7 So you, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 8 If I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked ones, you shall surely die’, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand. 9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life. 10 Now you, mortal, say to the house of Israel, Thus you have said: ‘Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?’ 11 Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel? …………………………………………………………………
‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’ …………………………………………………………………………………….
Prayer: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
Well, these are not easy scriptures to preach on. Both readings highlight responsibilities that we have to recognise as being a part of our Christian life. Looking at the words of Jesus:
What do we do when someone is getting major things wrong in their Christian life?
Well our teaching from Jesus says that we warn them for their own good in private but definitely don’t ridicule or point out anything that is questionable in their lives in public.
What then do we do if they won’t listen to us?
We are taught to go privately with one or two others and try again to help that person who has got those critical things wrong to see what is going on in their life and change what they have done or are doing.
What if they still won’t listen?
If their mistake or wrongdoing is prominent and detrimental to God and His good Name we have to help make sure that what has been done or is being done is clearly shown to be not acceptable behaviour for people of faith.
And what do we do if they still won’t listen?
Very simply we love them……
We love them but we don’t allow ourselves or others to be influenced by them or to be led astray by them…
Thankfully, the Bible tells us that “love will cover a multitude of sins” That means that there are some offenses that others commit that are best overlooked in love. In fact the vast majority of our faults toward one another can legitimately fall into this category and it’s important that we remember that we are not God’s moral Police Force called to publicize and punish the wrongs of others…
But there are times when things that are done should not have a ‘cover of love’ thrown over them. In fact, there are some sins that for us to ignore them would not be a loving thing to do at all. When someone is engaged in a practice that is in clearly disobedient to God’s ways and His word, or that is itself an unloving, harmful and thoughtless act toward someone else, or when what they have done is something that breaks the law or causes deep hurt to others or damages God’s reputation then that is a matter that needs to be addressed.
If we are troubled and feel we have to take action about someone’s actions then the first step for us to take is to go and tell whoever we think has done wrong what we believe to be wrong on a one to one, private and confidential basis. This assumes the best about the one we are concerned about and recognizes that we may be wrong about the circumstances or that the one we care for may be unaware of something that they have done.
A good approach might be to say something like,
“Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I think I’ve noticed something that worries me and I want to ask if I’ve got it correct or if I’ve got it wrong.”
Such an approach gives the person you talk with the chance to correct you if you’re wrong and then you can move on and be at peace. On the other hand, they may say, “Yes that’s right, is there a problem with that?”
If that happens then you can talk things through with them and hopefully sort things out. Jesus says,
“If someone hears you, you have gained your sister or brother”
The good thing with such a scenario is that it is all done in private; and so there’s no need for anyone else to know anything about the conversation. If however the person you talk with says,
“Mind your own business”, or something even stronger; then we are told that the next step to helping them is to take one or two trusted people with you and have a further conversation. Those others may discover one of three things; that you are in the wrong and you can then apologise, or they may see that there is a real problem that needs to be put right or they may agree there is wrongdoing and more help is needed to sort things out.
If there is wrongdoing the goal of any conversation is that it will be acknowledged and that things will be put right with God and any others who have been affected. However, if someone will not hear or accept that they are in the wrong we are told that the matter must then be taken to the Church for the protection of God’s Name, His reputation, the good standing of the Church in society and the protection of any who have been wounded by what has or is happening.
If, as sadly sometimes happens, the person in the wrong refuses to hear even the voice of the church, then there is one more step that must be taken. It ceases at that point to be a matter of calling an individual to repentance; and it becomes a matter of protecting the spiritual health and moral purity of the church body. Jesus says,
“And if they refuse even to hear the church, let them be to you like a heathen and a tax collector”.
There are many views on this last saying of Jesus.
What I find to be most helpful for me is the thought that the person who has messed up and gotten things so badly wrong should be loved by all just as every Christian and non-Christian is loved by God. They should be loved but their wrongdoing should be rejected.
“Love the sinner and hate the sin” is a well-known saying and probably a helpful one to keep in mind in such a situation.
Two things need to be kept in balance: the love of God for someone who has erred and gone astray and the love of God for the Church that represents God in a local context.
In these troubled days many are looking to find treatments to heal those who are ill with Covid-19 and locking for a vaccine to stop people getting sick with the virus. Scientists are looking for ways to help people be healthy in their bodies. God’s Church is often seen as and described as a body. Perhaps that image can help us to think of what Jesus’ teaching is saying here. God looks to care for, help, heal and restore the spiritually sick and He also looks for ways that all can be vaccinated and made immune to spiritual attack that would draw them into wrongdoing and cause them to be robbed of God’s love, peace and joy that is His gift to us all. If something has robbed some people of life in all its fullness with God or is threatening to do so; whatever that is, it needs to be dealt with for everyone’s best health and protection.