HOW TO EMPOWER THE LIVES OF OTHERS IN THEIR BROKENNESS

Nobody likes to be disciplined, but when it is done right it brings about a healthy outcome. One of the most difficult challenges of being a parent is having to discipline your children. Everything is great when kids obey, but then they say or do something that needs to be addressed, then it causes tension. Discipline often creates pressure on relationships. That is one reason why people avoid doing it. Some parents are afraid to discipline their children because they think that their kids will interpret their action as unloving. But the reality is that if we don’t discipline our children when they do what is wrong, it ultimately is the unloving thing to do. If we don’t correct in love we are allowing that person to eventually learn behaviors and patterns in life that will be self-destructive and also cause pain to others. Healthy discipline is an expression of love which is one reason why God disciplines us as His children.

And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son: ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.’[i]

God has an aim and a goal for each of us. He wants us to grow to be godly, loving people.  Another way to express this is that we will become like Him. 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

For those God foreknew he also predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son…[ii]

God is shaping us through life’s journey to become Christ-like. God helps us to be filled with humility, compassion, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and to be able to put up with life’s difficulties and injustices, just like He did when He lived on earth as a man. Why? So that our lives will be lighthouses giving guidance to those who are living in the dangerous storms of life.   

When we look at God’s relationship with His people, Israel, we see a loving parent concerned for them. The Old Testament prophets often warned of God’s punishment if they disobeyed and God’s blessings when they obeyed. One such prophet was Jeremiah who not only warned but also gave the people hope for the future. After a time of discipline, God spoke of a time of restoration.

They will come weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son.

I have surely heard Ephraim’s moaning: ‘You disciplined me like an unruly calf, and I have been disciplined. Restore me, and I will return, because you are the LORD my God.

After I strayed, I repented; after I came to understand, I beat my breast. I was ashamed and humiliated because I bore the disgrace of my youth.’

Is not Ephraim is my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, still I remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him”, declares the LORD.[iii]

Can you hear the heart of God as a parent? Can you hear the heart of God toward you as a believer? Can you hear the heart of God toward you as a child of His creation? God loves us so much we really need a revelation to grasp it. God’s heart burst with longing for us. Everything in Him cries out for us. Softly and tenderly He waits for us.

This is not the only reason, but one reason why life can become a mess; because of our own sinful choices. This is described in Scripture as waywardness. Isaiah points out:

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;[iv]

It is sin that destroys not only our relationship with God, but also our relationship with each other. That is why God hates sin. Nikki Gumbel points out: “God’s hatred is not like ours: it contains no element of spite, pettiness or hypocrisy – but it is the reaction of the altogether holy and loving God to sin. His anger is his loving and holy hostility to evil.”

So how do we handle sin? Usually in our own lives, far more mercifully than we do with others. It is amazing how blind we are to our own faults. Generally the things we despise in others are usually those things that we struggle with ourselves.  That is why Jesus warns us against the manner in which we judge others. 

Do not judge, or you too will be judged.

For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

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?

How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?

You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.[v]

Jesus is saying that we do have a responsibility to address issues in other people’s lives, but we must first address the issues in our soul in order to lovingly and effectively address the problems in others. D. A. Carson addresses this issue of superficial judgments.

In an age when Matthew 7:1 (Do not judge, or you too will be judged.) Has displaced John 3:16 as the only verse in the Bible the man in the street is likely to know, it is perhaps worth adding that Matthew 7:1 forbids judgmentalism, not moral discernment.[vi]

One of the great struggles we all face is how we should address sin, not only in our lives but also in the lives of others. In other words, how can we love and accept people without agreeing with their lifestyle decisions? How can we empower the lives of others in their brokenness? How can we support a person without endorsing their sinful choices? I want to turn to a powerful incident in the life of Jesus to try to address this question. It is the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11. You probably notice that most Bible translations state that this incident is not in some of the oldest manuscripts, but none of the biblical scholar doubt the authenticity of the account. 

There is little reason for doubting that the event here described occurred, even if in its written form it did not in the beginning belong to the canonical books. …The narrative before us also has a number of parallels with stories in the Synoptic gospels. The reason for its insertion here may have been to illustrate 7:24 and 8:15, [judging by mere outward appearances] or conceivably, the Jews sinfulness over against Jesus’ sinlessness (8:21,24, 46).[vii]

Everything about what transpired is in keeping with the character and teaching of Jesus. In this incident we discover two damaging and dangerous attitudes that seem to haunt each generation of believers. We tend to move from one extreme to the other. Is there a right road to take when it comes to dealing with sin issues in a social context? How are we to treat people who have made terrible decisions?       

Here in this incident in the life of Jesus we learn of three attitudes in our approach to dealing with others involved in sin. Two of these attitudes are ungodly and unhealthy in restoring a person into a right relationship with God. Jesus addressed both of these attitudes and then shows us a model of how to address the issue of sin in the lives of others.            

THE FIRST ATTITUDE THAT JESUS ADDRESSES IS THE TENDENCY TO CONDEMN OTHERS’ SINFUL BEHAVIOR

Often it is people who have a strong sense of what is right and wrong who struggle with judgment issues. Often abuse arises from overuse of the strengths in our lives. We must all guard against a critical or judgmental attitude in our soul. This has done more damage in relationships than we care to think. Let us remember that the heart of Christianity is loving God and people. The Pharisees were noted for this judgmental type of behavior. They were the people who were trying to keep the letter of the law, without understanding the heart of God in the process. 

In the story of the woman caught in adultery, we find that the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus.  They had no concern for the woman.  

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

At dawn he appeared in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group[viii]

They publicly humiliated her. If we are going to confront people it is best done privately, if possible. We only go public where the Scriptures teach and that is usually for two situations: an unrepentant person, or a leader. This woman really wasn’t in either situation.

and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 

In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’

They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.[ix]

If Jesus commanded that the woman be stoned (killed), then he was going to alienate sinners, while putting himself in a position that only Rome had the authority to implement, which was to pronounce the death sentence. If he released her, then Jesus would be a lawbreaker, and justify their opposition against him.

A. Jesus began by ignoring them.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.[x]        

Often people will come accusing people to you. There are a couple of things we need to keep in mind when that happens. The name Satan means accuser. He is the accuser of the believer. Unless valid, we should ignore accusations of others for that is the very nature of gossip. Also, we need to realize that it is not our job to straighten everyone out. One thing to keep in mind is that none of us can change another person. We can pray for them, we can love them, but only God and that person’s willingness can bring about change. 

However, if we are in a role of responsibility for that person, then we should ask the person bringing the charge if they have already spoken to them? We can only address people if we have a relationship with them. People have to know you love them before we can actually confront them effectively. Unless people know you love them, they will have difficulty receiving correction from you.

Secondly, we should challenge that person to go to the individual and talk to them about their behavior and not to criticize them to others. Sometimes we have an incorrect understanding of the situation. Even if we see a wrong and point it out, we must do so in a loving way. We can only go to others if the offended person has already gone to them and has been ignored.

B. Secondly, Jesus challenged the woman’s accusers.

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’[xi]

We must examine ourselves before we correct others. We must address our own issues before we go around straitening others out. Paul reminds us in Romans.

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.[xii]

One of the temptations of the Christian life is to become self-righteous. Jonathan Swift who wrote Gulliver’s Travels once said, ‘We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.’”[xiii]

Professed Christians who hate one another usually disguise their hatred under a zeal for truth or purity.[xiv]

Often our concern for the truth is more about issues within ourselves rather than a concern for the other person. When I read the Bible, I see people like Jesus and Jeremiah weeping over the sins of others. Out of a heart of love, they are concerned about the devastating consequences coming upon God’s people because of their disobedience and rebellion against God. How can we empower people despite their brokenness? How can we help them in their battle against sin?

While the Pharisees were constantly criticizing Jesus because of His concern for the sinner, the heart of the Father is explained in the parable of the Prodigal Son, where the Father is seen rejoicing over the repentance of the wayward child and the restoration of a relationship with that child. God celebrates each child that is found. That is the point of the parable. Jesus was explaining the heart of the Father while correcting the elder brother’s mentality of anger and criticism toward the struggling person. 

C. Thirdly, Jesus gave time for their consciences to do its work.

Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.[xv]  

We become more gracious to others when we see ourselves through the eyes of God. We are less likely to begin casting stones. In a book called Wisdom from the Desert, Abbott Moses wrote, “They who are conscious of their own sins have no eyes for the sins of their neighbors.” What he means is that when we realize that we are all sinners, we tend to be more merciful to others. This does not mean that we just ignore it but we are more sympathetic and understanding. We are all prone to sin.

D. Finally, Jesus doesn’t condemn us.

Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman where are they? Has no one condemned you?’

‘No one sir,’ she said.

‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared.[xvi]

Of all the people there, Jesus was the only one who had never sinned, and could have condemned her, but He didn’t. Only He could have cast the first stone, but He didn’t. His response was one of mercy. He didn’t give her what she deserved, which was death. Jesus wasn’t justifying her behavior. It is not that we accept sinful behavior as legitimate, for that would be unloving. Sin always corrupts and destroys. Yet sin can disguise itself in a religious form called legalism. Legalism is just an outward conformity to God’s word, but without love there is an absence of inward transformation of heart. The apostle Paul warned that when we deal with those who struggle with sin, we must do so in the spirit of humility and love.

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.[xvii]     

In other words, we need to have a gracious spirit about us. Donald Barnhouse best described grace as love that stoops downward. God reached down to us because we were unable to reach up to Him. Charles Swindoll writes in his book The Grace Awakening, “To show grace is to extend favor or kindness to one who doesn’t deserve it and can never earn it.[xviii]

THE SECOND ATTITUDE THAT JESUS ADDRESSES IS THE TENDENCY TO CONDONE OTHERS’ SINFUL BEHAVIOR

The other extreme attitude that we develop is one of indifference toward sin. In our culture today we talk about ‘live and let live.’ Tolerance for everything is the order of the day. The only problem with this approach is that it is really an unloving expression. It is primarily an attitude of not caring.

A. Jesus didn’t condemn her, but He did challenge her. 

Jesus did not just let the woman walk away. He did not condone her behavior.

‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’[xix]

He gave her a message of forgiveness and hope, but it didn’t stop there. He gave her a new direction in life. He challenged her to leave her life of sin. He gave her a new beginning. That is what Jesus does for all of us. He forgives us and then challenges us to live in the power of His grace. We are called to walk away from our sinful ways.

B. Jesus didn’t condemn her because He covered her sins.

Jesus always addresses the sin issue. Jesus can forgive sin because He became our sin offering.  Jesus addresses the sin issue by taking upon Himself the consequences of her sin and our sin upon himself and dying in our place.   

God made him who had not sinned to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.[xx]

The result of sin is always death or separation from God and others. Sin destroys something. We address the sin issue in our relationships by forgiving others. When we do that, we are like Jesus. Peter reminds us that choosing to forgive is one of the most powerful expressions of love. Forgiveness is not denying that sin has been committed, but rather it’s choosing not to allow sin to destroy relationship. 

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.[xxi]

We cover people’s sins by forgiving them. It is often a gracious act of mercy and forgiveness that can brings about repentance. We know that it was God’s grace and mercy to us that brought us to a change of mind about Him and our sin.     

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?[xxii]

THE THIRD ATTITUDE THAT JESUS MODELED IS ONE OF GRACIOUS CONFRONTATION

Jesus affirmed her by giving her forgiveness and a new sense direction. 

Go now and leave your life of sin.[xxiii]

A. Jesus is giving a clear direction of what needed to be done, otherwise some serious consequences would destroy that person’s life.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we find a very challenging issue that arose in the church. A believer had fallen into sin. He was involved in sexual immorality.

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife.

And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of the fellowship the man who has been doing this?[xxiv]

Here’s the other side of the equation. Toleration of sin will cause spiritual decline in the life of the church. They were proud of their open-mindedness toward sin.

Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?[xxv]

Once sin is tolerated, it diminishes others. Then Paul gives us a guideline of how we need to respond to people who are believers who flaunt sin. Let me point out that these were people who professed to be believers and were living in sin. He is not talking about past sins. God is calling us to repentance and then to no longer engage in that behavior. 

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people–not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.

But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. Expel the wicked person from among you.[xxvi]

But what was the purpose of addressing the sin in the church? What was the purpose of disciplining this person who was unrepentant in their sins? To make the person realize the gravity of their situation. It is to see how damaging sin is, and understand that sin destroys relationships beginning with our relationship with God.

Discipline is not meant to destroy but to restore. That is exactly what happened in this case. The apostle Paul then wrote to same church to restore this person.  

The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient.[xxvii]

You will notice that not all the people agreed with Paul’s approach. Some wanted to continue to disassociate and punish him as they were struggling with the forgiveness issues.

Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.

I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.[xxviii]

As hard as it was, this action caused this man to re-evaluate his life, repent and was restored and reaffirmed by the church which is what biblical Christianity does. 

B. One of the roles of the church in our world is to be salt and light. 

By living the truth in a loving way, we are keeping our culture from total moral rot and pointing to a better way. But whenever the church accommodates a sinful culture by remaining silent, the church becomes part of the cause of the demise of that culture. When we speak, we should be speaking the truth in a loving way: with tears in our eyes and prayers on our lips. 

Eugene Peterson translates for us Jeremiah 23:13-15 (Message).

Over in Samaria I saw prophets [preachers] acting like silly fools–shocking! They preached using that no-god Baal for a text, messing with the minds of my people.

And the Jerusalem prophets are even worse–horrible! Sex-driven, living a lie, subsidizing a culture of wickedness, and never giving it a second thought. They’re as bad as those wretches in old Sodom, the degenerates in old Gomorrah.

So here’s the Message to the prophets from God…

I’ll cook them a supper of maggoty meat with after-dinner drinks of strychnine. The Jerusalem prophets are behind all this, they’re the cause of the godlessness polluting this country.[xxix]

What Jeremiah is saying is that when we do not address sin, we’re allowing it to destroy not only others, but ourselves in the process.

In dealing with sin in the life of another, how did Jesus handle it? He neither condemned, nor did He condone, but rather He graciously confronted the issue and challenged the woman to live differently. When we confront issues in the lives of others, we need to remember how Jesus approached this woman. How can we confront without condemning nor condoning the person? How can we communicate our love and appreciation for the person, while addressing the problem behavior?  The reason we address the issue, or the behavior, is that we know if left alone it will cause pain and devastating consequences in that person’s life and in the lives of others. 

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[i]         Hebrews 12:5-6, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.

[ii]      Romans 8:28-29a.

[iii]        Jeremiah 31:9, 18-20.

[iv]      Isaiah 53:6a.

[v]        Matthew 7:1-5.

[vi]        D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 317.

[vii]       Ibid, 333-34.

[viii]      John 8:1b-3.

[ix]      John 8:4-6.

[x]         John 8:6b.

[xi] John 8:7.

[xii]     Romans 2:1.

[xiii]    Jonathan Swift, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ as quoted by Warren Wiersbe, Meet Yourself in the Parables, (Wheaton, Il: Victor Books, 1979), 109.

[xiv]    Warren Wiersbe, Meet Yourself in the Parables, 110.

[xv]       John 8:8-9.

[xvi]      John 8:10-11a.

[xvii]    Galatians 6:1.

[xviii]   Charles Swindoll, The Grace Awakening, (Dallas, Tx: Word Books, 1990), 9.

[xix]       John 8:11.

[xx]       2 Corinthians 5:21.

[xxi]    1 Peter 4:8.

[xxii]      Romans 2:4.

[xxiii]   John 8:11b.

[xxiv]   1 Corinthians 5:1-2.

[xxv]    1 Corinthians 5:6.

[xxvi]     1 Corinthians 5:9-13.

[xxvii]    2 Corinthians 2:6.

[xxviii] 2 Corinthians 2:7-8.

[xxix]     Jeremiah 23:13-15 (Message).

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