Collateral Damage

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Collateral Damage

By Grant Gaines

As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once famously said, December 7th, 1941 was a day that has lived on in infamy. This, of course, was the day that Japan attacked and devastated the naval base Pearl Harbor which resulted in the death of 2,335 soldiers.

But these men and women weren’t the only ones to die on that fateful day. Reports have shown that nearly 70 civilians were also killed in this tragic attack. They weren’t the targets of Japan’s attacks, they were simply collateral damage. “Collateral damage” is a general term for deaths, injuries, or other damage inflicted on an unintended target.

While we see examples of collateral damage most clearly in war, it certainly isn’t the only place where collateral damage takes its toll. The Bible indicates that our sin also has a nasty long arm that reaches beyond ourselves to affect others as well. Take, for example, how one man’s sin in Joshua 7 affected an entire nation.

In chapter 7 of the book of Joshua, we enter the scene right after the Israelites had destroyed Jericho after entering the Promised Land. As you’ll recall, the Lord miraculously tumbled the walls of Jericho right before the Israelites’ eyes without having them lift a single finger; all they had to do was march around the city’s walls for seven straight days and the Lord did the rest.

Joshua, who was the commander of the Israelite army, knew that the Lord had given his army the victory over Jericho before a single sword was ever drawn out of its sheath so he gave his soldiers a list of “post-war celebration orders,” if you will. Among these orders, Joshua solemnly warned his men, “Do not take any of the things set apart for destruction, or you yourselves will be completely destroyed, and you will bring trouble on the camp of Israel. Everything made from silver, gold, bronze, or iron is sacred to the LORD and must be brought into His treasury” (Joshua 6:18-19, NLT).

Pretty simple orders, wouldn’t you agree? However, just as Adam and Eve did when they received the most simple of orders from the Lord Himself – don’t eat from the tree in the middle of the Garden (Genesis 2:16-17), a certain man named Achan failed to uphold this straight forward order. Apparently the glistening gold and shiny silver that was lying around the city was just too beautiful for Achan to leave alone, he had to take some even though it was strictly against the rules laid out beforehand by Joshua.

And the result? The Lord withdrew His hand of protection over Israel’s army causing 36 men to die (Joshua 7:5), the Israelite army to be defeated by the city of Ai (Joshua 7:5), and Achan and his entire family to get killed for his selfish sins (Joshua 7:24-25). Talk about some nasty collateral damage!

But while the consequences of our sins may not be as dramatic or pronounced as Achan’s sin, they certainly carry with them the same bitter poison that is able to ruin both our lives as well as the lives of those around us if we’re not careful. Certainly we’ve all heard stories of a man who cheated on his wife and left her and their children for another woman. The consequences of that action, like Achan’s, are obvious. But just because our consequences aren’t oblivious doesn’t mean they’re not there.

For example, if you’re drowning in a world of fear, hatred, or pride at work, wouldn’t you agree that those emotions could pretty easily creep into your home life? No longer are you the fun-loving husband, wife, mom or dad that your family has grown to know and love, you’re now a shell of yourself because your sins follow you wherever you go. Now you’re not the only one who is suffering the consequences of your disobedience – your entire family and friends are suffering as well.

Or maybe you’re failing to spend time with the Lord every day through His Word and prayer. John 15:4-5 very clearly declares that unless we abide or “remain” in the Lord (and what better way to do that than through reading His Word and prayer), we will bear no fruit. We’ll bear no fruit as in no Fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). You could see how the inability to bear those attributes could negatively affect those around you, couldn’t you?

Just as they did with Achan, our sins have the ability to affect not only us, but those around us. This thought is pretty scary, isn’t it? But this isn’t a fear that we should run from, but embrace. We must let this thought resonate at the forefront of our minds every time a temptation comes our way so that we will be reminded that one little peak at an inappropriate website, one little lie at work, or one little “off-day” from our time with the Lord doesn’t simple affect us, but those we love as well. Let that thought scare us away from walking in sin.

I heard of a pastor who took this idea very literally. He wanted to make sure that he wouldn’t fall into the sin of sexual immorality so he decided he would make a list of all the people that would be affected if he were to give into lust. What started out as a simple exercise on a yellow pad that he thought would start and end with his wife and children very quickly stretched into a list of well over 100 people. The pastor said that he was so terrified of letting that many people down from one act of selfish pleasure, that he committed that day to never comprise his integrity for a moment of pleasure.

What helped him stick to his guns when the temptation rose? He kept that list of 100+ people who would be absolutely devastated if he were to fail them in this way in the top drawer of his desk. Any time he felt tempted, he pulled out that list and began to thumb through page after page until the weight of his potential sin melted away because of his fierce love for those names written on the page.

That may seem like a drastic step to take, but drastic steps are often the only medicine that can cure our souls from the plague of sin. Maybe it would be helpful for you to take a moment to jot down the names of all the people you would injure if you were to be prideful, angry, grumpy, fearful, lustful, and so on. After all, if it took God doing something as absurd as laying down His own life so that we could receive eternal joy, don’t you think we would have to take some bold steps to walk in this promised freedom?

What are the names of five people that your sins would affect?

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©Grant Gaines 2017


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