Here at Trinity, we are constantly learning what it looks like to grow as disciples together in community. By sharing our lives and doing everyday things together with gospel intentionality, we inevitably come face to face with the sin struggles of our fellow brothers and sisters. This is one of the reasons we believe discipleship must take place in deep community. A church that organizes fellowship and programs discipleship in ways that allow people to manage their identity and hide what is going on in their every day life is unlikely to make disciples since few people will be in a position to confront one another’s sin patterns. Discipleship requires that we share our lives deeply with the other Christians in our church, and at Trinity, we are learning to do this.
But this isn’t easy. Once we are faced with the sins of others, and once they begin to see ours, we have to learn not just how to “handle” each other but how to encourage one another and rebuke one another in wise ways that promote godly repentance, heart change, and renewed faith in the gospel. Here are a few passages that instruct us on how to do this well.
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
The first thing necessary is humility and self-examination. We cannot confront and restore others in sin if we have not first examined ourselves to make sure we are both seeing the situation rightly and have a humble attitude toward them. As we live in community with others, we must ask ourselves several questions whenever we think someone else might be acting sinfully.
- Why am I bothered by this person right now? Are they sinning or are they interfering with my own idolatry? Is this an issue of wisdom or is there a real problem here?
- Am I guilty of this same thing in other situations? Am I guilty of something else more severe?
- Do I feel the urge to confront them because I want to put them down and show my superiority? Do I really understand what is going one here?
We have to learn to keep watch on ourselves before we can be faithful to watch over one another.
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. - 1 Peter 4:8
Once we have examined ourselves and sought to make sure we are seeing the situation rightly, we ought to think about the most loving response to the person’s sin. To love someone well we have to consider the effect of our action on them. There is a difference between being right and being wise. Love drives us to act wisely for the good of the other. So we need to ask ourselves more questions:
- Is this sin a habit? Is this an example of a deep rooted and unidentified sin pattern or is this a rare instance of this sin?
- Does the person already recognize their sin or has it gone unnoticed?
- Is this the best time to confront them or should I wait until later?
- Does this person need a rebuke or do they need to see me graciously overlook it and shower them with kindness?
Peter suggests that love covers a multitude of sins. This is a way of saying that we need to develop what Tim Chester calls “relational generosity.” Some people call this social grace. The idea here isn’t that love minimizes wrongdoing or acts like it doesn’t matter. Sin always does some sort of damage. Love bears that damage and doesn’t exact payment. Sometimes when we confront sin, we are actually exacting vengeance by shaming the person socially or by subjecting them to an emotional outburst. Sometimes we don’t confront sin because we hide it away deep down and bear a grudge that impacts the way we treat them in the future. But love covers the sin by forgiving them and responding with kindness and a good example. This response itself can be a form of confrontation, one that invites them to turn from their sin and live to righteousness. So not every sin needs to be immediately pointed out and openly addressed since love covers many sins.
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. – Hebrews 3:13
Finally, sin does often need to be explicitly addressed. This may be one of the most difficult aspects of living in community and sharing life. It is much easier to ignore the sins of others or to avoid future interaction by moving on to other groups of people. This is the most common way churches deal with sin. When people start getting close and begin seeing each other’s sins, they move on to another bible study, fellowship, or ministry in the church so as to avoid dealing with one another. But growing as a disciple involves living with others such that our sins are being confronted and we are confronting others in love and humble self-examination.
The author of Hebrews tells us two things that demonstrate why Christians must live in deep community with their church. First, sin is deceiving us all. Sin blinds us. We don’t always see what we are doing wrong, but others can. Second, we should exhort one another every day. There is no possible way to obey this instruction unless we are sharing our lives deeply with Christians in our church. Discipleship happens in everyday life.
All three of these passages assume that Christians sin regularly. The church is a community of broken and sinful people. But the church is also a redeemed and forgiven community that through repentance and faith are being renewed in the power of the Spirit through the ministry of God’s word in every day life. Christians living in community are to examine themselves in humility, forgive one another, bear with one another, and finally, graciously confront one another. We can do this because we remember that we have been forgiven much and that our righteousness is not our own, so any boasting is excluded. It is the gospel that makes this sort of community possible.
 Tim Chester, Everyday Church (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 142.