A World Waiting To Be Won Duncan Heaster email the author


16. Salt Of The Earth: The Power Of Influence

17. Some Thoughts On Preaching (Alan Eyre)


18. I Have A Dream: The Church In The Last Days

19. Wounded Christian Soldiers

19-1 Christians Who Fall Away || 19-2 Not Giving Or Taking Offence || 19-3 Paul And Philemon || 19-4 Vendettas And Hatred In The Church


19. Wounded Christian Soldiers

19-1 Christians Who Fall Away

There are times when one has to face up to facts. I have heard it said several times, by brothers and sisters of wide experience in our brotherhood, that one in three of those baptized somehow falls away. And many more go to sleep spiritually, on their own admission. So, even call it one in four, one in five. “How many times can a man turn around, and pretend that he just hasn’t seen?” somebody sung, in a haunting melody. My observation, and again it accords with the view of many others amongst us, is that the majority of those who turn away do not do so because of the pull of the world and the flesh, or because they find some new doctrine. Yes, I know there are such cases. But the majority seem initially to start stumbling because they are in some sense offended by others in the community. And many of those who now sit on the sideline of our work as a community, and I make no comment on their standing with God, do so because they have been hurt by others amongst us. Rom. 16:17 makes a clear Biblical case for this. Those who cause divisions cause “occasions of stumbling” (RV) and should therefore be avoided- because, the implication is, division causes stumbling. It’s as simple as that. People stumble, in Paul’s experience, because of divisive people within the ecclesias.

Before we start apportioning blame, remember the words of James: “In many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man” (James 3:1). And none of us are perfect. We all offend others at least by our words. We all stand condemned, for James is full of allusions to the words of Jesus. And clearly enough he has in mind the Lord’s teaching that whoever offends his brother will be condemned. We would rather not see that connection, plain though it is, for it condemns us all. All things that cause offence will be expelled from God’s Kingdom (Mt. 13:41; 18:6). Quite simply, we will be saved by grace. Our actions towards others at times and in some ways could rightfully condemn us all, to a man and to a woman. Yet recognizing this, we seek to go onwards. To try the more earnestly  not to offend, to win back those who have stumbled. The Greek text of those words of James is ambiguous. Purposefully so. The RV translates: “In many things we all stumble. If any stumbleth not in word, the same is a perfect man”. We have all been caused to stumble, and we have all caused others to stumble. That’s the idea. Hence the relevance of what we are going to think about, for each of us. For this reason, James says, we should not consciously seek to be leaders in the community, knowing the risk we run. Brethren especially need to bear this in mind, particularly those who have been used to the ‘career structure’ of their employment or that of many churches which they may have formally been part of. Respect is earnt naturally, from a life lived, from who we are more than what we do publicly, and is never to be demanded nor consciously sought after in ecclesial life.

Don’t Stumble

The key for us personally is surely to not be caused to stumble. By doing so we will have allowed others to come between us and a God who seeks passionately above all else to save us. “Let no man take thy crown”, my dear mother used to quote to me in times of spitefulness and rejection by my brethren. And it’s really so. Those who ultimately fall away from God because of the behaviour of His children have allowed their faith to be based in the word of men rather than the word of God. It’s so easily done. At our conversion, we think all in the brotherhood are wonderful. We, the sinners saved by grace, have joined a community of redeemed, spiritual men and women. And we think they all know more than us, are more developed spiritually than us… until inevitably we come to be disappointed. So often one hears a recent convert preaching to others about how wonderful their new church is, and how worthy they are to join. This I always discourage. For conversion is ultimately into Christ, and not into any human organization. We are to receive the Gospel from others not as the word of men, but as the word of God (1 Thess. 2:13).

Realize Our Need For The Brotherhood

Of course the offended person insists that they will go on believing, but, because of our behaviour, they are stepping aside from us. But the Lord taught that nobody can reach His Kingdom in isolation. He is the true vine, we are the branches (Jn. 15). To leave the tree is to leave Him. And severed from me, He said, you can do nothing, in spiritual terms (Jn. 15:5). Much as some think they can. And in the end, like a slow cancer, the brother or sister who was offended by whatever, will eventually die in that they leave the vine of Christ. It is from the body of Jesus that there comes nurture and nourishment, supplied by every member of the body (Eph. 4:16). And we, all of us, are the body of Christ. To cut ourselves off from it, formally or informally, openly or deep within our hurt hearts, is to deprive ourselves of the nourishment which He is willing to give through our brethren. It follows from Paul’s inspired figure that not all  our brethren are no good. There’s a lot of goodness out there- those who give up lands, houses, parents etc. for the Lord’s sake will find within His ecclesia a hundredfold of these things. But we will only share in these things if we are willing to look at the positive side in our brethren. For in many things we also offend others. Yet we know well enough we basically are sincere and willing to give to others. And as we expect others to relate to that good side in us, so we should to others. Nobody in the brotherhood is totally, purely evil- at least, seeing we cannot judge in that sense, we should not think that of any. We have to assume that each of our brethren is secured in Christ, and will be in the Kingdom. They have the Christ-man formed in them, however immaturely. Paul wrote to Corinth as if he assumed they would all be ultimately saved. Reflect on the implications of how he wrote to them: “know ye not that we shall judge Angels?” [in the Kingdom].

Realizing the need of each believer for the brotherhood will lead us to be more than careful before ever evicting anyone from our association. Indeed, forced expulsion from any social group is highly damaging to the victim. The Lord appreciated this when He said that when His followers were cast out of the synagogues, then they would be likely to stumble (Jn. 16:1,2). They were excommunicated exactly because of their faith in Him; and yet He foresaw that in the aftermath of that rejection, emotionally, sociologically, economically, they would be likely to stumble. Eviction of anyone from our fellowship ought therefore never to be done lightly, if ever. For by doing so, we are likely to make them stumble from the path to eternity; and nobody would want such a millstone around their neck at judgment day. We may in this life appear to be ‘keeping the truth pure’, ‘doing the right thing’- but the Lord will judge the effect we had upon another’s path to Him.

Know Our Desperation

The worst thing about being offended is that we end up so self-righteous. All we can see is the wrong in another. When we ourselves are desperate sinners, our “hidden man” of faith struggling against the man of the flesh within us. How we perceive others is related to how we are perceived by God. These events of ‘offence’ and hurt at the hands of others must surely occur in our lives, to force us to perceive them as God perceives us. Thank God, in that sense, that actions of unkindness and insensitivity make us have to love others with an act of the will rather than an emotion. They impel us, for the sake of our salvation if nothing else, to see the Christ in them. For otherwise we will wallow in bitterness and rejection of our brethren. And this, to God, means that we have rejected ourselves from His fellowship. To love our brother, and not just grimly tolerate him or her, is the essence of ‘doing righteousness’ (1 Jn. 3:10). This is how important it is. And so another key to not being offended is to have a constant sense of our own desperate need for grace, and our undisturbable joy that we have indeed been saved by that grace. That all our sin, of omission and commission, of word, thought and deed, of how we are…has been swallowed up in victory. Eph. 1:8 speaks of “the riches of his grace, which He lavished on us”. God has been extravagant with His grace. And in dealing with those whom we consider to be hard, spiteful and unreasonable towards us in the brotherhood, we have the ideal opportunity to reflect such grace. It hurt God, to an extent we cannot fathom, to lavish that grace upon us in the death of the cross. And of course it must hurt us to show it to others.

The Bible itself continually reflects a distinction in the mind of God between the person and the behaviour, the sin and the sinner. When we allow ourselves to be offended and to offend others, we have ceased to make that differentiation. We so easily equate the person and their behaviour, and thus they offend us. Consider how we are in the habit of saying: “We’re all sinners”. You may think I’m being pedantic, but Rom. 3:23 says otherwise- that “all have sinned”. And there’s a slight and subtle difference. We have committed sin, and therefore we can be called sinners. But the Biblical focus is on the action committed rather than the branding of the person with a label.

Frank Forgiveness

It’s easy to forgive the man or woman before us on their knees, begging our forgiveness. But to show patient kindness and grace in the face of unrealized or unrepented of unkindness…here we learn what grace and forgiveness is really all about. The world spends its time hurting and being hurt, being snapped at and snapping back. But for us, the fact we are new creations should be the rule by which we live (Gal. 6:16). The reality that we are new beings means that we have to learn how to live all over again. And we learn through forgiving the repeated irritations of others. And living like this, if only we can even begin to, will unleash a real empowerment into our lives. These things are the essence of spiritual life, of what it means to be a Christian. Perhaps we have all focused on the minutiae of Biblical interpretation and the external things of our Christianity to the point that we have missed these most basic things. The irrelevant so easily becomes paramount, and the trivial becomes vital. Because our deceitful, clever flesh would ever want it that way. But the truly crucial spirit of life is to patiently forgive and reflect the grace which we have known- day by day, hour by hour. You can’t learn this from a proof text or by Bible marking or by sitting through talks at Bible Schools. You learn by practice, in ongoing situations, by doing it with your irritating, offending brethren. It’s the only way. To forgive by grace means that we will not measure forgiveness- as can so easily happen in cases of offence. Jewish tradition said that one should forgive a personal trespass three times. And so Peter thought he was being generous by offering to forgive seven times. The Lord’s command to forgive seventy times seven surely meant that forgiveness should come from such an upwelling of personal gratitude to the Lord that we do not in any sense measure it. We give it, generously, and without counting.


The dominant theme in the new life must surely be a focus upon the man Christ Jesus, a sustained meditation upon Him, a life that is disciplined after His pattern, a way of being that is committed to following behind Him on His ‘last walk’ to Golgotha, bearing His cross. A daily life that is lived as in a personality cult behind Him. If our focus is unshakably, unswervingly upon Him, if as John puts it we “abide in him”… then how others behave toward us will not in the end cause us to fall away from Him. One cannot leave the love of their life because a third party was unkind to us. Rather does it draw us closer to the One who has truly loved us.

In the end, it will all seem so pathetic. There we will stand before the judgment throne of Jesus. Before Him who loved us, bled for us, died for us, and who then called us to the knowledge of His grace and His love. And we, we didn’t go on responding to His invitation and the utter pouring out of His love toward us. Why? Because she swore at me. Because he over there was always so biased against me. Because they over there falsely accused me. Because she divorced my innocent son. And the Lord’s response would not need to be spoken. The look of His sad eyes would say it all: ‘And I. What did I do wrong to you, apart from love you, die for you, have thousands of Angels working in your life striving for your eternal good, both before and after your birth…?’. It will all appear so childish. Sadly, we know that there will be such scenes at judgment day. Guilty as the offenders may be, much as the Lord may raise these issues with them and judge them accordingly, the offended person must still bear total responsibility for walking away from the Lord’s love. If He is truly the light of our world, if that is no pretty figure, no mere abstraction, not just words written on a kitchen poster or a fridge magnet, but a true reality in our existence…we will never leave Him. Come what may. If we were asked to give our lives for Him in sudden death, we probably would be willing to. We would stick with Him. And yet so many of us find it hard to do this when the distraction to our faith comes from the most unexpected source, i.e. our own brethren. Yet the call for actual self-sacrifice in coping with them is just as real as if we were asked to give our lives for the Lord’s cause in a dramatic death.

So many people are therefore hostile to the idea of ‘church’, but very open to the teachings of Jesus. The person and teaching of Jesus have not lost their appeal; in my opinion, they never can. He Himself was an anti-establishment figure, and many of His words had revolutionary overtones. Yet so many people are put off by anything that smacks of institutionalization and hypocrisy, which is how ‘church’ is perceived. Tens of millions of people world-wide have allowed themselves to stumble because the idea of ‘church’ has put them off. They perceive rightly enough the great scandal of Christianity today, so-called ‘nominal Christianity’. They realize how large numbers of people have covered themselves with a thin, ‘decent’ veneer of ‘Christianity’, allowing themselves to become respectably involved with it. These cynical onlookers think of Christians as sitting on a comfortable cushion, protecting them from the hard realities of life, while changing its place and shape to suit their convenience. And yet they are left with the reality that there is a hunger in the heart of men, themselves included, that only Christ can ultimately satisfy. It is these millions of people that we ought to be reaching. They have been caused to stumble, so understandably so. And yet in the true, honest proclamation of a totally unabusive Gospel, lived in the lives of ordinary, true people…they ought to be able to find what they are looking for.

Our personal focus on Jesus is perhaps helped by continually remembering that He did not seek to set up a religion; He came to lead men and women after Him as a person. Yet it can happen that some people give up so much of themselves to comply to their religion, with the result that they do not follow Jesus personally with their whole selves. By perceiving themselves as part of a system, they give up much of their independent thinking, their rationality, their curiosity, even their sexuality and sensuality, their anger- the essence of what makes them unique. These are the types who have no real passion for anything; whose passivity may lead them never to argue, to always get along, in their jobs, in their ecclesias, in their marriages etc. And of course this is not bad in itself. But what I am trying to say is that if we are following a Man, the individual who is Jesus, then we will follow Him with all that we really are. If we are merely part of a human religious system, or we allow ourselves to feel that’s all we are, then there is the likelihood that we will end up losing who we really are beneath the expectations and demands of the human side of the believers amongst whom we live.

The teaching of Jesus was very much centred around Himself. Other religious teachers tend to say ‘This is the truth, these are the ideas I have put together: follow them’. But Jesus says: “I am the truth; follow me”. His formula was not “Thus saith the Lord”, but rather “Truly, truly I say unto you…”. The personal pronoun forces itself upon our attention as we read His words:

“I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger”

“I am the light of the world; he who follows me…

“I am the resurrection and the life…whoever lives and believes in me shall never die”

“I am the way and the truth”

“Come to me …learn of me”.

He called people to Himself- to come to Him, learn of Him, follow Him. He knew, too, that the example and achievement of His death would exert a certain magnetism upon men and women: “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto myself”. He is drawing them not primarily to a church, to a statement of faith, to a ‘truth’…but to Himself. And from knowing Him we are meaningfully lead to all these other things. If our focus is primarily upon Him, then we will not stumble from our walk with Him because of human beings, even if they are our brethren. Notice, in passing, how the Lord so stressed the importance of humility, and remember that He was the humblest man, for Him to have been exalted as highly as He was. And yet He says things which on the lips of any other man would have been arrogant and egocentric. To know your strengths, to know who you are and where you are going, to be sure of what truth you do possess, is not incompatible with a genuine humility. We can so easily confuse humility with the lack of self-respect which tends to be common to most human beings.

It does us good to reflect soberly and deeply upon the events of the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. To reconstruct in our own minds what really happened, that we might know Him the better. That on a day in April, on a Friday afternoon, on a hill outside Jerusalem, 1970 years ago…there really was a man lead out to crucifixion. And that three days later, in a dark tomb, a tightly wrapped body came to life, and in a microsecond was standing outside his burial garments. The only sound would have been of the graveclothes collapsing or subsiding as the support of the body inside them was removed. The napkin wrapped around His head (cp. Jn. 11:44) would suddenly have become a crumpled turban. The clothes would have been like a discarded chrysalis from which the butterfly has emerged. John saw the linen clothes “lying”, but according to one authority the Greek word can apparently stand the translation “collapsed”. That John saw the clothes “lying” is repeated twice, and the first time it is placed in an emphatic position in the Greek sentence- ‘He saw, as they were lying [or ‘collapsed’], the linen clothes’. John also records his deep impression that the head napkin was not with the other clothes, but by itself. Apparently it was normal practice to bind the body and the head in graveclothes, but not the neck. It could be that John is saying that he was most struck by the way there was a slight gap between the collapsed body bindings and the head napkin- the gap where the neck of Jesus had been. This head napkin was “wrapped together”, but here we can with fair confidence say that the Greek word means more ‘twirled’. The word aptly describes the rounded shape which the empty napkin still preserved. And so John saw the stone slab, the collapsed graveclothes, and the shell of the head cloth, with a gap between the two where the Lord’s neck had been. And John “saw [this] and believed”. Now of course it is possible to reconstruct the whole scene otherwise. What I am saying is that in our personal following of the Lord we love, we each  need to try to reconstruct for ourselves how it would have been. The artless style of the inspired records encourage us in this- one only has to compare them against the fantastic Apocryphal Gospels, with their descriptions of Jesus bursting from the tomb in power and glory, to see in the most obvious terms what is inspired and what isn’t.