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The ministry of restoration

We have already considered the need of elders to be alert to the signs of backsliding and to seek to prevent it happening. Never the less, most congregations are missing some who once seemed, in the Apostles words, to have ‘run well’ but have been hindered. Some of those missing have departed as a result of fundamental doctrinal error and differences, some because of some major and scandalous sin. Others have gone because of differences with their fellow believers, because someone offended them. Some have departed because somehow they have grown cold in their love for Christ or because they have become taken up with the things of this world. Some have caved in under the pressures of work, family and financial burdens whilst, sadly, some have felt a lack of compassion, understanding and support when they most needed it.

Some of those who have gone out from among us were young in the faith, others were, we thought, well established, some held office.

What are we to do about it? Should we simply lament what has happened to them and where necessary try to limit the fall out? Should we condemn and disown them, leave them to get on with it, pretend they’re not our problem and act as if we never knew them?

Paul is in no doubt as to what we must do.  Whenever  a brother is ‘taken in a fault’ or is ‘caught in’ or ‘overtaken in’ a sin those who are spiritual are to restore him.

We have already established the importance of this ministry and made ourselves aware of the danger which like the Good Samaritan we expose ourselves to.

How then are we to fulfil this ministry? How are we to restore our fallen or wayward brother or sister? What must we do and indeed what spirit must we do it in?

This is an area delicate to handle and fraught with difficulty. With the best of intentions our words and deeds can so easily be misunderstood. Inappropriate language or poor timing may possibly do more harm than good. God give us wisdom!

There is good reason for the apostle to charge those who ‘are spiritual’ with this work.

At the time of my departure from the things of God I received a few visits, some ‘phone calls and several letters from those with whom I had fellowshipped in the past. I accept that they all believed they were doing what was right, but some were clearly bewildered and hurt by what I had done and simply ‘lashed out’. Some were little more than deserved but unhelpful tirades. Some seemed to adopt a superior and arrogant attitude that despised me for falling, something they obviously believed they could never do. In those days when I was tossed about on a stormy sea of mixed emotions and inner conflicts there were times when it would have required spiritual maturity and wisdom to have said the right thing at the right moment.

As I look back today I can recall times when well chosen words from those I knew really cared for me, added to the growing feeling that I should turn back from the path which was taking me further and further from Him whose presence I once so much enjoyed. Sometimes alas, well meaning but misguided letters would strengthen my resolve to resist the call to return.

I mention this not to excuse myself but to emphasis the importance of heavenly wisdom in dealing with those who have fallen victim to the wiles of the devil.

According to Paul the work of restoration has to be carried out in a spirit of meekness. In the preceding chapter of Galatians he has already told us that this quality is part of what he calls ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ It is a Christ-like quality.

If we are to help the fallen we have to have the mind of Christ who ‘made Himself of no reputation and took upon Him the form of a servant’.

We have to draw alongside, show some empathy and understanding and do so not to enhance our own standing but help the one in distress. To understand is not to excuse but is to be aware of the weaknesses and frailties that lead us to succumb to temptation. We sometimes state it glibly but it is true “there but for the grace of God go I”. Such knowledge will foster that spirit of meekness so essential to reaching those in need of restoration.

If we are to effectively serve we have to remind ourselves of what is happening here. A spiritual battle is raging, Satan desires to have your brother. If he is a true child of God, although he may perhaps brashly deny it, he will surely be going through terrible conflicts as the Holy Spirit strives with him. He may arrogantly assert his right to do as he pleases and doesn’t care about anything else. It is likely he will tell you his conscience is clear and he is untroubled yet beneath this bravado he might well be going through a personal hell, almost unbearable but which he is too proud to acknowledge.

The point I am trying to make is that the wise elder will know that just as (before) God said to Samuel “let them have their king” so through him He pleaded with them to think again, so God will be speaking to the believer who is insisting on his own way.

If the fallen believer resists these promptings of the Spirit it is likely he will have to spend what may be many years in exile and suffer much before he is brought to an end of himself and repents.

What are the signs? Are they of a hardening or softening of heart? Are they moving further away or are there indications of a desire to return?

We may well find ourselves pleading as they walk away, but then once they have gone their own way all we can do is prayerfully wait for signs that they are ready to repent and return. When these signs appear we must be ready to go out to meet them. They will have suffered much, be tired of sin and straying, weary with conflicts raging within; perhaps unsure of the kind of welcome their brethren will afford them. Now is the time to go to them and help them complete the journey home.

They will need some on going care and reassurance. When I returned I found that I needed help understanding whilst adjusting to a life not only so different from the one I had sadly become accustomed to in my exile, but also to a church scene and culture different from that which prevailed at the time of my departure.

The work of restoration is difficult but Oh what joy there is in heaven and should be among the people of God when a lost sheep is returned to the fold. In this it is our privilege to be ‘workers together with Him’