I’m not responsible for what outsiders do, but don’t we have some responsibility for those within our community of believers? God decides on the outsiders, but we need to decide when our brothers and sisters are out of line and, if necessary, clean house (1 Corinthians 5:12-13, Mssg.).
Sometimes loving confrontation looks like a fight. Sometimes what begins as loving confrontation becomes a brawl. It’s a very fine line, easily crossed. What we thought was brotherly love quickly morphs into contempt. What started out as well meaning suddenly becomes just plain mean.
Because this happens so easily, many well intentioned Christians would prefer to avoid conflict altogether. The world around us doesn’t know or care about the difference between loving confrontation and religious backstabbing. Thus, in any and all forms of confrontation the church loses. Let’s all make nice . . . for Jesus’ sake.
But to truly be brothers and sisters to each other means that we cannot afford this luxury. Our identity as brothers and sisters is surely compromised when we fight. But let’s also admit that our identity as brothers and sisters is equally damaged when we refuse to hold each other accountable. Sometimes love demands a tough word gently spoken.
The family of faith in Corinth had a problem. A moral problem. As Paul summarized it, “a man has his Father’s wife.” This kind of thing even stretched the sensibilities of local pagans. But for some reason, the church was not addressing it. They were proud. We might say “progressive.” That’s what really troubled Paul. The behavior was bad enough – but the real issue was the failure of the family of faith to speak to it, to hold their Christian brother accountable.
How quick we are to get this backwards. There are too many instances in which the church points its finger at the culture, people outside the family, while ignoring issues that need to be confronted within the family. Paul reminds us that God will deal with the outsiders. We have a responsibility as brothers and sisters to hold each other accountable.
Our world tells us that we respect another’s freedom by keeping our opinions to ourselves, minding our own business. But absolute self-determination is not freedom. It is form of slavery called isolation. The truly free are held accountable. Being free means belonging to a family of others who care enough and have courage enough to speak the truth, especially when the truth is hard to say and hard to hear.
Are you blessed with people in your life who tell you the truth, brothers and sisters who hold you accountable? Is there a brother or sister to whom you need to speak a word of truth? This is not easy – but it’s better than being chained by fear and superficiality. Honesty and truth and freedom all belong together.
Gracious God, in Jesus you have set us free. Help us to live in that freedom. Set us free to be all that you call us to be. In our freedom, keep us closely bound to each other as brothers and sisters who love each other enough to say the hard things. Give us the courage to live as people who are truly free in Christ. Amen.