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4. How to Rescue a Fallen Brother (Genesis 14)

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At this time Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goiim went to war against Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). All these latter kings joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (the Salt Sea). For twelve years they had been subject to Kedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled. In the fourteenth year, Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him went out and defeated the Rephaites in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzites in Ham, the Emites in Shaveh Kiriathaim and the Horites in the hill country of Seir, as far as El Paran near the desert. Then they turned back and went to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and they conquered the whole territory of the Amalekites, as well as the Amorites who were living in Hazazon Tamar. Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) marched out and drew up their battle lines in the Valley of Siddim against Kedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar and Arioch king of Ellasar—four kings against five. Now the Valley of Siddim was full of tar pits, and when the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some of the men fell into them and the rest fled to the hills. The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. They also carried off Abram's nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom. One who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshcol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people… (Genesis 14)

How do we rescue a brother who has fallen into sin or away from the Lord all together?

One of the ways that Scripture pictures the Christian life is as a continual war. We war against our flesh. Peter said, “flee fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Pet 2:11). Where the world accepts sin and the desires of the flesh as normal, genetic, or at worst a psychological disorder, Scripture teaches that the only proper response to our sin nature is to put it to death. Christ said if your hand offends you to cut it off, if your eye offends you to pluck it out (Matt 5:29–30). We must fight to be holy, and this includes not only our outwards actions but also our inward desires. Christ said that to even lust after a woman was to commit adultery (Matt 5:28).

We war against the world. The world is constantly trying to conform us into its image (Rom 12:2). It wants us to think like it, to dress like it, to worship like it, and to live like it, in every way. And if one does not conform to the ways of the world, he will receive persecution, even if that means being considered strange (1 Pet 4:4). Scripture says that friendship with the world is enmity with God. He who is a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God (James 4:4).

We war against the devil. Ephesians 6:12 says that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against powers, principalities, and rulers of the darkness. Our enemy fights against all that is good, just, and righteous. He tempts, distracts, oppresses, and even captures believers. Second Timothy 2:24–26 describes a believer that has been caught and trapped by the devil. It says:

And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

But not only do we war against the flesh, the world, and the devil, we also war to save those who have fallen captive to the temptations of each. This was the ministry of Christ. In Luke 15, he compares himself to a woman who loses a coin and cleans the entire house to find it. He also compares himself to a shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to save the one who went astray. This was the ministry of Christ, and it also must be our ministry, as his body.

Therefore, believers must fight to save those who have gone astray. If you have been a Christian for any amount of time, you know somebody who fell away from God or is caught in some sin. Maybe, they don’t go to church anymore; maybe they have anger towards the leadership of the church. Or maybe their struggle is more subtle. At church they worship and praise just like everybody else, but on the weekdays and on the weekends, they look no different than the world. Or in their private lives they have deep struggles that they won’t tell anybody about. Many of these people don’t even realize that they are captives to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life (1 John 2:16). They don’t realize that ultimately Satan has trapped them.

Again in 2 Timothy 2:26, Paul describes these people as drugged and taken captive to do his will. They are not thinking properly; they need to come to their “senses.” Many times, like the prodigal son, they have to hit rock bottom to realize how far away from God they really are (Luke 15:17). One of the ministries of Christ, and therefore believers, is restoring an erring brother. James 5:19–20 says this:

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

James is clearly referring to saving a professed Christian from death because he calls the original audience, “brothers,” and says, “If one of you should wander from the truth.” This is a ministry that we all must be a part of in some way.

Here, in Genesis 14, we see that Lot, the nephew of Abraham, was captured by an army of four kings from the east. The four kings of the east were at war with five kings near the Dead Sea, which included Sodom. When they conquered Sodom, they took Lot captive, and Abraham went to save him.

The story of Lot is a sad one. In Genesis 12, Lot went down to Egypt with Abraham and while there he got a taste of the world, and he loved it. In Genesis 13, he lifts his eyes to look at Sodom, which was known for its wickedness, and the text says that to him it looked like a well-watered plain in Egypt (v. 10). Lot had gotten a taste of the world and its wealth and was now ready to leave the land of God’s blessings for the lure of the world. In Genesis 14, he has moved into the land to gain the wealth of it, and then became a slave because of this decision.

One commentator said this about Abraham and Lot: “Abraham was the father of the faithful…. And Lot, his nephew, was the father of all such as are scarcely saved.”1 First Corinthians 3 describes how each believer’s works will be tested by fire at God’s judgment. Some will enter heaven with rewards, and others will enter as ones who just escaped the flames (v. 15). Yes, they were saved, but their life was worldly. They turned people away from God, instead of turning people towards God. Christ calls these people the least in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:19). However, along with them, there will be the faithful, who will be welcomed into eternal dwellings by all those they blessed during their life on the earth (cf. Luke 16, 2 Peter 1:11). Abraham is a picture of this type of life.

Peter calls Lot a righteous man so we know he was saved (2 Pet 2:8). But he was a righteous man that loved the prosperity of the world. In this narrative, he is captured, which probably was a discipline from God.2 Abraham saves him; however, Lot doesn’t seem to repent as he moves right back to Sodom. In chapter 19, he loses everything because of his short-sighted decisions. Sodom is destroyed by God with everything Lot owned. His wife was turned into a pillar of salt, and his daughters, who still had Sodom in their heart, raped him and bore children by him in the mountains. Lot, though a believer, was a captive to the world, his desires, and Satan. He wasn’t thinking correctly.

In this text, we see Abraham, the father of all those who believe (Gal 3:7), save Lot, and this must be our ministry as well. “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:19–20). By going after them, we will save them from a multitude of sins and possibly an untimely death, as a discipline for sin.

How do we restore a fallen brother?

Big Question: What principles can we learn about rescuing a fallen brother from Abraham’s rescue of Lot?

To Rescue a Fallen Brother, We Must Be Separate from the World and Sin

One who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshcol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. (Genesis 14:13–14)

Observation Question: What was the reason for this war?

In this story, five small kings from around the area of the Dead Sea rebel against King Kedorlaomer of Elam, whom they had served for twelve years. In the ancient world, one of the ways nations found protection was by subjecting themselves as vassals to a great king. They paid taxes to the king, and in return, the king protected them. After twelve years of serving as vassals, the five kings broke the contract, which started a war. King Kedorlaomer and his three alliances from the east came down to fight against Sodom, defeating them and taking the spoil—which included Lot.

Abraham is about 120 miles away from these kings3, and he seems unconcerned about them, until he hears that Lot was taken. Somebody from Lot’s household had escaped and told Abraham (v. 13–14). Immediately, Abraham responded by preparing a rescue mission.

Observation Question: As we consider Abraham’s narrative up to this point, in what ways can we see that Abraham lived a life of separation (cf. Gen 12–14 and 14:13 specifically)?

One of qualities that is necessary for us to perform the ministry of rescuing fallen brothers and sisters is that we must live a life of separation. Because Abraham was not in Sodom, and therefore not a captive, he could seek to rescue Lot.

We must remember that Abraham, even though he resided in Canaan, did not live like a Canaanite. Canaan was also known for their sin but not to the extent of those living in Sodom. While in Canaan, Abraham lived a separate life.

We can see his separation in several ways. When Abraham first entered Canaan, he built an altar to the Lord (Gen 12:6–7). Scripture says that he built the altar right by the great tree of Moreh, which was probably a shrine for pagan worship, as the Canaanites believed that trees represented fertility. This did not matter to Abraham; he immediately built an altar to the living God there. He was in the world but not of the world.

We also see Abraham’s separation in how he chose to live. Abraham never built a home in the land. As we follow the narrative, we see that Abraham lived in tents the entire time he stayed in Canaan (cf. Gen 12:8, Heb 11:9). He never settled down, he was a pilgrim ultimately waiting for his heavenly home. Similarly, Scripture calls us pilgrims (1 Pet 1:1, 2:11). This is not our home, and this reality was clearly seen in Abraham’s life. While Lot settled down and built a home in Sodom (cf. Gen 14:12; 19:2), Abraham continued to live as a pilgrim, even in the land of promise.

Finally, we also see Abraham’s separation in the title given to him. He was called “the Hebrew” (Gen 14:13). “Hebrew” means “the outsider, the person with no secure place in society.”4 This probably represents the way he was viewed by the Canaanites. He was different, and everybody knew it.

Yes, we are called to be good citizens and to help society become better. We are called to be salt and light, but nevertheless, we must remain different. We are pilgrims. This world is not our home.

Sadly, with many Christians, the world cannot see any difference. Many use the same language as the world, watch the same movies, listen to the same music, wear the same clothes, have the same goals, the same worldview, and practice the same morals (or lack of). Nothing really separates them from the world, and therefore, they are not effective in reaching the world or helping someone caught in sin.

Here, Abraham lived outside of Sodom and was even considered an outsider in Canaan. Sodom in Scripture always represents the world. He was outside of it and, therefore, could rescue Lot. Consider what Paul wrote to the Corinthians, which was a church who struggled with worldliness. He said:

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? (2 Corinthians 6:14–15)

Paul said that we must not be yoked in any relationships with unbelievers. Yoking is a farming picture. A cow and a donkey cannot plow together. They have different temperaments and strengths. They will pull against one another, and the work will be unproductive. They may even hurt one another. In the same way, Christians yoked with the world cannot work for God. They will be unprofitable in the fields of the kingdom. They won’t even be able to plow a straight line and will do more damage than good.

Abraham was known as the Hebrew. He was an outsider. You do not need to look like the world to win the world. Salt must be different than the medium it is placed on for it to be effective. You must be salt; you cannot be bland. You must be light; you cannot live like the darkness. It is only by being different that you can win the world or restore Christians in error.

Yes, we must incarnate—meaning to the Jew, we must become a Jew as Paul taught (1 Cor 9:20–22). But this means adopting aspects of the culture that are not sinful or that could potentially lead us or others into sin. We must abstain from all appearance of evil (1 Thess 5:21). This is what Abraham did, and this is what we must do, if we are going to rescue our fallen brothers.

Application Question: Why is it important to be different in order to restore an erring brother? How can we discern what aspects of culture we can adopt and those that we must abstain from? Share examples.

To Rescue a Fallen Brother, We Must Be Motivated by Love

One who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshcol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. (Genesis 14:13–14)

Interpretation Question: Why does Abraham risk everything to save Lot?

After hearing the bad news, why does Abraham prepare a rescue mission for Lot? Clearly, the motivation was love. Abraham loved and cared deeply for Lot. Verse 13 says that Lot was “his relative.” Abraham had essentially raised him for many years after the death of Lot’s father, Abraham’s brother (cf. Gen 11:28). Abraham was willing to go and confront four armies, with only a couple hundred men. It is obvious that Abraham loved Lot a great deal.

This is the very reason that we must go after those who have fallen into sin. We must go after them because we love them. Jesus said to his disciples, “A new command I have given you, love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). How did Christ love his disciples? He loved them so much that he left the comfort and wealth of heaven to come to earth and die in order to save man from sin.

Abraham in this passage is a type of Christ. He risks death to save his relative over 2,000 years before Christ came to the earth to do the same. And this is the way that Christ has called us to love as well. We must love people in such a way that we are willing to risk anything to save them.

Application Question: What keeps many Christians from reaching out to those caught in sin?

There are many reasons:

1. Some won’t reach out because of pride.

They say to themselves, “Serves them right! They shouldn’t have been doing that any way!” These people have forgotten that they also were once captives to sin, and God graciously saved them. Pride can often keep us from reaching out.

2. Some won’t reach out because of apathy.

Abraham was safe at his home in Canaan, 120 miles away, however, this wasn’t sufficient reason to not get involved. Christ was safe and protected in heaven, and yet, he came down and got involved in our mess. It is easy to be apathetic if it doesn’t affect us. We must be careful of apathy.

3. Some won’t reach out because of sin in their own lives.

A common reason that many don’t reach out is because they have compromise in their own lives. If they tried to help someone caught in sin, they would feel hypocritical, and they might be rebuked by those they were trying to help. Therefore, Satan condemns them and keeps them from reaching out to others.

4. Ultimately, the main reason we don’t reach out is because we don’t love as we should.

Love compelled Abraham to go and save his relative, and it should compel us as well. Love for God and love for others should be our greatest motivation to serve. Paul said, “For Christ’s love compels us” (2 Cor 5:14). He served because Christ’s love inside of him compelled him to. In Philippians 1:8, he said to the Philippians that he loved them with the very loins of Christ. It must be the same for us.

Application Question: How do we grow in love so that we can be more effective in restoring fallen brothers?

  • We must pray for love.

Paul prayed for the Thessalonians to abound in love for one another (1 Thess 3:12). We must pray for this as well. Love is a gift that God gives his believers. He pours it out into our hearts by his Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5); therefore, we must pray for it.

  • We must practice love as an act of discipline.

Love is not primarily emotional, as the world often teaches. That type of love is fickle. Love is an act of the will. We choose to love as a discipline. When our enemy is thirsty, we give them something to drink. When our enemy is hungry, we give them something to eat (Rom 12:20). This is an act of love. Sometimes, we may not have the emotions. We may not feel like helping somebody who is caught in sin. But, as an act of love, we must. We must love as an act of discipline.

Application Question: Who is God calling you to love more so that you can be part of his or her rescue mission?

To Rescue a Fallen Brother, We Must Be Spiritually Trained

When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. (Genesis 14:14)

After Abraham hears about Lot being taken, he calls out the 318 trained men born in his household to go and pursue Lot. The expression “born into his household” does not necessarily mean that they were born as babies in Abraham’s house. Chuck Swindoll adds great insight to this. He says,

This ancient expression meant “not purchased.” The narrator makes it clear that these men were servants by choice, not involuntary slaves. Back in the days before strong national governments, people sought safety in numbers. Some became citizens of a city; others asked to live under the protection of powerful men like Abram, offering their personal service in exchange for the benefits of community. They were not slavishly bound to Abram; they participated in a business arrangement: provision and protection in exchange for loyalty.5

Most likely these were men who sought provision and protection in Abraham’s household. While there, they were trained to fight. Because Abraham was so wealthy, there were probably always looters trying to steal his herds and other wealth. Therefore, these men had to be trained. The expression that the narrator uses is very telling of their training. “‘He led forth … 318 of them’ is literally, ‘drew out 318 men,’ as you would draw out a sword from its sheath.”6 “It has the connotation of unsheathing his trained men. It portrays Abram’s servants as a blade that had been forged, sharpened, and polished into a gleaming, razor-sharp instrument of death.”7

These men were like weapons in the hand of Abraham. They were trained and ready to die for the master they loved. Similarly, if we are going to rescue those who have fallen into sin, we also must be trained. Paul said something similar in Galatians 6:1: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”

Paul said that those who are spiritual must be the primary ones that go after someone caught in sin. Essentially, he says that the untrained are not ready to go into dark territory and rescue someone caught in sin. This is a dangerous ministry that we must be trained for. How can we be trained to do this ministry?

Application Question: How can we become spiritually trained to rescue captured believers?

1. The spiritually trained believer lives a holy life.

It is because this believer has learned how to conquer his own sin that he can help others caught in sin. He does battle with his anger, depression, insecurity, and lust and has learned how to gain victory. Therefore, he is prepared to help others who struggle with the same vices. They are not perfect. In fact, it is their imperfection that makes them ready to help someone struggling. They see themselves in the same war and still susceptible, but they have learned to protect themselves and have victory. This humility helps them better minister to those caught in sin. These spiritual believers have been wounded and hurt in battle, and they still bear the marks. Therefore, they can relate to those struggling.

2. The spiritually trained believer abides in the Word of God.

Consider how John describes spiritual young men in the church in 1 John 2:14. He says, “I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” It is because the Word of God abides in these young men that they can defeat the evil one. Like Christ, when tempted, they know and use Scripture to secure victory.

In fact, we must use the Word of God when ministering to those stuck in sin. Second Timothy 3:16–17 says: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

It is by the Word of God that we teach them what is right and wrong. We expose sin when we teach. It is by rebuking that we confront those in rebellion. These people know what they should be doing, but they don’t want to do it. Therefore, they need rebuke through Scripture. We often do this by showing them the consequences of sin and the coming discipline of their heavenly Father. Through Scripture we also give correction. It is by correction that we lead fallen brothers to the right path. Correcting is a word used of restoring something to its proper position. After they receive correction, through the Word of God, we can train them on how to live righteously. It is one thing for a person to know and accept that he is living in sin, but it is another thing to know how to do what is right and how to stay free. The Word of God equips the man of God for this ministry. It sharpens them like a sword.

In considering John’s metaphors of the child, the young man, and the father from 1 John 2:12–14, the spiritual child does not know how to be set free; sometimes, they live for years in habitual sin. They need to be helped and trained by others. However, the young man has become strong because the Word of God lives in him. He is not hit or miss with his devotions. The Word of God lives or abides in him. It is an all-day affair. The young man is still prone to pride and lack of wisdom because of his youth, but he has learned how to do warfare and he wins more than he loses. The father is more seasoned. He has history with God, and his life is devoted to training and equipping others. The spiritual child, who is prone to go astray and pick up spiritual bruises and pains, must grow up into spiritual adulthood by rigorous study of the Word of God.

First Peter 2:2 says, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” In the Greek, grow is passive. Literally it can be read, “so that it may grow you.” The Word of God does all the work. We must get into the Word of God, and it will make us grow. The spiritually trained believer is someone abiding in the Word of God.

Are you abiding in God’s Word?

3. The spiritually trained believer trusts God—he is a person of faith.

We can discern this by Abraham and his trained men’s mission. They only have a couple hundred men against four armies. These four armies had just defeated five armies. It was a ludicrous mission. No doubt, these were men of the same faith as Abraham. They knew that God had a plan for Abraham, and Abraham had taught them about his faith. They had even seen God’s power, as he inflicted Pharaoh’s household with a disease to protect Abraham. These were men of faith. Other than sheer foolishness and possibly blind devotion, there is no other way to explain their acceptance of this mission. They believed God could rescue Lot.

Similarly, a spiritually trained believer is also a person of great faith in God. They are not counting on their knowledge of the Bible, their wisdom, or endurance to set a prisoner of war free. They are trusting in God alone. Only he can open the eyes of the blind and confused. Only he can set the captive free. Listen again to what Paul says about how the man of God seeks to restore those who have been captured:

And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24–26)

Paul says this person doesn’t argue or fight with others because his hope is in God. God is the one who grants repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth. It doesn’t make sense to raise one’s voice, to get upset, and hold grudges. That is a picture of someone trusting in themselves and not God. The spiritually trained person is not a quarreler. He is gentle because he knows God is sovereign over the hearts. He teaches, rebukes, and corrects, but his manner in doing these is different than the spiritually immature because he trusts in God. He works but leaves the results in God’s hands. He is a person of faith.

4. The spiritually trained believer is a person of prayer.

Again, because he is not trusting in his own strength or wisdom, he is faithful in prayer. When Paul teaches about putting on the armor of God in spiritual warfare, he closes with an exhortation towards prayer. He says, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Eph 6:18).

He says to pray in the Spirit on all occasions and to always keep on praying for all the saints. Spiritual warfare is done in the atmosphere of prayer. The spiritually trained believer is a person living in prayer. He is not only praying for those he knows but for all saints. The spiritually trained believer recognizes that this is a global war and not just a local one, so he faithfully petitions the Father.

Paul says that we should have all kinds of prayer. “All kinds of prayer” includes corporate prayer. This believer understands the power of corporate prayer (cf. Matt 18:19). Like Abraham pulling out his sword of trained men, they constantly call on their prayer warriors to pray and sometimes even fast for those caught in sin. The spiritually trained realize that the more prayer offered to God, the sooner and the greater the deliverance. Like Paul, they constantly ask others to pray (cf. Eph 6:19, Col 4:3–4).

Are you one of the spiritual people who are called to go after others who have fallen? The sad thing is that there are very few trained men and women in the church. Very few are willing to prepare themselves for this ministry. Like soldiers preparing for war, it takes hard work, but it also takes faithfulness. Many don’t like to faithfully get up in the morning to pray and read the Word. They don’t like being faithful in an accountability relationship with someone more mature than them. It takes faithfulness to train, and also it takes faithfulness to do the ministry of caring for fallen brothers and sisters.

Are you willing to prepare for a life time of rescuing other believers?

Application Question: What are other characteristics of the spiritually trained who are called to rescue fallen brothers? Does Paul’s admonition to the “spiritual” mean that less mature believers should not participate in this ministry at all?

To Rescue a Fallen Brother, We Must, at Times, Partner with Other Likeminded Brothers

One who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshcol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram…. I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshcol and Mamre. Let them have their share.” (Genesis 14:13, 24)

Another thing we can discern about the ministry of rescuing fallen brothers is that sometimes we need to partner with other likeminded brothers. We must notice that Abraham not only had his 318 trained men, but he also had an alliance with three other men living in Canaan (Aner, Eshcol and Mamre). They probably had trained men of their own.

Because of constant threats in the ancient world, not only would nations partner with other nations for protection, but also tribes with tribes. Abraham had partnered with three other men in the land. Maybe, these people had become followers of God because of Abraham’s witness. The text does not tell us. We can be sure that if they were pagans, Abraham’s partnership with them did not negatively affect his values in any way at all. No doubt, these men had benefited from God’s blessing on Abraham, and now they wanted to partner with him in rescuing his nephew.

This practice is also important for restoring those caught in sin. Most times, this is a ministry that should not be done alone. We often need the prayers and counsel of others to restore a fallen brother or sister. Surely, before Abraham heads off to rescue Lot, he took counsel with his three alliances on how it should be done. They attacked at night while the armies were resting and routed them. No doubt, Abraham had the wisdom of wise counselors. We will need this as well.

Similarly, Scripture calls us to at times go with others to restore a brother in sin. Consider Christ’s directions in Matthew 18:15–17:

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Christ said we should at first go by ourselves to speak to a brother in sin. If he doesn’t respond, then we should bring one or two others. If he still doesn’t respond, then it should be brought before the church. If he still doesn’t respond, then the church should separate from this brother. By doing this, they are lovingly disciplining him so he can see the severity of his sin and repent.

The problem with many restoration projects is that people are not willing to challenge or subsequently separate from believers in rebellion, who choose to continue in sin. Listen to what Paul says about how we should treat a brother living in sin that will not repent:

I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat (1 Corinthians 5:9–11)

However, the primary point we want to focus on here is the need for others to be involved in the restoration process. Yes, at times, it is wise to first go and speak to a brother alone, especially if we know him or her well. But after that we must seek further help from the body of Christ. Abraham, not only had his 318 men but also an alliance with three other likeminded men who helped save his nephew.

Who are your alliances? Who are your partners in ministry? Who are the ones that you seek counsel from in order to best minister to someone struggling? Who are the ones that you seek for help when the situation is too difficult for yourself? If we are going to perform rescue missions, we must have godly alliances.

Application Question: In what ways have you seen or experienced church discipline? How can we practice this ministry in a loving way that promotes the health of the church and the health of an erring brother or sister?

To Rescue a Fallen Brother, We Must Use Wisdom

During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people. (Genesis 14:15–16)

Observation Question: What wise tactics did Abraham use to defeat the four armies from the east?

As mentioned, Abraham used wisdom to defeat these four armies. We see this in several ways. (1) He attacks at night while they would be resting. (2) He divides his men to surround the camp. (3) And he pursues them for a great distance, which would have kept them from regathering their forces for a counterattack.

This is true for believers as well. Rescuing fallen brothers is a dangerous mission and, therefore, calls for great wisdom. We see this type of wisdom used throughout the Scripture when followers of God fell into sin. When David committed adultery with Bathsheba and killed her husband, the prophet Nathan did not just show up and directly challenge David about his sin. He used great wisdom. He comes up with an elaborate scenario of a rich man who took a poor man’s only lamb and killed it for dinner, which greatly angered David. Then it was revealed that David was the man (2 Sam 12). He used great wisdom.

How can we use wisdom in ministering to those fallen into sin?

Application Question: In what ways can we use wisdom in ministering to those who have fallen in sin?

1. We use wisdom by seeking the counsel of other mature saints.

This was mentioned before. Abraham probably sought the counsel of his alliances before attacking the four kings of the east. Similarly, we must seek wise counsel. Proverbs 11:14 says, “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisers make victory sure.” This is war terminology. Every nation has a department of defense. It is there that the generals, other advisors, and the president gather to make wise war-time decisions. Scripture says many advisers make victory sure. It can also be translated there is “safety in the multitude of counselors.”

Again, rescuing a brother that has fallen into sin is dangerous. Spiritual forces are involved, and it can often negatively affect the entire church. This is a decision that many times needs the counsel of wise saints.

2. We use wisdom by discerning who might be most effective in restoring a person in sin.

Often in restoring a fallen brother, the person that knows him best may be the most effective in reaching him. A person with no prior relationship might actually push the person further away from God. This is something to be discerned.

3. We use wisdom by speaking the truth in love.

Ephesians 4:15 says, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” The manner of this ministry is very important. If we only have truth, we can hurt people and push them away from Christ. What we are saying might be true, but the way it is presented can at times be destructive. A wise person ministers in a loving manner. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath.” Our manner of ministry is very important. We must have truth, but it must be presented in a loving manner.

4. We use wisdom by discerning the heart of the person in sin.

We must discern if this person is open to receive correction or if he is not. Christ said this in Matthew 7:6, “Do not cast your pearls before swine.” There were times when Christ had opportunities to minister to people and try to restore them to God, but he said nothing. When Herod was trying to get Christ to do a miracle, he said and did nothing (Luke 23:9). Wouldn’t this have been a great chance to share the gospel with the king? Absolutely not. Herod had no interest in following Christ as Lord; he only wanted to see the miracles (v. 8). Christ would not cast his pearls before pigs. A pig cannot properly evaluate a pearl. He will step on it, roll on it, and even play with it in the mud. It is pointless to waste such a valuable jewel on such an animal. Christ said there are some people like that.

How do we know when our attempts at restoration will be totally wasted on a person like casting pearls before a pig? Most times, we won’t be able to know this until we have tried to restore the person. Listen to what Paul said to Titus: “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:10).

Paul said if you have warned him twice and he still won’t respond, have nothing to do with that person. He is self-condemned. There is a point when the wise believer stops offering the pearl. He is not ready to receive. At that point, we may need to step away from them, pray, trust God, and wait for his heart to be ready.

Application Question: What are some other aspects of wisdom that can be helpful in ministering to those caught in sin? Share a time when you saw or experienced wisdom being used to restore a fallen brother or sister.

To Rescue a Fallen Brother, We Must Guard Ourselves from Temptation

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshcol and Mamre. Let them have their share.” (Genesis 14:18–24)

Interpretation Question: Who was Melchizedek? What does the narrative and the rest of Scripture teach us about him?

After the victory, the king of Sodom and the king of Salem, Melchizedek, came out to meet Abraham. Melchizedek brings wine and bread and speaks to Abraham first. He says, “‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.’” Melchizedek means “King of Righteousness” and Salem means “peace.” He was the priest of God and, at the same time, king of what would later become Jerusalem. Even though he is only mentioned a few times in Scripture, he is considered a great man. In Psalm 110:4, David prophesied that the future messiah would not be a priest in the order of Aaron but a priest from the lineage of Melchizedek. Christ is both a priest and king—two lines that were always kept separate in Israel.

Melchizedek, the priest of God, discerned that this victory was not something Abraham could have done in his own power. That is why he blessed “God Most High.” The source of this victory was clearly divine (cf. Prov 21:31). Abraham implicitly agrees with the assessment. We know this because Abraham gave a tithe to God by offering it to Melchizedek.

It must be noted that Abraham did not say, “Hold up! What about me? I am the one who led the army!” No, he agrees with Melchizedek. God was the one who won the victory.

After this time of worship to God, as Melchizedek prayed and Abraham gave a tithe, the king of Sodom approached Abraham. He asked for the people taken from his land and offers Abraham all the spoils (v. 21). This would have made Abraham even wealthier. Sodom was known for its great wealth in the ancient world (cf. Ezek 16:49–50).

However, even though Abraham would have had great wealth, he refused the king of Sodom’s offer. He says,

I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’

Abraham knew that God had promised to make him great, and he didn’t want the king of Sodom stealing God’s honor. It seems that the reason Abraham does not accept the wealth is not only because he is trying to protect the honor of God, but also to protect himself from temptation. The prosperity of Sodom was the very thing that caused Lot to fall into sin in the first place. Also, if Abraham accepted the king of Sodom’s riches, he would be indebted to him, and he did not want any alliances with the world. In fact, it must be noted that the king of Sodom’s name is Bera (cf. 14:2) which means “gift”8 and Sodom means “burning.”9 Those who accept the gifts of the world will not leave unscathed.

This is important for us to hear because ministering to those caught in spiritual slavery is again a very dangerous ministry. It comes with many temptations. Abraham was tempted to be proud. Where the king of Salem sees God in this victory, the king of Sodom only sees Abraham. He is not a believer, and he does not see the divine hand on this victory. Abraham also was tempted with the riches of this world, the very temptation that landed Lot in slavery and later caused him to lose everything.

Many times when ministering to a brother caught in sin, the very temptation that a brother is enslaved to will become a temptation for us. The one who is caught in a cult, exposes others to the teachings. The one caught in sexual sin often exposes others to lust. Sometimes, even just listening to the details of a sinful act becomes a form of temptation.

Rescuing people caught in spiritual slavery is sometimes like trying to help someone drowning in water. The person drowning, often to save themselves, will cling to the rescuer in such a way that it could potentially drown him. This happens all the time in rescue ministry. In fact, there is a temptation for the person caught in sin to only see the rescuer and not God. This can lead to codependency—an unhelpful helping relationship—which can at times suffocate those in a rescue ministry.

This ministry brings many temptations. That is part of the reason Paul calls for the spiritually mature to be the ones who do it. Consider again Galatians 6:1: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”

One of the things we must be careful of in rescuing a fallen brother is the many temptations that come along with it.

Application Questions: In what ways can we protect ourselves from temptations associated with rescuing fallen brothers or sisters?

1. To stand against temptation, we must be strengthened by other godly brothers and sisters.

In this narrative, by God’s grace, Abraham meets with the priest of God, Melchizedek, before encountering the king of Sodom. Again, Melchizedek blesses God in this narrative and calls him the “Creator of heaven and earth” or it can be translated the “possessor of heaven and earth” (v. 19). The priest reminds Abraham that not only did God win this battle for him but that God owns all things. In fact, when Abraham replies to the king of Sodom, he uses the same title. He says, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath” (v. 22).

It seems that Abraham still had the influence of the priest on him, when encountering the temptation from the king of Sodom. After being strengthened by the priest, Abraham boldly rejects the great wealth of Sodom. We also should continually have times of prayer, encouragement, and accountability from other likeminded brothers while performing rescue ministry.

2. To stand against temptation, we must practice sacrificial giving.

After being blessed by Melchizedek, Abraham immediately responds by giving a tenth of everything (Gen 14:20). It seems he is not giving a tithe of the spoils since he did not accept any wealth from the king of Sodom. Therefore, he must have given a tithe of all his wealth. Abraham was very wealthy; therefore, this would have been a very generous tithe.

This is an important principle for us as well. The more sacrificial we are with our wealth, our time, our career, and our plans, for the Lord, the less of a grip the world will have on our hearts. The temptations of this world will be minor to a man or woman that gives as generously as Abraham (cf. 1 Tim 6:17–18).

However, those who will not take up their cross, those who have no sacrifice in their lives are more susceptible to the temptations of the world, because the world has a tight grip on their hearts. Their focus is their time, money, friends, and plans—instead of God’s time, money, friends, and plans. In order to stand against temptation, we must sacrifice. We must be people who take up our cross daily and follow Christ (Luke 9:23).

3. To stand against temptation, we must continually make commitments to God.

Abraham committed to God that he would not take any of the king of Sodom’s wealth (Gen 14:22). This is important to hear because earlier in chapter 12, Abraham accepted great wealth from the pagan king of Egypt, Pharaoh. See, Abraham had failed previously in this area. That is probably why he made a commitment to God.

Sadly, often when Christians fail, they declare that they don’t want to repent or make a commitment because they know they will just fall again. I’ve met Christians who didn’t want to go to a retreat, a purity pledge, or a discipleship school because they say, “Oh, I will just get on fire for God, go home, and then flame out.” That is dumb logic. If you fail, you should just re-commit.

This is the process for every man or woman of God. Abraham will fail again. He fails in Genesis 20, when he lies again about his wife. However, this did not stop him from making commitments.

Proverbs 24:16 says, “for though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity.” Seven times is not meant to be a definite number; it is meant to represent many times. The righteous man keeps falling, but he keeps getting back up. The difference between the righteous and the wicked is that the wicked fall to calamity and stay down.

One of the ways we stand against temptation is by continually making commitments to God. Don’t let your failures deter you from making a commitment to God. It didn’t deter Abraham, and he is the father of all those who believe (Gal 3:7). He was a righteous man that just kept getting back up.

What commitments is God calling you to make today?

If we are going to restore fallen brothers, we must guard ourselves from the temptations associated with this ministry.

Application Question: In what ways have you seen or experienced temptations in trying to help someone caught in spiritual slavery? What are some other ways that we can protect ourselves?

Conclusion

How can we rescue a brother or sister who has fallen in sin?

  1. To Rescue a Fallen Brother, We Must Be Separate from the World and Sin
  2. To Rescue a Fallen Brother, We Must Be Motivated by Love
  3. To Rescue a Fallen Brother, We Must Be Spiritually Trained
  4. To Rescue a Fallen Brother, We Must, at Times, Partner with Other Likeminded Brothers
  5. To Rescue a Fallen Brother, We Must Use Wisdom
  6. To Rescue a Fallen Brother, We Must Guard Ourselves from Temptation

Copyright © 2017 Gregory Brown

The primary Scriptures used are New International Version (1984) unless otherwise noted. Other versions include English Standard Version, New Living Translation, New American Standard Bible, and King James Version.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.


1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1991). Be Obedient (pp. 35–36). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

2 Wiersbe, W. W. (1991). Be Obedient (p. 32). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

3 Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: Beginning and Blessing (p. 208). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

4 Wiersbe, W. W. (1991). Be Obedient (p. 32). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

5 Swindoll, Charles R. (2014-07-16). Abraham: One Nomad's Amazing Journey of Faith (Kindle Locations 748–751). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Kindle Edition.

6 Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: Beginning and Blessing (p. 208). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

7 Swindoll, Charles R. (2014-07-16). Abraham: One Nomad's Amazing Journey of Faith (Kindle Locations 787–789). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Kindle Edition.

8 http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/bera/

9 http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/sodom/

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