Part of the Community

Matthew 18:15-20

 

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we may recognise the seriousness of sin, but also the riches of your forgiveness through your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Once upon a time, there were a number of people who lived on the sea. They had no houses as we are used to, but they each lived in a small canoe.

Now over a period of time, they discovered it would be beneficial if they bound their canoes together to form a floating community. This community of canoes then provided safety when the seas became rough, provided opportunities to teach children together, and gave opportunities to seek and provide comfort for each other in tough times.

To help them in their travels, they set up a mast in the middle of their community. It had a strong and tall upper beam and a sturdy cross beam which they attached a sail onto. This sail helped them so they didn’t weary themselves with all their rowing, and also guided them toward their eventual destination.

Then one day, Timothy started paddling backwards, just for fun. He didn’t think it would hurt anyone to paddle backwards and thought it was a break from the routine. But Jenny noticed he was doing this and saw how his paddling was slowing down their progress and how it put extra strain on the ropes that bound the canoes together. She thought that perhaps she would just yell at Timothy really loud so that everyone would hear and look at him, but then thought this might embarrass him, so instead she quietly went over to him and discussed this with him in private.

Timothy didn’t even realize that what he did was affecting anyone else, and when he heard about this, he quickly stopped paddling backwards and thanked Jenny for letting him know.

Soon afterwards Sharon yelled some abuse at Fred, using some very colourful language. Donald, a friend of Fred’s, overheard and didn’t think Sharon’s words and attitudes were very helpful. After she seemed to calm down a little, he went over to her and said that even if what she said was right, he didn’t think her attitude was helpful and definitely didn’t agree with her using all those swear words.

 

Sharon didn’t like someone else telling her this, so she told Donald so in no uncertain terms, after all, it was just his opinion. If he didn’t like her using those words, then maybe he shouldn’t listen in on her conversations.

After trying to explain his position in the kindest way, Donald eventually gave up, but then spoke to his wife about what had happened. She suggested bringing along another friend and the community leader so that Sharon could see it wasn’t just one person’s concern, but the community’s. He did this and they all approached her and tried to explain how her language and attitudes had affected the community and how some of the children had now started using the same language against their parents.

Although Sharon didn’t like people ‘ganging up’ on her, she agreed her words and her attitudes were not helpful. She agreed to apologise to Fred for using such swear words and promised to try and stop using such language.

A few weeks later, George decided he didn’t want to wear clothes anymore, so he got undressed and went about his daily tasks without any clothes on.

Now everyone noticed, but they were almost too embarrassed to say anything. What would others think if they saw them talking to a naked George?

Eventually Paul got up the courage to speak to George about it. He explained his embarrassment and asked if he could please put some clothes on. But George said he couldn’t see anything wrong with not wearing any clothes, after all it seemed to be more Paul’s problem than George’s, so he just better get used to it.

But Paul was still very concerned and watched the children point at George and laugh at him. He also saw how many women would blush if they saw him, or would even catch some of them secretly staring at him with that spark of speculation in their eyes. So he gathered the community leader and another person to more formally approach George.

They told him they had nothing against nakedness as such, but shared their concern for the community, noting people’s embarrassment and the jokes that were told about him. They also mentioned the secret looks that could harm marriage relationships.

 

At this he called them all prudes and said he was going to continue to keep his clothes off. Anyway, if they didn’t like it, what would they do about it?

After many different but ultimately unsuccessful approaches, they went away and started discussing this matter among themselves. They had quite a debate because they knew they were only a small community and needed everyone and their canoes. They didn’t want to cut George off, but also agreed that his behaviour showed he didn’t respect others and his nakedness would be harmful to the community. Each individual is accountable to the community, but he was already acting as if he was outside of the community. After a long and passionate discussion, they decided that unless he would put some clothes on, they had to cut him loose from the canoe community.

As one they approached him and shared their concerns, giving him one last opportunity, but he remained defiant. Therefore they cut his canoe loose. They had tears in their eyes as they saw him float away, while he yelled abuses at them and made many lewd actions.

Eventually he disappeared beyond their sight, but every day and every night they had someone posted to keep watch for him in the hope he would one day return to them. They even tried sending out people in canoes in order to find him and bring him back to safety.

Now we’re not a community of canoes. We also didn’t come together just because we decided to. We came together because God gathered us together as a community of believers joined in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Yet we also come together as a community of sinners. Every one of us sin every day. Anyone who thinks he or she doesn’t sin does not need the church, and therefore also has no need for Christ.

Now as sinners, sometimes we like to point out each other’s sinfulness. We like to do this especially if we’re hurt by their actions, but also because it may direct attention away from our own sins.

Yet there are other times when we might ignore someone’s sin. We don’t want to meddle in someone else’s affairs. We don’t want to force our opinion or our moral compass on another. We don’t want to offend them. We don’t want to affect our relationship with them by pointing out their sins. So we remain silent, but secretly annoyed, hurt, disgusted or embarrassed.

The other problem is that, even though we acknowledge we are all sinners, we don’t like to admit our own sin, and definitely don’t want anyone else to point out our sin.

We don’t like this because it shames us and threatens our pride. Because of society’s push for the rights of the individual over the right of a community, we seem to think our faith is a private matter and even the way we live is a private matter. We don’t think it’s anyone else’s business to tell us we’re wrong.

Yet the wrongs or sins of an individual are very serious and affect the whole body of believers, especially if that sin is done in public and without any signs of repentance or sorrow. Because sin affects the whole community, especially the public sins, the Christian is accountable to the whole assembly.

So what do we do when we become aware of someone’s sins that are repeatedly done in public? Well, this text gives clear advice. It gives us a gentle, but serious approach to our own sinfulness and each other’s sinfulness.

However, this text has also been abused. This text isn’t given to us so that we can delight in pointing out each other’s faults and shortcomings, or things we don’t like about them, like their looks or their smell. It isn’t to be used in order for us to get back at someone who hurt us, or even to get rid of a community’s ‘deadwood’. It doesn’t justify our expectations that everyone around us should live up to our standards, or even live a perfect life, because no one can.

Rather, this text is used when we show our genuine care and concern for those who may already be spiritually lost to us. It’s used when we care enough about someone that we will reach out and speak to them in love because they’re no longer publicly living as a believer and are unrepentant of their actions.

If you approach someone and point out their sins, it may not seem very loving to them, and may be seen as an invasion of privacy, or a way of forcing your opinion on them, or that you’re being too legalistic or critical, but as Christians you realise the seriousness of sin and cannot in a good conscience allow them to continue in their sinful actions while they profess to be Christian.

 

We courageously approach people in love and concern, not just because of the harm the sin is doing to other people, but also because of the harm it does to the person doing it. They may not realise they already live as if they are outside of the faith community and are therefore also living outside of Christ.

We are all sinful and for this reason we must avoid the temptation to be too judgemental and go around pointing out each others sinfulness. Calling someone a sinner won’t necessarily help. But the Lord does encourage us to love and care for each other enough, that if we see someone openly sinning and they’re not sorry about their actions, we will reach out to each other in concern for the sake of their eternal welfare.

When you do this, do it in love and not in a way that shows your superiority over them. Approach them as a fellow sinner. If they’re sorry for their actions, then point them to Jesus Christ and his undeserving forgiveness. In this way you’ll restore a brother or sister to the community of believers.

Our Lord Jesus Christ died so that all our sins are covered and dealt with, but if someone is no longer repentent and therefore don’t think they need the blood of Christ, then we should love them enough to reach out to gain them as our brother or sister in Christ.

We may not be a community of canoes, but we are a community bound to each other through faith in Jesus Christ. Love one another enough to be brothers and sisters in Christ. Love one another enough to speak gently and lovingly about sin. Love one another enough to admit your own sinfulness and your own need for Jesus. Love one another enough to listen patiently to someone’s concern, even if you don’t want to hear it. Love one another enough to speak the forgiveness of Christ. Love one another enough that you still want to gather with each other in the name of Christ and have Jesus within your midst. Love one another so that …

The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Leave a Reply