The Gospel and the Church

By Stephen Terry


Sabbath School Lesson Commentary for December 17 – 23, 2011


“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Galatians 6:9-10, NIV

Perhaps you have heard that pop gospel song that reached number one on the Billboard charts in 1945, “Accentuate the Positive” by Johnny Mercer. He sang, “You've got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and latch on to the affirmative; don't mess with Mister In-Between. You've got to spread joy up to the maximum, bring gloom down to the minimum, have faith, or pandemonium's liable to walk upon the scene.” His song lyrically expresses the principle that Paul is expressing in this week’s study in Galatians as he attempts to balance the possibility of negative application of his counsel in Galatians 6:1. Too many feel that if you wrap a towel around a ball bat before you hit someone with it, you are being gentle. Yet we fail to ask ourselves whether such “tender” correction would appeal to us.

In the secular realm we seem to understand this principle better than when our faith is involved. One man can readily walk up to another man working on a car engine and say “Have you tried this?” But when it comes to sin, we are often not so gentle. Instead of saying “How’s that working for you? Have you tried this?” we too often speak in terms of judgment and condemnation. We feel that unless we make it clear that they are “sinning” then the person will never understand the problem. In this way, we fail to allow the Holy Spirit to work to bring the person gently to conviction about the matter. After all, if we have already laid everything out in stark and dramatic terms, what instruction have we left for the Holy Spirit to impart?

If we could learn to speak in terms of kindness and gentleness without condemnation, we could see a difference in how the world perceives Jesus’ followers. Mahatma Gandhi once said ““I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Perhaps understanding more of how Jesus dealt with sin would help us to understand how we should as well. Isaiah gives us a clue. He wrote about Jesus, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;” Isaiah 42:3, NIV. Jesus could “bring forth justice” without breaking the bruised or snuffing out the barely smoldering. This is how we should handle the issue of the sins of others. Too often we relate to the failings of others improperly.

Perhaps one of the worst ways is to go around telling others, “I’m worried about Brother Jones. We should pray for him.” Anyone that hears that will immediately start to wonder about Brother Jones and begin asking “What’s up with Brother Jones? I hear he is having problems.” Before long the whole church will be buzzing with gossip about Brother Jones and his “problem.” Far from helping him in any way, this approach would be more likely to cause him to leave the fellowship once he finds out, and he will. Eventually, someone will actually follow the counsel of Matthew 18 and go to him and ask if all the rumors are true. Even if it is done kindly and gently, at that point so much damage has been done, it may be very hard to address any real issue Brother Jones may be struggling with.

Another bad way to handle helping others is to go to them in judgment. Sometimes we convince ourselves because we are going to them as Matthew 18:15-17 instructs that we are following Christ’s teaching. After all, if we obey the letter of the passage, then we are correct, are we not? The teachings of Jesus reveal a higher principle. He taught about adultery, divorce and murder, and helped us to see that simply fulfilling the letter of what is required is not enough. This is why Paul, in Galatians, so often explains that the law cannot save us. Merely fulfilling the letter of the moral law will never be enough. It can only bring judgment and condemnation. If we cannot understand this, we are certainly in no position to go to others about their problems. If we do, all we can bring is the only thing that we ourselves understand: judgment and condemnation.

No matter how loving we may try to convince ourselves that human judgment is, it is not. We try to justify our harshness toward others with sayings like: “One rotten apple in the barrel will spoil the whole barrel,” or “Sin is a cancer that must be cut out, and cancer surgery is a painful experience.” Yet, we are not dealing with rotten fruit, we are dealing with human hearts, and we should never use the example of pain that exists in our sinful world, as with cancer surgery, as an excuse to inflict pain on others. Instead, Paul’s counsel is to “Carry each other’s burdens…” Galatians 6:2, NIV. Some of these burdens may go on for years or even for a lifetime. Perhaps this is in part why we find it easier to drive sin from the church. We think that if the person is no longer around, we won’t have to deal with the burden anymore. But if we keep driving others away, eventually there will be no one to help with our burdens, and we all have them.

Paul’s words in verse 3 reveal a very common problem at the root of dealing with sin with judgment and condemnation. The plain fact is that when we do so we often do it because we think we are better Christians than they are. We tell ourselves, “Yes, I am a sinner saved by grace, but I am certainly not doing THAT sin!” We create a hierarchy of sins whereby we can determine who are the worst sinners, and conversely who is relatively safe to sit next to in church. It should be no surprise that we do this. Church itself relays this message. We say this person is more deserving of being an elder than this person. This person has not cleaned up their life enough so let’s make them an usher. If they do better, we can promote them to deacon. This not only sends the message that your place in the church is based on your sins, but also that those who achieve certain church offices have done so because of less sin in their lives. Is it any wonder then when a church officer falls victim to the sin of pride? No wonder Paul said, “…watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” Galatians 6:1, NIV

Sadly, those who are most prone to the sin of pride are often the very ones eager to deal with sin in the church. They are the Uriah Heep’s of Christendom. They present a false humility to the world, while secretly plotting the downfall of others through their knowledge of their failings. Their actions tend to be less about saving anyone than about controlling others through their flaws. They are the Pharisees looking down on the tax collectors as an inferior sort of being while never dreaming of reaching out to them with the love and compassion of a brother. (See Luke 18:9-14)

Those who would deal with sin in the church and who would follow the counsel of Matthew 18 should not have the attitude, “I am right and you are wrong,” in their hearts as they go to knock on the supposed sinner’s door. This leaves no opportunity for communication and healing, only for condemnation. The recipient of such a visit may ask themselves, “If they have already judged me, why did they bother to visit? Were they hoping I would beg them for mercy? They are sinners, too. Don’t they see that?” When one sinner condemns another like this, both are on the path to somewhere other than heaven.

Matthew 18 is not a prescription for fixing the church by telling on others if they don’t do what we think they should. Far from being a plan for cleaning up the church it was added because of the hardness of our hearts. Because God knew that we would be eager to condemn one another, He gave us the counsel of Matthew 18:5-7 to try to control the damage we would otherwise do to sensitive hearts. God did not create us to “bring down fire” upon one another. (See Luke 9:51-56) If we follow Christ, we are of a different spirit than that. The fruits of that spirit are “…love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance…” Galatians 5:22-23, KJV


This Commentary is a Service of Still Waters Ministry







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