How do we react when those around us commit sinful acts? How do we react when those around us live sinful lives? It is probable that we react in one of the following ways: either we ignore the sin, so as to avoid confrontation, or we magnify the sin, to feel better about our own transgressions, or we get frustrated by the sin, and begin to develop wrong attitudes in our lives, or we correct the one who has sinned, forgiving him as we have been commanded to do.
Some will ignore the sins of others, choosing to look only at the good things that one does, and not to look at those things which endanger the soul. When one reacts to another’s sin in this way, who is benefited? The sinner is not benefited, for the sin that is ignored by others is one that likely will not be repented of, and, therefore, will not be forgiven! The one who ignores the sin is not benefited, for he bears the responsibility to help another be freed of the burden of sin (Gal. 6:1). It is likely that we have an example of this in the Old Testament with priest Eli. According to I Samuel 2:12-17, Eli’s sons were exceedingly wicked; and, while Eli did confront them, the Bible says that Eli was “very old” when he did it (v. 22). The logical conclusion is that for many years he must have ignored what they were doing. Who was benefited by Eli’s ignoring their sins? Not the sons, for they died in such a state that even their widows did not mourn (Psa. 78:64); not Eli, for, knowing that his sons had sealed their fate, he died upon hearing that the ark was taken, and not that his sons were dead (I Sam. 4:18); and not Israel, for Israel became so frustrated by the sins of these priests that they abhorred sacrificing to the Lord (2:17).
There are some who will magnify the sins of others, thereby excusing their own sins. They may, to friends who know their sinful practices, say, “Yes I am guilty of __________, but he is doing __________ which is much worse.” They may simply use such as an occasion to justify, in their own minds, their sinful acts, saying, “I do not have to give up __________, because she calls herself a Christian, but she is a __________.” Jesus spoke of this reaction to the sins of others when he was denouncing the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who were quick to point out the faults of others while whitewashing their own (Mat. 7:1-5; 23:27-28). While such may provide “conscience salve,” for the one having this reaction, it provides no true benefit, for every sin bears the same penalty–death (Rom. 6:23).
Then, there are some who become frustrated when others sin. As a result, they either become slight in fulfilling their own responsibilities, or develop an improper attitude toward the sinners, or others, or even God. One example of this has already been given: the people of Israel were so frustrated by the sinfulness of Eli’s sons, God’s priests, that they abhorred, hated, performing the duties owed to the Lord (I Sam. 2:17). Another example is that of Moses after God commanded him to speak to the rock in Kadesh (Num. 20:8). The context shows that Miriam had just died (v. 1), and that Israel had been murmuring, and had been goading Moses (vv. 3-4). After this command of God, Moses, still burning with frustration toward the rebellious Israelites, smote the rock, thereby violating the simple command of God. While both the Israelites, in the former example, and Moses, in the latter example, had right motives (formerly to worship God properly, and later to follow Him patiently into the Promised Land), both allowed their frustrations to be stumbling-blocks which resulted in Israel’s failure to worship properly and Moses’ failure to enter the Promised Land at all. When we see others sin, let us not become so frustrated that we, ourselves, become guilty of sin.
Finally, there are some who will react to sin by helping the sinner to correct his sinful ways, and by forgiving him when he does. When Peter was guilty of preferring his Jewish brethren over his Gentile brethren (Gal. 2:12), and had even caused some to be carried away with him in his transgression (v. 13), Paul immediately corrected him (v. 11). To ignore the sin of another is the worst thing we can possibly do, while to point out, humbly and tactfully, the sin of another is the best thing we can possibly do! (Jam. 5:20). Furthermore, if when we have corrected another, he repents, the Christian bears the responsibility of forgiving him (Luke 17:3; Gal. 6:1). To correct and forgive are not mere suggestions for the one who wants to react correctly to the sins of others, they are necessities, for they are commanded by God!
Recognizing that we could ignore, magnify, be frustrated by, or correct and forgive the sin of others; when we are put into such situations let us do the latter, for in doing such, we will benefit the one who has sinned, and will fulfill our own responsibilities.
Dan Cates is a gospel preacher, elder, and serves on the faculty of the Memphis School of Preaching