I’ve been blessed recently to have had a few discussions with a Sister in Christ who’s encountered a “Family in Crisis.” Details aren’t important. In summary, the dialogue illuminates the question:
Who do we owe an obligation to pursue? If the person won’t come to services, if all they want is a handout? Where are the boundaries?
In Jude we are given the instruction:
“Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” Jude 22, 23
That thing about “hating the clothing” goes all the way back to Leviticus and the prescriptions Moses gave Priests for cleansing Lepers. Leprosy is a picture of sin. No Priest had to perform the ritual until Jesus healed lepers. Goats don’t become sheep unless Jesus touches them first.
Further, in Proverbs we are cautioned that action is required:
“If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength! Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, “But we knew nothing about this, does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done? Prov. 24:10-12”
Jesus said “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Who’s my neighbor?
Believers are faced with the very serious issue of how to “contend” wisely.
In Second Corinthians Paul is writing to contend for his flock.
“I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” 2 Cor. 11:2-3
Paul is an Apostle contending for the church he planted in Corinth.
So how are all of our relationships with our “neighbors” Biblically organized? Paul himself outlines the structure for us.
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” Ephesians 4:11-12
There’s loads of information in that graphic, but it’s just a personal tool.
And there is a finer layer of detail that we can discern. Paul calls his disciples children and asserts that he is their spiritual father.
“Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” 1Cor 4:15
This is a temporal image of a spiritual relationship. It’s a Parable on how earthly relationships reflect our spiritual obligations.
Here is a short list of relationships the bible discusses where debts and obligations of relationship are reinforced.
- Husbands to Wives, Wives to Husbands
- Parents to Children, Children to Parents
- Brothers to Sisters, Sisters to Brothers
- Masters to Servants, Servants to Masters
- Teachers to Disciples and Disciples to Teachers
- Shepherds to the Flock, Flock to the Shepherd
- Pastors to Elders (& Deacons), Elders to Pastors
I’m sure there are more.
Remember, these are temporal examples everyone understands. The parable of spiritual application contains the real meat only those with opened eyes can consume.
Is it wise to place boundaries on those we “pursue” versus those we let wander? Well, plainly speaking – some are sheep and some are goats.
Sheep eat grass and drink only freshwater. Goats eat anything and will taste everything.
We can’t by any means available to us transform a Goat into a Sheep. Only the Creator can.
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Mt. 18:21-22.
A hallmark of someone we owe debts of relationship to is one who seeks forgiveness. You see: Sheep tend to gather into flocks. Goats tend to wander abroad.
When the prodigal son returns to the father, there is a great celebration and restoration. (Luke 15:11-32)
My advice to my “sister” is: Don’t pursue goats. Even though ones heart breaks for a family in crisis, we have to give everyone the freedom to let God work his will in their lives. Salvation is up to Him.
If someone calls and asks for a ride to Church, definitely respond! But I wouldn’t be phoning them all the time to coax and cajole.
When a goat asks about how to become a sheep? Here is our obligation:
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15
For more on being ready? Oswald Chambers: https://utmost.org/ready-in-season/
I don’t see where we called to be in anyone’s face. That fellow on the corner with the sign “Repent, the end is near” may be telling the truth. But is it with meekness and love?