Restoring The Lost
By bro Alvin Lin
Two years ago, when I was still dating Mary Ann, I went with her to the Philippines to visit her family members and meet my prospective in-laws. As she wanted to spend more time with her family (and also for the sake of proper decorum), we took separate flights there and back, with me going to the Philippines a few days after her and coming back to Singapore a few days before her. Our trip was filled with lots of fond memories, but my flight back was the most memorable for the wrong reasons. Being someone who is quite careless and forgetful, coupled with a packed itinerary and a midnight flight, what happened was that in my rush to get home to rest, I loaded my luggage onto my Grab ride hastily and missed out a piece. Now if the item I missed out on was a bag of clothing, it probably wouldn’t have bothered me much (it would be a good excuse to get new clothes), but I had left behind my backpack, which contained my laptop, which had all my lessons and important documents! Even though I was very tired and halfway home, I pleaded with the driver to turn back to the airport and offered to pay her double for the trouble. Thankfully, she acquiesced, and I was relieved to see my backpack still on the chair where I left it, just as the security staff was about to inspect it, though he asked me a few questions before returning it to me. I still remember that throughout my journey back to the airport, I was wracked with anxiety (in fact, I have had a few nightmares since then about losing things), and I prayed fervently, and I am most thankful for God’s providence in reuniting me with my backpack.
I was reminded of this "traumatic" incident again recently when Bro. Justin shared with us a thought-provoking lesson about the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin when he asked if we had experienced losing something important to us. His lesson (and Bro. Paul’s lesson on the prodigal son) got me thinking and examining my attitude towards the lost, particularly brethren who have strayed away from the truth, so I thought of sharing some of these thoughts in this bulletin article.
How do some get lost?
In the parable of the lost sheep, the sheep got lost because of its carelessness in wandering from the fold (Luk 15:6). Similarly, some get lost when they "err from the truth" (Jas 5:19), in "giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils" (1Ti 4:1).
In the parable of the lost coin, the coin got lost due to the owner’s negligence (Luk 15:9). Similarly, some get lost because of "offences" (Luk 17:1), where they "stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak" by others’ words and actions (Rom 14:21).
In the parable of the prodigal son, the son got lost because of his rebelliousness and stubbornness in wanting his way (Luk 15:12). Similarly, some get lost when they "sin wilfully" (Heb 10:26) by being "lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God" (2Ti 3:4).
Regardless of the reason for them being lost, every single one of them is still precious in the sight of God (Luk 15:7,10,32). Some have observed that in the case of the lost sheep, it equates to a 1% loss (1 sheep out of 100); in the case of the lost coin, it equates to a 10% loss (1 coin out of 10); and in the case of the prodigal son, it equates to a 50% loss (1 son out of 2). No matter how many children God has, or for that matter, how many brothers and sisters we have, every soul that departs from God is of immeasurable worth and needs to be restored to the faith.
How can I restore the lost?
In the parable of the lost sheep, the shepherd leaves the other 99 and goes in search of that one sheep. This teaches us that we must make every effort to restore erring brothers and sisters. We need to be very gentle with them, showering them with affection and love, caring for them in the same way that the shepherd carries the sheep on his shoulders (Luk 15:5). On the part of other Christians, we need to be understanding and welcoming towards the restored brother or sister, instead of being jealous and upset at what we perceive to be preferential treatment (Luk 15:29-30; Rom 15:1-2).
In the parable of the lost coin, the woman immediately and carefully searches for that one coin. This teaches us that restoration should be done sooner rather than later. I've heard well-meaning brothers suggest that brothers who stop attending worship services be given "some time and space.", but the truth of the matter is that it often becomes harder to restore them the longer they are away. That is why the Hebrews writer tells us to "exhort one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb 3:13).
But one might ask, what if I have tried but the erring brother or sister is resistant to efforts at restoration? This leads us to the parable of the prodigal son, where the father allows the son to leave until "he came to himself" (Luk 15:17). This doesn’t mean that the father gave up on his son though because he was actually on the lookout to welcome his son back at the very first opportunity (Luk 15:20). Likewise, even if brethren reject our efforts to reach out to them, we need to be on the lookout for opportunities for restoration, receiving them with the same kind of enthusiasm and delight as to how the father received his son when he returned (Luk 15:22-24).
How should I regard the lost?
In the parable of the prodigal son, we see 3 different responses. The prodigal son saw himself as "no more worthy to be called thy son" and instead wanted to be one of the "hired servants" (Luk 15:19). When brethren who have fallen away come back to the Lord, they feel unworthy and ashamed, like the prodigal son. The sense of shame and guilt that they carry causes them to be sensitive to "judgment" from members. We may feel uncomfortable being with them, but they will feel it even more so. So, instead of making them feel awkward and inferior to us like a hired servant, we need to receive them "not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved" (Phm 16).
The father saw the prodigal son as "my son" (Luk 15:24). The father did not allow his son to finish what he had to say—"make me as one of thy hired servants" (Luk 15:19 c.f. Luk 15:21). Just as the shepherd saw the lost sheep as his sheep, the woman saw the lost coin as her coin, and the father saw the lost son as his son. This perspective allows us to understand why the father put the best robe, ring, and sandals on him. If the father had regarded him as a hired servant, then perhaps the appropriate response would have been death, as is befitting for runaway slaves. But because the father regarded him as his son still (instead of a traitor, a liberal, or an idolator, as we sometimes regard fallen away brethren), he wanted to give him "every good gift and every perfect gift" (Jas 1:17), though he was "not worthy of the least of all the mercies" (Gen 32:10).
The elder brother saw his prodigal brother as "thy son" (Luk 15:30), and his father corrected him, saying that he was also "thy brother" (Luk 15:32). When we fail to see those who have fallen away as our brethren, we run the risk of reacting with hostility and anger towards them like the elder brother did (Luk 15:28-30). When that happens, we forget Paul’s reminder to "count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" (2Th 3:15). But when we view them with the right spiritual perspective, we will say, "Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee… for we be brethren" (Gen 13:8).
How we respond to brethren who have turned from the truth is often determined by how we view them. Do we see them as just a digit in the church attendance list, an acquaintance that has things in common with us, or a family member that we love dearly? I went back for the backpack that I left at the airport because it was important and precious to me, but have I gone back for my beloved brethren who have left the faith?