I realize for the past few weeks this blog has been silent. For that sad reality, I take full responsibility. The fact is, I’ve been feeling a little “Un” – Unchristian, Unwanted, and Uninspired. As the events of the past few weeks have unfolded in my life I realize God has been at work shaping and reshaping my thoughts toward Him, His Word, the Church, and my view of Ministry in general.
Growing up I was convinced the single most difficult command given to Christians was the command to “love your enemies”. However, in view of recent events, I realize there is a foundational principle within Scripture that is much more difficult to live out in the community of faith. We all have our own struggles and I am sure at varying times in our lives the “spotlight” of the Holy Spirit brings to light in us specific areas of development He wishes to address. For example, we may find any of these mandates form Scripture catching us off guard: “give and it shall be given to you”, “love your neighbor as you love yourself”, “be not wise in your own eyes” – any of these can and have challenged us to grow spiritually.
“What sorrow awaits you who are praised by the crowds, for their ancestors also praised false prophets. But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you. If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them!” Luke 6:26-32 (NLT)
But, forgiveness is what I now consider the most difficult command and concept of Scripture. Living in the community of faith being wounded is inevitable. Actions will be misinterpreted. Words will be misunderstood. Hearts will be broken. Yet, in all of this we are commanded to love and forgive. We are reminded to let go of anger and agree quickly with our adversaries. Often the deepest wounds we carry are those inflicted by our family. Those we love the most have the ability to wound us more deeply.
I do not know your struggles and you do not know mine unless we share them. I do not know what church you attend or what internal controversies exist within that body of believers, but I am sure people are wounded. We all go through times of feeling “stabbed in the back”. So, whatever issue is facing you today with love compassion and empathy I urge you to examine your life and forgive.
“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.” Matthew 5:20-25 (NIV)
We have all been called to serve, and at times find ourselves feeling imprisoned for doing the “right” thing. We have no choice but to share the grace of God with others. The gift of that grace is not ours; it belongs to Christ and has been freely shared with us. It now becomes our responsibility to offer it to others. Please hear my heart. Nothing I have said was intended to be harsh, judgmental, or hurtful. It has been spoken in the hope of forgiveness, healing, and restoration – not only for me but the entire “Body of Christ”.
Our service is not offered to gain the praise of others. It is offered to build up and benefit the church. Restoration, reconciliation, and healing are the goals – not personal glory – God’s glory. Forgiveness is the most challenging command we have been given, but it is also the most liberating. Today, I both ask your forgiveness and offer mine to you. As we prepare our hearts for the coming season of Christmas let us first take a fresh look at the gift of His grace through forgiveness.
“Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all. However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ.” Ephesians 4:1-7 (NLT)
I have not always been the happy, well adjusted, well spoken individual who is speaking to you now – Okay some of you don’t see me as any of those things, but I forgive you. The fact is my mother went through “hell” to raise me. Many of us have gone through “hell” to get where we are and some of us are still going through attempting to reach the “promise land”.
You know who the knife in your back belongs to, just as I know to whom the knife in my back belongs. You know your deepest pain, just as I know mine. The question is how to address it. Really, there is only one choice. In families, churches, life and ministry offenses are inevitable. Hurt and pain however unintentional will happen.
The choice we have is in how we allow that hurt to affect us. For this passage I will turn to the Amplified Bible. I believe in some cases it clarifies the text and add to our understanding. Paul instructed Timothy to simply refuse to focus on the offense and present the “Truth”. You and I have the power to accept or reject the hurt caused by any offense. We have the ability to “Do The Right Thing”. “Preserving the bond of peace” does not mean avoiding what is wrong. It is an invitation to correct the wrong in a way that insures that all willing parties recognize and embrace the grace of God. We have a responsibility to pursue and perform God’s will in light of the revelation of His word. We are commanded to avoid the practice of evil – not allow evil to have a free-for-all of destruction through our lives, families and churches.
“But refuse (shut your mind against, have nothing to do with) trifling (ill-informed, unedifying, stupid) controversies over ignorant questionings, for you know that they foster strife and breed quarrels. And the servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome (fighting and contending). Instead, he must be kindly to everyone and mild-tempered [preserving the bond of peace]; he must be a skilled and suitable teacher, patient and forbearing and willing to suffer wrong. He must correct his opponents with courtesy and gentleness, in the hope that God may grant that they will repent and come to know the Truth [that they will perceive and recognize and become accurately acquainted with and acknowledge it], And that they may come to their senses [and] escape out of the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him, [henceforth] to do His [God's] will.” 2 Timothy 2:23-26 (AMP)
At this point, you may be thinking, “But you don’t know what they did. You don’t understand what they said. Well, I would forgive but they never asked.” The resounding answer that will quiet all those thought is: “You’re right!” But, the most difficult mandate of Scripture is no matter the offense – FORGIVE. In granting forgiveness we ourselves are forgiven. In withholding forgiveness we ourselves are condemned.
“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” Matthew 6:14-15 (NASB)
Too often in the “Body of Christ” we sell our inheritance as “sons and daughters” of the “Most High” to hold on to the hurt we have suffered. That hurt grows into bitterness and poisons every aspect of our lives. Our responsibility is to let go of the hurt and look after one another. If we have, in fact, secured God’s grace, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. Employ His grace to set others free from the bondage to sin. In the act of looking after one another and liberally applying grace and forgiveness toward others, we ourselves are forgiven and the “Body of Christ” is strengthened and built up. God is always moving forward. The Church, His people, should also be moving forward. We cannot afford to fall behind and fail to grasp the fullness of God’s grace. We cannot contaminate and defile ourselves and others by allowing bitterness to grow and flourish among us. Trouble, problems, conflicts, and sin must be dealt with clearly, compassionately and quickly. You and I have the power to overcome resentment. That power is love.
“Strive to live in peace with everybody and pursue that consecration and holiness without which no one will [ever] see the Lord. Exercise foresight and be on the watch to look [after one another], to see that no one falls back from and fails to secure God's grace (His unmerited favor and spiritual blessing), in order that no root of resentment (rancor, bitterness, or hatred) shoots forth and causes trouble and bitter torment, and the many become contaminated and defiled by it - That no one may become guilty of sexual vice, or become a profane (godless and sacrilegious) person as Esau did, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.” Hebrews 12:14-16 (AMP)
As we prepare for Communion and look forward to the Christmas season. I invite you to read with me 1 Corinthians 13, measure your life by the standard of love, and repent of any offenses you have caused. Also freely forgive any wrongs you have suffered. Encourage your family and strengthen the Church through the power of LOVE and FORGIVENESS.
Reading together: 1 Corinthians 13“If I speak with the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge it will come to an end. For we only know in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13 (NRSV)