Helping Our Erring Brethren
The fact that Christians commit sins is clearly taught in Scripture. John wrote, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10). As is seen, it is the Christian’s responsibility to acknowledge his sins if he wants to be forgiven.
It is also required that the Christian repents of the sins that he has committed. This truth is found in the account of Simon the sorcerer. While amongst the Samaritans, Philip “…preached Christ unto them” (Acts 8:5). In response to the preaching of the Gospel, “…when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done” (Acts 8:12-13). Simon became a Christian. That point is clear.
However, we have recorded for us a particular sin that Simon committed after becoming a Christian. Simon had seen that the Holy Spirit was given to individuals by the laying on of the apostles’ hands (Acts 8:17-18). He desired to be able to do such as well. Simon “…offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost” (Acts 8:18-19). Some might not realize it at first, but by desiring the ability that was exclusive to the apostles, Simon sinned. We have a brother in Christ who has sinned after obeying the Gospel. What was supposed to be done? Some people might suggest that other Christians have no role in such cases. In other words, some might believe that it is better to “mind our own business” and to stay silent about such. That is not the behavior that we find demonstrated by Peter. Instead, it is recorded, “But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity” (Acts 8:20-23). Knowing that Simon had sinned, Peter encouraged his brother to do what was needed so that Simon could be forgiven. Notice carefully that Peter did not ignore Simon’s sin, nor did Peter stay silent about Simon’s sin. This is an important demonstration of how we should try to help our erring brethren today.
Paul also commanded, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:1-2). This is not an open invitation to spy on our brethren. The restoration process is to occur when we become knowledgeable about our erring brother’s sin. Similarly, James wrote, “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20). Simply ignoring our brother’s sin is not acceptable to God. When we refuse to care properly for our erring brethren, then we become the ones who are disobeying God.
If my brother’s sin is directly against me, then there is a specific process that God expects me to follow. Jesus taught, “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican” (Matt. 18:15-17). Those are commands given by Jesus. We cannot refuse to obey them and stay right in our Lord’ sight.