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

Do Justly

The ends don’t justify the means any time. The news brings more tales of injustice to our doorsteps every day. The Middle East, the regulatory explosion, crime in the inner cities… So much that we forget what it is we’re here to do. To this point, 27 centuries ago, the prophet Micah spoke the word of the Lord:

“With what shall I come before the Lord,

and bow myself before God on high?

…He has told you, O man, what is good;

and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:6-8 English Standard Version (ESV)

The following discussion comes from Calvin’s Commentaries – General Introduction, in a section collecting together his comments on the topic: Ethics and the Common Life. First, Calvin summarizes the prophet’s argument at a high level:

Now the prophet assumes the people’s role and asks what it is that he ought to do. But, [in his role as the prophet,] he answers the question by citing the law, and so deprives [the people] of the excuse of ignorance. …He does [this] in the hope that they may be induced to confess their guilt.

Delving deeper into the passage, Calvin says:

…Now let us consider the prophet’s counsel. When he begins, “With what shall I come before God?” we are to understand that God has come down as if to meet men in a court of law. When men go to law with one another, there is no good cause which the other side cannot obscure with caviling and technicalities. But the prophet shows that when God himself brings them to trial, their evasions only make them ludicrous…

Then, arguing from our common experience, he says:

…In our own day we know well enough, and if our eyes are open, common experience shows us clearly that the wicked, who have no real and sincere relation to God, exhibit great anxiety and pretend to be wholly intent upon worshiping God correctly.

But, [instead,] they run off in all directions and seek innumerable [indirect routes], to avoid being forced to present themselves before God. Now we see how such pretense can be exposed; God has already shown in his law what he approves and what he demands of men.

Calvin then explains the importance of God’s requirements:

…Now when the prophet says do justly, seek mercy (or kindness) and walk humbly before God, it is clear enough that the first two points refer to the second table of the Law… Nor is it strange that he begins with the duties of love of neighbor.

For although the worship of God has precedence and ought rightly to come first, yet justice which is practiced among men is the true evidence of devotion to God. The prophet therefore names here justice and compassion, not because God omits the first essential of religion, his worship, but because he is here defining true religion by its manifestations.

Finally, he explains the consequence of those requirements:

…It is worth noting that he says, to walk with God, men must be humble. Here he condemns all pride, all confidence in the flesh. For whoever claims anything at all for himself [turns his back on God.] The true way to walk with God is to surrender ourselves wholly, making ourselves as nothing. The beginning of worshiping God and glorifying him is to think humbly and modestly of ourselves.

With that, we double back to our subjects from a few weeks ago. We must labor with His might and must accept the outcomes He’s ordained. The way of man is not in himself.

The ChoirMercy Will Prevail, YouTube, Sept. 17, 2016, thechoirvideos