************ Sermon on James 5:16a ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 31, 1999
"Confess Your Sins to One Another"
"Confess your sins to each other." The Bible know of three kinds of confession. First, there is personal confession before God. Second, there is public confession before the church. Third, there is the "one another" confession to a close brother or sister in Christ. This third kind of confession is what our text is talking about: confession of sin to a close brother or sister in Christ.
I Our Need for One Another
A Now, from this pulpit, on the outside, all of you look so neat and clean. And those of you listening on the radio, to your neighbors your life may look so orderly. But inside we all are hurting.
What am I talking about? We all struggle with problems, failures, and sins. For instance, a husband and a wife may have had a big fight during the week and aren't talking. A father or a mother may have lost their temper and punished a child in a way that is abusive and wrong. Someone listening to me may have given in, again, to the temptation of lust by looking at pornography or committing adultery. Another person may have cheated on the boss or the I.R.S. Someone here might have hired illegal workers. Maybe you struggle unsuccessfully against drug and alcohol abuse. Maybe your sin is gossip and slander and innuendo. Maybe you don't pray and read the Bible and attend worship the way you should. Maybe you are a grumbler and a complainer. Maybe envy and jealousy fills your heart. Maybe your life is filled with doubts, questions, disappointments, and fears.
B We all struggle with problems, failures, and sins like these. We need each other's prayers, support, encouragement, advice, and even admonition as we struggle along. But do you know what we do? We cover this all up and act like nothing is wrong.
It is fair to say we learn at an early age to hide our real selves, our sinful selves, behind masks and smiles. When people ask, "How are you?" we pretend everything is okay even when nothing is.
C The one place where we should be able to show our real selves is too often, I'm afraid, the last place where we will show our real selves. I'm talking about the church. We should be able to show other believers our blemishes and faults – but we don't dare to, so we don't.
Why is that? We think if people in the church knew our real selves they would reject us. But we are forgetting something. We are forgetting that the church is not just a fellowship of saints but also a fellowship of sinners. We mistakenly think that everyone is far more holy than we are. We imagine that we are the only one who has not made progress on the road to holiness. Therefore we hide our true selves from one another and end up living a lie and an hypocrisy.
The end result of this is that we struggle alone. Isn't that sad?! It is especially when we need one another that we keep one another away. So we struggle alone, by ourselves, not allowing any one to help us or assist us or hold us accountable.
A week ago I received an e-mail from one of our college students. I almost cried when I read it:
My friends and I have decided to hold each other accountable as far as swearing, smoking, drinking, and maintaining a relationship with God. Those are the hardest things to do as a college student, and we realize that if we support each other, we will prevail.Those college students may not know it, but they are upholding the spirit of what James writes in our text when he says, "Confess your sins to each other."
D Today we continue our study of the "One Another" passages. The "One Another" passages are those passages that deal with our relationship with one another in Christ. As brothers and sisters who believe in Jesus we have a responsibility towards one another. As brother and sisters who believe in Jesus we have a responsibility to do things like: love one another, admonish one another, encourage one another, pray for one another, receive one another, honor one another. And today we learn we are to confess sins to one another.
II What This Does Not Mean
A "Confess your sins to each other." Let's first of all say what this does not mean.
Our text cannot be used to support the Roman Catholic practice of confessing your sins to the priest so you can be forgiven. The first reason for saying this is that sinful man's greatest need is not to confess sin to one another but to God. Sin, you see, is first of all sin against God. It is God's holiness and purity that is offended when we fall. So it is God we need to be reconciled with when we fall. It is our relationship with God that needs to be restored when we are disobedient. Yes, God forgives us only in Christ. But a vital and living relationship with Him becomes possible only when we follow the route of confession, repentance, and sorrow for sin.
The second reason for saying this verse cannot be used to support the Roman Catholic practice of confessing your sins to the priest is that we don't have a special office of priest anymore. Rather, God – in Christ – is the only Priest of our souls. Private confession to priests and the whole system of medieval confession was not commanded by Christ and was never used by the Apostles. Consider how none of the three thousand converts on Pentecost Sunday confessed to a priest.
B "Confess your sins to each other." Do you know what else this does not mean? It does not mean that we hang out all our dirty linen for anyone and everyone to see. Some things are not meant to be shared with the entire body of believers. We need to be careful about confessing matters so freely that unhealthy thoughts are prompted in others. Nor can we reveal intimate or scandalous matters in an open meeting. Nor can we excite the minds and imaginations of our children and youth. Nor can we embarrass or scandalize any individual we have sinned against. Nevertheless, no Christian should ever have to bear the heavy burden of sin alone. James has in mind that sin is to be confessed to two or three trustworthy, mature believers and not in a public worship service. In other words, we need to use and practice discretion when it comes to making confession.
C "Confess your sins to each other." Do you know what else this does not mean? It does not mean that we try to outdo one another in making confession. I attended a program not that long ago. Person after person came to the front and told us about how bad they were. I soon noticed that each person we listened to was trying to make themselves sound like the "chief of sinners." It was obvious to me that the last speaker had to tell outright lies to outdo the sin of every other speaker.
III The Benefits of Confession
A "Confess your sins to each other." What happens when we do this?
First, it keeps us from the pride of self-righteousness.
We are revolted when we read in the newspaper or see on the TV or hear on the radio about those who shoot, knife, murder, steal, rape, and molest. We are abhorred by a whole underclass of people in our community and society who seem to have no regard for life and who take life at the drop of a hat. We are disgusted by those who have no regard for private property and help themselves to anything that is not nailed down or locked up. Too often, consciously or not, Christians compare themselves favorably to these kinds of people. Do that for a while and you start thinking you are better than the criminals who plague our streets. Do that for a while and you start standing on your own righteousness. "Compared to those others," you say to yourself, "I am not really a sinner. I don't rape, murder, knife, shoot, or steal. Unlike the criminal element I don't try to hurt anyone. And, unlike them, I try to do good to those around me."
Confession of sin to brothers and sisters in Christ keeps us from such self-righteousness. Confession of sin wipes away the veneer of righteousness we present to the world. Confession of sin allows others and ourselves to see that we also are sinners in need of God's grace in Christ. Confession of sin keeps us from the sin of pride in our own holiness. Confession of sin reminds us of our weakness and total dependence upon God.
At stake here is the image of the church we project to the world. Do we pretend to be religious do-gooders? Do we pretend to be holier than thou? Do we pretend to be white-washed saints with no problems, no struggles, no sins? Or, do we show the world and each other that the church is a place for fallen sinners – a place where all are welcome regardless of the sins they have committed, regardless of how far they have fallen, regardless of how awful their condition? A church that isn't filled with self-righteous people is a church that confesses to one another.
B "Confess your sins to each other." The second thing that happens when we do this is that it gets sin out in the open where it belongs. All too often the church is engaged in hiding sin. We have all heard about priests who were quietly moved around when it was discovered that they sexually abused boys. However, all this did was expose other boys to sexual abuse. I'm afraid we usually are no better. We know a pastor makes inappropriate advances on women in the church and we pass him and his problems on to another congregation without saying a thing – this has happened more times than I care to count. We cover up physical and sexual abuse in our congregations and pretend it doesn't happen. We see someone is an alcoholic and no one intervenes for the sake of the family or the person themselves. We know someone is breaking the law and we say nothing. We know someone is committing adultery and will wreck a marriage and a family and we don't confront them.
Do you know what happens when we confine confession to something private between a person and God? When confession is kept private and "under the table" then it is far too easy to be less than genuine. Anyone can breathe a silent prayer that amounts to little more than a "Sorry, God" and then continue with the business of life. Private confession to God alone means a loss of accountability. As one person put it, "Do not expect God to cover what you are not willing to uncover." But being willing to confess to one another, being willing to risk this, shows sincerity – especially to those you have hurt.
Confession, then, is a starting point in dealing with sin. We need to own up to our sin, we need to admit rather than hide our sin, before our sin can be dealt with.
Of course, confession in and of itself is never enough. We must also make progress in stopping the sin itself.
Topic: ConfessionOr, how about this actual letter received by the I.R.S. a couple of years ago:
Subtopic: Of Sin
Title: Stop Doing It
There was a cartoon several years ago in the Saturday Review of Literature in which little George Washington is standing with an axe in his hand. Before him lying on the ground is the famous cherry tree. He has already made his smug admission that he did it -- after all, he "cannot tell a lie." But his father is standing there exasperated saying, "All right, so you admit it! You always admit it! The question is, when are you going to stop doing it."
Topic: ConfessionConfession doesn't mean a thing if we just keep on doing the same sin over and over again. Because then there is every reason to doubt the sincerity of the confession.
Subtopic: Of Sin
Enclosed you will find a check for $150. I cheated on my income tax return last year and have not been able to sleep ever since. If I still have trouble sleeping I will send you the rest. Sincerely, A Tax Payer
C "Confess your sins to each other." The third thing that happens when we do this is that we get the help we need from our brothers and sisters in Christ in our struggle with sin.
I want you to notice that James links confession with prayer. "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." The healing that James is talking about is spiritual. It is the same kind of healing spoken of in the Old Testament by the prophet Isaiah:
(Is 53:5) But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.This kind of healing is ours only in Christ because of His death and resurrection.
Confession that brings healing is done within the context of prayer. We confess so that our brothers and sisters in Christ can pray for us – that we may not fall again, that we may overcome the sin, that we may lead a victorious Christian life. We confess so that our brothers and sisters in Christ can counsel us, comfort us, encourage us, and even admonish us.
Within the context of prayer confession alerts others to our need for help.
I want you to picture a man who has fallen into the Kern Friant Canal. He can't get out. The water is cold. He is drowning. But no one helps him because he doesn't call out for help. That's a perfect illustration of what happens when we don't confess sin to one another. We end up struggling alone with sin because we don't call out for help.
But when we make confession to a close brother or sister in Christ then we make them our ally in our struggle with sin. They pray for us. They hold us accountable. They encourage us. The advise us. They admonish us.
D "Confess your sins to each other." The fourth thing that happens when we do this is that broken relationships are restored. All too often we do things to one another that break the fellowship and make it difficult, if not impossible, to worship together as the people of God. Sometimes the sin against one another is intentional. Sometimes we are not even aware we have done it. But as brothers and sisters we need to confess when we know or learn we have sinned against one another. And when we confess, when we forgive or ask to be forgiven, then the broken relationship is healed.
"Confess your sins to each other."
Is this easy? No. In fact, it is kind of scary.
Is it necessary to be saved? No. To be saved, sin needs to be confessed to God, not to one another.
Why do we do it, then? For the good of the church and to improve our own spiritual walk with God.
So I say to you, "Confess your sins to each other."
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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