In Jn. 8:1-11 John tells us of an incident, recorded nowhere else in the New Testament, in which the Jews brought a woman to Jesus for judgment. They told the Lord that she had been caught in the act of adultery. They said that the Law of Moses required them to stone her, but they wanted to know what the Lord thought. Their goal was to use His response against Him. If He agreed that she should be stoned, they would turn Him over to the Romans, who did not allow occupied nations to exercise capital punishment. If He said to let her go, they would denounce Him to the people for violating the Law of Moses.
The Lord’s response was amazing. First, He ignored them by stooping down and writing with His finger on the ground. When they persisted in asking Him, He stood up and said, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (Jn. 8:7). The effect was complete and immediate. One by one, from the oldest to the youngest, the men quietly walked away. When they were gone, the Lord stood up and spoke to the woman. In v. 11 He said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”
The primary lesson from this incident is the gracious forgiveness that the Lord offers mankind. This woman was no doubt a grievous sinner, but the Lord forgave her and set her back on the straight and narrow path. Surely if the Lord could forgive such a woman, He can forgive each of us. There is no more beautiful truth in all of scripture.
Unfortunately, some have taken the Lord’s statement to the Jews and twisted it to mean something far different than He intended. Many today now use these words to rebuff any criticism of their actions or lifestyle. If we suggest that someone’s conduct is ungodly, they may reply that unless we are sinless ourselves we have no right to correct them. This is not what the Lord meant at all. His remark to the Jews was based upon His knowledge of their hearts. They were not concerned about this woman’s soul. They were only looking for a way to attack the Lord. This is why He spoke to them as He did.
When we are sincerely concerned for another person’s soul, however, we must try to turn them away from their sins, no matter what our own sins might be. In Gal. 6:1 Paul said, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to himself, so that you too will not be tempted.” When one Christian corrects another, it is not to be done as though the one correcting the other has no sins, but rather, in recognition of his own sins, and in the hope of helping a brother or sister remain in the fold of God.
This is the goal, as stated by James in Jas. 5:19-20. He said, “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” If we may take this action only if we are sinless, then no one would ever be turned back from sin. Therefore, we must correct one another, but we must do so in a spirit of gentleness, as Paul commanded.
The only one who is without sin is our Lord Jesus. None of us will ever attain this by our own power. However, correcting one another in accordance with God’s word is one of the highest forms of love we may show. If we truly care for one another, we will correct each other when we need it, and we will receive such correction with grace and humility. This, after all, is how we can help each other get to our heavenly reward.