"For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it" (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

In the past few weeks, the bulletin articles emphasized two points. (1) Christians are responsible to care for each others’ well being. Thus, we exercise great care in what we say. (2) Christians accept the responsibility involved in personal transformation. Thus, as a Christian, I am responsible to focus on my behavior and attitudes as well as on your example.

Wow! Tough! It is fairly simple for me to focus on your example. If I am honest with myself, it is fairly simple to focus on my example established by my attitudes and behavior. However, all of us encounter a huge problem. God who gave Christ for my sins and forgives my errors is also the God who gave Christ for your sins and forgives your errors. So, when do I treat my mistakes with God’s grace, and when do I treat your mistakes with God’s grace? When do I let God’s grace help you escape your guilt just as I allow God’s grace to help me escape my guilt?

Where is the balance? Who decides where it should be? How do I condemn you without condemning me? If I let my guilt destroy me how am I improved because I destroy you also? Does anything go with repentance? Where is the accountability line drawn? Who draws it? Are you “in” because I say you are “in” or “out” because I say you are “out?” How can we show each other disrespect and not discredit our Savior?

I understand when Elijah ran from Queen Jezebel or Peter denied Jesus when he was “under the gun.” Why? I know and grasp such weakness. I know that kind of weakness happens! However, it is difficult to understand God’s quick forgiveness of David’s adultery, or Bathsheba continuing as David’s queen, or her son by David being Israel’s next king. That puts Isaiah 55:8, 9 in a practical light—truly God’s ways are not our ways! Thankfully, God’s forgiveness does not depend on human understanding.

Congregations—from the beginning—were a delicate balance between mercy and accountability. Jewish Christians did not understand how gentile Christians could be saved without circumcision. Gentile Christians did not understand why Jewish Christians were so hung up on rules. Living congregations ALWAYS are composed of spiritual infants, children, adolescents, and adults of varying degrees of spiritual maturity. If the balance between mercy and accountability is not found and practiced in Jesus Christ, no congregation can thrive as a part of Christ’s earthly body.

In college, an admired teacher stated this in a minor prophets’ study: “You cannot get to Heaven on the mistakes of other people.”

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Bulletin Article, 6 March 2008

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