Yesterday I preached about Nathan, King David’s prophetic advisor. I focused on the lectionary text (2 Samuel 12) in which Nathan encourages David to repent of his quite nasty sin – the whole murder-Uriah-to-marry-Bathsheba incident. Naughty, naughty David!
What strikes me is that Nathan did not come into the king’s room and beat David over the head with the Bible in order to get him to repent. He did not condemn David, nor was he hateful, nor did he come across as self-righteous or smug. Seems to me that Nathan was able to convince David to confess and repent largely because he had a relationship with David. He told David a story, a story that, Nathan explained, applied to David’s own actions. And because of the trust involved in their relationship, because of the respect they developed over time together (2 Samuel 7, 1 Kings 1, 1 Chronicles 17, 1 Chronicles 29), they had an understanding that led David to repent of his sin.
And when he did, Nathan offered words of grace, “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.” Oh, there would be consequences to David’s naughtiness; there are always consequences. But the consequence David himself deserved was death. He himself expected it (see verse 5). But Nathan, as God’s prophet, announced that David was forgiven. (The question of why Bathsheba’s child died is a-whole-nother sermon!) God’s grace is not about getting what we deserve, it is about getting what we need.
How many of us can be “Nathans” for another person? How many of us are strong enough in the unity of the spirit and the bond of peace to be able to walk alongside a sister or brother who is deep in sin, nurture our relationship, develop trust, respect, and compassion for them (and they for us), and actually love them enough to be able to give them a gentle nudge back onto the path that God has in mind for them?
It’s like how only your very best friends will let you know that your zipper is down in public. People who don’t care about you will let you go on looking like a fool. Only your truest and best friends will say, “Psst! X.Y.Z., P.D.Q.” (Speaking from personal experience.)
Come to think of it, the only people Jesus really got angry with were the hypocritical church leaders who were telling the people to do things God’s way and follow the law, but were not doing so themselves. He got all fire and brimstoney with people who were guilty of putting their own interests above God’s - Pharisees, Scribes, Money-Changers, and so forth. Other “tax collectors and sinners” were not targets for his Bible thumping tirades, instead he did things like eat supper with them, tell them stories, and protect them from angry, stone-wielding crowds. In other words, he had a relationship with them, and then asked them to, “Go and sin no more.”
There is a difference between being convinced that something is a sin and how we choose to act on that conviction. Some people have chosen a “love the sinner, hate the sin” approach. I have chosen a “love the sinner, period” approach. A loving relationship built on trust and respect makes all the difference.