The objective of this lesson: to stress the importance of Christians encouraging Christians who fail.
Among the most powerful tools God gives us in the Christian family is the tool of encouragement. We all need encouragement. We all know how powerful encouragement is. We all realize that encouragement can come from anyone--special training is not required to give encouragement to someone!
Challenge your class to share incidents when an encouragement to either sustain or redirect their lives helped them in powerful ways. Stress two truths: (1) everyone has experienced the power of encouragement; (2) we all are capable of encouraging.
When is encouragement most effective? When does a person most need encouragement in the Christian family? Likely encouragement is most needed when we as Christians are least likely to give it. While we all appreciate encouragement anytime, we especially need encouragement when we fail!
Stress this fact: most of us experience our greatest need for encouragement when we are least likely to receive it--when we fail. When we lose confidence in ourselves, we need for someone to have confidence in us. Encouragement gives us the confidence to try when we feel little but guilt.
What is our typical reaction to spiritual failure in God's family? Too commonly, we react in these ways: "Why did you do that? How could you do that?" "If you did that, you deserve everything you get!" "Do you not realize how many people you influenced to do evil when you did that?" "You ought to be ashamed! You hurt all of us!" "Do you enjoy making God cry?" "It will take forever for the church to live this down! What you did set the work here back 50 years!"
Typically, Christians feel and express contempt for other Christians who fail in what is regarded as an inexcusable way. In such instances, those who did not fail (on that occasion) need to be aware of at least two things: (1) the realization that we, too, failed in the past (and likely will fail again); (2) a focus on people Jesus forgave that we would hesitate to forgive.
We typically are poor in finding God's balance between compassion and consequence. That is one reason we make such poor judges! God wants to save us in spite of our weakness. We want to punish people because of their weakness. Much too often, gentleness has no place in our concept of godliness. We are so afraid of condoning evil that we fear gentleness.
The never-ending challenge is to determine God's balance. As we learn more accurately about God's character, the balance will include increasing considerations of compassion.
Paul obviously was upset when he wrote Galatians. As examples, (1) consider Galatians 1:6-10. Judaizing teachers' effectiveness in deceiving gentile Christians deeply disturbed him! Or, (2) consider Paul's directness when he discussed the deeds, or works, of the flesh (Galatians 5:13-21).
Go to the examples cited or other occurrences in Galatians to illustrate that Paul was upset because (1) Jewish Christian teachers confused gentile Christians and (2) gentile Christians allowed themselves to be deceived.
However, even though Paul made it clear he was distressed at the situation, he was not vengeful at the deceived. A huge mistake was made, but those deceived by the mistake were to be corrected gently.
Though Paul was obviously frustrated, he did not direct his frustration toward the deceived.
Why? "Why should those gullible Christians be corrected gently? If they caused Paul so much concern, why be gentle with them?" Note the following.
Paul's behavior/guidance was so unusual that it is worthy of our analysis. The man who was so intolerant prior to conversion was extremely compassionate here. Why?
(1) The spiritual should do the restoring. These were the people who realized the enormous value God places on those captured by evil. They understand that God gave His son for the lost (John 3:16, 17). They understand that Jesus came to benefit the helpless while they were helpless (Romans 5:6). They understand that God values a person's repentance over his or her condemnation (2 Peter 3:9). The spiritual will value the person by God's concern, not by human resentment.
When a person understands what Jesus did for him/her, it changes the person. Human frustration is abandoned for godly character. Instead of being in terror of consequences, he/she wishes to assume the characteristics of his/her spiritual Father. There are distinct differences in the Paul who was not a Christian and the Paul who was a Christian (see 1 Thessalonians 2:5-12).
(2) The spiritual will use a "spirit of gentleness." They understand Paul's concern. Satan can use the restoration of the Christian who fell to tempt the Christian who did not fall to the same temptation. How can Satan use a Christian's failure to tempt a stronger Christian? Few things are as irritating to God as is human arrogance. Rescuing a fallen Christian is not based on the goodness of the one who rescues, but on the need of the fallen. The rescuer is constantly aware of this fact: "Satan could also deceive me! Let me be as gentle with him or her as I would appreciate someone being with me."
The spiritual will treat the one who failed as he/she would like to be treated in failure. The spiritually strong will tremble before the temptation to be arrogant. Arrogance is not a part of God's character!
(3) The law [rule] to be followed when rescuing any Christian is the law of Christ. Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of self-sacrifice. Jesus refused to be arrogant. He refused to say, "You are not worth it!" He served! He forgave! He loved the unlovable! He ransomed those who made horrible mistakes! Even in his painful, undeserved death, he prayed for those who rejected and killed him: "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). If Jesus, the sinless, could feel such compassion for those gambling for his clothes as he died, who are we, the forgiven, to resent those who have been deceived?
The Jewish Christians [and devout Jews in general] often reduced all human behavior to laws [like some Christians today like to reduce all human behavior to rules]. Paul said the law [or rule] is to be like Jesus in our behavior. When you examine Jesus' death, compassion and gentleness become astoundingly relevant to our behavior.
(4) We take our mission from Jesus Christ! We exist to bear the burdens of others. We all exist to assume responsibility for ourselves, but we also assume responsibility to help others. In Jesus' words: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:25-28). Just as Jesus came to rescue, we exist to rescue!
This society has developed in the moral and behavioral climate of "What is in it for me?" There is not an aversion to doing good. However, the motivation must result in quick gratification for "me." Certainly, there are people who have learned that one must live for something bigger than self, or life increasingly becomes meaningless. The ultimate of selfless living should be the man or woman who lives for Jesus Christ. The Christian exists to be the burden bearer, the rescuer. It is impossible to be self-centered and fulfill that role.
It is true that the way we invest our lives determines the result we will receive. We cannot exist to fulfill the deeds of the flesh and receive the rewards of God. It is true that we must not get tired of doing good even if doing good is not appreciated. It is true that while we seek to do good to everyone, we have an added responsibility to do good to those in God's family.
Paul's encouragement to be gentle did not circumvent the Christian responsibility to be responsible.
Why is that true? It is true because God values people! "Thank you, Father! Because that means You value us!"
The Christian always begins his/her reasoning with this understanding: "I am forever in debt to God for the sacrifice He made for me and the compassion He felt for me." That is an important part of the foundation of our behavior towards others.
For Thought and Discussion
It is the tool of encouragement.
We especially need encouragement when we fail.
We often are intolerant, unkind, and lacking in compassion.
We find it difficult to find God's balance between compassion and consequence.
Paul was upset because Jewish Christians deceived gentile Christians. The explanation should include our desire to force others to see spiritual requirements as we see them.
The spiritual should direct those efforts. They, as does God, refuse to lose sight of the value of the person spiritually.
The restorers restore in a spirit of gentleness. They will treat the fallen as they wish to be treated when they fail.
He/she follows the law of Christ. Jesus Christ in his earthly life is the example.
Jesus Christ provides us our mission.
"Thank you, Father, for valuing us!"
Link to Student Guide Lesson 11
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