Leaders in the Church have an obligation to push people toward the truth.
In 2 Timothy 4, Paul says, “Preach the Good News. Be ready at all times, and tell people what they need to do. Tell them when they are wrong. Encourage them with great patience and careful teaching, because the time will come when people will not listen to the true teaching but will find many more teachers who please them by saying the things they want to hear. They will stop listening to the truth and will begin to follow false stories.” (2 Timothy 4:2-4, NCV)
Let’s be clear that Paul first says we should “Preach the Good News.” The gospel – there is a God who loves us so much that even though our sin separated us from Him, He sent His own Son to die and take the punishment that we deserved so that we can now be in right relationship with Him – that Good News should be the foundation for everything that happens in the Church. But if we just stop there, then we miss the rest of what this passage says. We also need to “tell people what they need to do. Tell them when they are wrong.” If we don’t, then it is conceivable that they “will stop listening to the truth and will begin to follow false stories.”
My pastor made a statement years ago that has stayed with me: “The gospel has a catch – it’s only for the guilty.” He’s right. Which is why leaders must “tell people when they are wrong.” We have a mandate to call sin sin.
Of course, we must still love people in the midst of their sin, but we dare not overlook or ignore the sin. As leaders, we’re to keep watch over their souls. (Hebrews 13:17)
Suppose someone comes to me and tells me how much he absolutely loves eating. Food is clearly a gift from God, he explains, and he thoroughly enjoys indulging in that gift. Well, if he weighs 450 pounds – and doesn’t have any medical issues that would cause him to be overweight – I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that gluttony is a sin. Yes, food – with all its different flavors and textures – is a gift from God. But that doesn’t mean we should partake of as much as we can at every opportunity possible. Overeating – overindulging the flesh – is a sin.
If I explain this to the man and he understands and repents, he may still have eating issues that he will need to deal with, but at least he’s on the right track. On the other hand, if he refuses to acknowledge that his behavior is sinful, then there is a problem. At that point he is willingly and willfully walking in rebellion against the Lord.
Church leaders have an obligation to depict sin as the thing that separates people from God. Why did Jesus say that if we forgive peoples’ sins they are forgiven, but if we retain peoples’ sins they are retained? (John 20:23) If people are unwilling to repent, we can’t offer forgiveness as the Church. Why were Ananias and Sapphira struck dead? Sin is clearly not to be trifled with.
And please recognize that I am not saying this in any sort of condemning way. The point is that when people repent, there is ALWAYS forgiveness. (1 John 1:9) But if we refuse to acknowledge our sin, then we’re in trouble (1 John 1:10).