Home > Ezekiel's Forehead, Luther, The Preaching Office > It’s Not Always a Sin

It’s Not Always a Sin


I am not so foolish as to attack one whom all people praise.  As a matter of fact, I have always tried, and will always continue, not to attack even those whom the public dishonors, for I take no pleasure in the faults of any man, since I am conscious of the beam in my own eye.  I could not, indeed, be the first one to cast a stone at the adulteress [John 8:1-11].

 I have, to be sure, sharply attacked ungodly doctrines in general, and I have snapped at my opponents, not because of their bad morals, but because of their ungodliness.  Rather than repent of this in the least, I have determined to persist in that fervent zeal and to despise the judgment of men, following the example of Christ who in his zeal called his opponents “a brood of vipers,” “blind fools,” “hypocrites,” “children of the devil” [Matt. 23:13, 17, 33; John 8:44].  Paul branded Magus [Elymas, the magician] as the “son of the devil,…full of all deceit and villainy” [Acts 13:10], and he calls others “dogs,” “deceivers,” and “adulterers” [Phil 3:2; II Cor. 11:13; 2: 17].  If you will allow people with sensitive feelings to judge, they would consider no person more stinging and unrestrained in his denunciations than Paul.  Who is more stinging than the prophets?  Nowadays, it is true, we are made so sensitive by the raving crowd of flatterers that we cry out that we are stung as soon as we meet with disapproval.  When we cannot ward off the truth with any other pretext, we flee from it by ascribing it to a fierce temper, impatience, and immodesty.  What is the good of salt if it does not bite?  Of what use is the edge of a sword if it does not cut?  “Cursed is he who does the work of the Lord deceitfully….” [Jer. 48:10]. 

Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian in Three Treatises, Fortress: Philadelphia, 1960, pp. 267-268.

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by Him.  For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises (scourges) every son whom he receives.”  Hebrews 12:5-6

“For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.  For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed–God is witness.”  1 Thessalonians 2:3-5

“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.  For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”  2 Timothy 4:2-4

I have this problem–sometimes I offend people.  What is really sad for me about this is that I don’t get to enjoy this.  I usually feel guilty when I get angry and speak in a blunt fashion. 

It remains true that it is very easy to be harsh–as a pastor, as a Christian–from the flesh, and then justify it with points like Dr. Luther makes above.  So often I am salty when my ego is injured, and so seldom when a parishioner or another Christian for love’s sake needs a firm rebuke.

That granted, what was true in Luther’s day is even more true in ours.  Everyone gets their feelings hurt so easily.  If people getting their feelings hurt is the sign that you’ve sinned, then St. Paul and our Lord Jesus Christ were the worst sinners of all.  When was the last time you heard anyone call someone a child of the devil?  Is it only apostles and the Son of God who should say things like that?

No.  Telling people the truth is an act of love, and it is not optional for Christians.  Anger is sinful when it proceeds from a bruised ego.  But isn’t it tough to speak or act as firmly as you should if you’re not angry?  For instance, if my son shows disrespect to his mother; my son is a sinner and, like me, has a tendency not to take it to heart when a rebuke or punishment is not serious.  If I’m not angry, I tend not to discipline him in a way that he takes very seriously.  Why?  Because generally I don’t want him to get upset.  However, if I’m supposed to teach him not to show disrespect to his mother, that’s going to require that he sees how serious it is when he does it. 

Now how much more serious is it when a Christian blows off church for a year, or sits in the narthex and gossips every Sunday through the whole service, or is lackadaisical about teaching his children God’s Word? 

It’s serious enough that the word of God says that one who continues in unrepentant sin forfeits salvation. 

There are many Christians who have been despising God’s Word for years and years by withdrawing from Divine Service; who “forgot” to have their baptized children confirmed, or who haven’t been to church in years and “forgot” to have their children baptized–and they are now 3, 4, 5 years old. 

Every Sunday after receiving Christ’s body and blood we pray that God would strengthen us through it in faith toward Him and “fervent love toward one another.”  Fervent love of course includes gentleness.

But it also includes privately rebuking a brother who has sinned against us…and when a brother or sister is in danger of eternal death–or has already fallen from Christ–fervent love means–at least at times–fervent rebuke and strict discipline. 

This is also loving to the rest of the congregation, which needs the law’s rebuke to put the fear of God into it so that it does not wander, tra la la, into Satan’s snares, as it treads the primrose path of cheap grace.

I say all this, but I’m not good at doing it.  It’s hard to know how to keep your own pharisaism and pride out of “loving rebukes.”   It’s hard to speak the hard words that need to be spoken sometimes because you fear crushing someone who is already repentant.

But we need to cultivate a humility that accepts rebuke.  If that can’t happen in congregations, then I and other pastors need to model it.  Look, am I without sin?  Do I think I am?  If not, then I shouldn’t be surprised when I require rebukes; I shouldn’t think it’s the end of the world, nor should I act as though I’m a delicate, snow-white lamb that has never been so offended.  Me?  I’ve said how many nasty things about people when they weren’t listening?  I’ve said how many cruel words to people I loved because they “provoked me”? 

It should come as no surprise at all when I am rebuked by other Christians, by enemies, or by God.  And it’s not the end of the world.  My Lord Jesus was nailed to a cross for evil men like me; blood streamed from His body to redeem me.  If I am rebuked and shown my sin, it only serves to make me come to Jesus for more grace, since I am in such a desperate strait without Him.  “Let a righteous man strike me–it is a kindness; let him rebuke me–it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.”  Psalm 141: 4

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