How should a Christian behave towards someone who is found in sin? Jesus says that we should treat others the way we want to be treated (Matthew 7). That sounds straight-forward enough, but things can become complicated by circumstance.
I know what approach works for me. I appreciate a direct approach. I do not like having to read between the lines or attempting to guess what someone is really trying to say. I appreciate honesty. I also appreciate gentleness. It does not feel good to face fault. It can feel shameful and embarrassing.
I do not like condescension and insults. I do not like being yelled at. I do not like accusation or false assumptions about my motives. I do not like when a person scolds me for doing something that they do, especially when I am being accused falsely and the person is projecting their own faults onto me. I do not like passive-aggressive attacks. I do not like silent treatments. I do not like when a person has a problem with me, but instead of coming to me they talk to others and then that other person approaches me. I do not like when fault is assumed without hearing my side of things. I do not like when I do not receive compassion or understanding for the circumstances that led to my sinful behavior.
When a person treats me in these ways, I become angry. This is pride. How dare they treat me this way? I do not want to hear what they are trying to say, and instead I want to hurt them because they hurt me. This is not good, and it can be hard to respond in a righteous manner when you are feeling attacked. I should never place that burden on another person. If that burden is placed on me, then I should seek Jesus for the proper response that will help the situation, not make matters worse.
When we are dealing with sin among the brethren, we are told that it is love to rebuke them. However, we are to treat each other with respect. We treat elders as fathers and mothers and the younger as sisters and brothers (1 Timothy 5). Sometimes we are too close to a situation to see ourselves clearly. Sometimes we become hardened to sin and we need a reality check. Sometimes we just need to hear from someone who has been through the same struggle so that we can find encouragement and the boost we need to overcome.
We are told to rebuke one another in the spirit of meekness (Galatians 6). We are told to go to a person directly. If they do not hear us, then we take one or two more with us. If they do not hear us and the witnesses we bring, then we take it to the church. If they still do not hear us, then we consider them to be unbelievers (Matthew 18). We should not label the liberties of our brethren in Christ as sinful, but we also should not use our liberties as an excuse for sin (Galatians 5).
There is a time to remove ourselves from people. There is even a time to deliver a person to Satan for the destruction of the flesh so they might be saved in spirit (1 Corinthians 5). However, we also know that with what judgement we judge, we will be judged.
When dealing with unbelievers, we should be a good example first and foremost. Let them see how Christians love one another and the hope of our salvation that lies in us (1 Peter 3). We can stand up for what is true, but we cannot forget mercy. We should learn where a person is coming from and use our experiences with sin to provide us with perspective that reaches to the heart of their struggle. It is not a good idea to poke around in things we know nothing about. This leads to a holier-than-thou attitude and can make matters worse in many ways.
Jesus also teaches us not to cast our pearls before swine lest they turn again and rend us. Rebuking a person who does not want to hear or cannot hear often leads to conflict. Let the blind lead the blind so that they may all fall into the ditch. We can pray for them and hold hope for them. We should do good to them if they are in need. Then, there are times when we should rebuke even though we know they will not hear us. There are times to say what is right even if it means losing our lives.
There is no one way or easy answer when dealing with the sins of others, but some things I know.
I know how I want to be treated and how I do not want to be treated. I know that Jesus provides the answer for every situation if I am listening to Him. I also know that focusing on the sins of others can be damaging in many ways. I know that it is better to focus on my own sin and seek Jesus for healing, and I should show mercy because I have received mercy. I know that the sins I have struggled with are the sins I am best equipped to help others come out of. I know that I should have faith in the wisdom of God including His patience and perfect timing. I know that I should trust in His mercy and sense of justice. I know that vengeance is His alone.
I know these things, but do I live it? It is hard. Dealing with the sins of others righteously is one of the most difficult struggles mankind must face. In-fact, I think most of our sinfulness has to do with the way we treat other “sinners.” Jesus will help us learn not to be overcome with evil, but to overcome evil with good (Romans 12).
The sacrifice of Jesus is the ultimate example of overcoming evil with good. Through faith in Jesus, we can overcome sin and death. We will learn what sin is. We will learn what righteousness looks like. We will strive against sin and Jesus will help us overcome throughout the course of our lives. As we overcome, we can help others do the same according to the will and timing of God.