I’ve had this question put to me in various forms hundreds of times during my ministry. “Isn’t there more we can do?” “Have we done everything possible?” “Can’t we do more?” Usually the question is asked in relation to some painful difficulty, often arising from a strained or broken relationship. For example, when a son or daughter begins to turn from the ways of the Lord that parents have tried to teach them. Or when a spouse decides to walk away from marriage. Or a church member decides to break his or her membership covenant.
I have watched parents agonize through tears about the “more” that they could have done to rescue a wayward child. And I’ve heard church members ask, sometimes in almost accusatory tones, “Have the elders done everything possible to help this person” as the process of corrective discipline is unfolding in the church. Several years ago, I started answering this question with a simple, “No. We have not done everything possible” (or “yes,” if the question is phrased in terms of “isn’t there something more that you could do?”).
Without any desire to discount the pain behind the question or the proper desire to spend and be spent in genuinely trying to help someone in need, I have come to conclude that this kind of question, though understandable, is often unhelpful. While it appeals to the right and good principle of self-sacrifice it often does so at the expense of clear biblical thinking. After all, not even Jesus did “everything possible” to make bad situations good.
Jesus let the rich young ruler walk away when he obviously could have gone after him. He could have assigned James and John to guard Peter 24/7 after the last supper to prevent Peter from falling. In the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus has the father letting the son go and then refusing to go after him when the petulant boy decided to leave (and there is no hint that the mother sent him care packages while he remained in the far country).
So while “whatever it takes” and “everything possible” might be helpful phrases for a coach’s inspirational halftime speech, they at least need some careful nuance and biblical parameters when used to motivate Christian conduct. A better, more biblical question for Christians to ask is this: “Have we done everything that God calls us to do?” “Have we obeyed and honored our Lord in this?” This type of question necessarily forces us back to Scripture because it is only there that our Lord has revealed His will to us.
When a church member walks away from his covenant commitments and begins to live contrary to the way of Christ, what is the church to do? Jesus tells us plainly in Matthew 18:15-18.
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence 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, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Could more possibly be done? Yes. You could take 4 or 5 people with you to try to get your wayward brother to listen. You could make a dozen attempts and take a different one or two people with you each time. And after doing so when the question is put to you, “Isn’t there more that we can do?” or “Have you done everything possible to get him to listen?” you will still have to answer, “Yes” and “No,” respectively.
But, for biblical Christians, that is not the question. The question is, “Have we done what the Lord calls us to do in His Word?” If, while acknowledging our imperfections and frailties in obedience, we can answer that question positively, then we can rest in hope as we pray for God to use the means that He has prescribed to fulfill the purposes that He has ordained. This does not remove the pain and grief we may feel as we lament the sins of those we love, nor does it give us a pass on expending ourselves in the pursuit of doing God’s will, but it does keep us from the treadmill of perpetual condemnation for not having done “only a little more.”