“Christians get very angry toward other Christians who sin differently than they do.”
~ Philip Yancey, quoting a friend.
I grew up in a denomination that made homosexuality the gravest of all sins, trumping every other transgression (except murder, maybe).
Many of the people in that church were dutifully self-righteous when it came to certain sins. Those who didn’t commit the sins they deemed the worse (externally, that is) saw themselves as more “pure” than their fellow brethren who may have stumbled in those areas.
I regret to say that in my early years as a Christian, I adopted this same attitude. Ironically, these same people winked at the sins of gossip, slander, outbursts of rage, judging the motives of others, and lying. Excuses were routinely made in an attempt to justify these “lesser” sins (so the thinking went). In addition, most of us were monumentally disinterested and unmoved by things like poverty, racism, sexism, genocide, and homelessness.
Later in my journey, I started to give attention to these other problems. And I became friends with a group of Christians who viewed the worst kinds of sins as being societal. These people regarded failure to try and alleviate poverty, stop genocide, and curb homelessness to be the worst kinds of sins, while (unfortunately) sexual sins were almost winked at. Their view on sin was the exact opposite of the first group I mentioned.
In this regard, James makes an eye-opening statement: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). In the same vein, Jesus turns the conversation on its head when He says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment . . . and anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22).
And again: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).
Then there’s Paul, who places sexual sins in the same list as “fits of rage,” “discord,” “dissensions,” “selfish ambition,” and “slander” – all of which bar one from inheriting the kingdom of God if not repented of (Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). In these texts, James, Jesus, and Paul level the playing field on sin, showing that every believer is guilty of so-called “dirt” (1 John 1:8).
For Jesus, lust and adultery are on the same par. The same with rage and murder. For Paul, slander and outbursts of rage are no less serious than fornication.
One of my favorite stories underscores this point with clever wit. Allegedly, Charles Spurgeon invited D.L. Moody to speak at an event he hosted. Moody accepted and preached the entire time about the evils of tobacco, and why the Lord doesn’t want Christians to smoke.
Spurgeon, a cigar smoker, was surprised at what seemed to be a cheap shot leveled by Moody, using the pulpit to condemn a fellow minister.
When Moody finished preaching, Spurgeon walked up to the podium and said, “Mr. Moody, I’ll put down my cigars when you put down your fork.”
Moody was overweight.
This story makes the point brilliantly.
George MacDonald famously said, “I understand God’s patience with the wicked, but I do wonder how He can be so patient with the pious.”
Let me close by saying that if we’re going to play the “your sins are worse than mine” game, we shouldn’t be remiss in looking at what made Jesus’ blood boil when He walked this earth. Who was He the angriest at? The answer is a lead-pipe cinch for any student of Scripture. It was the self-righteous, pious, condemning, judgmental Pharisees. The self-appointed monitors of other people’s righteousness.
Who was Jesus the most patient with? The very people whom my first denomination looked down their noses at as being the worst “sinners.” In Jesus, the pyramid is inverted yet again. The person who is adept at calling “dirt” in others, but fails to see the dirt in himself/herself, is in a very dangerous place. Such is the nature of a Pharisee. Those sins which blind a person from seeing the weight of their own transgressions against that of others are treated as more serious by God.
In short, every sin comes off the same tree. All sin is serious. All sin put Jesus on the cross. Therefore, we are deluded whenever we lessen the sins we’ve committed and magnify the sin of others … whatever they might be.
Thank God that Jesus has paid the price for all our sins and given us the power to walk free from their dominion. Let us, therefore, be harsh with ourselves in the matter of sin and compassionate to everyone else.
When it comes to the issue of sin, the New Testament puts the emphasis on a person’s present walk. Is a person continuing in a certain sin? This is where the issue of repentance comes in. (To repent means to stop doing it. It means to “Go and sin no more,” as Jesus put it.) So if we know a brother or sister who has been “overtaken in a fault” presently, let us seek to restore them in Christ.
But it is paramount that as we do, we treat them the same way we would want to be treated if we were standing in their shoes, knowing that we are just as sinful as they are, “taking heed, therefore, lest we fall into the same thing or worse.”