Demolition or restoration?
Whenever it comes to the redevelopment of sites that include very old buildings this is a key question. Many old buildings have beautiful architecture which appeal to us. Yet, practically they are often unusable, dangerous and unkempt. Therefore, developers find themselves asking the question ‘Should it be demolished or restored?’ And there are, of course, meaningful and significant arguments on both sides of that question.
I wonder does a similar kind of question run through our minds when we come across a brother or sister in sin? This was the idea that we began to look at last week as we considered ‘Darwinian Christianity’. There is an instinct within us which wants to kill off the weaker brother or sister and be the last one standing. When we find a brother or sister in sin this instinct kicks in – and the answer to our question is demolition!
Paul seeks to correct this predatory instinct in the close of his letter to the Galatians. Last week we observed that Paul calls Christians to bear the burdens of their brothers and sisters in Christ. This week we take on the first example of bearing burdens that he offers – restoring brothers and sisters caught in sin.
This is how Paul breaches the subject, ‘Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch over yourself, lest you too be tempted’ (Gal. 6:1 ESV).
Instead of demolition Paul opts for restoration and calls for the Christians of Galatia to do the same.
The first element in this process is that a brother or sister is caught in sin. We must be careful not to misinterpret these words of Paul. This is not a license for us to appoint ourselves to the position of ‘detective’ in the sin police. This is not a command to spend your life trying to catch a brother or sister in sin. Rather, Paul says ‘if’ – if you catch, come across, or find a brother or sister in sin. Practically, this means it is not our responsibility to do this for people we barely know. Instead, we exercise this privilege and responsibility with those we have close, strong and personal ties with.
What happens when they are found in sin? The second element – you who are spiritual…
This is not speaking of the pastor or minister, and it is not a special class of Christian who is better than everyone else. Those who are spiritual are simply those who are mature. This is undoubtedly a link back to the end of chapter 5 where Paul clearly shows what a spiritual Christian looks like (5:22-25). However, this does not allow us to hold our hands up, confess our immaturity and therefore abdicate our responsibility to confront brothers and sisters caught in sin. Quite the opposite – it is a call to maturity so that when we find brothers and sisters in sin we are capable of restoring them in gentleness (one facet of the fruit of the spirit).
The third element is the restoring of a brother or sister in gentleness. Note the positive atmosphere of this phrase; this is a good thing, a beneficial thing and the right thing to do with a brother or sister caught in sin. The Greek word used for ‘restore’ was widely used when speaking about resetting a broken bone – it has the image of returning something to its original condition. John Stott summarises this helpfully, therefore I quote at length:
“Notice how positive Paul’s instruction is. If we detect somebody doing something wrong, we are not to stand by doing nothing on the pretext that it is none of our business and we have no wish to be involved. Nor are we to despise or condemn him in our hearts and, if he suffers for his misdemeanour, say ‘Serves him right’ or ‘Let him stew in his own juice’. Nor are we to report him to the minister, or gossip about him to our friends in the congregation. No, we are to ‘restore’ him, to ‘set him back on the right path’ (JBP). This is how Luther applies the command: ‘run onto him, and reaching out your hand, raise him up again, comfort him with sweet words, and embrace him with motherly arms’.” (The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Galatians, pg.160-161).
The final element is a warning to the one who would seek to restore a straying brother or sister. The warning is to watch ourselves lest we too become tempted. There is a little debate about what sin the spiritual person would be tempted with – some think it could be the sin that the brother or sister is caught in, and others think it to be the sin of pride. It could be either, although the second option would seem more likely to me. However, what is clearly called for is an awareness of our own sinfulness, and propensity to sin, before we make any attempt to restore a brother.
Paul’s answer to the question is clearly to restore rather than demolish.
We have spent considerable time thinking about the words contained in this verse, and it is very beneficial to do so as we seek to understand this first example of bearing burdens that Paul speaks of. However, we may still be wondering how exactly we should go about doing this? Here are five practical tips to close with on restoring a brother or sister caught in sin:
- Pray – After you become aware of a brother or sister caught in sin take time to pray before you approach them. The time taken to pray will vary from situation to situation. For example, if you hear someone verbally abusing their spouse in the church car park after the service you will pray as you run toward the situation, but if you become aware of a lack of love for the church you may spend a couple of days praying before approaching them. Nevertheless, we must take time to pray for God’s intervention, for our own sensitivity and for our brother or sisters restoration before we act.
- Examine Yourself – It is foolish to try to take the speck out of your brother’s eye if there is a log sticking out of yours (Mt. 7:1-5)! We must examine our lives – this does not mean we need to be perfect before we act, but we must be careful we are not hypocrites. It is also important to check our motivation in approaching them.
- Talk to them – Don’t go running to someone else, don’t turn a blind eye and don’t hope it will all work out in the end. Rather, approach the person and speak to them. This may look different for different people depending on your relationship with them. But, the people you find in sin are likely going to be people you know relatively well. However, no one can be restored unless they are spoken to.
- Involve Others – This is not a license to gossip, or tell your mate what is happening. This is the Matthew 18 principle (Mt. 18:15-20). If a brother or sister refuses to confess their sin or seek forgiveness other people must be brought in to help. Read the passage in Matthew and figure out who in your context are the people who should be included in the discussion with a brother or sister caught in sin.
- Pray – Finally, pray again. Continue to pray for your brother or sister – pray that they would enjoy restoration to the family of God and that the Holy Spirit would help them defeat sin in their lives.
We must strive to restore our brothers and sisters rather than to demolish them – instead of killing each other of we must keep each other alive by helping one another put sin to death.