A public sin dealt with publicly

by Bill Newton

Posted on Saturday, April 18, 2015, at 8:34 am

Private sins should be dealt with privately and public sins should be dealt with publicly. But what can you do when you have sinned publicly against those you love the most? I’ve done just that.

First, you need loved ones who’ll confront you with their hurt and challenge you to think about your sin. Next, you listen to them when they confront you, pray about their arguments, refrain from defending yourself, and ask God to convict you. Third, you ask for wise counsel if there are unclear issues. Then you look to Scripture to consider the advice, pray, and ask God to forgive you. Finally, ask forgiveness from those you have sinned against.

What was my sin?

The purpose of my last column was to help us “Think rightly about ‘loving and hating,’” pointing out that we can love someone deeply but hate their specific bad behavior. Our mixed-up culture leads us to believe that if we hate any behavior, then we must we hate the person responsible for it. That is faulty logic, no matter how many times anyone repeats the lie. My purpose was solid. My writing wasn’t.

I used my late mother as an illustration. Why? Because I loved her more than any woman in my life, next to my wife and daughter, and the incident I described colorfully depicted sinful behavior (explosive, overbearing, and angry). I loved Mom dearly but hated these behaviors. Using her as my example was a mistake: Mothers occupy a special place in our lives and in our hearts.

My sin was serious. I sinned against my living siblings and relatives by not being sensitive to how they might feel about my description of Mom. Honestly, I didn’t think of them at all while writing. My focus was intense: “How can I help people understand?” The fact that I could use a derogatory story and not reflect on how it might affect my siblings is unconscionable and sinfully thoughtless. I’ve been blessed with three siblings—all mature believers. They’re precious gifts from God who should’ve been treasured as exquisite fine crystal that is easily chipped and broken. Instead, I handled them like an aluminum beer can—carelessly dented, easily trashed.

By God’s grace they communicated their hurt. WORLD founder Joel Belz blessed me with godly wise counsel. I’ve repented and asked God to give me more sensitivity, as I desperately need it. Privately, I asked for forgiveness from my siblings, but since my column was public, I felt a need to confess publicly.

It is to my shame that I write this column. My hope is that it may be helpful to someone else. My private apologies to my siblings is paraphrased below:

I am deeply sorry that my column hurt you. My insensitivity to your feelings is inexcusable. There were different ways the column could have been written, and I should have seen those ways and employed them. My relationship to you is too important to risk on any column I write.

I commit that if I ever have an inclination to include information about Mom or Dad in a column or article in the future (which I suspect will never happen again), I will pass it by you beforehand for editing and/or vetoing with no debate.

I love you deeply and I do not want to risk our relationship on anything non-spiritual.

Please forgive me.

Bill Newton

Bill is a pastor based in Asheville, N.C. He also serves as a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.

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