You don’t have to follow the Lord for very long before you realize that he may sometimes lead you into places you really don’t want to go. In truth, most of our spiritual growth is the result of trial and error and is discovered in the context of difficulty. All parents will eventually figure out that in order for a child to mature, they must learn to endure and overcome tough situations. For example, you would not even be able to understand the content of this article had someone not required you to stick with the process we all go through in order to learn how to read. Put simply, all things of value come at a price and often after having to push forward when the going got rough. This is especially true in the realm of the spirit.
I remember when I was learning how to drive, my Dad would sometimes offer words of advice as he was riding along beside me in the front passenger seat. At one point, we found ourselves on the interstate in the middle of a violent thunderstorm. The rain was coming down so fast that you could barely see past the hood of the car and the water level on the road was rising rapidly. I noticed that several people had stopped on the side of the road and turned their emergency blinkers on. Being a new driver, and already being a little unsure of my ability to navigate in these kind of conditions, I decided that pulling off the road and waiting for the storm to pass was probably our best option. Just as I was about to slow down and veer onto the shoulder, sensing my uneasiness, my Dad very calmly suggested “you know ten miles and ten minutes can make a world of difference in the weather.” At that point I knew the decision was up to me and the adrenaline really began to flow. Do I play it safe and follow the lead of the curb huggers? Or do I press on wide eyed and white knuckled and hope for the best? In retrospect, I’m so glad I just kept rolling, because sure enough, in no time we drove right out of the storm and into the sunshine with miles and miles of dry pavement in front of us. You see, my Dad was a traveling salesman when I was a kid, and I knew he had pounded out hundreds of thousands of miles across the highways and byways of the mid-west. So that little nugget of driving wisdom carried a lot of weight with me.
So it is with the spiritual journey of the Christian. Time and time again we will find ourselves faced with that proverbial choice when dealing with a difficult situation. Do we keep moving forward, or do we pull off the road in a panic? I submit to you today that if we feel like we’re not making much progress in any area of our life or faith, it may be because we’ve simply ceased our forward momentum and declared that we’re in a state of emergency. In truth, I am appalled by how much time I have wasted as a believer wallowing in my own passivity and indecision. So many well meaning Christians seem to be paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong decision, or mishearing the Lord. What if I go the wrong way? What if that wasn’t really the Lord? Should I take this opportunity or wait for another? What if my motives are impure? What if, what if, what if … and the list perpetually goes on. Meanwhile, because of our limited vision and the fear of what may lie ahead, we sit there on the roadside letting the storm beat the tar out of us.
When we shrink back in fear thinking we might somehow miss the Lord, we are severely underestimating how BIG he really is. Trust me, he knows we’re going to make some dumb choices along the way, and his plan for us contains plenty of latitude for that kind of thing. In fact it is arrogant to think that we’re always going to do the right thing or make the right choice. God doesn’t get mad at us when we’re trying to go the right direction but get off at the wrong exit. Those off ramps turn into on ramps just as quickly. The goal is to keep going, keep driving, keep rolling. In fact, we may actually hydroplane at certain points along the way. Learn to have fun with it! Sometimes a little dangerous out of control driving lets you know you’re still alive. Besides, we can take comfort in knowing that Dad is right there with us and he’s not worried in the least. As our revelation of the loving sovereignty of our Heavenly Father deepens, we will find that if we just trust his leading and keep moving forward, the weather will surely change and we’ll end up where we’re supposed to be. In short, don’t be a fraidy chicken, you’re covered.
Isa 43:1-2 “Fear not… when you pass through the waters I will be with you.”
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. (Gal 6:1-3)
When the apostle Paul gave these words of instruction, it is very possible that he had been made aware of a specific situation within the church of Galatia. More than likely, someone had been caught in a sin and now it was the responsibility of the church leaders to respond. If you have ever been in need of restoration, or you have helped someone else through the process, than you may know how difficult it often is to navigate through that particular kind of transaction. But as awkward and trying as the process of restoration may prove to be, our willingness to participate in it is essential for the overall well being of the local church. In the verses above, Paul provides some practical wisdom on the “how to” of restoration.
He first gives the scenario, “if someone is caught in a sin.” At the onset, it should be noted that the difficulty and length of an individual’s restoration can be greatly affected by whether they were “caught” or whether they came forward of their own accord. The scriptures are clear that it is always better to “confess” our sin (1 John 1:9) than to be “found out” by it. (Num 32:23) We can humble ourselves, which is never easy. Or we can be humiliated, which is always painful. If we choose to submit ourselves to another as a result of our own conviction, the process has already begun. However, if instead we are caught in our sin, and we begin to blame shift or try some other diversionary tactic, than we are in danger of removing ourselves as a candidate for restoration. Sometimes the person who is caught may prove to be unwilling or disinterested in submitting to restoration. If this is the case, than it is often best to postpone any restorative efforts and simply release them into the Lord’s hands. Like the prodigal son, sometimes our belly has to get filled up with hog slop before we come to our senses. Forced repentance is not likely to produce true repentance.
Nonetheless, Jesus showed us in his encounter with the woman “caught” in adultery that restoration is available for all who will receive it. By pausing to draw in the sand before addressing her accusers, the Lord demonstrated that judgments of this nature are not to be made hastily or without reflection. Supernatural discernment and the wisdom of heaven are essential if we are to take part in helping a fallen brother or sister back up on their feet. Paul goes on to say that it is “those who are spiritual” who should attempt to restore others. Gentle restoration is truly a learned art. If we handle someone too gracefully, we may fall into enablement and thus set them up for future failure. If we deal too harshly, they may go underground with their sin and hope never to be exposed again. This is why we must seek the Lord for His counsel in each individual case rather than relying solely on our experience or personal “know how.” Each of us is a precious commodity to the Lord and our treatment of one another should reflect that truth. By taking time to consider the uniqueness and complexity of our brother’s situation, we communicate that we have at least some sense of his eternal value. Careless judgment will inevitably lead to unrighteous judgment.
“But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” When this verse is taken in context, it would appear that the warning Paul gives here is not about falling into the same sin as the person we are helping to restore. Instead, his concern seems to be that we may be tempted to feel a little too good about the fact that we are “up” when our brother is currently “down.” Paul adds, “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” The real temptation is often for the one doing the restoring to feel some sort of pride in the role they are playing. Every believer is capable of thinking that we can somehow be elevated in our spiritual position above another based on our current level of “goodness”. This was the mistake of the older brother who simply could not wrap his mind around the Father’s non-judgmental treatment of the prodigal. Although we have trouble seeing it in ourselves, self righteousness is usually easy for us to spot in one another. If we are truly in need of restoration, we would be wise to try to find a facilitator who has nothing to gain personally from our confession or failure.
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Though simple in principle, biblical burden bearing requires a certain skill set and it must be accompanied by a basic level of revelation about the work of the cross. For example, a well meaning believer might attempt to serve as a scapegoat or a “sin eater” for another. Though unintentional and often subconscious, this is a common mistake. Our goal should always be to get another’s burden onto the Lord as quickly as possible. It is also common for the person who is facilitating the restoration to inadvertently minimize the seriousness of someone’s sin rather than magnifying the power of the Lord’s redemption. In our attempts to ward off condemnation, we can sometimes excuse the sin nature instead of emphasizing the need for repentance and renewal. Every believer would do well to learn how to unapologetically speak the truth while maintaining a graceful demeanor. This skill is especially needful when called upon to help others through the process of restoration.
In 1 Cor. 12 Paul explains that the overall health of the body of Christ is dependent on the health of its individual parts, and that “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” (vs. 26) It is likely that we are currently aware of someone in need of restoration. If we are that person, it is our responsibility to ask the Lord for the courage to seek out those who we are to submit ourselves to. He truly cares about his children and he wants each of us to have a place of usefulness and favor within the body. Maybe we know someone who has become estranged and now stands in need of an outstretched hand. It might be that the Lord is asking us to leave the ninety nine to go after the one. Either way, it is inevitable that in order for a gentle restoration to take place, some sacrifices will have to be made. Though almost always uncomfortable and time consuming by nature, we can rest assured that if we endure with one another through the process, the benefits will far outweigh the cost.
“My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20)
Have you ever seen The Antiques Roadshow on PBS? Though the premise is remarkably simple, this little TV show has become quite popular. Every week, hundreds of people stand in line for hours just so that they can have a few moments with an expert appraiser who can tell them how much the item they’ve brought in is actually worth. The items that make it on the air are usually the ones that most of us would have no clue as to their true value. In one episode, a young man brings in a rusty old sword. He tells the appraiser that he and his brothers used to play with the sword when they where kids, and that they often “split watermelons and dug in the dirt” with it. Without a flinch, the appraiser quietly puts on a pair of white gloves. He then gives a pair to the young man and asks him to do the same. He proceeds to explain the origin of what is actually an extremely rare civil war relic. The painfully clueless owner finds himself rightfully stunned when it’s revealed that the old sword is actually worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. In another episode, a woman finds an old metal helmet wedged in the rafters of her attic. She later confesses that she polished it up with Pledge before bringing it in to the show. This is after the appraiser explains that the helmet is that of a Spanish Conquistador from the early 1500s and worth about a half a million dollars!
It’s hard to comprehend that items with this kind of value can be right under our noses without us even realizing it. Nonetheless, I’m starting to believe that this kind of thing happens a lot more often than we might think and in more ways than we may be aware. Hidden worth is truly a fascinating concept and one found frequently in the Scriptures. Jesus would often speak to large crowds in the form of parables only to then draw away and later explain their meaning to his disciples. On one such occasion he gave his closest followers the following two parables as further elaboration on his teaching. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Mat 13:44-46)
When we think of the word “treasure” what comes to mind? Thanks to Hollywood, most of us can easily conjure up images of an old chest full of precious gemstones, or a stack of gold bars. But the scriptures seem to indicate that this kind of treasure is actually commonplace in the heavenly realms. In Rev 21 we’re told that the very foundations of the heavenly city’s walls are “decorated with every kind of precious stone.” and that heaven’s gates are each “made of a single pearl.” John reveals that even the great street of the city is made of “pure gold, like transparent glass.” Can you imagine? The architect of heaven uses these precious materials like we use concrete, steel, and asphalt. When Jesus said that the Kingdom was like a “treasure hidden in the field” and the “pearl of great price” it seems that he was simply trying to appeal to our earthly sense of relative value. Traditionally, we take this passage to mean the Kingdom itself is priceless and worthy of any sacrifice we could ever make. And yet, like every other passage of scripture, there are undoubtedly deeper levels of truth to be found under the surface of these verses.
Earlier in Mathew, we find Jesus using a similar theme. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Mat 6:19-2) At one point, I had grown very weary of serving as a pastor in the local church. Relatively low pay and years of getting bit by sheep had left a gnawing question in my soul. I asked, “Why do I do this Lord?” You see, I’m a firm believer that no one will endure hardship or make any kind of long term sacrifice if they are not clear on what the pay-off is. So as I was praying, I asked the Lord to show me the treasure that I was storing up in heaven. Almost instantaneously, he began to remind me of people I had ministered to over the years. Face after face came to mind of those I had somehow encouraged to know the Lord in a deeper way, or prayed with, or taught. Most of these people I had long since forgotten about or lost touch with. It was at this point that I began to consider the value of a single human soul.
When we learn to recognize each human life as something the Lord treasures, we cannot help but to treat people differently. The Gospels reveal this truth repeatedly through the example of Jesus. The writers of scripture have provided one account after another of the Lord intentionally associating with people that were guaranteed to lower his social standing. It’s almost as if he was somehow drawn to those relegated to the seedy underside of his culture. Although he was often pursued by the rich and the well educated, we usually find him going after the “down-and-outers”. Was it because he was more comfortable hanging out with drunkards and prostitutes? Maybe, but the fact that the Lord’s behavior is so consistent in this regard means that he was obviously trying to make a point.
In the book of Luke we’re given six consecutive chapters (12-18) of Jesus teaching on the contrast between the values of men and those of the Kingdom of God. Amidst this section of scripture we find Jesus at the house of a prominent Pharisee watching the other guests jockeying for position. After publicly humiliating those who had found their way into the best seats in the house, he then addresses the host. “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:13-14) Granted, at first glance it would appear that the Lord is encouraging us to practice some sort of reverse favoritism, and certainly that idea is at least implied here. But the deeper truth must involve our tendency to place greater value on those who we think we can get something from. More often than not, most of us choose to relate only to those people who we feel might benefit us in some way. This is a sad, but very real part of all of us if we’ll be honest about it. By nature, we’re all shameless self-promoters. Jesus, on the other hand, being fully aware of his own position and value, was able to freely lavish value on those deemed virtually worthless by his contemporaries.
Imagine what we could accomplish if we began to consistently discern the treasure that is every person, regardless of how they’re assessed by others. An expert appraiser is one who recognizes value in that which most would be quick to overlook or to write off as ordinary. A treasure hunter is someone who goes to great lengths to acquire that which has been lost and usually long since forgotten. Our world is chocked full of undiscovered treasures. Though often in plain sight, these treasures are hidden from most. In Luke 16:15 we read that “what is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” Through his example, the Lord demonstrated that the transverse must also be true.
It’s often said that “you can’t take it with you.” In terms of earthly treasure, this is commonly understood and acknowledged. The things that we spend so much of our lives trying to attain will ultimately have no place in heaven. But there is something that we can take with us, something of immeasurable eternal value that we will never cease to enjoy. It is a treasure so valuable that God himself proved willing to pay the ultimate price to redeem and restore it. The treasure is you, and me, and the guy standing on the corner with cardboard sign looking for handouts. Each human life represents equal, yet unfathomable worth regardless of its current level of earthly esteem or prominence. In fact, in Malachi 3:17 the Lord proclaims that those who fear him, he will “openly declare them to be his jewels. His special possession, and his peculiar treasure.” (Amp.)
We might want to consider how we’re treating that which God values the most. Do we put on the white gloves, or do we handle one another as commonplace and readily expendable? Does it matter to us that so many of the Lord’s precious resources have been written off or left behind to decay in some forgotten dusty attic? There is only one explanation for being careless in our treatment of others. It’s that somehow we’ve lost sight of their eternal worth. In the heart of every believer there lies a God-given unction for the discovery and restoration of hidden treasure. And though it often seems to manifest in the natural, I’m convinced that this desire is deeply rooted in the supernatural part of who we are. Lord Jesus, your appraisal of us is the only one that really matters. Please help us to view ourselves and those around us as the multifaceted jewels that you created each of us to be.