Monday, October 7, 2013

When a Friend Falls by Martin Wiles

GALATIANS 5:26-6:6
Perhaps there is not a more beautiful story told than that of the Good Samaritan. Here is the story of a man who falls upon bad times. He is robbed, beaten and left for dead. He lies beside the road, unable to help himself. He is totally dependent on someone to come to his aid. Along comes a Levite. He sees the man in need, but does not lend a helping hand. Then comes the priest. He too passes by on the other side. Finally, a hated, half-breed Samaritan passes by. He sees the man and has compassion on him. He binds his wounds and takes him to an inn. Here, he pays for his upkeep. 

In him, we see a picture of each of us and the ever-present possibility that we might fall into some misfortune. I think of how the priest and Levite can be reborn into many Christians who are quick to judge and turn their backs on fellow believers who fall into some misfortune or sin. It has been said that Christians are the only ones who shoot their wounded. Instead of helping each other out of the ditch, we are quick to kick each other farther down into the ditch. With no biblical precedent, we conclude that the mistakes of a fellow believer are unpardonable sins and in essence tell them God cannot use them anymore. We as much as turn them out of the church, though not literally. How sad that we are so quick to judge and so long on forgiveness.

We must remember that sin is a reality in every Christian's life. The Bible says; “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (I John 1:8) While the Christian will not make a practice of sinning, it is a reality that we do sin. Sin is sin in God's eyes, and we should not be guilty of classifying some as greater than others when we have no reason to do so. When we look at the Christian friend who has fallen into sin, we should say to ourselves; “If it was not for the grace of God, that might be me.”

If we were not subject to sin, we would not need the full armor of God that the Bible tells us to wear. When we sin, it affects us, others and our relationship with God. When we sin, we lose that inner joy and peace. The fruit of the Spirit will not be evident in our life. It can destroy our usefulness and inhibit the ministry of the spiritual gifts. Our sin affects God. It grieves his Holy Spirit that resides in us. Our sin also affects other believers. Because we are all a part of the body of Christ, what affects one affects all. Sin by Christians violates the purity and unity of God's church.

The Bible instructs God's people to be holy. This must take place individually and corporately. The mission of the church must be to honor and glorify God, but this cannot take place if his people are not living righteous lives. We must be like him in character if the world is to take notice. Holiness and purity must be the supreme priority of the church. We must grow in Christlikeness. This does not mean we are to be self-righteous as the religious leaders of Jesus' day were. Our attempt to live holy lives must be an honest attempt.

Our greatest concern should be for the believer who is sinning or has fallen into sin. It should not surprise us to see the unsaved sinning, for they are merely manifesting the fruits of their unredeemed nature. It is only natural for them to sin. It should shock us to see Christians sin. It is serious business when a Christian sins, for the effects do not stop with that Christian. We have a redeemed nature, and sinning is contrary to that nature. It is not to say that we will not sin, but it should be out of the ordinary.

Jesus even said the church should confront the sinning Christian who refuses to repent. It should be done in private first. If that does not work, two or more are to confront the erring Christian. If this does not work, the person should be brought before the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, he should be turned out. This is not done in a spirit of judgment or out of spite. It is done because we know how serious it is when a Christian commits a sin and we are seeking their restoration. The effects never stop with that person. It is impossible for a church to have a healthy ministry when it has Christians who are not living holy and righteous lives.

Paul tells us in these verses that we are to help the Christian friend who falls into sin. We are to do this with a loving and gracious attitude. How should we help the Christian friend who has fallen?

Paul instructs us to restore such a one with a spirit of gentleness. The first need a fallen person has is to get up. Many times, a person will need assistance to get up after having fallen. Therefore, it is our responsibility to help the sinning friend in the faith get back on their feet morally and spiritually.

Paul speaks of this friend as being caught in a trespass. This may mean that he was actually caught committing the sin or perhaps that the sin caught him.  Trespass carries the idea of stumbling or falling. It is not a premeditated sin but a sin he has committed because his guard was down. How often we commit sins because we let our guard down. Sometimes we are guilty of flirting with temptation also. This too can lead us into sin.

The responsibility for picking this fallen friend up belongs to those who are spiritual. This is a reference to the church. They are the ones walking and filled with the Spirit. They are the ones manifesting the fruit of the Spirit. They are mature in the faith. Only they have the faith and wisdom to take care of such a sensitive matter. This does not mean that we are to be inquisitive or suspicious of others. It simply means that we are to be aware of sin in the Body of Christ. We are not doing this in a judgmental way but are merely confronting the person because we care about them and what their sin may do to them and the church. We are not to confront sin in a self-righteous manner as the religious leaders of Jesus' day did, but we must care enough to confront.

Restore literally means to mend or repair. It was sometimes used metaphorically of restoring harmony among quarreling factions. It was also used of setting a broken bone or putting a dislocated limb back in place.

You will remember the story of the scribes and Pharisees bringing the woman caught in adultery to Jesus. They reminded Jesus that the Law of Moses required she be stoned to death. Jesus responded by challenging the one with no sin to cast the first stone. This convicted them, and they left one by one. Jesus then told her that he did not condemn her either and she was to go and sin no more. Jesus did not overlook the enormity of her sin. He was quick to forgive but also quick to instruct her about the dangers of a lifestyle of sin. He did not want to destroy her as the religious leaders did but to restore her.

Some use Jesus' command not to judge as an excuse to oppose the discipline of sinning Christians. This was merely a rebuke of such self-righteous attitudes as the religious leaders had who loved to destroy instead of build up. We must rebuke sin in all its forms, but our goal is to restore not tear down. When we attempt to restore the fallen friend in the faith, we are serving them in the best manner.

We pick this fallen friend of the faith up in a spirit of gentleness. We must be quick to forgive and give comfort to the fallen friend. We do this because we know that we too could give in to the same or a similar temptation. We are made of the same stuff as the one who has fallen. We must exhibit the attitude of Jesus in forgiving and picking up the fallen friend of the faith.

How sad that Christians are not often quick to do this very thing. The words of a pastor bear this out: “I have often thought that if I ever fall into a trespass, I will pray that I don't fall into the hands of those censorious, critical judges in the church. Let me fall into the hands of barkeepers, streetwalkers, or dope peddlers, because such church people would tear me apart with their long, wagging, gossipy tongues, cutting me to shreds.”

We must bear one another's burdens. Once the fallen friend is back on his feet, we must hold him up. It is not enough to turn them from the sin and then leave them alone. We must carry one another's burdens with endurance. We are all a part of the body of Christ. A burden is a heavy load that is difficult to carry. It is any problem or difficulty a person is having trouble with. A temptation that persists is one of the heaviest burdens a Christian can have. Though Christ frees us from the dominion of sin, we are not free from temptation. When we love our Christian friends, we will make ourselves available to counsel and encourage them. We will be more than willing to pray for and with them.

We must also allow our fellow Christians to help us carry our burdens. It is spiritual pride that causes us to want to go at it alone. We need each other in this fight against sin. God is our ultimate source of strength against the temptation to sin, but he often uses fellow believers as agents to help also.

Bearing one another's burdens fulfills God's law which says we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Paul warns us not to think we are something when we are not. This simply means we are not to feel as if we are superior to another believer. This is one of the reasons some Christians will not help a fallen friend of the faith. It was the problem of the religious leaders of Jesus's day. We must desire to help the fallen friend of the faith not judge or condemn them. We should never say; “Well, he got himself into this mess, he can get himself out.”

We must also examine ourselves before we can help someone else. Jesus instructs us to first take the log out of our own eye. We cannot help someone else spiritually if we are not where we need to be. We must make sure our lives are right with God before we attempt to help someone else. We are responsible for our sins and spiritual condition. When we are spiritually in line with God's will, then he gives us the ability to help the fallen friend carry his load.

It is difficult to drive a car that is not aligned. There is that constant pull to the right or left. It is a fight to keep it on the road. When aligned, it drives much smoother. You can let go of the steering wheel and it will almost drive itself. When our lives are aligned with God's commands, then we can build up the fallen friend of the faith.

We build the fallen friend up through the sharing process. As we share our concern over their sin and thereby teach them, we both benefit in the process. We share all good things together. It enhances our fellowship with one another and in the process builds up the church. Instead of tearing each other down, let us be found building each other up.

Let's remember that each of us is subject to falling into sin. We are forgiven but not perfect. When another friend in the faith falls, let us not judge or condemn them. We are to pick them up, hold them up and build them up in the faith.

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