Moral Earthquakes and Secret Faults: The call to restoration - Part 14

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. - Philippians 2:12, NASB

Philippians 2:12

In the aftermath of a great natural disaster such as an earthquake, a tremendous amount of labor must be exerted. Things cannot simply be left alone. The devastation and destruction cannot be ignored. The mess won’t go away if we simply ignore it long enough.

So, everyone has to pitch in, work together and labor side by side. The entire community must be mobilized. Otherwise, the work will never get done, and life will never get back to anything resembling normalcy.

Similarly, the cleanup effort following a moral earthquake can be an enormous undertaking. Yet however difficult, however unpleasant and however unnerving, it must be done. And it must be done in cooperation with others. It requires a group effort. The entire community of faith must be mobilized.

Like a severely ill patient, a fallen man cannot and will not be able to heal himself. Most fallen Christians hide from the healing, yet revealing, touch of God. Therefore, they must be sought out by their brethren. Once found, they must be helped up from their fallen, decaying state. Then, after this lifting up has been accomplished, they must be held up, much like a baby trying to walk or a patient trying to recover. The fallen brother needs support and encouragement from those around him. From this point on, there exists more responsibility on the part of the patient. Indeed, more active effort is required from them to bring them back to their former strength and role.

The process of restoration

As we discussed in the previous chapter, there are three things the apostle Paul admonishes us as believers in Christ to do with our fallen friends. Hunt them up. Help them up. And hold them up. He says: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:1–2).

It is always a good habit in Bible study to ask ourselves several questions: When? Who? What? How? and Why? When we do this, it is utterly amazing how beautifully and clearly Scripture unfolds for us.

So in this passage, we ask: When? The answer: When one is overtaken in a trespass. Who? You who are spiritual. What? Restore him. How? In a spirit of gentleness. Why? Considering yourself lest you also be tempted.

By asking those simple questions, a wealth of truth emerges from this passage of God’s Word. We are to hunt up those who have fallen, but we are to simultaneously help him up. And we are to do it all in a spirit of gentleness, meekness and humility — remembering from whence we have come ourselves.

The word translated “gentleness,” in the Greek text literally means “an animal that has been completely tamed — domesticated.” It describes a wild stallion that some cowboy has broken. It’s no longer wild. It no longer bucks. The cowboy can get on the back of that horse, flick the reigns a little bit to the left, and the horse will turn to the left, a little to the right and it’ll turn right. He can pull back slightly and it’ll stop. That wild stallion has come under the control of his master. That is the word picture that the apostle Paul uses to describe the kind of spirit we are to display in the process of restoration: it is a spirit of gentleness.

In other words, our obedience to restore our fallen brethren must be conducted in love. We must speak the truth in love, having come under the control of our Master.

The love connection

Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15, NASB). And again, He said: “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him” (John 14:21, NASB).

Similarly, the apostle John wrote:

By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard (1 John 2:3–7, NASB).

The unmistakable mark of a faithful people is obedience. Believers are proved as “doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22, NASB). They keep the commands of God’s Word.

Thus James could ask:

What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:14–18, NASB).

Regardless of what anyone else does or says, we have a responsibility to obey God. Every believer has an irrevocable duty to demonstrate the authenticity of their faith. Each of us is called to keep Christ’s commandment to show compassion and care for the hurting and for the fallen.

There is simply no getting around it. We can make excuses all day long, but they won’t change the fact that we are obligated by our faith in the Lord Jesus to do right. Everyone else around us may be sidetracked by theological side issues or evangelical sideshows, but we still have no “outs.” We have a job to do. We must “keep His commandments.”

Yet our obedience must not be a dry, lifeless compliance to the letter of the law. Our righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and the Pharisees (see Matt. 5:20). Our righteousness must be marked by love. Our obedience is to be a joyous exercise of lovingkindness (Ps. 109:16).

Just as our obedience is evidence that our love for God is authentic, so our love for those around us is evidence that our obedience is authentic.

Once again, the apostle of obedience and love, John, asserts: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14, NASB).

Again he says: “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We shall know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him” (1 John 3:16–19, NASB).

When asked by the scribes, “‘What commandment is the foremost of all?’ Jesus answered: ‘The foremost is, “Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these’” (Mark 12:28–31, NASB).

Our love of God is shown by obedience. Our obedience is shown by love of man.  It is an endless cycle. It is a marvelous cycle that makes faith in Christ not just right, and not just true, but abundantly satisfying as well (see John 10:7–18).

The path of love

Sadly, love is an overused, much abused word in our everyday vocabularies. When we say that we “love” Mom, hot dogs, apple pie and baseball, we reduce the word’s impact terribly. When “love” can mean one thing to a Hollywood starlet, another to a Madison Avenue ad man, another to a gay activist on Castro Street in San Francisco, another to an Arab terrorist for Gadhafi or Khomeini’s Jihad, and still another to the man on the street, “love” ceases to mean much at all. In fact, a word that can mean almost anything to anybody will soon come to mean almost nothing to everybody. But, even though our culture may be a bit muddy in its understanding of “love,” the Bible is absolutely clear:

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away (1 Cor. 13:4–8, NASB).

Love involves “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col. 3:12–14). It involves single-mindedness (see Phil.  2:2). It involves purity of heart, a good conscience and “a faith unfeigned” (1 Tim. 1:5, KJV). It involves diligence (see 2 Cor. 8:7), knowledge (see Phil. 1:9), service (see Gal. 5:13), righteousness (see 2 Tim. 2:22), sound judgment (see Phil. 1:9) and courtesy (see 1 Pet. 3:8). Love is the royal law (see James 2:8). It is the capstone of godly character (see 1 Cor. 13:13). It is the message that we have heard from the beginning (see 1 John 3:11).

Interestingly, the word that the King James translators chose to use in each of these passages was “charity.” That word catches a special dynamic of meaning that “love” has lost in our day of muddy definitions. “Charity” accurately communicates the fact that love is not simply a feeling. Love is something you do. Love is an action. Love is a commitment, an obligation and a responsibility. Love is charity.

Thus, we are to prove the sincerity of love (see 2 Cor. 8:8, KJV), and we are to do it by following “after charity” (1 Cor. 14:1), by having “fervent charity” among ourselves (1 Pet. 4:8, KJV) and by being an example to others “in charity” (1 Tim. 4:12, KJV). For “charity shall cover the multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8, KJV). “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (1 Cor. 13:1–3, KJV).

There is simply no getting around it. It is a Christian necessity to do the work of charity among those who are hurting or fallen, to love not just “in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).

Even if no one else cares. Even if no one else helps. Even if no one else tries, we must.

The love of Jesus

Restoration is thus to be undertaken in an environment of lovingkindness and gentleness. If someone has a broken bone, you don’t approach him with a sledgehammer. This is why those who are not spiritual have no place in the ministry of restoration. Those who are spiritual, have to handle broken people firmly, but gently. A broken man needs compassion. He needs someone in a spirit of love and gentleness.

What made Jesus Christ so winsome? There were times when people were convicted of their sin just by being around him, and yet the crowds flocked to Him and followed Him. What was it about Him that was so winsome?

He was a man of compassion. He never spoke a harsh or unkind word to a broken man or woman. He certainly pulled no punches with the hard-hearted — the vipers and snakes, the whitewashed tombs and hypocrites. But He met in compassion those who were broken, those who needed restoration and those who were fallen. Those who were overtaken in a trespass, He didn’t criticize. He didn’t condemn them. He didn’t castigate them. He was in the restoration business, and the more you become like Jesus Christ, the more you will take on that spirit of love and gentleness.

Extremism

Most of us float to one of two extremes. Most churches, most Christians, go from pillar to post. On the one hand, we have the condemners — the extreme fundamentalists and legalists. On the other extreme are the condoners — the extreme liberals and libertines. One condemns just about anything and everything; the other condones just about anything and everything.

The condemners represent the pharisaical extreme. That is, they are morally upright, but they are stern, unkind and unforgiving. Their holier-than-thou attitudes drive those who have fallen even farther away, deeper into sin. This is a group who condemns trespasses.

The condoners represent the herodian extreme, like those Jews who compromised with Herod in Jesus’ day. They are permissive to the point of being promiscuous. The condoners have no real moral standards. They may talk about principles here or there, but they really don’t believe that there are any absolutes. Everyone does what they like. No one says anything. Everyone finds unconditional acceptance lest someone accuse the church of judgment or intolerance. They don’t condemn sin. They go to the opposite extreme. They condone it. Even by their silence, they condone it. And they put the Word of God and its standards for holiness, righteousness and morality aside.

But genuine biblical restoration can be found in neither one of these extremes. Instead, it is to be found in the admonition set forth by Paul: the wrongdoing is not to be condemned and it is not to be condoned. It is to be confronted. By whom? By those who are spiritual. How? In a spirit of gentleness. Why? That we might restore the fallen one to fellowship in the church and with the family of God.

There are a lot of hurting, broken people around us. Thus, it is vital that we avoid the extremes and simply do the important work of building bridges of reconciliation and restoration. But how do we go about doing this?

Bearing burdens

According to the apostle Paul, the fulfillment of our calling to obey Christ’s commands in a loving and gentle fashion may be accomplished when we simply bear one another’s burdens: “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).

We need to go above and beyond the ordinary in order to win back our fallen brother. It’s not enough just to hunt him up and to help him up. We must also hold him up, and sometimes that means bearing one another’s burdens, to fulfill the law of Christ.

The New Testament is replete with stories of men and women who were down but who got up, who found this principle of restoration to be true. For instance, there was the woman in Sychar at a well one day. What happened? Jesus put into practice the ministry of restoration. First, He hunted her up. He went way out of His way. Remember? He said He needed to go through Samaria. He went miles out of His way. Why? To hunt up that one woman. Then, He helped her up. He told her of living water. Next, He held her up — she went into Sychar, and she brought her whole village out to meet Him.

What about Simon Peter when he betrayed Christ? He blew it. He fell ignobly. He wept bitterly. What did Jesus do? He arose from the grave, and He hunted him up. He appeared first unto Simon, and then unto the disciples. Somewhere, after the Resurrection, Jesus found Simon Peter and allowed him to weep out those tears of repentance. He hunted him up, He helped him up and He held him up.

Think of Thomas: “Except I see those prints in his hands, I’ll not believe.” And what did Jesus do? He hunted him up. He came back to the Upper Room where Thomas was and came through the door. Hunted him up, and then helped him up. He said to Thomas, “Here they are, put your finger in here.” Then He held him up. Thomas eventually took the gospel of Christ all the way to India and later died a martyr’s death.

Yes, we’re to hold up the fallen brother. We are to bear his burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Personal responsibility

Again, we must remember the responsibility that each of us has concerning our salvation, whether we are recovering or walking strong: We must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We are responsible to God for seeking to eliminate those faults, those cracks which cause us to crumble, which cause moral earthquakes. We must remember that any brother being restored must desire to be restored. He must be repentant.

Just because we hunt him up and help him up does not mean restoration takes place. I’ve had experiences in my own life with preacher friends and laymen friends that I’ve hunted up when they were taken in trespasses — people I’ve sought to help. There are times when we hunt up people, but they will not let us help them up nor hold them up. The broken one has to be willing to repent. The fallen one overtaken in a trespass must yield to the Holy Spirit, be willing to repent, and if need be, make reconciliation, restitution or whatever else may be involved. If he will not repent, there is no restoration.

Someone once asked, “When can a brother who has fallen into sin be used again?” It’s a good question. It’s a question that we’re confronted with often. When someone God has used before has fallen into sin, when can they be used again? When can they be restored again? What was Spurgeon’s reply? “When a man’s repentance is as notorious as his sin.” When a man’s repentance becomes as well known as his sin, when a man’s heart of true genuine repentance is as well known as his trespass — he is ready to be used again.

King David was a great sinner, but God used him again. Why? Because he was a great repenter, and his repentance became as notorious as his sin. Psalm 51 shows how his heart was opened, and he was filled with the spirit of repentance.

Some folks have a false concept of repentance. Repentance means a change of mind. That’s what the Greek word means literally, a “change of mind.” Some people think repentance is remorse, just being sorry that you committed an infraction of God’s standards. But that is wide of the mark. Remember the rich young ruler? He was sorrowful — but he did not repent.

Other people think repentance is regret — wishing we hadn’t done it. A lot of us live like that when we’ve fallen, but that’s not repentance either. Remember Pontius Pilate washing his hands in that basin of water, regretting his deed? But he did not repent.

Still others think repentance is reform — in other words, turning over a new leaf. “I’m just gonna try harder and try better and just reform.” But that is not repentance either. Judas Iscariot reformed. He took the 30 pieces of silver, went back and flung them down the corridors of the temple. He reformed, but he didn’t repent.

Repentance means a change of mind. It’s when our volition is transformed. It’s when our will is changed. If we’ve truly changed our mind, our volition — our will — is completely altered. And what will happen if our will is changed? Our actions will likewise be changed.

Now we can hunt up folks and help up folks and hold up folks all day long, but if they don’t have a genuine spirit of repentance, they’ll never be restored. We can help the invalids up, but until they put a foot on the ground, until they make an effort to change themselves, our efforts will be in vain.

We do have one consolation in this regard. As David attests in the Psalms, the pressure of the hand of God is a terrible thing. It will not let up; it continues to push those fallen brothers who anguish over their sin until they repent. But if no one is present, if no one hunts them up, then no one will be there to offer them the much-needed hand of fellowship, the much-needed hand of loving restoration. That would be the greatest tragedy of all.

Moral soundings

  • Have you ever taken seriously the call to seek and restore your fallen brethren?
  • Is your love for God expressed in obedience to His Word?
  • Is your obedience to His Word expressed in love for God?
  • Is your love and obedience expressed in tangible efforts to restore the fallen?
ON A PERSONAL NOTE:

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