Yesterday I began this week’s series of pulpit posts by sharing the first application from the epistle of 1 John: Believing Prayer (1 John 5:14-15). Today I want to share the second application from John’s conclusion, Loving Carefrontation.
If you see a Christian brother or sister sinning in a way that does not lead to death, you should pray, and God will give that person life. But there is a sin that leads to death, and I am not saying you should pray for those who commit it. All wicked actions are sin, but not every sin leads to death (1 John 5:16-17, NLT).
Verse 16 is important and verse 17 is difficult. I’ll deal with the important part first because that was John’s emphasis.
Loving carefrontation begins with personal observation. Notice he wrote if anyone SEES a brother or sister sinning. John didn’t write, “If anyone HEARS about a brother or sister sinning.” It should be assumed that our observation must be conducted with deep humility. Remember Jesus words from the Sermon on the Mount about pulling the log (doken) out of our own eye before we try to deal with the speck (karphos) from our brother’s eye? (Matthew 7:1-5)
If we observe a brother or sister sinning, our first response is to pray for that person. Prayer keeps our hearts tender and free from judgment of those who sin. It’s virtually impossible to sincerely pray for someone and judge them at the same time.
Our prayer results in God granting life to that person. The goal of all carefrontation is reconciliation and restoration. If that’s not your goal, you’re approaching the situation with the wrong spirit.
Now the difficult part. What is the sin that leads to death that John mentions in verse 17? Needless to say, scholars are divided and unwilling to come down on a firm position. Here are the three most common opinions.
1. John has in mind some specific sin. In Old Testament passages such as Leviticus 4 and Numbers 15, the Bible speaks of sins “of the high hand”, committed with deliberation, that would result in the offender being “cut off” from the community. An illustration of this would be Achan’s disobedience at Jericho. The Roman Catholic Church has something like this in mind by dividing sins into mortal and venial. Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinis described mortal sins as “a disorder of the divine,” and venial sins as “a disorder of the soul.” One of the reasons that this position is compelling is that the first century church carried Judaism through the first century of existence. The didn’t have the New Testament available, so it is possible John is recalling these Old Testament texts.
2. John is describing the apostasy that has taken place among the readers of his letter. Apostasy is understood as the denial and renunciation of Christ and an abandonment of the “faith.”
3. John is referring to blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, such as was committed by the Pharisees. This is the deliberate, open eyed rejection of truth.
Whatever John is referencing in verse 17, two things are clear. First, whatever John intended was understood by his original readers and needed no further explanation. Second, we cannot say with any certainty what this “sin that leads to death” is really all about. It would seem unlikely that he is referring to a sin that leads to physical death since the context is spiritual life. Whatever it was, his main point is for us to remember that the Christian community shares mutual ownership of problems, including our sin problems. Tomorrow I’ll make the final post in this series from 1 John and deal with the final application from the book, joyful obedience.