Nathan used to urge me to put “Bottom Line Up Front” so I’m going to jump to the God Thought for this e-mail and how it has played out. I and several of my friends have lost a lot of sleep and gone through some stress because of an almost-universally-ignored series of commands from Christ and St. Paul about deliberately, persistently immoral believers.
The Bible Verses here aren’t really verses so much as entire passages.
Matthew 18 covers escalating discipline, that first we are to tell our sinning brother that they are doing wrong, and if they persist, to escalate matters up to the point of severing fellowship.
In the Church era St. Paul echoes this in 1 Corinthians 5&6 (using sexual immorality as his example but including a great many persistent sins) that we are commanded to judge those who claim Christ and persistently lie, slander, have sex before marriage, cheat, are greedy, or idolaters. Paul talks about 2 reasons. First, to preserve the body of Christ, because if we let this stuff go on it will spread. Paul uses the example of yeast in bread. Second, out of love for the sinning brother the hope is that worldly suffering (Paul actually puts it “hand them over to Satan”) will bring them to repentance.
That repentance being done, both 2 Corinthians 2:1-15 and the whole book of Philemon indicate that it’s the Christian’s duty and privilege to take back and love once more the wrongdoer.
These are tough messages. They aren’t popular. You are NEVER going to hear them at prosperity Gospel churches like most non-denoms where the emphasis is on feeling good or happy. And in conservative churches you may hear the law but you’re never going to hear the Gospel part put into action… So, on one side or the other this teaching basically no longer exists in America.
One person on the receiving end of this action pointed out in a heated exchange this month that people have quit the church over this sort of extreme idea. My response is John chapter 6, where Jesus teaches increasingly challenging things, first that people were following him for their own earthly benefit, then that he was the source of Moses’ miracles of mana, and finally that to live people would have to eat his body and drink his blood. Those of you who think that’s a metaphor or a symbol might take note that it wasn’t viewed as such by the people in Jesus’ culture, who spoke the language, and had all the context! Many of them stormed off and Jesus lost a lot of disciples that day. Jesus didn’t back down or modify his teaching because people rejected it. He just turned to the disciples who were left and asked if they wanted to go, too.
Remember, Jesus is not an American politician. He isn’t out to get as many votes for God as he can. He is God. More than that, he is our king and lord. When our lifestyle, feelings, opinions, and beliefs don’t want to stomach God’s way, it’s our problem. And if we reject God’s teaching, it really WILL be our problem.
A brother in Christ had been living with his girlfriend/fiancee before their marriage for quite some time, and during that time they were not part of our fellowship. It hurt. It sucked for all of us, for years. He isn’t the first, but the Nerd Posse has been very grateful and glad to welcome back a member who we had to step away from when he did the same sin some years before.
This month several of our friends have been physically ill over the stress of following this teaching, and how it has come to pass.
Then the same issue landed in my lap when one of my dearest friends has moved back in with his girlfriend whom he has impregnated, and when he wants me to rejoice with him for his temporal happiness, I am stuck with God’s commandments to obey for the sake of his soul. And no, I’m not an idiot. If the last 13 years in Bemidji has taught me anything it’s that here on earth following God’s commands mostly gets you kicked in the teeth.
But Romans 8:18. All of the sorrows in this whole world aren’t worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us. It’s one thing to sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” and skip the verse where if they take our house, goods, life, or spouse we still have the victory.
Since God, relationships, and friendships are the most important things in my life, these have been big stresses. But I would call them challenges. God’s Word is really, super clear on what to do. It just isn’t pleasant or easy to do them. But we go forward trusting that God’s Word gives us the best way to love our neighbor, even when that love manifests as discipline.