The disobedience and misappropriation of one member of the community of faith can hurt the entire community. This thought-truth came to me as I was reading the first chapters of the Book of Joshua, specifically about the First Battle of Ai. You see, when God sent His people into Jericho, the first city attacked, He gave them explicit instructions, through Joshua, concerning the contents of that city:
‘Stay away from what has been claimed by the LORD for destruction, or you, too, will be destroyed by the LORD. If you take anything that is claimed by the LORD, you will bring destruction and disaster on the camp of Israel. All the silver and gold and everything made of bronze and iron are holy and belong to the LORD. They must go into the LORD’S treasury.’ (That is, for use in the Tabernacle of the Lord.)
This was very clear, but not everyone obeyed:
Achan, son of Carmi, grandson of Zabdi, great-grandson of Zerah, and a member of the tribe of Judah, took something that had been claimed by the LORD. So the LORD became angry with the people of Israel.
Consequently, when Joshua sent out troops to attack and conquer the city of Ai, they were defeated. Amazingly, out of about three thousand men only thirty-six were killed; nevertheless, “as a result, the army became terrified and lost their confidence.” For his part, Joshua was completely dismayed and thoroughly discouraged, as one can imagine. Why had this happened? Especially after the miraculous victory at Jericho?
‘Get up!’ the LORD replied to Joshua. ‘Why have you fallen on your face? Israel has sinned. They broke my covenant that I commanded them by taking some of the things that had been turned over to destruction. They have stolen, have been deceitful, and have stored what they stole among their own belongings.’
At this point, one might very well ask (as I did), how in the world did Israel sin when it was Achan alone who took some things that had been “turned over for destruction?” Evidently, there was an intimate connection between that one member and the whole community of faith, the people of God. Pondering this for awhile, it makes some sense, especially in light of what the Apostle St. Paul tells us about the community of faith, the family of God:
For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another… (And so) rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another…
This must have been true for the children of Israel, albeit in a perhaps slightly different manner. They were “individually members one of another,” and so the sin of Achan affected the whole of Israel. Consequently, they lost the First Battle of Ai. After the sin had been exposed, eradicated and punished, the army went on to confidently win the Second Battle of Ai. So again, there was an intimate (although perhaps mysterious) connection between the one and the many, the individual member and the whole community of faith.
Well, too, sin infects and spreads like cancer. Could this be part of the reason for Jesus’ instruction concerning church discipline? Remember, our Lord Jesus said:
‘If one of my followers sins against you, go and point out what was wrong. But do it in private, just between the two of you. If that person listens, you have won back a follower. But if that one refuses to listen, take along one or two others. The Scriptures teach that every complaint must be proven true by two or more witnesses. If the follower refuses to listen to them, report the matter to the church. Anyone who refuses to listen to the church must be treated like an unbeliever or a tax collector.’
And the Apostle St. Paul instructed:
But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one… God will judge those outside (of the church; rather, you) ‘drive out the wicked person from among you.’
In considering all this, the first thought that comes to my mind (and heart) is my own life, and whether or not I have misappropriated anything that belongs to God or ought to be destroyed. Also, more generally, am I living a life worthy of Christ? I have to realize that what I do, or fail to do, does indeed affect the whole community of faith … and it can have devastating consequences! Again, sin is an infection that spreads like cancer.
Secondly, though, an important question arises concerning the effectiveness of the (local) church, to wit: Just how positively effective can a church be if and when it harbors sin – disobedience, rebellion, selfish misappropriation and whatnot – within its ranks? Well, how effective can an army be when some of its soldiers directly disobey orders and/or when they strike out on their own and do what they want, when and how they want? Obviously, the consequences can be tragic, meaning even the loss of lives.
Finally, and more specifically, what affect does rebellious disobedience and sinful misappropriation have in the area of spiritual warfare? Especially, of course, collective spiritual warfare? This all gives me pause to think and wonder, “Is there an Achan among our ranks?” Not to raise suspicion and fuel paranoia, but do we always know – really know – with whom we are fighting principalities and powers of darkness in the good fight we are fighting? One Achan in our band of warriors can bring utter defeat in the next battle we fight … and some might even be badly injured.
So, yes, the disobedience and misappropriation of one member of the community of faith can hurt the entire community. This seems to be a clear teaching, and dire warning, from the Scriptures, the Word of God. So how shall I wrap up this devotional, except perhaps to warn: 1) Take care that you are not an Achan within the community of faith, and 2) without being paranoid or pharisaical, beware of the possible Achan within your midst. Be vigilant. Be alert.
 Joshua 6. 18-19 (GW, God’s Word translation)
 Joshua 7. 1 (GW)
 Joshua 7. 5b (ISV)
 Joshua 7. 10-11 (ISV)
 Romans 12. 4-5 (NRSV, emphasis mine)
 Romans 12. 15-16b (NRSV)
 Matthew 18. 15-17 (CEV)
 I Corinthians 5. 11, 13 (NRSV)