The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 10. Responding to the Guilty: Dealing with Offenders
Jn 8:11 “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Recap: In the previous study we recognized the truth that although we do sin, God doesn’t want us to sin and therefore sin needs confronting. The power of sin over us has been broken by the work of Christ on the Cross and by the work of the now indwelling Holy Spirit, yet we can stumble and fall on occasion. As we’ll perhaps see in a later study, if we do not deal with it, sin has a habit of multiplying and so the sooner it is dealt with the better. The best course is that we recognize it in ourselves and deal with it, but how about the situation when it needs confronting by another, or I am required to confront it in another? Are there guidelines for how we should do this?
First, Recognize Imperfection: Before we trample in on someone, let’s start by remembering that we too are fragile, we too have a propensity for getting it wrong from time to time. We would do well to remember that. Even more perhaps ponder on what it feels like to be on the wrong end of accusation. It is always a difficult thing when you are falsely accused and the problem is that if you leap into the battle and defend yourself you often have to do it by making someone else appear bad. I have had this twice in my life. Yes, there have been times when the imperfect me has got it wrong and it has been entirely down to me, but life isn’t always that simple. On two occasions I have struggled under unrighteous opposition but the truth is that in whatever messy situation we find ourselves, we will not come out 100% innocent. We could always have handled it better and the Lord uses such times to humble us and prove us. Leaders in the Church, in particular, often come up against opposition in the form of criticism, some of it right criticism but often criticism that doesn’t understand the situation and fails to understand what the leader is going through. How do we feel under attack? Not good.
Do unto Others: Now I say the above things because ‘the sinner’ will feel defensive, perhaps rightly so because they have a damaged or bruised ego that has blown it and is struggling to face that failure. Handling guilt – real or wrongly assumed – is like trying to traverse quicksand, a potential nightmare. Getting to the truth, facing it in ourselves, recognizing the causes of it in others, and responding with wisdom, grace, humility and a servant heart, is often incredibly difficult. If you have to confront apparent guilt, ask yourself, “If I was the guilty person, how would I like to be treated here?” After thinking about this over many years, I have concluded that this is one of the best bits of advice I can give. This is not to ask to be whitewashed so my failure is ignored but if someone has failed, there is quite likely to have been an underlying cause.
Personal Testimony: On one occasion when I had failed publicly in the way I had responded without grace to a piece of hostile criticism, I was mortified and a day later another senior leader blasted at me, “I can’t work with someone like you!” Another leader sided with him, and I resigned. It took an apostle to tell me I was the father figure with responsibilities and should get back in there and work it through. I did. When I look back on that after many years of pondering on it, I wish that first leader had instead come with a gentle heart that said something like, “My old friend, you blew it didn’t you. What happened? That’s not like you. How can I help you get back to a good place and help the church see that is happening?” But it didn’t come like that. The big knives were out. He had his own heart issues to work through.
Analyzing Failure: The pain that that incident, and all the followed caused me (and my wife), made me think deeply over the following decade about what had happened. My first step was to recognize that I had failed (sinned) by allowing a wrong situation to prevail. I had to repent before God. As a leader I had tolerated behaviour in another where they constantly criticized my leadership, not because I was wrong but because they had deep underlying personal problems stemming from their family background. In my immaturity and inability I had failed to draw alongside them and help them confront their situation and background and come through to a place of healing.
That is what leaders are supposed to do. I suspect this is one of the most common failures seen in leaders, who fear creating uproar if it goes wrong. It is underpinned by insecurity, lack of confidence in God. But I have learned and watched and seen that the Lord gives us plenty of leeway and space to work these things out (and that includes putting marriages on a firmer footing) but if we fail to address the problem, He will allow the rug to be pulled out from under us and we find ourselves under a stress situation where our grace runs out and the situation explodes. He will only tolerate sin in leaders for so long!
And So? Paul, speaking to the Ephesian elders, said, “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) Jesus bought this sinner with his blood which, as I have meditated on that, suggests they are very precious to him. Moreover, he yet knows what we can yet become if we are restored. He looks to restore; yes, to deliver from the sin, to forgive and cleanse from it, and to take us on to greater heights. He looks for our repentance and the moment He sees it, He’s there for us! Realizing His grace, realizing what could yet be, means we will constantly be looking to restore one another. May it be so.