Planks and splinters

I got a question from someone who read one of my recent posts called “I’m going AWOL.” I thought his question was a good one, it made me think a little and pray a lot about my answer. And I think it’s an important enough issue to answer his question publicly and give all the readers of this blog a chance to be in on the conversation. (By the way, he actually agrees with me, so I’m not “calling him out” publicly or anything.)

Here’s his question:

In the epistle to the Ephesians is written: “and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of the darkness, but rather reprove them.” (Ephesians 5:11 KJV) That “reprove them” could mean that we as God’s children are entitled and exhorted to confront the ungodly in his/her unrighteousness? 

I gave him my short answer on the blog post, but here is the more complete answer. As always, I’d love to hear from anyone on your thoughts as well.

It’s the sin, not the sinner

The first thing that strikes me about this scripture in Ephesians is that it refers to the “unfruitful works of darkness,” not the “unfruitful workers of darkness.” The focus is on the sinful acts, not those who commit them. It seems to me, our focus these days is more on the sinners around us than the grace of God that has freed us from the bondage to sin.  This idea of “taking a stand for God” has consumed us, and has only served to erect a wall between God and those who need Him most.

It’s me that has to change

The next thing about this scripture is that word “fellowship.” My study shows it would probably be better translated as “participate in.”  This is an encouragement to believers not to participate in the works of darkness that are practiced by those in the world around them. “Don’t live like them, don’t behave like them. You have been redeemed by Christ, everything should have changed. Desires, focus, passions should be directed toward Christ and not pleasing yourself.”

This is not a fight

Then there’s that word “reprove.” Again, I think a better translation would be “expose.” I don’t think this is an invitation to do what we’ve done many times. It’s not permission for us to fight and picket and protest those with whom we disagree. It’s not an encouragement for us to point our bony fingers of judgment at others. Rather, I think it is a challenge for us to live our lives in such a way that, by contrast, the works of darkness around us will be exposed for the evil they are.  By doing so, we earn the right to speak into the lives of others.  When we live lives ruled by love, not judgment, those around us become much more receptive to what we have to say.

The bottom line

Look, I know we are called to “come out from among them and do not touch the unclean thing.”  But that command has nothing to do with “them”, it has everything to do with me.  I do not have to shake my fist at the world.  I just stop acting like them.  I don’t have to point out the sin in those around me, that’s the Holy Spirit’s job.

The weapons of our warfare are not of this earth.  Our enemy is not of this earth.  Our battle is not with the sinners, the gays, the atheists or anyone else.  We belong to the Kingdom of Heaven.  That’s a Kingdom that has no end.  And it’s a Kingdom that aims to change me first.  It’s a Kingdom that requires me to lay down my life, my dreams, and my hopes before its King.  It requires me to start with my own planks, not their splinters.

The path of love is a slower, more deliberate pace.  It’s a journey, not a sprint.  It’s a lifestyle, not a marketing ploy.  It takes commitment, patience, and…well…love.

If it is a battle, and we’re going to fight against the sin around us, I think love and mercy are much more effective weapons anyway.

Maybe that’s why Jesus used them.

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  1. #1 by Michelle Sirmans Emanuel on August 11, 2011 - 2:09 PM

    thanks Dave, I think that if there is a message that we believers really need to hear it is that one…

    But here is a question that I have….I myself have found all too often that the more spiritual minded I am, the more likely I am to be judgmental…I mean the more time I spend in prayer and bible reading, study, activities, the more I see wrong in other peoples lives…why is that…it does not mean I don’t see my own failures…I do…but I often place myself above them…so does that mean my spiritual practices lead to pride, even though they make me feel closer to God.

    It seems to me when I don’t consider myself to be living as spiritual a life as I should, then I am able to have more Grace towards those who are living a life that I consider to be displeasing to God…

    So here is the 1 million dollar question…why do my spiritual practices, serve to make me feel closer to God, yet more condemning of others?

    Brutal honesty is appreciated:)

    • #2 by Dave Kirby on August 11, 2011 - 3:20 PM

      I know your struggle, because I’ve seen it in my own life as well. The closer I get to God, it seems like I see the sin around me and become less patient and gracious to those who practice it.

      Part of the problem is the idea that’s been drilled into our heads that we are somehow responsible to “take a stand for Christ”. And while I think we do that naturally by not participating in the sin and worldliness that others practice, I think this stand has become a cultural thing, meant to exert power over others.

      I’d say the only answer is recognizing our tendency toward spiritual pride, and actively seeking God to deliver us from it. It will be a long process (you’ve developed that pride over a period of years), and we’ll have to accept God’s grace as we recognize our own sin of pride.

      Here is an interesting thought, and I think I’m going to post about this: If Jesus says “Treat others how you want to be treated” and we judge others, what does that say about how we expect to be treated? Maybe that means, in spite of God’s grace, we still expect judgment. Maybe we are still living a life under the law of sin and death, and not liberty in Christ. When we truly accept the fact that we are off the hook for our own sins, it becomes easier to have mercy on the sins of others.

      I have found this to be true in my own journey toward grace and mercy. Jesus had mercy on sinners. For us to have anything else is to not be like Him. Maybe it’s time we reevaluate who we think He is.

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