Confess Your Sins II

We’ve covered this topic before on July 2, 2015. This time we’ll explore it from the point of view of community. Google’s second definition for ‘community’ is:

A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

“the sense of community that organized religion can provide”

A church has common interests and goals built-in. And we should have one attitude. However, a church is also made up of a diverse collection of people. As with any group of flawed human beings, they will offend one another. For the cohesiveness of our church communities, we need to do the following more often:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:16 English Standard Version (ESV)

The pastor to several church bodies during his tenure, Calvin comments on this verse:

Confess your faults one to another. …[James] had [just] said, that sins were remitted to the sick over whom the elders prayed: he now reminds them how useful it is to [disclose] our sins to our brethren, even that we may obtain the pardon of them by [our brethren’s] intercession.

…Many…think that James [is indicating] …the way of brotherly reconciliation, that is, by mutual acknowledgment of sins. But…his object was different; for he connects mutual prayer with mutual confession; by which he [implies] that confession [benefits us] for this end, that we may be helped as to God by the prayers of our brethren; for they who know our necessities, are stimulated to pray that they may assist us; but they to whom our diseases are unknown are [less likely] to bring us help.

…For the words clearly mean, that confession is required for no other end, but that those who know our evils may be more solicitous to bring us help.

Here, Calvin calls us to vulnerable community. He goes on to elaborate on the nature and quality of our prayer for one another. First, he says:

Avails much. …When others pray for us, [James] expressly mentions the benefit and the effect of prayer. But he names expressly the prayer of a righteous or just man; because God does not hear the ungodly; nor is access to God open, except through a good conscience: not that our prayers are founded on our own worthiness, but because the heart must be cleansed by faith before we can present ourselves before God. Then James testifies that the righteous or the faithful pray for us beneficially and not without fruit.

Then, finally, Calvin says:

But what does he mean by adding effectual or efficacious? For this seems superfluous; for if the prayer avails much, it is doubtless effectual.

…Our prayers may properly be said to be ἐνεργούμεναι (i.e., working) when some necessity meets us which excites in us earnest prayer. We pray daily for the whole Church, that God may pardon its sins; but then only is our prayer really in earnest, when we go forth to [help] those who are in trouble.

But such efficacy cannot be in the prayers of our brethren, except they know that we are in difficulties. Hence the reason given is not general, but must be specially referred to the former sentence.

Puritan Pastor Thomas Manton also commented on James 5:16:

[We should privately confess our sins] to a godly minister or wise Christian [when we are] under deep wounds of conscience. It is but folly to hide our sores till they be incurable. When we have unburdened ourselves [to] a godly friend, [our] conscience finds a great deal of ease. Certainly, they are then more capable to give us advice, and can the better apply the help of their counsel and prayers to our particular case, and are thereby moved to the more pity and commiseration…

[Truly,] it is a fault in Christians not to disclose themselves and be more open with their spiritual friends, when they are not able to extricate themselves out of their doubts and troubles. You may do [so with] any godly Christians, but especially to ministers, who are solemnly entrusted with the power of the keys, and may help you to apply the comforts of the word when you cannot yourselves.

…The weak must pray for the strong, and the strong for the weak. There is none but should improve his interest. When there is much work to do, you give your children their parts… So in the family of Christ. None can be exempted: `The head cannot say to the feet, I have no need of you, 1 Cor. 12:21-22 .

God delights to oblige us to each other in the body of Christ, and therefore will not bless you without the mutual mediation and intercession of one an other’s prayers; for this is the true intercession of saints. And so, in a sense, the living saints may be called mediators of intercession. But chiefly the strong, and those that stand, are to pray for them that are fallen; for that is the intent of this place.

Oh! then, that we would regard this neglected duty. Not to pray for others is uncharitable; not to expect it from others is pride. Do not stand alone; two, yea, many, are better than one. Joint striving mutually for the good of each other makes the work prosper.

Let us, therefore, increase our sense of community in the churches by confessing to and praying for one another.

“Mercy Will Prevail” – Nashville Floods 2010, YouTube, thechoirvideos

Despise – Part 1

He shouldn’t have said that… Doesn’t she know what she’s done… How dare the leadership make that decision without… Why won’t [fill in name] apologize for something clearly against… And we go on and on. Now, it could be that they’re plumb wrong. But, maybe those people know something we don’t? Perhaps, they’ve made their choices and are fulfilling their destinies. Any which way, we must always have before us this admonition, which starts out this way:

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. Romans 14:10 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin counsels that we should exercise humility and forbearance:

But you, why do you, etc. …First, by the term brother, he checks this lust for judging; for since the Lord has established among us the right of a fraternal alliance, an equality ought to be preserved; everyone then who assumes the character of a judge acts [against reason].

Secondly, he calls us before the only true judge, from whom no one can take away his power, and whose tribunal none can escape. [In the same way that] it would be absurd among men for a criminal, who ought to occupy a humble place in the court, to ascend the tribunal of the judge; it is absurd for a Christian to take to himself the liberty of judging the conscience of his brother…

As we discussed in our last post, the visible church is populated by both wheat and chaff, between which, we cannot reliably discern except by their going out from us, therefore Calvin says:

As I live, etc. …The word of God has ever had its enemies, who have been perversely resisting it, and its despisers, who have ever treated it with ridicule, as though it were absurd and [mythological]. Even at this day there are many such, and ever will be.

It hence appears, that this prophecy is indeed begun to be fulfilled in this life, but is far from being completed, and will not be so until the day of the last resurrection shall shine forth, when Christ’s enemies shall be laid prostrate, that they may become his footstool. But this cannot be except the Lord shall ascend his tribunal: he has therefore suitably applied this testimony to the judgment-seat of Christ…

Finally, he calls to mind both scriptures: “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” and “It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand,” by his saying:

Every one of us, etc. This conclusion invites us to humility and lowliness of mind: and hence he immediately draws this inference, — that we are not to judge one another; for it is not lawful for us to usurp the office of judging, who must ourselves submit to be judged and to give an account.

From the various significations of the word to judge, he has aptly drawn two different meanings. In the first place, he forbids us to judge, that is, to condemn; in the second place, he bids us to judge, that is, to exercise judgment, so as not to give offense.

He indeed indirectly reproves those malignant censors, who employ all their acuteness in finding out something faulty in the life of their brethren: he therefore bids them to exercise wariness themselves; for by their neglect [of their obligations to serve God and fellow believers] they often precipitate, or drive their brethren against some stumbling block or another.

Therefore, let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.The Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel, from 1536 to 1541, Michelangelo (1475-1564)

The Last Judgment, from 1536 to 1541, Michelangelo (1475-1564), In the Public Domain in the United States