Wednesday, February 8, 2012

In grace, do no harm

There’s a concept in healthcare that says, “First, do no harm.” It’s is attributed to the Hippocratic Oath. Taken by healthcare practitioners, the Oath is a promise to act ethically when providing care to patients. Doctors vow to do no harm in their practice of medicine.

As Christ’s followers, this should also be our vow as we live in community with our fellow believers.

Sin hurts. It brings consequences that can endure over time. It leaves scars. Even when grace is applied, the impact of sin can go on. But it should lessen over time as we act as ministers of grace to one another.

This means when someone sins, even if their sin hurts us, we “do no harm” by not keeping their sin alive through gossip, slander, or exaggeration.

While sin is punishable, it’s not our job to administer any kind of sentence. That’s something that’s exclusively reserved for God. Correction and accountability are acceptable, but these involve the cooperation of the sinner and are done in love with care.

As for us, as Paul makes clear in Romans 3, “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” and we all deserve to be put to death. We are in no way qualified to execute punishment on others.

Instead, just as we covet God’s grace and forgiveness for ourselves, we must covet the same for others.

Sadly, there are those who feel it’s their duty to keep alive and even overstate the past and perceived sins of others. Like little Satans, they run around reminding any who will listen how awful was the sin-thing that so-and-so did.

They are unforgiving of the offense, real or imagined, and so seek to cause harm to the perceived offender well past the point of the offense, and even in the face of repentance.

Passed on from generation to generation

Those who do this kind of harm self-righteously point to passages such as Numbers 14:18 that says, “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

As they point to this latter half of this passage, they miss the key component that “he” refers to God, not them. They also ignore the first half that states, “The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion.”

This is further echoed and clarified in Psalm 103:8-12:
“The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us,” (NIV).
And then there’s Luke 1:50 that states, “His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation” (NIV).

And for good measure, let’s throw in Romans 12:14-21 (NIV):
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Fortunately for us, 1 John 1:9 declares, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (NIV).

And Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:13, to “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (NIV).

The unforgiving aren’t guiltless

Every day we as Christians are challenged in our faith. Our past failings come to mind and we cringe and cry inside. We look back and think, “If only…” There are many decisions and actions we wish we could re-do. But we can’t.

And it makes no difference if these failures occurred before or after we became Christians.

The last thing we need is someone who claims to be a believer in Christ pointing at our failures and proclaiming, “Unclean!” as if we were a terminally ill spiritual leper.

Those who behave thus call into question the legitimacy of their own faith and put themselves in peril. At the same time they can cripple the efforts of the forgiven to push forward in grace. The result is to inhibit the Kingdom work for which the “failed” have been called and gifted.

The forgiven aren’t guilty

What these passages make clear are these points, among others:
  1. Those guilty of sin will be punished if they remain guilty. We are all guilty of sin.
  2. Only God is in a position to administer punishment. We are not God’s avengers.
  3. Confession removes guilt because Jesus died for our sins. We all have access to mercy through grace.
  4. Those who are forgiven are to be forgiving. We are obligated as followers of Christ to emulate the Father, just as did Christ.
Our responsibility as Christians is not to beat up our brothers and sisters with their less than perfect pasts. Instead, we are to come along side, sharing each other’s burdens, covering sins with love and forgiveness, giving witness through our behavior of the grace that Jesus offers everyone who comes to Him.

Instead of stabbing one another in the back, we are to protect one another’s back. I’ve got yours; do you have mine?


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