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By S. Michael Durham
What place do moral issues have in Christian ministry? Should we speak out loudly and often against those things that offend? Or do we remain silent believing that giving no offense is the better approach? I believe the answer is neither. Somewhere in the middle seems to be the method of Jesus and the apostles. And they should be our model.
In the Old Testament, the prophets were commanded to cry against the moral sins of their generation. John Baptist’s head was lifted from his body because he spoke out against the king’s sin of adultery. But neither Jesus nor the authors of New Testament epistles deal much about any one particular moral issue of that day. If there was any polemic aspect to their ministries it was against the religious establishment of their generation. Jesus’ harshest words were against the Pharisees (who were the ones who preached against the immoral issues of their day) and not the publicly immoral. The apostles warned Christians about sin—all kinds of sins—but in the few sermons we have in the book of Acts we don’t see any one issue, even idolatry, being condemned. The apostle Paul said that it was not his task or ministry to judge those who were outside the Church:
I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner--not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).
I take from this a couple of things. One, sinners sin. What else are you to expect out of the unbelieving world? Second, God will put an end to the sinner, but until that day I am to preach the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ to him. I am by no means suggesting that we should never preach against sin, or that when we do preach against it we do so in a general way. Not at all! We must warn against sin. But warning against sin, and its ultimate consequence, is very different than making sinners feel as if we have already judged them.
The difference we see in the ministry of the Old Testament prophets and Jesus and New Covenant preaching is the remedy. In the Old Covenant period the Law was proclaimed. It was basically a message of morality. Keep the law and live. Break the law and die. However, the Apostle Paul says all law can do is arouse our sinful passions. It can never save. It may expose the sin, it may condemn the sin, but it also stimulates sinful desires. Morality preaching, in the end, leads to more sin. The apostle tells the Romans, “Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound” (Romans 5:20).
In this New Covenant era, the gospel is the only remedy for immorally bound people. It is the gospel, through the power of the Holy Spirit, which sets men free from sin and its issues. Should I never mention the great sins of our day such as abortion, homosexuality, etc.? Again, no not at all! But I should do so in the spirit of the New Covenant. Not in a condemning way, but hopefully. I should preach not only to expose the sin, but answer the sin with the gospel. I wonder if we have not become better at exposing sin, than expositing the gospel.
Today, some ministries operate just to see certain sins erased from our nation, as if those sins were eliminated, our nation would somehow be better. I too, pray these sins would be gone, never to be committed again. But even if that were so, men would still be lost in sin. If we would see men’s hearts changed, the law must only be used as Christ and the apostles used it. Not as a means of judging the sinner but exposing. There is a difference. The tax collectors and prostitutes knew that Jesus did not approve of their sin. There was no question where He stood on their immorality. But He loved them in such a way that they wanted to hear His answer to their sin. May the Spirit of Jesus be upon us and not the spirit of the Pharisee.