A Devotional from Central Presbyterian Church.Find another day here.
Friday June 26, 2020
1 John 5:16-17
If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.
Alejandro Villanueva is a former Army Ranger who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan and earned a Bronze Star for valor. He also happens to be the current starting left tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers football team. Nearly three years ago, as the NFL was beginning to take a lot of heat for some players taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem to protest racial injustice, the Steelers gathered as a team before their third game of the season against the Chicago Bears to determine how they would respond. On a professional football team, there are 53 players on the roster, coming from all parts of the country and a wide variety of backgrounds. In an effort to try to not allow any individual player’s response to the anthem become a distraction, the entire team, along with Villanueva, agreed that they would simply stay in the locker room while the anthem was being played, which was once common practice for all teams. Right before the anthem started, however, a huge crowd of people carrying a 100- foot-long American flag on to the field through the tunnel of the stadium separated Villanueva from the rest of the team. Lost in the sea of humanity, Villanueva found himself on the edge of the field as the anthem began to play and he instinctively put his hand over his heart. The television cameras broadcasting the game showed Villanueva, the decorated Army veteran, seemingly abandoned by his teammates in the ultimate act of disrespect towards not only the flag but also the military. Before anyone had a chance to explain what actually happened, the image of the deserted military hero was spread like wildfire across social media, with many lifelong fans of the Steelers so disgusted they vowed to never watch another game.
After the game, just beginning to realize how things had been perceived by the media and fans, Villanueva tried to calm the firestorm by sharing what actually transpired and even apologizing to his teammates for accidentally throwing them under the bus. Not surprisingly, his explanation fell on deaf ears and was seen as nothing more than an attempt to excuse the deplorable actions of his unpatriotic teammates. In their effort to not create any distractions, the team unintentionally created a massive one that hounded them through the rest of the season.
Inarguably, our culture is dominated by instant reactions and hot takes. With the viral nature of social media, any misstep or mistake, no matter how slight, can be broadcast for all the world to see in a matter of moments. Also inarguable is the fact that we live in a fallen world. Each of us seems to take joy in pointing out the sins of others, and catching someone else in the act of doing wrong allows us to feel better about our own transgressions. This, however, is nothing new. Even during Jesus’ day, the Pharisees and religious leaders repeatedly tried to trip up Jesus by asking near impossible questions for the purposes of using His own words against Him. Of course, Jesus was perfect and never sinned, so all attempts to expose Jesus as the fraud they believed Him to be inevitably backfired.
How do we respond when we see something that upsets us? What should we do when we find someone in sin? Do we become instantly outraged and deeply offended, or allow it to stoke our prideful feelings of moral superiority? Before we become scandalized, start up the gossip whisper train, or put people on blast, John says that the very first thing we should do is pray for the person in sin. A large part of praying in accordance with God’s will includes lifting up other Christians who have fallen into sin so that God would restore them back to life. When Christians intercede for their brothers and sisters, they do so in accordance with the will of God. Hebrews 7 tells us that even at this very moment, Jesus Himself “always lives to make intercession” for those he has saved. Jesus is actively pleading to His Father on behalf of those who believe in Him, that they would be forgiven of their sins and not experience the judgement they deserve.
Much has been made here of John’s inclusion of the phrase, “there is sin that leads to death,” and many have read this passage and grown very concerned wondering what this sin is and hoping that they can avoid it. Two quick things about this. First, because John doesn’t offer much of an explanation, we can deduce that he knew that those who received his letter knew immediately what he was talking about; it was obvious to them. Without knowing the full context, we can only speculate as to what he is referring to. One possible explanation for the sin that leads to death is that John is talking about blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus calls the unforgivable sin. Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the utter rejection of God, and the thing about this is that the sheer fact of being concerned about committing this sin is a sure sign that you have not done do. Because God is the one who both offers and secures the salvation of all who believe in Him, it is unlikely that John would be referring to it when talking about believers. Perhaps a more likely explanation is that he was speaking about physical death as the immediate result of certain sins, even those of believers. We might think of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 who were killed for lying to the apostles and withholding some of their offering for themselves, or the members of the church in Corinth who were defiling the Lord’s table, some of whom Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11 became weak and ill and even died prematurely. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to identify other sins which could result in the loss of life. Of course, if a believer had sinned and physically died, there would be no use in praying for them once they were already dead.
Ultimately, John says that we should be praying not just for ourselves and the things we want, but also for those around us. Praying for people is part of loving people, which is the main theme of John’s letter. 1 Peter 4:8 also reminds us “above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” Love moves us to prayer, and prayer moves us to love. The incredible thing is that God not only hears our prayers, but He actually forgives sins and restores life because we pray. Rather than rushing to judgement or condemnation, we should rush to our knees. When we come before the throne in prayer, we are reminded that we are also far from perfect and are ourselves totally reliant upon the unmerited grace of God.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, we thank You that You are patient and kind, slow to anger and abounding in love. Too often we become caught up in rushing to judgment over the sins of our brothers while excusing our own sins. We ask that You would help us to become a people of prayer, lifting up one another so that we might all know and experience the life and grace that is found only in You. We ask this in Your precious name, Amen.