin, it’s time to start removing it from your life. This might be as simple as not watching R-rated movies, or as difficult as overcoming a decades long addiction. Supporting each other remains critical at this step as well. Without accountability, people will often fall back into sinful habits. These are my thoughts from this week. Thanks again for reading.
Until next week, God bless you.