Doing Justice and Showing Mercy The dilemma
Two Extremes We are always trying to find the right spot on the scale
On the side of leniency, the sins of indulgence, selfishness, lust, greed (just to give a few) are tolerated. To each his own.
On the side of judgment, the sins of arrogance, self-righteousness, dissension, gossip, hatred, prejudice are tolerated.
Both ends are rooted in earthly, non-spiritual ways of looking at the world. What we strive for is a higher, spiritual way of dealing with sin and with one another. That way of doing things would affirm the worth of others and the importance of community without avoiding the real problems of sinfulness and the danger that it can pose to ourselves, others, and the community. What does such a way look like?
Matthew 18:15-20 Reading
In the middle of a sermon about life in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus describes a simple process that guides believers in managing and overcoming the sin that disrupts our lives and our life together.
We have been seeking clear statements from God about what we are supposed to do. If we would truly follow this simple teaching, then the church of God could overcome so many problems. We would win credibility among outsiders who notice how we handle sin and disputes.
The process is simple and has four steps. These steps have to be followed in order. Each step, if successful, is the last step for the goal in every case is repentance and reconciliation.
Step 1 A Private Conversation. Has a brother or sister sinned against you? Go and talk to them. Have you sinned against someone? Go and talk to them. [Hey, wait it says they have to come to me. Thats a misreading of the Bible. The intent is the same. If you KNOW you have offended someone then do something about it!] Do not run about gossiping to others or wounding the character of the other. Do you seek harm or good? Whats your goal? If you and the other person can come to an agreement and reconcile, then leave it with God. Christ is with you in this. If you agree, he agrees with you. The matter is settled. Sin has lost its power and youve tasted just a little of the kingdom of heaven.
Step 2 A Few Wise Witnesses. Sometimes it is easy to achieve reconciliation. People do not always agree. But lets not jump to step 4 like we usually do. We dont need to begin writing letters and making denunciations at this point. No, we can seek help from those who are interesting in the same goals: agreement, reconciliation, peace, forgiveness, and overcoming sin. Who are these wise witnesses? They could be anyone. They are trusted people. Ideally, people who are respected by both parties. They can defend the interests of both parties and the community of believers. They recognize that the accused may be stubborn and reluctant to admit guilt. They also recognize that the accuser can be too harsh. These wise witnesses remain as partners in accountability. So, that when agreement is reached they are also part of the agreement and when the temptation to re-open the case comes along, the witnesses remind the parties that the matter is bound/or loosed and that is also heavens ruling because Christ agreed with us too.
Step 3 Inform the Church. Of course some problems can become quite large and complicated. This is when the church needs to be told. On one level, the church (the community of believers) needs to reach out to the sinner and work toward reconciliation. This is a work of love. All the members of the church are responding in prayer and outreach to affect the return of the lost brother or sister. On another level, this is the churchs defense against gossip and division. The wise witnesses have been involved at this point, so their testimony is a respected guide to the community. Still, the goal is to win back the one who has sinned.
Step 4 Treat Like an Outsider. This is the only possible outcome is all else has failed. This is not excommunication. It is not church discipline in the sense of a public execution of ones character. It isnt marking out the heretic. The correct term is shunning. The community of believers has to treat the stubborn sinner as an outsider because the person is not interested in agreeing with Christ. This is much less informal than institutional options. Families sometimes have to do this when a member of the family is so dedicated to destruction because of addictions or violence that the family has to cut ties or they will suffer the same destruction. A church family may have to do the same. Even when the church shuns the person, the hope is that he or she will repent.
If we would follow this teaching, step by step, think about how healthy our churches could be. Think about how we could avoid so many problems and gain credibility among outsiders who are looking for a better way to build community. So why dont we?
Because we are not interested in or dont understand what Christ said when he said, "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."
Christ promises to be with us at every stage of this process. But we abandon his promise to choose our own way:
But how has God treated us? I think that the teaching ends with a parable that reminds us how we live in Gods mercy so that we will both be just and show mercy. The realization of Gods grace keeps us humble.
Lets take Christ at his word and start working out differences and helping each other overcome sin. God could be in our midst in every way if we will take this seriously.
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