Sin in the Camp

Israel’s conquest of Canaan began with the miraculous fall of Jericho. They marched around the city, the priests blew their trumpets, the people shouted, and the walls fell down—all as God had promised.

But the great victory at Jericho was followed by a humiliating defeat at the city of Ai. Israel’s army was routed; three dozen soldiers died. Seeing this, “the hearts of the people melted and became as water.” Their leader, Joshua, was devastated. With clothes torn and head covered with dust in mourning, he fell on his face before God, wondering aloud if all was lost. What had gone wrong?

God answered: there was sin in Israel’s camp. He had ordered the people not to take any spoils of Jericho for themselves, but to dedicate everything to Him as the “firstfruits” of their possession of Canaan (Joshua 6:17-19). Someone had disobeyed. “You cannot stand before your enemies,” said the Lord, “until you take away the accursed thing from among you” (7:13b, NKJV).

A thorough investigation revealed that one man, named Achan, had taken some spoils of Jericho for himself. And because of that one man’s disobedience, the whole nation paid a price.

Satan is good at convincing us that we can choose to do wrong and no one else will be affected. The Achan episode reminds us what a delusion that is. One person’s sin can have far-reaching effects.

Sin hurts personal relationships. Achan’s sin caused suffering in the lives of others; 36 families lost husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers because of it. And when he was punished, Achan’s own family perished along with him. Sin makes other people victims.

Some examples of sin’s victimizing are obvious: murder, theft, angry outbursts, etc. But think: is coveting a victimless sin? That was Achan’s problem, and look what it did to Israel. Is sexual immorality a victimless sin? Even if there are no physical consequences, it can wreck another person’s soul, injure their self-worth, and damage their relationships with others. What about drug or alcohol addiction? The addict often doesn’t see it, but his sin hurts his loved ones with disrupted lives, financial problems, and emotional turmoil. And gossip? It ruins reputations and breeds mistrust and hostility.

What’s more, if I get caught up in sin, I become a potential stumbling block to others. Sin craves approval. It often says, “I feel bad about doing this, but I’ll feel less bad if you do it with me.” When I let sin control me, I become the very thing God warns His people to avoid: an evil influence (1 Corinthians 15:33; Proverbs 1:10f).

Sin hinders congregational efforts. Because of Achan’s disobedience, the conquest of Canaan came grinding to a halt. Israel’s God-given mission had to be put on hold until the wickedness was sought out and eliminated. In the same way, sin in the life of a Christian can become an obstacle to the local church in carrying out its divine purpose.

My sin may hinder the church’s efforts to build up disciples. Persistent ungodliness, even if secret, weakens me and creates an added burden on my brothers and sisters (Romans 15:1). If others are aware of my sin, it may lead to discouragement or hardness of heart. And if I persist in it, I will burden fellow saints with the task of having to correct me (Galatians 6:1; 1 Corinthians 5).

My sin also may hinder the church’s efforts to reach the lost. I can easily wreck my own influence and possibly the influence of the church as a whole. Paul told Titus, “In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us” (Titus 2:7-8). Many people are watching us with a critical eye. It takes little for a faultfinding observer to dismiss us as evildoers and hypocrites. We need to “have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men” (2 Corinthians 8:21).

Achan’s sin didn’t only hurt Achan. And my sin doesn’t only hurt me.