A friend of mine started a church in Canada years ago that God blessed with many conversions. It became over 500 hundred attenders that were mostly new believers. Laura and I were able to do two marriage conferences there over the years, and it was so encouraging to see how teachable and hungry the people were. Often what we taught was the first time they had ever heard it, and they just assumed that if the Bible says that, they need to obey it. It was so much fun.
This same pastor friend said that one time they started a small group for men struggling with pornography. Again, lots of new believers who don’t know how church is done. They don’t know they are supposed to pretend they don’t struggle with lust. The church announced it and put a sign up on the church bulletin board and MEN SIGNED UP! I cannot imagine that happening in the churches I’ve known. Most Christians are way too private about their spiritual lives, and especially their spiritual failures. Would men sign up at your church where others could see their names?
I’ve been thinking about two passages in the Bible that seem to have a commonality that I never noticed before. Psalm 51 is a familiar psalm that we recognize as David’s song of repentance after his sin with Bathsheba. I’ve read it many times for my own soul’s benefit, and I’ve pointed others to it to encourage repentance.
But recently I thought about it as an example of David’s transparency about a major failure. The superscription says David wrote it after Nathan came to him after he had gone in to Bathsheba. The superscription is not subtle—it doesn’t say that David wrote this after some general failure in his life, but it specifically tells us and anyone who has read it over the years that it was David’s sin with Bathsheba—his adultery and murder.
That is incredibly transparent. We don’t like to admit our failures in specific, and David does here. Think about this: David intended this to be sung about his sin. He didn’t just admit it to a few trusted friends. He wrote a song about it. Why was King David so honest in his confession? Well he was clearly more concerned with repentance than covering up. It’s one reason we know his repentance was genuine.
The second passage was in Philemon where Paul appeals on behalf of the converted slave, Onesimus. In verse 2 Paul says that this letter was also written to Aphia, who was probably Philemon’s wife, and Archippus. Now who is Archippus? He most likely was a church leader either at Colosse or Laodicea.
See what Paul has done? He knew how Philemon should respond to his runaway slave, Onesimus, now that Onesimus is saved and growing. He wanted Philemon to forgive Onesimus. He even claims that he could have commanded Philemon to do this, but he wanted Philemon to do it on his own, not from compulsion (verses 8-9).
But Paul does apply some good pressure on Philemon to choose forgiveness, and one way he does that is by including Archippus as a recipient of the letter. Archippus would know how Paul appealed to Philemon. So this decision wasn’t just between Paul, Philemon, and even Onesimus (who probably brought the letter), but also included Archippus.
Philemon might have liked to consider this by himself, but Paul doesn’t allow that.
The connection between these two passages is transparency. David chose to be honest and open about his sin—can’t get much more open than writing a song about it. And Philemon was forced to be open and honest about his need to forgive Onesimus.
Your spiritual life is not yours alone. The entire church is invested. You should welcome opportunities to be honest about your struggles with sin. That encourages and edifies others and it leads you to humility—always a needed virtue (Jam 4:6). And you should welcome the intrusion of other believers who help you see your sin and plead with you to change. Just-Jesus-and-you Christianity is not biblical Christianity.
I want my church to be full of people that are not hiding their sin. I want them to be so secure in their identity in Christ that they don’t care what others know about them. And I want my church to be full of Christians that are willing, like Paul, to encourage each other to please God. And if I’m going to have a church like that, I need model that in my relationships. A step towards honesty and transparency feels risky, but it is a good step—just look at King David and Philemon.