In the first post of this series, The Turtle – Part 1 we talked about how sometimes God’s people and even God’s church can pull the disappearing act when it comes to engaging with the sinners of the world, similar to how a turtle withdraws into his shell waiting for the threat to pass so they can come back out and resume life as normal. While you may think this illustration is silly, it is actually more accurate and more common than we think. Ask yourself this question, do I act differently around my unsaved friends, coworkers, family members, etc. than I do with those I know are born again? If so, why? I understand that light and darkness have no fellowship and things will be different and possibly awkward, but that isn’t what I’m talking about. What I’m trying to get at is this, do you try to hide Jesus when you are in the world? Are you afraid that they won’t approve of you or your life because you choose to worship God, believe the bible, and are called by His name? Ok, ok, that was the last post. Let’s get to our next turtle illustration.
The Belligerent Turtle
Most turtles respond with the disappearing act when confronted. They withdraw into their defensive structures, trying to make themselves as small as possible, allowing their hard shells to be their defense. At least that is how most turtles respond……except for snapping turtles. Snapping turtles are just down-right mean. When they are confronted, they go on the offensive. Instead of retreating, they will try to attack with their dangerously powerful jaws. They will attempt to bite a chunk out of whatever it is that is threatening them. And they are quick, too! In case you are unfamiliar with this behavior in a turtle, I suggest you watch this short Youtube clip https://youtu.be/GO1HD3ebuZs.
Fun, huh (assuming you watched the clip)? So what does that behavior have to do with spiritual things? Simply this, if we aren’t careful to walk in humility before our God, remembering what He has saved us from, we can adopt a similar behavior towards the unregenerate people of the world. Instead of presenting them with a defense for the hope that lies within us with gentleness and reverence, we can find ourselves attacking with our jaws and biting chunks out of people, metaphorically speaking. I am calling this behavior, The Belligerent Turtle.
Unfortunately, this behavior can sometimes be found in the church among God’s children. If we don’t agree with someone’s doctrinal stance on a topic or their decisions as a leader or their worship style or whatever, we can turn into a bunch of snapping turtles in a hurry. Sadly, I have seen this happen more times than I like to admit. For instance, I can remember this happening once in a bible study class when someone made an observation concerning the text that was being studied. Almost instantly a gentleman from the front of the class turned around shaking his bible in the air at the other person trying to correct what they had said. Pretty sure that approach didn’t work. Galatians gives us a very stern and descriptive warning:
“For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” Galatians 5:14-15 (NASB95)
Gentiles and Tax Collectors
Ok, so let’s complicate things a little bit. What about if that neighbor is a brother or sister in the Lord and they have committed sin? Can we bite a chunk out of them then? Or how about if we have gone through the process of church discipline as outlined in Matthew 18:15-17, and demonstrated for us in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, and they still won’t listen and repent? Now can we unleash the fury of a snapping turtle? Well, let’s go back to Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5. Jesus and Paul give us direction in how we should respond. And surprisingly, it doesn’t look anything like The Belligerent Turtle.
“…and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:17 (NASB95)
“I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” 1 Corinthians 5:5 (NASB95)
These are some strong, serious words. I mean, who wants to have Satan unleashed on his flesh? Probably better to cooperate with the Holy Spirit before it gets to this stage! But what we find is that after the attempts have been made to correct and restore a person who has fallen off of the narrow path and they refuse to listen, that now they become the mission field. Now their soul becomes the focus of weeping and mourning. Now they become the object of concentrated prayer and intercession. Simply put, they are the mission field just as Jesus said, “treat them as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Jesus is saying treat them like sinners!
So the question becomes, how do we treat the sinners of the world? Hopefully not like the Disappearing Turtle or the Belligerent Turtle because these people are now in a critical place that requires them to be reached with the gospel anew. Maybe more importantly we should ask, how did Jesus treat the Gentiles and tax collectors? Well, we know that He ate with them, provided food for them, taught them, healed them, commanded them to sin no more, warned them of the fiery wrath to come, and even called one to leave everything and be part of His twelve disciples.
What kind of heart and approach does your church have for evangelization and missions? I would argue that this is the same approach we should take with those who have fallen out of fellowship with God. I know there are those who would argue with me that we need to completely shun them so that they can feel the full weight of their shame and not give any false pretense that their behavior is acceptable. I would argue that we must never completely shut that door of opportunity and hope that the gospel provides. They may completely shut that door on us by choosing to love their sin, but we should always be ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within us with gentleness and reverence; to be instant in season and out.
Just because someone is out of fellowship with the Lord doesn’t mean there isn’t hope. I can remember 15 years ago when I was out of fellowship with God. I had lived a life of rebellion against Him and fulfilled every fleshly desire I craved. I rejected Him time and time again. I’m glad He didn’t give up on me. And I’m thankful that His church, the body of believers that He used to reach me despite the rancid baggage of my sinful life, didn’t act like Turtles but truly acted like His redeemed children.
Glory to God.