Pastor Scott Murray puts out “Memorial Moments” available here.
1 Corinthians 12:12-31
Doing the right thing is essential. However, doing it the right way comes in a very close second. This is especially the case when we deal with a fellow believer. Unfortunately, we often treat our fellow Christian in a way that would not be acceptable in any other human endeavor. Each of us is required to show concern for the life and faith of our fellow Christian. Despite the culturally required bromides about “minding our own business,” we are required by our status as members of the body of Christ, to be concerned about the other members. If we are careless about the needs of the other members, it would be like the person who has suffered a major wound on his left hand being unconcerned about a growing infection in it, because his right hand wanted to “mind its own business.” That infection might be deadly for the whole body. You must be concerned about the whole body, because the whole body is you. This is the situation for the members of the church. We are all members of one body and to be careless about any part, is to be careless about that which is named for its Head: the body of Christ (1Co 12:12, 25-27). To be careless about the other is also to be careless about Christ, the Head of the body.
It is the right thing to approach another member of the body of Christ to express concern about a besetting and public sin. However, there are a number of things we should keep in mind if we are to do it the right way. First, treat him as a son of God (Gal 3:26) intimately united to Christ the Head and named Christian for His sake. You should treat him as you would your own dear Lord, with honor and respect. You should consider yourself as lowly and humble and this your brother as greater in the kingdom than you. For in serving him, you would be serving Your Lord (Mt 25:40). If you approach him with an air of superiority and arrogance, you will fail to serve him as you would serve Christ. Who would approach their humble Lord Jesus with arrogance? We ought to serve our Lord’s precious children with deep humility.
Second, approach an erring Christian with the presupposition that he is what Scripture calls him: “a brother.” How would you respond to your own brother by blood if he had fallen into a pit from which he could not get out? Wouldn’t you go to extraordinary lengths to save him? Wouldn’t you be completely insistent upon saving him even when fatigue had diminished his ability to join you in the effort? Do we owe any less for a dear brother in Christ, who by Christ’s blood is nearer than mere human relation. We ought to be tenacious in our service to a struggling brother.
Third, approach him with the presupposition that he knows the right thing to do. As I am approaching the twenty-fifth year in the holy ministry, I am increasingly convinced that I only have to tell people who come to me the very things that they already know in their hearts. For most people I am affirming what they already know about both the law and the gospel. Let’s never forget that these people have listened to sermons, been in Bible classes, and received intensive catechesis over many years. We have a God who speaks in His Word. His Word never returns void (Is 55:10-11). Sometimes we are just telling people that we support their decision to do the right thing. Give the fallen leadership with the gospel of Christ and they will be raised up. If you do it the right way, the right thing will be in the hands of God. Not yours.
“Draw near to the person who is living with a woman who is not his wife, and speak some small praise to your brother, making it up from the other good characteristics which he has. Encourage him with your commendations as it were with warm water, and so relieve the tumor of his wound. Speak of yourself also as a wretched sinner. Accuse the common race of mankind. Point out that we are all in sins. Ask for pardon, saying, that you are undertaking things too great for you, but love persuades you to dare all things. Then in giving your advice, do it not arrogantly, but in a brotherly way. And when by all these means you have reduced the swelling and soothed the pain arising from the cutting reproof which is in store for him, and when you have repeatedly deprecated yourself and begged him not to be angry, when you have bound him down with these things, then use the knife. Do not press the matter too closely, nor fail to press home your point; that he may neither flee on the one hand, nor on the other, think little of it. For if you to not strike to the quick you have done no good, and if your blow is violent, thou will make him turn away.
“Therefore, even after all this, being on the very point of the reproof, mix up again encouragement with your censure. And seeing that this matter considered by itself cannot be a matter of praise (for it is not commendable to keep house with a woman that is not your wife), let his purpose for effecting this be your topic. Say to him, ‘I know indeed that you are doing this for God’s sake, and that the desolation and unprotected state of that poor woman has met your eye, and caused you to stretch out your hand to her.’ Although he may not be doing it with this intention, speak this way. And again excusing yourself say, ‘These things I speak not to tell you what to do but to remind you. You are doing this for God’s sake; I too know that. But let us consider whether another evil is not being produced thereby. And if there is none, keep her in your house while she remains a virgin, and cling to this excellent purpose. There is no one to hinder you. However, if any mischief arise from doing this which overcomes the benefit, take care, I beg you, lest while we are earnest to comfort one soul, we put a stumbling-block in the way of ten thousand.’ Do not add immediately the punishments due to those who give offense, but receive his own testimony also, saying, ‘You have no need to learn these things from me. You yourself know, “if any one offend one of these little ones,” how great a penalty is threatened’ (Mt 18:6). After having sweetened your speech and smoothed down his wrath, apply the medicine of your correction. Should he again urge her forlorn condition, do not expose his pretense, but say to him, ‘Let nothing of this sort make you afraid. You will have a sufficient plea: the offence given to others. Since not for indifference, but in care towards them, you will have stopped living with her.’
“Let your advice be brief, for there is no need of much teaching. Let the expressions of mercy on the other hand be many and often. And continually return to the topic of love; setting in the shade the painfulness of what you are saying, giving him his full freedom, and saying, ‘This is what I for my part advise and recommend; but about taking the advice only you may judge. For I do not compel and force you, but submit the whole thing to your own discretion.’ If we so manage our reproof, we shall easily be able to correct those in error.”
John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 43.6