By Rev. Christopher Ek, Senior Pastor
On April 21st in our sermon, After Meeting Jesus I was Free, we entered the event of the woman caught in adultery brought before Jesus by the experts of the law. (John 8:1-11) It is a heavy and sad story. The context for this article is a question I received after that sermon about how to help others without condemning them. We acknowledge the woman in the story had made a series of unhealthy decisions that led to an affair. Making matters worse the Pharisees and teachers of the law rip her from her bed to use her in a theological debate. They should have helped her heal, but instead they choose a different path: one of condemnation, superiority, and pride. Everyone saw her sin of adultery, but the sin of condemnation, superiority and pride were hidden inside the hearts of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.
We will acknowledge first that condemnation never brings about the changes we want to see in the lives of others. One cannot condemn someone into true and honest transformation. So right away we should give up the practice of condemnation. Condemnation just drives a deeper wedge and pushes people further away from changing. (Obviously in moments of crisis we will engage quickly without fear of offending.)
The first question I ask when I see someone in need or correction or intervention is: How can I truly help? If I am bold and challenging, how will they respond to that? Does this need a more gentle approach? Do they see me as the type of person with the type of character they would receive a message of correction from? Do I just need to stay their friend because anything I say in a correcting way will just not go well? First you must honestly evaluate your ability to be heard.
Second I need to look at my motivation for correcting and intervening. Many times we correct others to feel better about ourselves therefore we need to ask: Am I getting a charge inside me by correcting? Is there any amount of spiritual superiority in me? Can I trust myself to do this right? Dallas Willard writes: “We must beware of believing that it is okay for us to condemn as long as we are condemning the right things. It is not so simple as all that. I can trust Jesus to go into the temple and drive out those who were profiting from religion, beating them with a rope. I cannot trust myself to do so.”
When I discover how I can truly help and that I am not correcting out of some ulterior motive, I then must be willing to join them on their journey of healing. Condemning keeps me at a distance. Helping brings me into the ups and downs of a recovering sinner (which we all are). I will close with this example from Dallas Willard who puts into our imagination a life where we do not condemn. “I came to live with my older brother and his wife when I was in second grade. It was this family that demonstrated to me how one could live a strong and good life without using condemnation to punish and control others. Never once in all those years, or since, did she condemn or blame me, though I frequently deserved it. I thought in those years long ago that it was ‘just her way.’ Now I understand it was her heart, which she learned from her father and mother and through them, from Christ.”