We all stumble in many ways (James 3:2a, esv).
Maybe you’ve noticed one or two flaws in a few of the Christians around you. (Just maybe.)
But that’s not really so surprising, right? After all, we’ve got a few flaws ourselves.
If the church is supposed to be a place where hope abounds—even with sin hanging around as an all too frequent visitor—our responses to one another in these inevitable moments of unworthiness are crucially important. If all we do is stand back and register our critique and frustration, rather than apply ourselves to our brother or sister’s improvement, we only cause more damage in an already destructive situation.
Scripture counsels us to take a more hopeful approach.
1) See the person in process. God isn’t finished with anybody. “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). And since Jesus hasn’t come back yet, that’s all the proof we need that He hasn’t abandoned the job of completing this “good work” He started. He hasn’t decided that the one who stumbles is a lost cause—and if He hasn’t, we certainly shouldn’t. Allow someone who is struggling the room to be a work in progress.
2) Cover them. Notice I didn’t say cover for them. Enabling people to escape consequences or feel entitled to their sin is not a functional equivalent of love. But to cover the individual—being discreet about the matter, keeping to a minimum the people who need to know what’s going on—is a loving expression of both grace and protection. “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends” (Proverbs 17:9). This doesn’t keep us from perhaps needing to talk straight with the person in private, but it does keep us from widening their public exposure to unhelpful rumor and ridicule.
3) Give mercy. Grace means getting what we don’t deserve (the forgiving favor of God); mercy means not getting what we do deserve (an eternity separated from Him in hell). Our most logical, reflexive response to someone whose ways are running counter to the faith they profess—especially someone close to us—is to bring down the hammer with heavy authority. But be wary of such a quick-strike approach, even if for no other reason than your own self-protection. “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).
4) Examine yourself. “Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted” (Galatians 6:1, hcsb). Even if we’re not the one stumbling at the moment, we’ve stumbled before and we’ll stumble again. That’s why every Christian, when noticing a brother or sister struggling, always needs to know where to find the nearest mirror. Examining ourselves first will help us watch more carefully what we do and say to them.
As long as we’re in close proximity to other believers—and they with us—there will be ample opportunity to notice each other’s flaws. But let’s take these opportunities to help make each other better, spreading hope instead of gossip.
Lord God, You alone are perfectly good, holy, and blameless. You have set high standards, knowing our fullest blessing will only come from being totally surrendered to Your will and Your Word. But You are “rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4, esv). You have shown us Your love “in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Help me to be an example of Your patience, gentleness, and perspective toward those who, like me, are prone to fall short of what You’ve called us to be and do. In Jesus’ merciful name, amen.