James 5:20 says, “Remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”
As a young man I witnessed our church elders try to turn one of my relatives from the error of his ways. The elders of our church confronted, visited, discussed, and, I am sure, (justly) tried to bring the man back into the fold, but it did not work. Within a year, my relative was excommunicated from the Christian Reformed Church and never stepped into the church again. Tough love!
Another story: Some years ago we had a pastor who engaged many on our town’s streets. Through his witness, a woman to whom he spoke started coming to our church. This lady had been rejected by her family, cast out of communion in her church. She was crude, vulgar, and obnoxious, and she had experienced homelessness for a number of years. Some in our church wondered how we are to deal with people such as these coming into our doors.
Somehow, my wife was led to (literally) walk beside this person. I couldn’t fathom it, but she traveled for some twenty years alongside the woman. My wife never condemned, but often coaxed. Through countless prayers, Bible study, and just talking gently, my wife guided this woman in the Christian way. As the miles added up, change could be seen. The Spirit’s work was evident in many small, incremental ways.
My wife commented once on how tough the walk could be, yet she felt she got just as much out of the relationship as she put in. Walking together, they each moved forward on their roads toward sanctification.
When my wife passed on, she asked me to do what I could to help this person. A year later, I sat beside the woman on her deathbed. She still had some struggles with assurance of her salvation, and she wasn’t perfect yet, but as she was passing away, she understood Jesus paid her way, and in him her salvation was guaranteed.
Tough love: how can we do it better? Let us learn to take the often tough, long, and tiresome road. Let us graciously open ourselves up to another way of turning a sinner from his evil ways. We will help them and, even more, help ourselves.