How to Handle Sin in the Church
I wish, brothers and sisters, that we could all imitate "the pearl oyster"-A hurtful particle intrudes itself into its shell, and this vexes and grieves it. It cannot reject the evil, but what does it do but "cover" it with a precious substance extracted out of its own life, by which it turns the intruder into a pearl! Oh, that we could do so with the provocations we receive from our fellow Christians, so that pearls of patience, gentleness, and forgiveness might be bred within us by that which otherwise would have harmed us. Charles Spurgeon
If you have been a member of the Church for more than a day, then you have probably sinned against someone or you have been sinned against. The Church is made up of sinners, some mature and others babes, and the fact is the Church is chock full of sinners. Therefore, sin in the church is inevitable and unavoidable. Now I'm not talking about preferences, opinions, or feelings: you don't like the music; you don't like the preacher's style; you don't like the coffee; someone didn't say "hi" to you, and so on. These may be legitimate complaints, but they are NOT sins or offenses. If you CANNOT describe the offense in biblical terms, point to a verse, or develop a biblical principle, then more than likely it isn't a sin. But what do we do when someone has sinned against us, or we have sinned against someone else. There are two principles in Scripture that stand out when dealing with sin:
"Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." (Matt. 5:23-24) If you have sinned against your brother you are unfit for communion and fellowship with your Heavenly Father. Notice this sinner is in the context of worship. He has brought his sacrifice to the alter and is preparing to worship the Holy, True and Living God; and he remembers his sin. He remembers he has sinned against his brother. Henry says, "go and be reconciled to him before thou offer thy gift at the altar, before thou approach solemnly to God in the gospel-services of prayer and praise, hearing the word or the sacraments". In I Peter 3 we are reminded that our 'prayers are hindered' when there is unrepentant sin between a husband and wife. It should not surprise us that God is far off and we are unfit for communion with Him if we do not seek forgiveness from our brother. And when we confess our sins, we put the ball in their court. We have confessed and acknowledged our sin, and now it is up to our brother to show the same mercy our gracious Heavenly Father has shown him. Going to your brother is not an option. For fellowship and communion to be restored, you must go to your brother.
"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." (Matt. 18:15) In the day and age of blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, most Christians hate this commandment! We don't mind venting, ranting, and stating our opinions for the world to see, but we HATE face to face confrontation. I find it intriguing that the passages before this principle have to deal with 'despising our little ones'. Jesus puts it pretty forcefully: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea." (vs. 6) We often forget that our children are watching. They will see you sinned against. More importantly, they will see how you respond. Will you leave the Church and forsake the means of grace? Will you slander your brother and sister and sow seeds of division, hate and strife? Or will you go to your brother, in humility, and give them the opportunity to repent and bring honor and glory to Jesus Christ? It isn't up to you whether they repent or not, but it is up to you to go to them. Once again, for fellowship and communion (vertically and horizontally) to be restored, you must go to your brother!
Beloved, our Covenant Children are watching. They are watching how you handle your sin, and how you handle being sinned against. What do they see? Do they see someone transformed by the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ who not only recognizes their own sin but also the battle that rages on in the hearts and lives of their brothers and sisters? Or do they see someone who at the drop of a hat is ready to cut off communion and fellowship with their brothers and sisters because of something as trivial as the type of coffee we serve? Check your heart. Jesus said, "I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little." (Luke 7:47) When we understand the love and compassion Jesus has shown us, we will be compelled to demonstrate that love and compassion to others.