Is It Possible To Stand In The Way of Sinners?
The question is one that all Christians must ask ourselves. Are we as elders, deacons, preachers, and members of the church shutting up the kingdom of heaven against men? The following scriptures suggest that it is possible.
“Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful.”—Ps. 1:1
In Matthew we read:
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”—Matt. 23:13
The phrases “stands in the path of sinners” means doing what sinners do, or standing where sinners stand, yet in the minds of many today, it carries the idea of being a hindrance to, blocking the way to, or being a stumbling block on the way to heaven. That is the meaning that we should focus on and ask ourselves “Is it I”?
It is true that there are a great majority of our members that are working diligently in the Lord’s vineyard. This is evidenced by the wonderful growth of the church at home and abroad. The faithful elders who take the oversight of the flock and work and plan for its growth are certainly not standing in the way of sinners. Likewise, the deacons who perform their duties are not guilty of shutting up the kingdom of heaven against men. The faithful gospel preacher who teaches the lost the way of salvation is certainly helping men and women to enter the kingdom of Christ. All members of the church who live Christian lives whether in work, mission field or home are certainly not shutting up the kingdom of heaven against men, nor stand in the way of sinners. They bring their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and faithful Christians give of their means for the support of the church. They are known by their neighbors as people who are faithful to the Lord’s church.
What about the few who are standing in the way of sinners and not permitting others to enter the kingdom of heaven? We live in an age of social media. If it is used properly, it can be a great asset to us. However, when used in ways that does not encourage others to be faithful, it is used for the wrong reasons. For example, we now have Bible apps on our phones and many use them during service for that purpose. A few folks tend to use them to text their friends or family during service. Could we possibly be standing in the way of sinners when we do this? Facebook is another good tool when used appropriately but too often, I read comments from members of the Lord’s Church to Christians that have fallen away. Again, the question must be asked, is that really helping the fallen to understand their lost condition when we treat them as if everything is alright. When we read the story of the Prodigal son, do we really appreciate why the younger son finally acknowledged his sin? Look at it again:
“Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. 12 “And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. 13 “And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. 14 “But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. 15 “Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 “And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. 17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 ‘I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.”—Lk. 15:11:18
Why did the young son come home and acknowledged his sin? It was not because he ran out of money nor was it because was it because he no longer had friends. The answer lies in verse 16 “no one gave him anything.” When a Christian is living a life that puts them in a lost condition and we continue to treat them as if everything is alright, there is no reason for them to return. However, when we refuse to give them anything outside of the Church, this creates the best environment for them to want to return to a life of faithful service.
There other ways that we can stand in the way of sinners. As a faithful Christian, we might also stand in the way of sinners when we engage in gossip or slander. We might tell little church troubles to people out of the church who magnify them into stumbling blocks. We might also be indifferent to the work and worship of the church. We may not give as we have prospered but spend the Lord’s money for things that are neither good nor useful for our health or conduct.
Faithful members may shut up the kingdom of God against men and women by being absent from the Lord’s Day worship and by general indifference to the work and worship of the church.
Other ways that a whole congregation might stand in the way of sinners would be to be unfriendly toward one another or our visitors, by having failing to have pride enough to have a well-kept and nicely painted building, to permit weeds to grow where lawns and flowers should be thriving. All these may be stumbling blocks put in the way of some sinner to shut up the kingdom of heaven against him. It should be remembered that the unconverted attend the services of the church for one or more reasons, and there is no substitute for friendliness.
In contrast, let us vision a bright picture of the church lest we be overcome with shame and remorse. The church is the bride, the Lamb’s wife, adorned for her husband. A congregation that has a neat and well-kept house with lawns and flowers, with elders that rule well and deacons that hold fast the faithful word, a preacher that preaches the full gospel in love with kindness toward all men, and a membership that loves one another and refrains their tongues from evil speaking and who do not become busybodies in other men’s matters. This sort of congregation cannot be stopped and will grow and prosper.