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The Scalpel, The Chainsaw And The White Flag

Updated: Aug 26, 2019

Daniel Tan

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

(John 8:1-11 )

Since our church (Central Christian Church) believes in and talks a lot about discipling, I thought I would share an analogy that I use somewhat frequently nowadays. We have been talking about how discipling is forming friendships with the intent of drawing each other to be more like Christ. One good example of how Christ acted in dealing with sin is in John 8, which records the account of the adulterous woman.

The adulterous woman was brought before Jesus as a test. The teachers of the law wanted to see whether Jesus would allow them to stone the woman. It was basically a trap; if Jesus said yes, then he would be against the law of Caesar. If he said no, he would go against the custom of the Jews. This was a lose-lose situation. Yet Jesus managed to turn it around; we won't talk about how he epically "owned" the Pharisees here.

The point is at the end of the whole ordeal, he stood up and asked the woman whether anyone had thrown a stone at her. When she said "No", he then told her that he did not condemn her either, and that she should leave her life of sin. Note that neither of these are conditional. Both of these Jesus says as statements. Jesus validated her person, showing grace and mercy, while not ignoring the fact that she was a sinner and needed to repent.

In the same way, we need to learn how to manage our attitudes towards sin. We aim to "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15) as we disciple one another. For some of us, it may be difficult to speak the truth. We could be people-pleasing and not desire to harm a relationship by speaking words of truth because we could look like the "bad guy". We don't want to perform the surgery, because we're afraid of what the other person might feel and say.

For others, we have issues with the "in love" portion of the equation. We would gladly "speak the truth" as we point out the obstacles hindering their spiritual growth, but in harsh and unkind words without considering the feelings of the other person. We don't validate nor contextualise. We simply lay the smackdown and be done with it. Using once again the surgery analogy, we take a chainsaw into the operation theatre and attempt to cut the tumour out.

Unfortunately neither of those approaches is beneficial. Refusal to perform surgery will inevitably lead to death, because you can't remove the growth that is leeching off nutrients. The cancer will spread and it will consume the person until it is too late to salvage anything. On the other hand, the chainsaw might get rid of the tumour, but it will also get rid of the person. Even if the individual survives being literally severed in half, they will never be the same again and the hurt will remain indefinitely.

Rather, surgery has to be performed with a scalpel. With precision and finesse, so that only the tumour comes out and nothing else. It hurts, but it only hurts as much as is necessary. With time, the wounds will heal and the person will come out better than before.

Yet it is difficult to see the scalpel being used because it takes more time, effort and skill. You need to invest a lot into understanding how to wield the scalpel effectively. You need time to perform the surgery properly. And you need effort to get through the challenges that might come along. It is way easier to find an excuse not to perform the surgery or just to "slaughter" the person with the chainsaw.

The purpose of discipling is to wield that scalpel. It is to understand what's the best way to approach the sin so that the person is able to get out of it renewed. That takes practice.

Active listening, encouragement, validation but also intolerance to sin, righteousness and godliness. All these need to be measured out in the appropriate amounts to ensure the surgery is a success.

As Christians, we need to show enough love and concern to put in the time, effort and skill to use the scalpel. It might not have the fastest or the easiest results, but it always has the best results. It's a process that we need to learn sooner rather than later. So today, are you wielding the scalpel, the chainsaw or the white flag?

Daniel Tan

Daniel is currently and forevermore will be a student and a learner, trying to delve into the deep conundrums of life and seeing where the path leads. He enjoys linking different things in life back to God through strange and seemingly random connections. 

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