Sunday, January 25, 2009

Love the Sinner by Hating the Sin

This article comes in response to a question posted by anonymous on my open question forum, askscripture.com. Anonymous writes:
"As a born again christian mother, how do I respond to my 24 year old daughter who has announced that she is in a relationship with another female, who is 18 years old? What do I say, what limits if any, do I set? Do I accept this other female into our home and family celebrations? I am overwhelmed with heartache and don't do much but cry. Just before she announced this, she had a boyfriend for 6 1/2 years."

This is indeed a difficult situation to be in for any parent, or any friend of a dearly loved fellow sinner. People do horrible things. We call them mistakes, judgment lapses, learning experiences, etc. God, however, calls it by an altogether less popular word: sin.

Whenever we talk about dealing with the sin of another within the body, and especially within our own nuclear families, it's an important first step to confess and realize that we ourselves are also sinners. That said, the distinguishing factor between our anonymous mother and her daughter is that (presumably) that the mother confesses her sin and is not embracing a lifestyle of sin. Meanwhile the daughter shares no such humility and repentance.

The oft quoted verse by liberals and relativists who despise the concept that one human can rebuke another is Matthew 7:3, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" But remember that I've already mentioned we are looking to the plank in our own. What do confessed sinners do to deal with the specks in their brother's eye. To continue the metaphor: once you finally did remove the plank from your eye, would you then go on pretending as though your brother or sister had no speck in theirs? No. Jesus warned against hypocritical judgment, but He by no means disallowed accountability within the body.

For the dilemma that anonymous finds herself in here I believe the most applicable passage is 1 Corinthians 5:11, which reads, "you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral.... With such a man do not even eat."

Oh, but there must be some other way. Surely there must be some more kind, gentle, unoffensive way to deal with a daughter, of all people. We long to see the cuddly image we've developed of our "grandpa in the sky" type of god simply dismissing the sin and saying, "I love you anyway."

The discomfort we feel, however great or little, with this proposed scenario arises within us for one simple reason: far too mild of an attitude toward sin. If we saw sin for what it really is, what God sees it as, then we would revile the thought of sharing a meal even with a child, sibling, or parent who marked themselves proudly and unashamedly with such a repulsive spirit. Sin is death. It should be to us the stench of rotting flesh. Would you dine and be merry with a ripe corpse in the room?

The purpose, of course, of taking on such an attitude and carrying forth the action prescribed is not to elevate ourselves in some manner of self-righteousness. That is the abuse and misuse of such teaching that has led our modern culture to reject the rebuke and even the mere concept that there exists such a thing as sin. But God is not fooled. The purpose and heart behind this course of this action is to love the sinner—as we no doubt realize anonymous loves her daughter—by hating the sin.

I prefer to rephrase the old adage, "Love the sinner but hate the sin," into a more Biblical application of the concept: "Love the sinner by hating the sin." If we do not show our neighbor the speck in his/her eye, how is that loving? If we spare one's potential angst over realizing sin in their life by allowing them to persist believing they are ok, that will prove to be most unloving on the day our Lord returns. As difficult as this action seems in our worldly wisdom, the most loving thing a mother could do for this daughter would be to love her by hating her sin. As a believer, we should hate such outward rebellion to God so much that "with such a man [we would] not even eat."

As an encouraging conclusion to this thought, jump to Paul's second letter to Corinth. In 2 Corinthians 2:6-7 we see the result of this course of action. The sinner repents and Paul instructs the church to forgive him, welcome him home, and celebrate with them. "I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him," Paul writes in verse 8. We have here a real example of the church discipline having the desired effect and we are witness to the joy it brings to all involved, not only the sinner but the entire church.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Wrapping-Up a Year and a Half in Corinth

Well, this weekend marks the end of an era for our group. It was September of 2006 when we first opened our Bibles to 1 Corinthians 1:1 and began to study the intricacies of Greek culture, the problems in Corinth, and how Paul's instruction to them transcends the millenia and applies directly to us today.

Tomorrow in class (sorry I once again waited to post the blog entry 24 hours before the class) we will review the final summary and benediction that Paul gave to the Corinthians. Then we will spend the class period reading the letter through once more in the same way that it was originally intended to be delivered. Originally, this letter was written to be read aloud before the church, not necessarily dissected word by word by a class of Bible believers.

I invite you (if you get this message in time) to read the letter cover to cover before class tomorrow. It will only take you 10 minutes, tops. Everyone has missed a week from time to time, and many have joined us in the middle of our study. Post any questions from any part of the letter here in the blog (anonymously if you prefer) and we can discuss together to bring clarity and closure to this book, and this phase in our class history.

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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Who's the boss?

Our passage this coming Sunday is the dramatic conclusion to Paul's tyrade about his own authority in Christ. Here's where he finally lays it all out there and tells it to their face, right? Paul says to his rebellious children, "by God's power we will live with Him to serve you" (2 Cor. 13:4)

... In the famous words of Scooby Doo, "Whaaaaaaaa?"

C'mon Paul, where's that "kick 'em into shape" authority you're supposed to have? This Sunday, we will take a closer look at the authority that God gave the Apostles, and that He gives today to leaders in the church. Why is authority granted? How should it be administered. Reflection on Christ's own exhibition of His power on earth reveals a lot. Considering the failures of other would-be authorities in Bibilical history will also be a fun exercise.

Despite the disdain for authority that we have in our flesh, we need to come to God's Word in passages like 2 Corinthians 13 with an attitude of submission and understand the God-honoring reasons for authority.

See you Sunday!

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Monday, February 4, 2008

The inferior church

In the passage we studied yesterday (2 Cor. 12:11-18), Paul charged the Corinthian church in verse 13, "How were you inferior to the other churches?" He goes on to answer his own question, "...except that I was never a burden to you?" As we reflect on what he's saying, the obvious question becomes: why didn't Paul take a collection from Corinth?

Was Corinth poor? We learned earlier in his letter (chapter 9) that they have excess money to share. Did Paul not deserve to make a living from the church in Corinth? In his first letter to Corinth, he gives a lengthy discourse explaining precisely why he had the right to collect (1 Cor. 9). Yet, he claims that to collect from them would hinder the gospel. Why?

As we have discussed, the Corinthians were accustomed to paying their teachers. The better the teacher, the more they paid. Paul felt that if he became a "burden" to the Corinthian Christians, then they may think as though they contributed something of value to the Gospel by their giving, thus enabling themselves to have received it. Indeed, with Paul's refusal to take their financial support, the Corinthians' pride was hurt. They felt inferior to other churches, and yet Paul continues in verse 14 to tell them that he would still not take any offering from them. For, despite their attitude toward wealth, Paul states, "what I want is not your possessions but you."

God wants us to receive his Gospel as empty vessels, fully aware that we have nothing to offer. For Corinth, they wanted to offer their wealth to help God. For us, could it be our knowledge, our skills, our good deeds? God asked Job, blameless as he was, what he had done that God should repay him (Job 41:11). All our knowledge, our skills, even our righteous behavior and any good work is only a gift of grace from God the Father. We are empty vessels that God chooses to fill, and then use. We should rejoice that we are "inferior" so that God alone may glorified.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Visions and Thorns

After two weeks of studying about Paul's boasting, we find ourselves this week in 2 Corinthians 12, where the first half of the chapter tells the account of Paul's supernatural experience in paradise, then immediately follows with the claim that a messenger from Satan has been tormenting him ever since. There will be no shortage of substance for discussion this Sunday morning.

First, what merit do we give to "special revelations" today. There are a host of people (some devout, some delirious) infiltrating the church with convincing tales of their vision or dream. Can any of them be trusted? Surely God is not incapable of intervening in this manner, but what do we make of Paul's obvious refusal to lean on this experience of his in order to validate his authority and teaching.

Next, the most controversial, the "messenger of Satan" that Paul so gleefully accepts. Isn't Satan the enemy? Wouldn't any interaction between Paul and Satan be indicative of the fact that God has abandoned Paul. Don't we equate any semblance of evil with a curse or judgement from God?

As always, we must seek what Scripture has to say about these topics. I look forward to our discussion tomorrow morning (and continued here online if there are any who feel led).

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