Talking To A Fellow Christian About His or Her Sin (Welch)

Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love Christians are not loners who plow through life by themselves – at least they shouldn’t go it alone!  Since we believe in the fellowship of the saints, there are times when one Christian has to talk to another Christian about his or her sin.  If it is done out of love, if it follows biblical patterns (e.g. Mt. 18), and if it is aimed at repentance, restoration, and spiritual growth, talking to a fellow Christian about sin is a blessing.  It’s not easy and it does sometimes sting, but it is a good thing!  Here is some advice from Ed Welch on talking to a fellow Christian about his or her sin.  He says we need to do so with humility and patience:

Humility means that we already see our sins as worse than others’ sins, so we have no reason to defend ourselves when someone points out our sin (Mt. 7:2-5).  This does not mean that we must publicly identify our own sins before we talk about sins in others.  It means that we live as redeemed tax collectors (Luke 18:9-14) who have no confidence in our own righteousness but live because of God’s lavish forgiveness and grace.

Welch is exactly right.  If we have any sort of arrogance or pride when we confront a brother or sister about their sin, the discussion will usually go downhill rather quickly.  Have you ever had an arrogant person point out your flaws or shortcomings?  It’s not easy to hear since it sounds like what it is: someone who thinks he’s better than you reminding you that you’re beneath him.  Here’s Welch again:

“Patience is humility’s partner.  It is one of the identified fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), and it is a central feature of love (1 Cor. 13:4), so it is essential to our ability to be helpful.  It means that the one we are speaking with is like us – he does not respond perfectly, he changes slowly, and he needs a patient helper.  …Patience is interested in what direction people face.  Do they face toward Jesus?  Patience is more interested in direction and less interested in how fast people are changing.

Again, this is helpful.  Sometimes iron sharpening iron (Prov. 27:17) takes more than a few days!  In other words, sanctification doesn’t happen overnight.  Sometimes God works slowly in a person’s heart and mind, so we need to be patient with God’s timing.  Granted, there are exceptions to this (if someone is physically in danger, for one example), but generally it is very wise to be patient as we talk to another Christian about his or her sin.  God is patient with us, so of course, we should be patient with one another!

The above quotes are from chapter 15 of Side By Side.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

 

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The “Grievous Sin” of Neglecting the Church (Ames)

The Marrow of Theology by [Ames, William] The Lord Jesus has a special love and care for his church (Eph. 1:22-23, 5:25ff).  He is the good Shepherd who carefully watches over his flock (Ps. 23) and unselfishly gave up his life to save her (Jn. 10:11).  He loves his bride (the church) so much that he promised to build her up, beautify her, sanctify her, protect her, and preserve her unto the end (Mt. 16:18, Eph. 5:27, etc.).  For these reasons Christians should be quick to identify with the church, love her, support her, and pray for her.  We find Christ’s blessings in his church.  William Ames wrote well on this:

“Since the ordinances of Christ always have God’s blessing joined with them, various promises of God are made to the church about the presence of Christ (Mt. 18:20, 1 Cor. 5:4).  So in a special way he is said to live and walk in the churches (Rev. 2:1, Is 31:9).  And promises are made about the presence of the Holy Spirit (Is. 59:21).  Thus an ampler and surer blessing of God may be expected in the instituted church of God than is found in any solitary life.”

“Therefore those who have opportunity to join the church and neglect it most grievously sin against God because of his ordinance, and also against their own souls because of the blessing joined to it.  And if they obstinately persist in their carelessness, whatever they otherwise profess, they can scarcely be counted believers truly seeking the kingdom of God.”

For this reason the Westminster Confession notes that outside of the church “there is no ordinary possibility of salvation” (25.2).  This doesn’t mean that a Christian who cannot possibly join with the fellowship is lost (for example, there are Christians in some prisons who have no way of being part of the church or fellowship).  But it does mean that those who willfully refuse to be part of a church are putting their souls in grave danger.  Why?  Because neglecting the assembly is a multi-layered sin against God, others, and self.

Do you have a low view of Christ’s church, or are you purposely staying away from her?  True, the church is not perfect, but it is an assembly loved by Christ, cared for by him, blessed by him, and being protected and perfected by him.  Pray that God gives you a Christ-like view of the church!

The above quotes are found in William Ames, The Marrow of Theology, 181.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI  54015

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Seven Points on Spiritual Gifts (J. Bridges)

True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia God gives all his people gifts to use for the service and enrichment of others.  Peter put it this way: God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts.  Use them well to serve one another (1 Pet. 4:10 NLT).  Because the Bible talks about gifts this way, the Westminster Confession echoes this truth: “Saints by profession are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification” (ch. 26.2).  I appreciate how Jerry Bridges talks about this in his excellent book, True Community.  Here are Bridges’ seven points on spiritual gifts (I’ve summarized/edited the following for length):

The purpose of all spiritual gifts is to serve others and glorify God. Our gifts are not our property to use as we please; they are a trust committed to us by God to use for others and for His glory as He directs.”

Every Christian has a gift, and every gift is important.  We have already stated earlier in this chapter that God has assigned every believer a function in the body of Christ and that God has, consequently, gifted every member to fulfill that function.  To say ‘I don’t think I have a gift,’ is to say, ‘I don’t think I have a function in the body of Christ.  Such an idea flies in the face of the whole of New Testament teaching.  God has a job for every believer.  It may be seen or unseen, big or small, but each of us has a job to do.”

“Not only do we each have a gift but each one of our gifts is important.  Again, we tend to recognize the more public, noticeable gifts as important and the low-profile gifts as perhaps not so important.  The apostle Paul anticipated this tendency when he envisioned the foot saying, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ and the ear saying, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’ (1 Cor. 12:15-16).”

Gifts are sovereignly bestowed by God.  You possess the gifts you have because the sovereign God of the universe wanted you to be that way.  He ordained a plan for your life even before you were born, and He has gifted you specifically to carry out that plan.  Never disparage your gift.  If you do, you are disparaging the plan of God and perhaps complaining against Him.  Similarly, never look down on the gift of another.  If you do, you are scorning the plan of God for that person.”

“Every gift is given by God’s grace.  None of us deserves the gift he or she has been given.  All gifts are given by God’s undeserved favor to us through Christ (Rom 12:6, 1 Pet. 4:10).  The highly gifted person should not think he is so gifted because of his hard work or his faithfulness in previous service to God.

“All gifts must be developed and exercised.  Even though gifts are given by God’s grace, it is our responsibility to develop and exercise them.  Paul exhorted Timothy to rekindle or ‘fan into flame the gift of God,’ and elsewhere Paul told him, ‘Do not neglect your gift’ (2 Tim. 1:6; 1 Tim. 4:14).  The effective use of our gifts does not occur without diligent effort on our part.”

The effective use of every gift is dependent on faith in Christ.  Although gifts are sovereignly bestowed and their effective exercise involves hard work and diligent effort, it is also true that no gift is exercised apart from faith in Christ.  The necessity of conscious dependence on Christ for His enabling power is a fundamental fact for every aspect of the Christian life, whether in spiritual growth in our own lives or in serves within the body.”

Only love will give true value to our gifts.  In any discussion of spiritual gifts we should give careful attention to the fact that the classic Scripture passage on Christian love, 1 Corinthians 13, is set right in the middle of the Bible’s most extensive treatment on spiritual gifts.  If we have not love, it all amounts to nothing.”

These seven points are very helpful biblical notes on spiritual gifts.  In fact, it is one of the best treatments on spiritual gifts that I’ve read.  I very much recommend this chapter to those who want a solid treatment of spiritual gifts in the body of Christ.  Furthermore, I recommend this entire book!  It’s an outstanding resource on the fellowship of the saints: True Community by Jerry Bridges.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Gospel Does Not Discriminate (Bavinck)

Essays on Religion, Science, and Society (Paperback) There is nothing that tears down walls between people like the gospel does.  There is nothing that brings all sorts of people together like the gospel does.  Herman Bavinck describes this quite well:

“In order to be a Christian, a citizen of the kingdom of God and heir of eternal life, it matters not at all whether one is Jew or Greek, barbarian or Scythian, male or female, free or slave, rich or poor, socially important or unimportant.  The only way to enter the kingdom of heaven, which is available to all, is by way of regeneration, an inner change, faith, conversion.  No nationality, no gender, no social standing, no class, no wealth or poverty, no freedom or slavery has any preference here.”

“The walls of division have fallen away, the palisades taken down; the gospel is intended for all and must be proclaimed to all.  The despised and those without rights in antiquity – the barbarians, the uncivilized, the ignoble, women, slaves, publicans, sinners, whoremongers, idol worshipers – are all people of God’s family, destined for his kingdom.  Yes, if there is any preference, then the poor, the ignoble, the unlearned, the oppressed are the ones who are considered first for the gospel.  God chooses the poor, the despised, and the ignoble, so that no one should boast before him.”

“What a revolution this gospel brought about in the ancient world: it gave a reforming power to humanity!  All people are equal before God.  He rates no one inferior because of social standing or rank, because of simplicity or unimportance.  God loves everyone who fears him from all peoples and generations and social classes.  This is a raising in status, this is the birthday of a new humanity, the beginning of a new society.  Christians, however different they were among themselves in origin and social status, were an elect family, a holy nation, a people made his own, a holy priesthood, one body with many members.”

We desperately need to remember this truth today: …in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to the other member…Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you... (Rom 12:5 NIV).  We need to make sure that we don’t put up walls and barriers that Jesus broke down on the cross.  No matter our political views, no matter how we school our kids (home, private, public), no matter our ethnicity, no matter our income level or job situation, the gospel brought us together and it must keep us together!

The above quotes are found on page 140-141 of Herman Bavinck’s Essays on Religion, Science, and Society.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)  Hammond, WI
https://www.facebook.com/covenantpresbyterianchurch/

The Marks of Biblical Friendship (Holmes)

company-color-big-300-jpg.jpeg  What does the Bible teach about true friendship?  It does teach that a friend loves at all times (Prov. 17:17), but it teaches more than that!  Here’s a nice, brief summary of this topic by Jonathan Holmes: What are the marks of a biblical friendship?  Here’s what Holmes says based on several Proverbs (I’ve edited this list for length):

1) Constancy.  …Proverbs portrays truly biblical friendship as something constant and abiding.  Proverbs 18:24 states, ‘But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.’  In an ancient Near East culture, where family was everything, such a statement would have been provocative, to say the least.  A friend can be closer to you than a biological brother?  The wisdom of the Proverbs answers with a resounding Yes!  In Proverbs 19:7, moreover, we are told that a poor man’s brothers will hate him, pointing out that biological connection alone is no guarantee of faithfulness in adversity.  Consider David and Jonathan….  Biblical friendships are not fleeting and easily disposable, but are characterized by true constancy, in defiance of the obstacles continually tossed at us by the effects of the fall.

2) Candor.  Framed in a biblical context, candor is the ability to speak truth in love for the good of your friend.  Proverbs 27:5-6 says ‘…faithful are the wounds of a friend….’  It may seem like this doesn’t make sense: wounds hurt.  Yet the Proverbs tell us a biblical friend is willing to wound us, and those wounds are actually for our good.  This kind of constructive wounding, even via the pain of open rebuke, is shown to be a mark of true faithfulness, an expression of love that refuses to be hidden for the sake of convenience or a false sense of peace (cf. Prov. 28:23).  The willingness to engage in biblical candor for the sake of another’s spiritual good is one way in which biblical friendship is obviously and dramatically different from those worldly substitutes that typically ignore unpleasant subjects.

3) Carefulness.  …Carefulness urges wisdom and consideration in how to live out the life of friendship.  A biblical friend is careful, not in an overtly timid or cautious sense, but in consideration and care.  A biblical friend should be full of care for his friend.  Proverbs says friends should be full of care in speech and timing (Prov 25:20, 27:14, and 25:11) and full of care in stewardship (Prov. 11:13).  A biblical friend cares what he says and when he says it, and is a wise steward of his friend’s trust.

4) Counsel.  Proverbs is replete with wisdom concerning the counsel of wise friends: with many advisers plans succeed (Prov 15:22), in the abundance of counselors there is victory (Prov. 24:6), the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel (Prov 27:9), and iron sharpens iron (Prov. 27:17).  In a truly biblical friendship we desire to spur one another into greater Christlikeness.  Too often our friendships lack this mark of godly counsel that seeks to build one another up.  …What we need most in this area, however, are friendships oriented for Christ’s glory.

Holmes does say more about these four marks, to be sure; he also explains how they are centered on Christ.  I recommend this book if you want a good one on the topic of biblical friendship (my earlier review is here, by the way).  Christian friendship is a great blessing of God for us on our pilgrimage – something we should be thankful for and something we should seek to grow in!  This book will help towards that end.

Jonathan Holmes, The Company We Keep.

shane lems

On Friendship: A Review of “The Company We Keep”

company-color-big-300-jpg.jpeg In the past few years, I’ve been thinking on and off about friendships.  It seems to me that many people don’t have good, close friends whom they trust, confide in, and help.  I’ve noticed that a lot of people would rather be alone or not get too close to others; a text or Facebook message is fine, but spending time together in a meaningful way is not always desired.  Why is this the case?  I suppose it has to do with several things, including social media as well as the fact that people are too busy (and too selfish?) to cultivate deep friendships.

If you’ve been thinking about friendship, desire good friendships (or if you think negatively about friendships!) I highly recommend this booklet: The Company We Keep by Jonathan Holmes.  It’s a brief (just over 100 small pages), concise (to the point), and clear (outlined and explained well) biblical discussion of Christian friendship.  The contents include 1) A definition and goal of biblical friendship, 2) Pseudo-friendships or substitute types of friendships, 3) The marks of biblical friendship, 4) Making and having friends, 5) Threats to friendship, and 6) The purpose of biblical friendship.  Each chapter concludes with a few brief application questions.

I appreciated this book because it is basic.  By that I mean Holmes doesn’t go down rabbit trails or inject all kinds of stories and anecdotes.  I also enjoyed this book because Holmes approached this topic from a solid biblical perspective, so he talked about sin and breakdown of friendships, and he talked about the truest and most faithful friend, Jesus.  Holmes was very clear: true Christian friendship has to do with Christ’s work for his people – friends are also brothers and sisters in Christ.  There are also practical examples and application scattered throughout the book.

My only critique of this book – and it is minor – is that it used evangelical adjectives that are my pet peeves: authentic, intentional, embodied, and transparent (to name a few).  These words annoy me because they are ambiguous.  For example, how is “intentional kingdom living” different than just plain “kingdom living?”  Is there even such a thing as “unintentional” kingdom living?   And what is an “embodied” friendship?  (The opposite of a “disembodied” friendship I suppose.)  Again, this is a minor critique but these types of adjectives always frustrate me because they seem unnecessary and trendy.

I’ll come back to this excellent book in the future and blog on it more.  The Company We Keep has certainly helped me think of the topic of friendship biblically.  My wife is going to read it next, and I may even do a sermon or two on this topic in the future.  Christian friendships are such a blessing that God has given his people, so we should take it seriously!  As Augustine prayed, “No friends are true friends unless you, my God, bind them fast to one another through that love which is sown in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is given to us.”

shane lems

Self-Righteousness Can Feed Upon Doctrines

Select Letters of John Newton There are some areas of the Christian faith that are not matters of chief importance.  They are important, but not essentially or fundamentally important.  For example, there are different views of Christian schooling, different views of the elements of the Lord’s Supper (grape juice or wine), different views of how deacons should function in a church, and so forth.  Too often, these things sadly split Christians and even churches.  Some Christians become so hardened in these non-essentials that they are not even pleasant to be around.  So how can we discuss and debate these secondary or tertiary issues in a Christian way?

John Newton wrote a great letter on this topic.  The letter has been called, “Controversy” and it’s found in his Works and in Select Letters of John Newton.  Here are some slightly edited excerpts.

“The whole time you are preparing your answer to the person you disagree with, commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing.  This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him, and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.”

“[Assuming he’s a Christian], the Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him or treat him harshly.  The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself.”

“Of all people who engage in controversy, we who are called Calvinists are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation.”

“If our zeal is embittered by expressions of anger, abusive speech, or scorn, we may think we are doing service to the cause of truth, when in reality we shall only bring it into discredit.”

“I would be glad if this were true: that to embrace what are called the Calvinistic doctrines was an infallible token of a humble mind.”

“Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as works, and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace.”

To sum up: when we get into a disagreement with another Christian about these issues, we should pray for the other person, love him, bear with him, and maintain a spirit of true humility while fighting against self-righteous doctrinal pride.  These things are good for us to remember whether we’re speaking face to face, via email/Facebook, or on blogs like this one.

I strongly recommend this entire letter (which is quite brief): “Controversy” by John Newton.

shane lems