For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
I remember the first community group that my wife and I led. We were newly married and I was in seminary. The group dynamic was almost comical. We were the youngest couple in there with several couples who were on their second marriage. Some had children almost the same age as us who had left the faith. We were (so we thought) in over our heads. But I’ll never forget some timely words from my pastor at the time, Phil Taylor.
I’d shared with him that I didn’t feel equipped to minister to those who’d gone through a divorce because I personally hadn’t gone through a divorce. His simple counsel was undiluted truth: “by that logic Jesus could’ve never ministered to anyone as he was sinless.” In other words, it is not a prerequisite that we be guilty of committing a particular sin in order to minister to someone who is wrestling with it or on the other side of it.
Yet, I find this lie tends to surface from time to time in ministry. How do we combat it?
Remember The Common Human Plight
While we may not have firsthand experience with a particular sin that someone is struggling with, the human predicament is one in which we all have experience with sin (Rom. 3:23). Just because I don’t have a proclivity toward alcoholism doesn’t make me unable to relate to an alcoholic. My own inner poverty and sin nature gives me more in common with him than with Jesus.
Remember The Imago Dei
On the other hand, remember that every human, regardless of the sins that hold them captive bears the image of God (Gen. 1:27). While that image of God may be marred in some more than in others, no one is beyond the reach of God’s grace. God can use us to minister to those with different sin patterns than us because his grace is sufficient for all of humanity. All of humanity bears his image.
Remember The Model Of Jesus
Jesus was full of grace and truth and dwelt among sinful humanity (Jn. 1:14). While we may need to speak words of truth and grace to those we minister to, we will never know when to speak what unless we know the people to which we speak them. This requires being present in their life (dwelling among them). Jesus, while never committing any sin, knew well the temptation to sin (Heb. 4:15). As such, he could relate to us humans, wretched though we are. If he could relate, how much more one sinner to another? We are called to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). Jesus also wept (Jn. 11:35). We cannot weep with other sinners if we see ourselves in a position in which we require less grace than they do.
Repent Of Your Pride
The lifelong lesson of learning humility is sometimes a painful one. In my case it was one God taught us in our time ministering to some folks who had gone through divorces. While I personally have never been divorced, I’ve seen it firsthand in my parents’ marriage and felt the ripple effect through my family. If I’m honest my own commitment to my vows has been, at times, a prideful overreaction to my own parents’ failed marriage. In my desire not to be like them, I’ve wanted to shift my Christ righteousness to a self-righteousness based on the fact that my marriage is strong.
The truth is that we all are impoverished sinners who can add nothing to our own righteousness. We learned during this time the truth that we could do nothing in our own strength (Jn. 15:5) and that the most effective ministry comes as a result of being in over your head as it pushes you to rely solely upon God (2 Cor. 12:9). We were also continually reminded of our own need for a savior. As the hymn Rock of Ages beautifully puts it, “wash me Savior or I die.”