You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
Like a once brilliant sign faded by the unremitting blaze of a searing sun, our marriage, five years in, had lost its luster amid the heat of life’s vicissitudes. As is common to every marriage under the sun, a series of circumstances coalesced and found us unprepared to face them with faith, hope, and love. Misspoken words inflicted hurt feelings that in time festered into unresolved differences. We both knew something needed to change but found only the fog of our own hearts between us and the next step.
So we invited an elder and his wife for dinner to have a candid conversation.
Today, years later, neither of us can remember what precisely they shared that evening. Their counsel was clear and uncomplicated; it embodied Solomon’s appreciation for an “apt word fitly spoken, like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Prov 25:11). Though the work of restoration only began then, their several compassionate but firm words rescued us from marital paralysis.
If you were in worship with us last Sunday, you witnessed dozens of individuals and families experience formal recognition of new membership into our church. Your elders had the privilege of sitting with each of them, hearing their own stories of rescue and acquainting them with the warp and woof of PCPC.
They made the same vows as you when you joined—vows with significance inversely proportional to the time we (can) give them on New Member Recognition Sunday. They are vows that affirm the singular glory and mercy of God in Christ, and our utter dependence on His grace for communion with our Triune God—and vows to uphold the church in her work of manifesting the Kingdom of God in the world.
The last vow you heard these new members utter entailed a submission “to the government and discipline of the church.” It’s a promise to yield to the wisdom, guidance, and, when necessary, reproof from those in church authority with respect to one’s spiritual welfare. Just as parents, who at times exert a firm pressure upon the children they love to keep them from acts that threaten themselves and the family they belong to, so Christ has established both a mandate and a protocol for the church to exercise comparable restraint upon those who have become part of the family of God.
The phrase “church discipline” may evoke images of Hester Prynne or knickered men in colonial stocks and pillories. But in truth, it represents a careful and prayerful, persistent and consistent application of rehabilitative—not punitive—correction. In fact, it is only the development of the humble, patient process of correction Jesus outlined in Matthew 7, with which Mark helped us grapple last Sunday.
But while the practice of church discipline is essential to the integrity and vitality of the church, it is meant to be means of last resort. You might even say that while the church should never flinch at having to exercise it, there is a preferable way to ensure her wholeness—a way I believe God intends and which occurs long before anyone even voices the word discipline. You might call that way “holy nosiness.”
This nosiness, like its more familiar denotation, has a distinct interest in what’s beneath the surface, both positive and negative. But in contrast to its typical purpose of finding fodder for gossip, this nosiness has only good intention in mind. It asks the deeper questions that seek to unmask the “idealized” version of ourselves we like to project—an instinct we’re all familiar with and one well attested (HT: Jim Denison). This nosiness has no interest in simply cataloguing other’s innermost struggles or in gratifying one’s own interests for hidden information. Yet the inquiry proceeds to provide a sacred space for unvarnished sharing—confessing even—so that both the grace and truth of God might span the wide gulf between two souls which our preference for privacy and devotion to decorum tend to create.
And that is why I opened with my transparent episode from early in our marriage. It is our instinct to nurture an insulation that facilitates a long, slow, and often insensible demise. We knew that instinct and feared it enough to lean against it by asking someone humble and wise enough to butt in and be nosy–both then and thereafter.
Does anyone really know you here? Is there anyone whom you’ve invited to be holily nosy with you?