Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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Part Two: Us
20. Behold, I am sending an angel before you to protect you along the way and to bring you into the place that I have prepared.
21. Beware of him, and obey his voice. Provoke him not, for he will not pardon your transgressions, for my name is in him.
22. But if you diligently obey his voice, and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies, and I will be a foe to your foes.
23. For my angel shall go before you and bring you in [to Canaan].
Not One Among You?
Paul warned the elders in Corinth that they were not maintaining God’s standard of holiness among the saints there. The apostle was disappointed and indignant. “Is it really so,” he wrote, “that there is not a single wise man among you, one who is able to judge between his brothers?” (1Cor. 6:5). In other words, is there no elder there in Corinth who fears God enough to stand in the gap and either encourage righteousness or rebuke sin? Does no one among the elders value his hope of salvation enough to demand that those in his area of control fear God and be holy? Or does no one among the elders there understand that with the honor of being an elder among God’s people comes the fearsome responsibility of keeping things clean among them?
God’s promises and commandments were given to Moses alone, in Exodus 23:20—23, and had it all been left to Moses, there would not have been any problem with Israel entering with Moses into Canaan’s land. But there was a stipulation added to those promises of God, just a single, terrifying stipulation revealed in the one plural “you” that was in the midst of God’s words to the man He had chosen, and that stipulation was that the transgressions of those who followed Moses would be considered as Moses’ transgressions. No matter how perfectly Moses might personally conduct himself before the Lord, he would be not be judged merely on that basis. He would be judged on the basis of the conduct of all those over whom God appointed him as leader and guide.
Moses was refused permission to enter into the land of Promise.
God appoints men to shepherd His flocks on earth. And it is the condition of the flock, not the shepherd himself, by which the shepherd will be judged in the end. The care of the whole flock is such a serious matter that Jesus said it will be necessary at times to cut off a member of the body in order to save the whole, just as surgeons sometimes amputate portions of a person’s physical body that jeopardizes the well-being of the whole:
29. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and cast it away from you! It’s better for you that one of your members perish than that your whole body be cast into Gehenna.
30. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you! It’s better for you that one of your members perish than that your whole body be cast into Gehenna.
Paul, too, told the elders in Corinth to expel a member whose ungodly conduct was endangering the purity of the flock in that city:
4. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you and my spirit are gathered together, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,
5. turn such a man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Paul understood the meaning of that plural “you” in God’s word to Moses, that righteousness in the body of Christ is a community affair, that the shepherd is responsible for the flock, and that all of us to some degree are responsible for one another. That is why God commanded the Israelites not to allow sin to remain in a neighbor’s life, when it was seen, but to love one’s neighbor enough to try to rescue him from sin, for everyone’s benefit:
17. You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall in any wise rebuke your neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him.
It is an expression of hatred, not love, to fail to reprove a brother or sister who is sinning. But not only do we hate the ones that we do not reprove for sin; we hate ourselves as well. Solomon said, “Whoever is partner with a thief hates his own soul; he hears cursing and he does not expose it” (Prov. 29:24). If we do not “reprove one another”, as Paul praised the saints in Rome for doing, then we are partakers of the sins that we do not reprove. And if we are partakers of the sin, then the guilt — and the judgment — of the transgressor becomes ours. (That is why God is calling His people out of Christianity!) We are required to “reprove the works of darkness” that may show up among us!
Do not fear the reaction of the transgressor. Fear God, and live! I have seen husbands try to cover the sins of their wives, and then go down with their wives when their wives completely turned away from righteousness. I have seen parents try to hide the sins of their children instead of reproving them, and then go down with their children when God turned the children’s hearts to darkness.
Let us love one another enough to strive for the good of the whole community of faith, that we may all, together, be clean and holy before the Lord. “No man is an island”, the poet John Donne once said, and nowhere is that more true than in the kingdom of God. We are “our brother’s keeper”.