Over the last few weeks I have been thinking a lot about how we treat Christians who are struggling. Christians who are messed up. Christians who look like they might not be Christians any more.
Imagine an old friend comes to see you. He made a profession of faith in the same youth group as you, was a member of the CU exec in Uni, and then moved away. You meet up in the local coffee shop, chat about anything and everything, and then he looks you straight in the eye, and with a tear rolling down his left cheek says “I’ve blown it….I’ve really made a mess of it. I can’t believe I’m living the way I am. I feel sick to my stomach.’
He then goes onto describe a particularly messy sinful lifestyle he has got himself into. Indeed, he isn’t reading the Bible, going to church or showing any classic ‘signs’ of Christian growth. He just seems to be sinning – and it is breaking his heart.
What would you think?
What would you say?
Would you dismiss him? Conclude that he isn’t a Christian? After all, by their fruit you shall know them….and there ain’t no fruit here.
Would you rebuke him? Point out the sin? After all, a brother who turn someone from error covers a multitude of sins.
I hope I’d look for an ‘evidence of grace‘ in his life. I would look hard, because I wouldn’t want to dismiss someone Christ loves and owns. Indeed, I would want to encourage any grace I could find.
Jesus put it like this in Matthew 12:
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out
This is such a vital truth to grasp.
Is this friend a ‘smouldering wick’?
If he is, you really don’t want to snuff him out. You want to encourage him, blow on the embers and see grace come alive. You see, no matter how messy the smoke, the smoke is still evidence of a fire…somewhere…no matter how small.
I fear that as Christians we snuff out a smouldering faith rather than provide a context in which the flame can burn brightly again.
Richard Sibbs put it thus:
‘Man for a little smoke will quench the light. Christ, we see, ever cherishes even the least beginnings.’
So, what should we really think when our friend looks at us with that tear in his eye?
We should think that he has been saved by grace, but is a smouldering wick. We can see grace in the way the Spirit is convicting him of sin. He is like Peter on the night he denied Jesus…the Lord looked at him, and he wept bitterly. This friend needs grace…the gospel…support.
Don’t snuff out the smouldering wick.