In high school a friend named Jeremy and I found a sparrow tangled in the netting that covered the batting cage. We noticed it because the bird was struggling to free itself, but its struggle was only making his captivity worse. We decided to attempt to free it.
Jeremy did most of the work, and it took him a long time to free the bird. The bird was scared, so every time he could, he would bite Jeremy. It did not understand that we were trying to save its life. Instead, it was certain we were there to hurt it. It bit Jeremy 20 or 30 times and scratched him incessantly with it’s feet.
Furthermore, every time the bird sensed freedom, it would try to fly away even though it was not yet fully untangled. It thought it could get away on its own, only to discover that it was still tangled in the netting. Its attempts at freeing itself always resulted in further entanglement.
If the bird had just relaxed, we would have freed it in a couple of minutes; but because it fought us every step of the way, it took us over 20 minutes before we had the satisfaction of watching it fly away.
I had not thought of that incident for years, but as I spent time in the word this morning, God brought it to mind as an illustration of how we must labor with our fellow Christians who succumb to sin.
We read in 1 Peter 4:8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Contemporary cultural currents teach us that love is synonymous with acceptance, as in if you love me you will accept me the way I am. By acceptance the world means approve, endorse, or support. But Biblical love is different. It says I am committed to your eternal well-being no matter what. Biblical love causes us, not to turn a blind eye, but to graciously address sin and walk with people until they are free from it.
Addressing sin in another person’s life is one of the hardest yet most loving things we can do in the body of Christ. But we must keep our thinking realistic too. When someone’s life is hardened by sin, they rarely receive reproof well. Instead they recoil thinking you are hurting rather than helping. Just like the bird, they bite and scratch. They accuse you of having a holier-than-thou attitude. They justify their sin, attack your weaknesses, or run away and shut you out of their life. The fear of these kinds of responses is what keeps most of us from speaking truth into other people's lives. But love compels us to it.
True love that aims for a fallen comrade in Christ’s restoration works patiently and slowly, ignoring the bites, scratches, and screeches of the ensnared saint. Their earnest love covers the multitude of sin while they wait for that moment of satisfaction when the saint springs free from the web of their sin. This result usually comes far slower than most of us want. But if we quit too soon, we miss the joy of a restored brother or sister. Only true love that flows from our new life in Christ can ever cause us to go to such lengths for another person’s good.
But when we think about it, this is how Jesus loves us. He does not give up on his people. Rather he lovingly and gently but firmly labors over us until he finishes his work of salvation in us.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another – 1 John 4:11