“Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path” (Galatians 6:1 NLT).
Following Jesus means getting involved with people. Sometimes this means seeing people at their best, in their happiest moments. So, like Jesus, we find ourselves celebrating at a wedding. Other times this means seeing people at their worst, in their broken moments. So, like Jesus, we find ourselves with a person caught red-handed in sin.
Years ago in a church far away I found myself with a church leader whose extramarital affair had just been revealed. This brother had worked hard to present himself as a sincere follower of Christ. He was a master of disguise who could create the illusion of an honest and morally upright family man. When his mask was pulled off, he was revealed to be something very different.
Sometimes having your sins revealed, especially in a public way, can provide a much needed opportunity to come clean and have a fresh start. As ministers, elders, and other church friends responded to this unmasked adulterer, we had hopes the situation could somehow result in repentance and bring glory to God. We met with “Billy” – praying for him, listening to him, and providing counsel for him. We reached out to his wife and children. We cried out to God for healing. We discreetly did all we could, without broadcasting details of this restoration process.
What happened next surprised me. Billy stopped taking our phone calls, refused lunch invitations, declined prayer opportunities, and began missing church gatherings. But while he stopped talking to church leaders and friends who were reaching out to him, he began talking to others in the church. In fact, he would talk to anyone who would listen, even reluctantly, to his complaints.
- “Nobody has reached out to me to help me.”
- “The elders are hypocrites; they haven’t even tried to call me.”
- “None of my so-called friends care enough to reach out.”
- “I guess the minister doesn’t have time for a sinner like me.”
And so he left the church, but not before trying to do as much damage as he could on the way out. After we began hearing these accusations of neglect, church leaders and friends continued to reach out to him. After all, we knew he was hurting and his life was reeling in the wake of his scandalous behavior.
What happened next surprised me even more. People from the church began calling me, the elders, and friends of Billy. They had been getting the phone calls from Billy in which he lashed out against the ones who lovingly and graciously helped him get a fresh start. One family was so disgusted by the lack of response to Billy that they left the church and wrote an angry letter on their way out. The letter didn’t ask questions to verify the stuff Billy was saying. The letter assumed Billy’s stuff was true and blasted the church leadership for not reaching out to him.
What’s an elder, minister, or friend to do? Do we broadcast to the church (especially to the family who left) all that had been done to help Billy? Do we try to defend ourselves against the charges? Do we grow bitter and decide to never get involved in another situation like this? I think the answer to each of these questions is, no. We do what God has called us to do – gently restore the person caught in sin. We cannot control how people react, but we can control how we act.