I thought it would be worth a little think about this in response to the Q&A time yesterday morning about openness and honesty. Here's the issue: sin spoils. It robs us of life in one way or another. And the nature of it can often be shameful, which can drive us into isolating, destructive patterns of behaviour. That is quite obvious with some sins - for example, some forms of sexual sin (especially pornography, pain-related eroticism, promiscuity, etc), or compulsive lying, or excessive drinking. But all sin is destructive and isolating, even if less obviously so.
A healthy church has a unity, a one-ness. We are saved not into a vacuum, but into a community - the local expression of God's gathered people. There is always a closeness between Christians, simply because we are members of God's family. And yet because of sin, there can often be a wariness to trust one another even within the local church.
So an openness about our sin is vital - we mustn't live false lives with one another. And yet it would not always be appropriate to confess all of our specific sins to all the gathered church, because not everyone can be trusted with that level of information about us, nor ought everyone to be burdened with our issues. Certain cults force this sort of 'openness', which is then used to hold hostage those who have confessed. That is not the flavour of James 5. However, there ought to be some trusted members to whom sins can be confessed.
It is a scary thing to do! Secrets that have been long held are hard to reveal. But the result is healing. Marriages are strengthened as spouses confess to each other - and forgiveness is given. The church is strengthened as friends trust one another and seek to help one another grow in Christ. Outsiders are drawn in as they observe the depth of trust and relationship between Christians.
So, some practical tips for us as a church:
- Develop closer friendships. Spend time together.
- Be vulnerable with each other, as is appropriate. Don't resist conversation about more meaningful things sometimes.
- Don't be too intense with each other. Intensity is an unhealthy over-seriousness which gets in the way of real relationship.
- Don't be shocked by sin - our own, or each others. Don't even be shocked by your spouse's confessions. Sin goes deep, and can show itself in very ugly ways. As long as we are in this body, we will all have terrible confessions to make from time to time. Respond with seriousness, grace and prayer.