John 13:35 NKJV
“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Back in the 60’s, when worship choruses first began to become widely popular, a certain chorus made the rounds in the churches, “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love” (common tune, lyrics by Peter Scholtes). The words go like this:
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love
There is a love for each other that we seldom exercise, and yet, an expression of love that is well needed in the Church.
“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17 NKJV
We actually don’t much like to deal with sin these days. We talk about addictions, syndromes, character traits, trials, even satanic attack. But we don’t much talk about sin, at least in any kind of specific way. And yet sin should be a serious business for the Church.
I’ve been reading Wesley who, at least in the book I’m reading, begins the topic of confronting sin with condemnation of the sin of gossip, a practice with which most Christians are extremely familiar. Whether justified as topics of prayer, public discussions, or simply efforts of concern, the vast majority of Christians, even across the ages, have been involved in gossip. Wesley wrote:
“How common is the sin of evil-speaking among high and low, rich and poor, wise and foolish, learned and unlearned! How few can testify before God that they are clear in this matter! The very commonness of this sin makes it difficult to be avoided. We are encompassed with it on every side. Almost all humanity seems in conspiracy against us! Their example steals upon us, so that we insensibly slide into the imitation of it.
“Besides, it is recommended from within as well as from without. There is scarcely a wrong temper in the minds of men and women which may not occasionally be gratified by evil-speaking and thus incline us to it. It gratifies our pride to relate faults of others whereof we think ourselves not guilty. Anger, resentment, and all unkind tempers are indulged by speaking against those with whom we are displeased. By reciting the sins of others, people often indulge their own foolish and hurtful desires.” (Renew My Heart).
Wesley goes on to teach on the Matthew passage which not only encourages us, as believers, but commands us in the way in which we are to treat the sins of other Christians. Wesley is insistent that if we are aware of sin in another believer’s life, it is our duty to approach them privately and expose the sin. We are to do it humbly, gently, but personally, without involving any others until that person refuses to acknowledge and repent of the sin.
I don’t know that I’ve ever done that. If I have, it isn’t common practice for me, at least not outside of my own immediate family. But I do know that I have “gossiped” about others in the context of sharing prayer concerns or discussing doctrinal issues. I’ve done that a lot. In plain biblical language, I have become adept at evil-speaking about others. And that is a sin in itself. James contended that there is great value in the kind of love and submission that allows believers to rebuke sin that they see. But then, as believers, we would have to acknowledge that sin is a problem.
“Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” James 5:19-20 NKJV
There are several important things within the James passage. First, James is speaking only to believers. Second, he states that believers can wander from the truth. Third, he concludes that believers who wander from the truth can experience death. I’m convinced that this is spiritual death. It is possible to so reject the truth and the Lord as to reject one’s salvation. And if this is not James’ conclusion, then we must at least admit that James considered the penalty for wandering away from the truth to be severe. If we truly love each other, we will be willing to submit to others who are concerned about the sins in our lives and we will be courageous and loving enough to confront them about the sins that we see. Beloved, we need each other so desperately and we need each other in an intimate way. We need to learn how to have the kind of fellowship that allows people into our hearts and our minds, to share our struggles. And that begins with having the personal courage to look at ourselves honestly and to go before the Throne daily, allowing the Spirit to reveal the sin in our lives.
“Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” James 5:16 NKJV
We name many sins illness. Well, if they are, the way to healing is confession, but not just confession to the Lord, but to each other. And then to have prayer from each other. The kind of unity that we need as Christians, the kind of love that we need, is that kind that will trust God’s Word enough to step out in faith and walk in this kind of transparency. We need to begin to confront our sin actively and to seek forgiveness rather than tolerance, to seek healing rather than treatment. Our churches are filled with people who need the Lord. But they also need us to actively be brothers and sisters to them. We need to learn how to live as the Lord Jesus commands us to live. Only then can we begin to know full forgiveness and full healing.