The Sin of Standing Back and Watching When Help Is Needed

Retired NYPD detective beaten unconscious by Manhattan homeless man

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

(Galatians 6:1-2, 7–10, ESV)

Yesterday I watched a news story of a retired NYPD cop who was beaten by a homeless man. You can see the security video clip here. The violence on our streets on a daily basis has a way of numbing us to these things because similar things happen so often now. But what caught my attention in this story is also something that frequently occurs in almost every altercation today–the bystanders who do nothing to step in to help, but stay at a safe distance to protect themselves.

My intention isn’t to debate the dangers of acting in such situations. I know that we need to take into consideration all sorts of additional issues, such as legal threats, murderous hatered, the possibility of a weapon, our own strength and ability, the mental state of the aggressor, etc.

But this attitude of self-perseveration serves as an excellent illustration–a mirror. I want us as Christians to think about how we behave in regard to stepping in and offering help to those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ when there is a chance that we might get berated, burned, verbally beaten, or worse. In Galatians 6:1-2 the Word of God calls us to bear one another’s burdens, and particularly this requires us to deal with those who are caught in any transgression. But who likes confrontation? As a matter of fact, so many Christians have a distaste for it, that biblical church discipline is a rare thing to find practiced in most evangelical churches today.

But as Paul later wrote in verse 7, God is not mocked, and when we fail to sow seeds of righteousness and lovingly deal with one another’s sins and burdens, we will find that our churches will reaping a harvest of destruction, abuse, open sin, rebellion, back-biting, gossip, and more. In other words, it will lack genuine, Christlike love.

In fact, we aren’t very different from the bystanders who watch as someone is attacked on the streets and we are reluctant to step in. We might call 911 (which in the church would be a call to the pastor), but then we want to slink away and go on about our business. After all, we reason, it’s not our problem. We have enough to handle. Isn’t that why we pay the pastor?

My brothers and sisters, please do not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. This is a Christian responsibility, not simply a pastoral duty. And many deep-seated habitual sins are not simply dealt with by a quick prayer and a Bible verse. They take time, patience, love, and continued attention.

A church full of loving disciples who are looking out for one another, caring for one another, sharpening each other, and walking through temptation and sinful heart issues with each other will not only find that this lifestyle is hard work, but they will also find that if they don’t give up too quickly, that their church will soon begin to thrive as they reap a harvest of souls that are being conformed to the image of their Savior.

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