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Pastor Scott L. Harris
June 5, 1994
Faith Bible Church, NY
The Difficult “One Another”
Today I am going to tell you a story. The story is true. The names have been changed, but not to protect the guilty, but only so that you will focus on the story and not the individuals involved. I have full permission to share this story from the two main people involved. This is a hard story to tell because it involves a lady who was Diane’s best friend at the time and because it reveals our own failure.
Why tell the story? It would be easier to make up a story to illustrate what I want to say, but I am hopeful that our Church can learn from both the things Diane and I did right and our failures. Our church needs to understand the depth that true Christian fellowship needs to go.
Our tendency is to think that true Christian fellowship is best when there is no conflict or tension, yet it actually may be at its best when we are feeling uncomfortable. Our fellowship is best when we are obedient to what God wants us to do whether we like the particulars of our circumstances or not. While it is vital that we practice all the “one anothers,” today I want to concentrate on the “difficult one another.”
A lot of the “one anothers” are fairly easy, or at least they seem that way on the surface. Things like “Comfort one another” (1 Thessalonians 4:18), “care for one another” (1 Corinthians 12:25), “serve one another” (Galatians 5:13), “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted” (Ephesians 4:32), and “pray for one another” (James 5:16). While there is still a lot of room for growth in these areas in our church, I believe that we understand the basic concepts and can do pretty well at these. For the most part, we enjoy doing these things for each other.
Some of the other “one anothers” are a little more difficult to accomplish such as: “be submissive to one another” (Ephesians 5:21), “in honor prefer one another” (Romans 12:10), “edify (or build up) one another” (Romans 14:13), and “love one another” (John 13:34). These concepts are a little more difficult to understand and more difficult to carry out, but they are still things we like to do. We may have a hard time putting all of the principles of love into practice, but it is something we want to do.
But there is one particular “one another” that is difficult to do. It makes us feel uneasy and we do not like to practice it. Turn to Romans 15:14 and let’s see what it is. “And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able also to admonish one another.” “Admonish one another” is from nouqetevw / noutheteo meaning to instruct someone that what they are doing is wrong and warn them against it. Paul gives some of the qualifications in this passage of who should do the admonishing, and in a couple of weeks we will look at that in more detail, but for now, understand that these Roman Christians are not super saints. In fact, Paul is writing to them because he wanted to impart a spiritual gift to them, to establish them, encourage them and preach the gospel to them (Romans 1:11-15). These are ordinary Christians doing what ordinary Christians should do, and ordinary Christians should be full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and so be able to admonish one another. If that is not true of you, then you have a problem and you need to examine yourself and seek Christian accountability.
The idea of admonishing one another is that you see someone who is doing something that appears to be sinful. You go to them and ask them about it. If you find out that what they are doing is sinful, you tell them what God says concerning what they are doing, you confront their sin, and you warn them about the consequences if they continue in sin. This is really the first step of Church Discipline in Matthew 18:15, “And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” Now take note that this takes an understanding of the Bible, because we admonish and we reprove according to the Scriptures, not our personal preferences. Confronting someone about their sin is not a pleasant thing to do. It is uncomfortable and unpleasant. Often, we are fearful of doing it and of having it done to us. “If I admonish someone, am I being judgmental?” “What if the person argues with me?” “What if they get mad at me?” It is no wonder that this is the difficult one another, yet admonishing one another is part of true Christian fellowship.
The story I am about to tell demonstrates what it means to admonish someone. It will demonstrate how difficult it is to do, but it will also demonstrate why it is so necessary to do as soon as possible.
Let me set the background of this story. Before Diane and I were married, Diane had a best friend from church whom we will call Laura. They had a very deep relationship. They took vacations together. They went to Bible conferences together. They spent a lot of time studying the Bible together and discussing theology. They strived to sharpen each other in their walks with the Lord. They prayed for each other in depth about all the things going on in each others lives. Diane and Laura had a “Jonathan and David” type of relationship. They practiced all the “one anothers” with each other. They had true Christian fellowship.
When Diane began dating, there were a number of people she wanted me to get “approved” by. Laura was one of those people. Laura had Diane do the same thing for her when she started to date a fellow we will call George. In the process of time, Laura married George.
George was finishing up his studies at the Master’s College and was looking forward to going on to the Master’s Seminary where I was finishing up my studies. Diane and I did several things with George and Laura as couples when we could get our busy schedules to match, but that was not all that often. However, Diane and Laura spent a lot of time together.
Not long after George and Laura’s wedding they began to have some marriage problems. Diane and Laura would talk about those problems and how the Lord would want her to respond. Laura desired to be a godly wife, and Diane wanted to be prepared to be a godly wife. Marriage problems between Laura and George increased and after a year it culminated in a suicide attempt by George, his threatening to kill Laura after his release from the hospital, and a separation between them. Laura was afraid George would carry out his threat, so Diane stayed with her for several weeks.
Laura and George started seeing a so called “professional Christian Counselor.” Things seemed like they were beginning to progress, then Diane started to notice a change in Laura. It was subtle at first. Diane was living with Laura at the time and she noticed that Laura was becoming somewhat evasive. There was a close friend of the family we will call Steve that Laura had always treated like a brother, but one evening after Laura had dinner with this man, Diane noticed that Laura was acting more like a woman in love rather than a woman out with her brother. Diane asked her about this and she said, “he’s like my brother,” but it still bothered Diane.
During all of this time Diane was preparing for our wedding. Diane noticed that Laura seemed to be pulling away, but was preoccupied by her own wedding plans. Diane and I were finally married, and Laura was a bridesmaid in our wedding. After we got back from our honeymoon, Diane had Laura over for brunch. Up to this point, Laura had always been the stronger one spiritually, and Diane had leaned on Laura for help and insight. As they talked, Diane could tell that something was not right between her and Laura. Diane suspected it might have something to do with Steve, the man who was supposed to be like a brother to Laura. At this point Diane did something that was very difficult to do. She asked Laura about it. She said, “You are having a relationship with Steve, aren’t you?” Laura responded, “yes, how did you know?” Diane answered, “because I know you.” Diane went on to ask her about the extent of the involvement and found out that it was romantic, but not sexual. Diane expressed her concern and reminded her that though she was separated from George, she was still married.
Now let me stop the story at this point and talk about what Diane did. Diane and Laura were very close, and Diane began to suspect that something was not right. The very last thing that most people, including Christians, would do at this point is ask about what they are suspicious of. People do not want to risk offending someone. Most people really do not want to know what is going on unless it is gossip. Instead, they want to stay in their comfort zone, i.e., “I do not want to confront the situation.” “It is too uncomfortable, and besides, they may not listen, or worse they may get angry with me, and I just want people to like me.”
How many here today are aware of some situation where a Christian brother or sister is being enticed by sin or is in sin and you have said nothing? You have not yet gone to that person and expressed some true concern for them by letting them know that you have some questions about what they are doing and that you want to help. You have not told them what God has said about what they are doing. You have not warned them about the danger they are in by continuing in sin. You have been more interested in the appearance of fellowship than actually having true Christian fellowship.
Diane really loved Laura and cared about what happened in her life. Diane asked the difficult questions. Diane also used what she knew from Scripture to challenge Laura to change. Diane did what the Scriptures command. She admonished her friend. She was practicing true Christian fellowship.
Recall what I said a couple of weeks ago from Psalm 51. The problem of mankind is sin and his failure to deal with it according to God’s plan. The lack of admonishing one another is the first and probably most widespread failure of the church in dealing with sin among those in its fellowship. It is a major reason why the church in America is so weak.
Diane was persistent in her admonition of Laura for being in a relationship with Steve even though she was still married to George. Laura’s excuse was that her “professional Christian Counselor,” had told her that she had grounds for annulment. Laura latched onto that as her way out. She had already developed a relationship with Steve, and if there was now a way to get out of her marriage, then she could pursue the happiness she thought she could get from Steve. Laura also told Diane that her relationship with Steve was a pure one. Her counselor knew all about it. It was just too early for anyone else to know.
From this point on, Diane had a horrible feeling that something was terribly wrong, but she was confused. Laura had not committed adultery, her “Professional Christian Counselor” was aware of the situation, and he said she had grounds for an annulment of her marriage with George. For five months Diane repeatedly asked Laura about her situation and when she would tell other people about it, like her brother, who was her pastor and the man who had discipled Steve. Laura did not like to be asked those questions, so the relationship between Diane and Laura became strained. Finally, Diane realized that Laura had not only become distant, but her character had changed. She was evasive, deceptive, defensive and hard. She was not the same person Diane had known. It grieved Diane very much because she felt she was losing her best friend. All this time, Diane felt a heaviness that she was responsible somehow because she knew that something was wrong with Laura’s life and no one else knew. She kept asking Laura, “if your relationship is pure and right before God as you claim, then why are you hiding it.” Laura answered “it would not be good for them to know yet, it is too soon, they will not understand.” Laura said she would tell them at the proper time.
After several more months, Diane felt that she had to do something. She finally told me and asked how she should deal with it. This was breaking a confidence because Laura did not want anyone else to know. Since I was not emotionally involved, I could see the issues clearly. I had never heard of an annulment between two consenting adults having Biblical grounds. Laura claimed that she was deceived when she married George, but Diane and I spent time with them during their engagement, and she gave every appearance of being excited about getting married. I spent several days researching the question of annulment, and could find absolutely no Biblical support for her dissolving her marriage with George. Her counselor turned out to be more of a psychologist than a Christian. I wrote her a long letter concerning this and I then told Diane to press Laura to tell her brother who was also her and Steve’s pastor. When Diane told Laura that she would have to tell her brother, Laura turned on her and accused her of all sorts of things like; “If you tell I will have to leave the country, and it will be your fault.” “You should mind your own business” (even though they had always shared in each other’s lives before). “You are breaking a confidence,” etc. Diane was crying over the confrontation, but Laura was hard. She blamed Diane for everything and then walked out.
Laura finally told her brother/pastor only after I told her that if she did not, then I would. I was also accused of many things, but the issues were clear. Laura was involved in an illicit relationship. What Laura was doing was sin. Those who were supposed to be guiding her spiritually could not do so if they did not know the truth.
After her brother found out, there was a lot of talk between the families and the various pastors that were involved. Laura said she wanted to do what was right. However, her relationship with Steve had become so important to her that she proceeded with the divorce and then secretly married him even though she knew that would result in Church Discipline. Laura was so self deceived that even when the final step of church discipline was about to be disfellowshiped from two different churches, she would not repent. She told Diane that she felt it was worth it to give up church, friends and family to pursue what she thought she had a right to, her pursuit of happiness. The final steps of church discipline were carried out and Laura did lose her relationships in two churches, her personal friends, and her family relationships. We also told Laura that we would adhere to the disfellowship though we were not at either church that carried out the discipline. Diane’s heart was broken over it all, but it was all done out of love for Laura. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Diane was that faithful friend who risked herself in trying to help Laura see the truth even if Laura did not like the truth. Diane continued to pray.
Diane had admonished Laura and had been persistent in it, but it took her many months to overcome what is the second major failure of the church in dealing with sin. The failure to involve more people in confronting the person stuck in sin. This is the second step of church discipline. It is hard enough to confront someone alone and admonish them in private, which is the first step of church discipline, but the idea of bringing other people into it can be even more frightening. Some are like Diane was. Confused about what is right and wrong. Something seems wrong, but there is uncertainty. Others think that it would be unloving to expose another person’s sin. They fear the person might get angry and just go away. It seems more loving to just continue to try to be friends with them and hope that our goodness rubs off on them.
The area of church discipline is something that we do not like to talk about. Even to say: “Church Discipline” can make us uneasy. There seems to be something cold, perhaps vengeful about it. Yet it is actually the natural outworking of true love. I am sure there may be some here who will say that church discipline is not worth what it costs. They will cite the fact that Laura did not turn from her sin, that a lot of people got hurt, nothing good came from it, therefore, why bother to practice it. Isn’t this story proof that it doesn’t do any good.
Whether admonishing one another does any good depends on your definition of good. If you use most common one that everything works out well and no one is upset or has hurt feelings, then confronting sin will very rarely be good. To confront someone is to risk making people upset, hurting feelings and having them break their relationship with you. But true goodness is that which reflects God. It is good to obey God’s commands and follow His principles and precepts regardless of how other people respond to it. Take note that God does command us to admonish one another when we fall into sin. That admonition needs to be given as soon as possible. I still wonder if the story would have been different if the additional admonition given by myself, her brother and several pastors had been given sooner. Laura became hardened in her sin and unwilling to repent.
Admonishing one another is the first step of the Church Discipline that Jesus commands in Matthew 18:15f. Its intent is to restore the sinning brother or sister back into a proper walk with Christ, and when done properly, it rarely gets past the first step because Christians desire to follow the Lord, and when confronted about sin, they repent. That also means that the pastor is usually only involved in the latter steps of Church Discipline. Why? Because most of the admonition that goes on in a church is done by people as they interact with each other and practice the ‘one anothers’ including admonishing each other. No one here has or should play “spiritual policeman.” Instead, each of us as brothers and sisters in Christ are to love each other enough to confront the sin that creeps into our lives. If admonition ever leads to disfellowship from the church, it is because of the individual’s refusal to repent from sin and no other reason.
While the intent of church discipline, including the first step of admonishing one another, is to bring about restoration of the sinning person, that restoration is sought because God is a holy God and His righteousness must be upheld. Failure to deal with sin in ourselves or in those around us who profess to be Christians brings dishonor to His name. Sin must be dealt with both in ourselves and in those around us.
We must remember that sin also blinds and admonition is one of the ways by which God removes the blinders and gives us, if you will, a kick in the seat of our pants so that we will start dealing with it. Recall from the life of David when he committed multiplied sins concerning Bathsheba and Uriah? David felt horrible for many, many months, but not until Nathan confronted Him did David acknowledge the sin and repent from it. We are often no different.
That was also the case for Laura. She thought she was right before God, but God used the pressure of being disfellowshiped to demonstrate to her that she was wrong and had willfully sinned. Many months later Laura called Diane and asked her to pray for her. She was confused, but wanted God to convict her of her sin. Months after that Laura called again and told Diane that she now realized what she had done was wrong and asked Diane to continue to pray for her and for her still unrepentant husband.
It took over a year, but Laura eventually put herself back under the authority of her brother’s church and began the process of being restored to the fellowship there. She eventually came over to ask Diane to forgive her and they both had a good cry together. It was two years later, but a kindred spirit was there again.
Laura is still dealing with the consequences of her sin, and her life is not what it could have been, but she has been restored to the church and once again is in fellowship with God and His people.
Restoration and reconciliation begins with the “difficult one another” – admonishment. Are you really interested in true Christian fellowship, or are you content with superficial relationships? Do you care enough to admonish a Christian brother or sister who is in sin? Do you love them enough to get involved? Are they important enough to begin the loving process of Church Discipline? Or do we retreat back into our comfort zone and let people struggle with their sin alone? Let each of us strive to practice this “difficult one another” so that restoration of those is sin will always come at the first step of church discipline – admonishing one another which is part of True Christian Fellowship.
Jesus came to earth to provide eternal salvation to those who will put their faith in Him. But salvation cannot come to a person who will not deal with their sin. That is why we see Jesus consistently prodding people about their sinfulness and why one of the ministries of the Holy Spirit is to convict people concerning their sin (John 16:9). If you are not a Christian and the Holy Spirit is working on your heart, then today is the day to confess your sins to God and ask Him for forgiveness based on what Jesus Christ has done for you on the Cross of Calvary. If you are a Christian and the Holy Spirit is prodding you about some sin, then confess that now and repent from whatever it is. Don’t wait until you have to be admonished.
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