(Continued from June 27, 2014)
Paul once persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it (Gal. 1:13). He made havoc of the church, entering every homeland dragging off men and women and committing them to prison (Acts 8:3). Breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, he went to the high priest asking letters of him to the synagogue of Damascus so that if he found any who were of “The Way,” whether men or women, he may bring them bound to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1-2). By his own admission, Paul was once a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man, but he did it ignorantly and in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy that in me Jesus Christ might show all long suffering as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life (1 Tim. 1:13-17). And Paul said, I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who enabled me, because he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry (1 Tim. 1:12).
When Paul was persecuting and wreaking havoc on the church, did anyone see the grace of God at work in him? Who could have known that this same man would take the very gospel he sought to destroy to all the known world? When Paul approached the apostles in Jerusalem, what if Barnabas had remained fearful of Paul’s past and not “brought him to the disciples” (Acts 9:27)? Even after Paul was sent away, what if Barnabas had not remembered and went to Tarsus to seek Paul to come back to Antioch, where the church was beginning to grow in the grace of God? Was there a fearful reaction in Antioch when Barnabas returned with the one who was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor of the church? Or after remaining there for a year, teaching and ministering to the people, what if the church had remained fearful because of Paul’s past and failed to pray and send him and Barnabas on the first missionary journey (Acts 11:25; 13:2, 3)?
Paul, a self-described “chief of sinners,” was shown mercy and grace by the church, and because of their obedience and trust in God, the world was changed. Are there any who the world has labeled “sex offenders” because of their past in whom God is wanting to work, but is waiting for the church to break out of their fear and show His mercy and grace? Paul did not limit the mercy and grace of God to his own life. He not only shared it with others, but also taught others to see it in themselves regardless of their past or present circumstances.
In the Corinthian church, the gospel may have been more eagerly received by the lower classes of society and the slaves, rather than the elite or ruling class (see 1 Cor. 7:14-24). Moreover, sexual immorality in Corinth was so prevalent that, in the Roman world, to be called a “Corinthian” was to be identified as sexually immoral. Corinth may have been one of the first predominantly Gentile churches (see Acts 18:6-12), and therefore had little Jewish influence. Therefore, to a church comprised of the lower economic classes, who lived in a city with rampant sexual immorality, and who may have felt unworthy of their calling in Christ, Paul writes, “For you see your calling brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base (vile) things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things which are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption – that as it is written, ‘He who glories let him glory in the Lord’” (1 Cor. 1:26-31).
Is it possible today, as in Corinth, that God has also chosen the foolish, the weak, the base, and the despised – even those who have been labeled as “sex offenders” – “that no flesh should glory in His presence,” and even these – the least of these – are indeed “in Christ”? Is it possible there are those who have been labeled by the world as “sex offenders,” currently in prison or outside, whom God has chosen and in whom He is waiting and wanting to work, but from whom the church withholds mercy and grace as they are consumed and controlled by the fear of men?
There are numerous other examples and teachings on these things from the Word of God – the standard of faith and practice of the church; yet too often many church leaders remain fearful of “sex offenders” and seek counsel in the world instead of the wisdom of the Word. Consequently those who have been labeled as “sex offenders” not only face the hostility of the world, but the coldness and rejection of the church. One church leader observed, “The doors of the organized church are closed.” Another declined to offer any assistance, citing the “needs of the culture of a very large church.” Some claim they are too big, while others claim they are too small, to offer mercy, forgiveness, comfort or love to one who has sexually sinned to the point of a legal offense.
In Arizona (where I am imprisoned) even faith-based prison ministries such as Alongside Ministries, Teen Challenge, Church on the Streets, and the Phoenix Dream Center – all of which do a wonderful work for many - all limit or refuse any assistance to one who is labeled as a sex offender. Some have offered to pray, but few are willing to help change these things. I am continuing to seek godly men and women who will join with me, not only in prayer (although that is essential), but also in conversation, diligent study, and action to begin ministering to the “modern day lepers,” by reaching out and touching their lives.
There are a few organizations and ministries throughout the United States who have begun and are doing a good work. To the best of my knowledge, in Arizona no one has yet begun. Arizona has one of the most severe sentencing schemes and probation regulations concerning those who have been convicted of a sex offense. Mercy and grace from the body of Christ are desperately needed. If a church is willing to offer forgiveness and reconciliation to one of its leaders who falls into sexual sin, how much more must the same be offered to others who have gone astray?
I welcome your response, your friendship, your counsel, and your assistance, as we work together to love one another – even those who may be our enemies – in the power and grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
In His Grace,
For His Glory,
NOTE: This article is primarily intended to stimulate dialogue among believers, especially church elders and other ministry leaders, on the issues raised. Readers who wish to do so may contact the author through The Cell Church, or directly as follows:
Mr. Gary Hardy
ASPC – Eyman/Meadows 6B1
P.O. Box 3300
Florence, AZ 85132