Sin in Community
And you say, “How I have hated instruction!
And my heart spurned reproof!
I have not listened to the voice of my teachers,
Nor inclined my ear to my instructors!
I was almost in utter ruin
In the midst of the assembly and congregation.”
This chapter in Proverbs consists of an extended warning against fornication. While aimed at someone who is married (v 15-19), many of the arguments would apply to anyone (married or single, male or female) who leads a promiscuous life.
The verses cited end a stanza that describes the consequences of this dead-end pursuit (v 7-14). A life governed by sexual desire is a waste of energy, resources, and your own self (v 9-11). It is also a life full of regret and self-loathing (v 12-14). One of the hardest lessons of sin is the knowledge that you could have chosen otherwise, that you acted foolishly, and that you ignored the wisdom of others.
In v 14, Solomon gives one more consequence that is worth pondering. The one who wasted his life regrets how this affected his relationship to his fellow believers. It nearly cost him a place in the community of faith.
This is a powerful reminder of the effectiveness of community discipline properly applied. When church discipline is properly pursued, it will have the impact described in v 14. A community of believers grieves over the loss of a fellow disciple. The erring disciple grieves over the loss of fellowship with this community. The sense of isolation wears on him, so that he must choose whether the cost of his sin is worth the pleasure it may bring.
What we so often miss is a sense of community identity among God's people. In ancient times, Israelites and early Christians lived in a world that ran on the basis of honor and shame. Individuals thought of themselves constantly in relationship to their peers. They did not want to do anything that would shame them in the eyes of their fellow-believers. Their faith community had a particular set of values (here, sexual purity), and to abandon those values meant facing the censure, disapproval and shunning of their spiritual family. Such loss would have been devastating.
How do we restore such a sense of community? First, by building stronger social ties with one another. Quite simply, Christians in the local church need to spend time together beyond two or three times a week at the church building. Second, we need to value one another. Only when we really believe that "brother" So-and-so is really our brother as much as any earthly kin — only then will we value each other in any meaningful way. Third, we need to submit to one another. Paul said to "submit to one another in the fear of Christ" (Ephesians 5.21). Partly, that means that we should value the wants, needs, and views of our fellow Christians. Even more, it means that we willingly put ourselves under the authority of others. We truly believe that we answer to one another. We truly believe that other have the right to hold us accountable for our sins.
Simply put, discipline cannot exist without community. Where do you belong in your community of faith?