As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 1 Timothy 5:20
The medical board in each state is responsible to assure the public that those practicing medicine in that state are fit to do so. When a physician has a problem with drugs or alcohol, the medical board must have a mechanism with which to address it. If a physician gets DWI, he (or she) will likely have to go to treatment, attend recovery meetings, and participate in monitoring for a few years to prove that he’s sober.
As long as the physician’s addiction hasn’t directly affected patient care, he will be able to continue to practice medicine – while he remains sober. If, however, the physician fails to maintain sobriety or his addiction affects patient care, then the board must intervene. Up until this point, the process is kept private and is designed to aid the physician in finding recovery. If he’s unable to comply though, or if his addiction impedes his ability to safely practice medicine, the process becomes public. The physician is then usually disciplined and openly reprimanded. At that point, it’s not simply about helping the physician, but rather about protecting the public from the impaired physician.
This sounds quite similar to the process that Paul taught in today’s passage. In it, he said that those in the church who persist in sin must be publicly rebuked. The instruction follows Christ’s teaching in Matthew 18, where Jesus said that the one sinning should be first privately confronted. If he repents, the matter stays private. If he persists, then it becomes public. At first, the process is designed to save the individual from himself. If he continues though, it’s no longer about saving him, but rather about saving others from him.
As Christians, we do have a responsibility to those around us. When we see other Christians struggling with persistent sin, we may not like it, but we have some obligation to confront them. If they repent, then all is well. If, however, they refuse, then it’s no longer just about them, but about protecting others from them. At that point, the rebuke becomes public. We have a responsibility to the entire church as well, not just the individual. At some point, we must protect the whole from those who would bring their self-destruction on others.
It’s easier to stick our collective heads in the sand, but it’s healthier to address failure. When we see it, we must first go to the one who is struggling, privately addressing it, attempting to save him. If he refuses repentance, then it’s no longer about him, but rather about saving others from him.