Protecting Through Prayer
If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life…(1 John 5:16)
Imagine for a moment you walk outside to get your mail. As you approach the mailbox, you see your neighbor lying on his side groaning in pain. He does not ask for help because he is too immersed in the pain, but you can tell something is seriously wrong. You would stop what you’re doing to help him, would you not?
Only the most calloused among us would walk by an injured neighbor, but we often metaphorically walk by our brothers and sisters who are in graver danger – the danger of sin. Our culture tells us to look out for ourselves and the Christian church has followed suit in many respects. We need to focus on ten steps for a great marriage or how to become a better you this next year. Social media conditions us to think of our outward appearance to others, to take that selfie from that proper angle at the right place with the right caption. Thus we often walk by others in pain because we are too busy looking at ourselves.
In my part of the world, people tend to be polite. We open doors for each other, wave to passersby, and some people even still say ma’am or sir. It’s a relatively polite society and I like it. But there is a danger to polite society, and that is we are disinclined to engage our brothers and sisters in Christ with the hard topics. To confront the sin of another is countercultural here (well, except for on social media where people often lose their sense of decency).
One might say that confronting a brother or sister with sin is hypocritical - a log/speck issue - and in some cases it can be. In Matthew 7:3-5, Jesus says
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. (Matthew 7:3-5 ESV)
While confronting the sin of another can be an act of hypocrisy, it does not have to be. You see, Jesus is referring to judging (see verse 1 of Matthew 7). Judging is condemnation. Judging is a determination of someone’s righteousness beyond calling a spade a spade. In a healthy confrontation of a brother’s sin, we are not judging; we are protecting. This is an entirely different disposition of the heart towards our fellow man.
Jesus is our intermediary and we need no other. Let’s make sure that remains clear. When we intercede and pray for a sinning brother we are not playing the role of Jesus, but rather we are appealing to Jesus as the sinner’s intermediary. Save him, Lord! When we see a brother or sister entangled in sin, we pray for their rescue. We may also, per Matthew 18, need to address them face-to-face to discuss the matter.
Finally, I want to address the “sin not leading to death” issue. All sin leads to death, as the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). I confess I am not completely clear as to what was intended by the caveat of “sin not leading to death”, but consider repentance. All sin leads to death, but repentance leads to grace. Unrepentant sin leads to death. An unrepentant brother or sister is sinning with no regard for the consequences of their sin. They leave a wake of destruction and simply do not care, their stony hearts unmoved by the need for grace. In such case, we should still consider praying for that brother or sister and we should consider engaging them gently with their sin in hopes of repentance. I don’t think 1 John 5:16 is saying to ignore the unrepentant, but rather is turning our eyes to the stumbling brother who may not see what he is doing. He needs help and he needs the covering of prayer.
So, the next time we see a brother or sister sinning, may our first appeal be to Christ. Save him from himself, Lord! Protect her from this, Lord! May we ask God to give the repentance, which is life – and may we ask with great faith and expectation that God will answer. May we remember the words of Jesus:
Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:7 ESV)
Prayer works, and perhaps your prayers for your brother could lead to an eruption of joy in heaven when they repent.