I noticed that a woman friend (I’ll call her “Susan”) had not taken Communion. She also looked distraught. After the service I asked her if there was anything that she wanted to talk about.
Susan explained that she couldn’t take Communion because there was sin in her life that she was unable to overcome and, therefore, felt unworthy to take Communion. She was thinking about the passage:
· Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup…That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. (1 Corinthians 11:27-31)
According to Susan, she had examined herself and judged herself “unworthy” of the Lord and of Communion.
This question of “unworthiness” is a big issue. It also pertains to all forms of Christian service. Jesus taught that we are in no condition to correct a brother unless we have first corrected ourselves:
· Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:4-5)
Some wrongly assume that Jesus was teaching against all forms of judgment or correction when He stated, “Judge not that you not be judged” (Matthew 7:1). Indeed, we will be judged by the same standard by which we judge. Therefore, we first have to judge ourselves so that God will not judge us. This involves examining ourselves, identifying our blind-spots – the logs in our eyes - and confessing and repenting of them. Only then can we judge others.
Paul had taught in a similar manner:
· Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)
Whatever service we are performing, we need to continually “watch” and judge ourselves. Why? As a skilled judo expert, sin is always at work, drawing us one way or another. If we are not examining ourselves and confessing our sins, we can be sure that sin will knock us off balance.
I tried to explain to Susan that sin isn’t our biggest problem. Here’s what I meant. We all sin. I did not say this to excuse sin but to understand it in perspective. Sin is a present reality for all of us. This is why Jesus required repentance of all:
· No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:5)
Jesus was correctly assuming that we all have sin. According to Him, we should all regard ourselves as unworthy:
· “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:10)
Consequently, none of us can stand before God in our own merit or righteousness. Instead, we are reminded that we must always confess our sins. This is the uniform message of Scripture. James wrote that we have to always bridle our tongues. Why? Because they are an ever-present source of sin:
· For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. (James 3:2)
All of us stumble into sin. Therefore, blessedness was not a product of our sinlessness but, instead, of the mercy of God, as David had often written:
· Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity… (Psalm 32:1-2)
John also wrote that we all have sin:
· If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)
I tried to explain to Susan that our main problem isn’t sin but our unwillingness to examine ourselves and to confess our sins. Why? Because when we do confess our sins, our Lord is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
I therefore asked Susan if she had confessed her sins. She answered that she had but was having trouble believing that God had truly forgiven and cleansed her. “Why,” I asked.
She feared that she had passed the point of “no return,” the point where God would no longer forgive her. I mentioned Paul, the worst of sinners who God had elevated to the foremost of missionaries (1 Timothy 1:15-17), to her. I reasoned as Paul had. If God had forgiven Paul, then He was making it plain that He was willing to forgive anyone.
However, Susan was convinced that her situation was different. She was a child of God, and yet she continued to sin, even though it was against her will.
Instead, Jesus counseled His disciples to always be ready to forgive a brother if he repents:
· And if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:4)
We have no choice; we must forgive. This also says something about our Savior. He has never required us to do more than what He would do. If He demanded that we always be ready to forgive our brethren if they repent, how much more will He be willing to forgive the repentant!
In fact, we find that there is one thing that induces the angels of heaven to rejoice:
· Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10, 7)
If they had to wait to find a sinless person, there would be absolutely no occasion to rejoice.
Repentance had also been God’s plea to unrepentant Israel:
· Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, “‘Return, faithless Israel, declares the LORD. I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, declares the LORD; I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt, that you rebelled against the LORD your God and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree, and that you have not obeyed my voice, declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 3:12-13)
Sadly, Israel would not confess, and this brought destruction upon them. However, we see examples of God showing mercy to the worst of the worst. King Manasseh had been the worst. He ruled for 55 years. If anyone had committed sins that made him ineligible for forgiveness, it was he:
· Because Manasseh king of Judah has done these abominations (he has acted more wickedly than all the Amorites who were before him, and has also made Judah sin with his idols), therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel: “Behold, I am bringing such calamity upon Jerusalem and Judah...” (2 Kings 21:10-12).
However, the Assyrians captured Manasseh and threw him into prison. This caused the king to humble himself to confess his sins:
· Now when he was in affliction, he implored the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed to Him; and He received his entreaty, heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God (2 Chron. 33:12-13).
I explained to Susan that if God had forgiven Manasseh’s decades of the most horrible sins, He certainly would forgive hers and wipe her totally clean from all of them.
My favorite example is Job. Even though he had been the most righteous of men, he railed against God in the midst of his suffering. However, God confronted Job with a long series of questions that Job was unable to answer. He got the point – If he could not answer any of these questions, how could he suppose that he was in any position to bring indictments against God? He clearly was not.
After this, God confronted Job’s three friends who had spoken incorrectly about God:
· After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7-8)
Something seems wrong here. After God had charged Job with distorting His “counsel by words without knowledge” (Job 38:2), He twice proclaimed that Job had spoken correctly about Him! This seems like a contradiction, but it is not! Instead, it points to the profound impact of confession:
· Then Job answered the LORD and said: “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6; 40:2-3)
Job’s repentance not only brought forgiveness, restoration, and blessing. It also brought cleansing from his sins. It was as if Job had never brought any indictments against God!
I explained to Susan that each time we confess and repent, our slate is wiped perfectly clean! I stand in awe before such a God. I hope that Susan also does.
Let’s now deal with the problem of elders/pastors who fall into sin. In one case, a homosexual male prostitute “outed” a famous and popular pastor. When he could no longer hide it, he confessed his sins with tears before his church.
However, a controversy emerged. While everyone was willing to embrace and forgive their fallen pastor, half believed that he should resume as their pastor; the other half did not. Sadly, this caused great dissension.
Well, doesn’t forgiveness entail restoration? Yes, but not necessarily to leadership! Why not? First of all, there are definite qualifications for pastors and elders:
· Therefore an overseer must be above reproach… He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?... Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:2-7)
The pastor did not meet these qualifications. Therefore, restoring him to the pastorate would surely create dissension and division and violate Scripture. This doesn’t mean that he could never again pastor. However, it does mean that he would first have to win the trust of his family, church, and community.
Along with this, church leadership is to be held to a higher standard:
· Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19)
· Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (James 3:1)
Although our God is completely forgiving, we should not be surprised that there is a price to pay for unfaithfulness, especially if we are in positions of leadership. While elders should receive honor (1 Timothy 5:17), they should also be publicly rebuked if they failed in their calling:
· As for those [elders] who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. (1 Timothy 5:20)