Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
I was recently reading a book called Life in Community and am currently in a chapter called, ‘Hate can be a good thing.’ This is specifically in regard to hating sin, and I think it is an important lesson for us. If I were to describe our culture (in Minnesota, the US, etc.), one way to describe it would be reticent. We are reticent to do anything that might infringe on another person’s autonomy. Just let how reticent we are as a people sink in. Because our interaction with the world is so heavily online (and other factors of our modern lifestyle), I am convinced that real conversations have become even more difficult and true honesty is hard to come by.
What does this mean for us and our reading of Galatians 6? It means that we actually are super reticent to address someone who is caught in their sin, and we often struggle to pick up the courage to speak and to speak in a spirit of gentleness. The illustration in the book is super helpful: what would you do if you saw you kid pick up a piece of glass and put it in their mouth? Would you have a conversation with your spouse like this:
‘Me: “You tell her. I don’t want to hurt her feelings.”
Spouse: “No, you stop her. She may get mad at me, and I don’t want that.”
Me: “But if I say something, she may cry and then I have to deal with the emotional scars.”
Spouse: “That’s true, plus this really is a problem she’s gotten herself into.”
Me: “Maybe the glass won’t hurt her that much.”
Spouse: “She’s probably be okay, plus I don’t want to run over there. It’s just too much effort right now.”
Me: “It’s been a long day and let’s be honest, she has to learn these things on her own.”’
This hypothetical conversation would never actually happen. If you saw your child put a piece of glass in their mouth, you’d take it out as quickly as you can, even if you needed to put their head in a vise grip. But for some reason when it comes to addressing sin in our own lives, in the lives of our children, and in the lives of other church members, we default to reticence versus careful action. We might have good motives but those good motives that we have never actually see the light of day. Sin is destructive, and like a piece of glass in a child’s mouth, it needs to be addressed.
Perhaps the reticence is the fact that we don’t know how to address the sin. This is a valid concern. The problem is this: the only way really for any of us to learn how to better address someone in their sin is to actually make it a practice of confronting your own sin, your spouse’s sin, then someone else’s sin. We learn to do something better by doing it. And avoiding action has serious consequences. Some people in their sin are following the path of sin to eternal torment. If we take our beliefs seriously, we have to say this. The benefit is this: if this is our habit as a church and as Christians in the church, then we also have help from other believers. To speak honestly, I am not gifted in some areas of speaking. For instance, in conversation, I am not gifted at calculating my words. I have a brother in Christ who is, and he was able to confront a fellow sinner who needed more calculated speech that coordinated with my work as pastor. In other words: our feeling of inability is fine as long as we don’t allow them to incapacitate us. We have the body of Christ to support us where we are weak. Yes, we can always grow in grace, truth, mercy, and clarity. We will never stop growing. But our weakness should never be a reason for being reticent about our responsibilities.
Another issue that is important is that we need to be clear about what is a sin and what is not a sin. We have to test our own hearts and take care that we are not simply being judgmental and laying unnecessary commands of men on our brother or sister. Paul tells Titus to rebuke sharply those who do such a thing. It is not a light matter for you as a Christian to lay the burdens of commands and myths on a fellow Christian. We are all free to have many opinions like whether we celebrate certain holidays, but we are sternly enjoined not to judge a brother or sister concerning any matter unless the matter is clearly sinful.
The goal of addressing anyone in their sin is to present them sound in the faith. It is essential that we not lose sight of this. We live in a deceptive world, and these sins which we try to address will often hide under the pretense of the good. Like Paul says in Colossians, these (various forms of asceticism) have the appearance of wisdom, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. In other words, barriers to sin, although having the appearance of wisdom might actually work against the battle against sin itself.
May we have the wisdom to discern sin from what is good, wisdom from folly, and may we address our brothers and sisters in a manner that recalls them to the glorious hope of salvation.