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Priority of Relationships

February 7, 2011 Leave a comment

“Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18:19-20

This is such a wonderful verse, and one that is often quoted in Christian circles. It seems perfect for prayer meetings, Bible studies and church services, for we are reminded of the special presence of Christ among us as we gather in His name. But I noticed something new, something different about this verse as I read it this morning–the context! This passage is in fact the concluding statement to another very famous passage:

“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.” Matthew 18:15-17

Frankly, I was surprised by the context. The verse about Christ’s presence with us always seemed to me to be a verse about prayer or corporate worship – it seems so appropriate that we should be reminded of His presence in such times. Yet the context not corporate worship, but conflict resolution! Here Jesus is giving us extremely practical instruction about maintaining our human relationships. The opening line, “If your brother sins against you,” is quite telling in itself. There are no illusions here. This was not a simple disagreement, or difference of opinion. One person clearly wronged the other. Most of us in such a situation feel wholly justified in completely writing that person off who hurt us. We feel, since we are in the right, since we have the “moral high ground,” that it is their responsibility to come to us groveling and begging for our forgiveness when they realize just how wonderful we are and how despicable were their own actions against us. We are, of course, fooling ourselves, and we have completely left off the Biblical mandate spelled out above.

Jesus, in the above scenario, is surprisingly saying nothing to the one who sinned! Instead, all of His instruction is directed toward the injured party: “If your brother sins against you…” You may have the moral high ground, but that means you also carry the responsibility for reconciliation – otherwise you lose the moral high ground. After all, in the grand scheme, wasn’t God the “injured party” and we His injurers? And wasn’t it God who took the necessary steps to reconcile that relationship? We must be imitators of God, then. We must never become offended or garner resentment, but rather we must be always forgiving, always operating in that “ministry of reconciliation” which Jesus began.

Jesus goes on to say that if your private attempt to gain back your brother fails because your brother is unwilling to listen, you should take a few trusted, but impartial, friends along with you. The obvious function of these friends is to arbitrate. They are able to support you, and encourage the offending brother to repent, or to recognize, perhaps, that both parties are in the wrong, and both in need of repentance. Assuming your brother is at fault, and still refuses to repent after such mediation, it then becomes a matter for the church. If the community is in agreement against the brother, and the brother is still unwilling to hear, all efforts at reconciliation then cease until such time as that brother can acknowledge his sin and repent. It is harsh, but necessary, that attempts at reconciliation have a point of cessation. Frankly, though, reconciliation attempts rarely go so far. In fact, in most cases, no attempt is made whatsoever. The injured party stews and seethes with anger and bitterness, and the wound is never healed. The reality is that most issues will be resolved on that personal and private level, and will require no further mediation.

Jesus said in another place:

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24

Here Jesus shows a curious priority of restoration of human relationships even over acts of worship!! Jesus speak of “offering your gift at the altar.” Jesus is not talking about putting some money in a basket at church, but rather about the Old Testament ritual of animal sacrifice. One would bring an animal sacrifice to the temple to be slaughtered in payment for their sins. It seems strange that Jesus would say, “If, while in the process of making atonement for your sins, you realize that there is a broken relationship in your life – leave your sacrifice at the altar – go make things right, then come back.” Yet this is precisely His message. I think the simple reality is that if we do not have wholeness in our relationships with others, we simply cannot have wholeness in our relationship with God. Period.

It is a reality that our human relationships will be tested, sometimes to the breaking point. As Christ-followers, however, we must be always willing to do all in our power to maintain our relationships, especially with other believers. That said, Jesus even acknowledges that some relationships cannot be mended, and there comes a point at which our efforts at reconciliation must cease. However, not trying is not an option.

With all this said, and with this context in mind, I return to our original passage:

“Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18:19-20

It puts a different spin on that verse, doesn’t it? I realize that in our church services, and prayer meetings, and bible studies, that there are often strained, even broken, relationships. Jesus’ promise of His special presence in our midst, is only when “two or three” are in agreement. When we are harboring unforgiveness or resentment, we are not in agreement. Furthermore, if two Christians are in a room together, but they both hate each other, can we truly say they are gathered “in His name?” Is the Spirit of Christ present where there is resentment, bitterness, and unforgiveness? I believe we can translate the “gift before the altar” scenario to the present day by saying the following:

If you arrive at church, and the music starts, and you begin to lift your hands and offer up praise to God, and in that moment remember that there are some unresolved issues between you and your friend – put your hands down, walk over to your friend and work it out – then return to your seat and continue in worship.

I guarantee that if you follow this, your time of “interrupted worship” will be far sweeter than you have grown accustomed to.

Blessings.

Categories: Bible, Life

Built on the Rock

February 4, 2011 Leave a comment

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and bear on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” – Matthew 7:24-27

As I read this passage, I find that it does not contain any “new revelation” for me, no new knowledge which I had not previously attained. But it contains a powerful and much needed reminder. It was a 2 Pet. 1:12 moment: “Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have.” That is, it is something I already know, something already established in my heart and life, yet something I need to hear and be reminded of from time to time. So much of the Gospel works this way…

Here Jesus is reminding us that “he who hears these words of mine, and does them” is wise. That’s enough right there for a few day’s worth of spiritual nourishment. Wisdom is, simply, following Jesus. There’s no higher, more fulfilling, more successful life to which we may attain than the one over which Jesus has complete sway. This parable is the conclusion to the famous Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus simply levels the false virtue of religious piety and legalism, and provides the blueprint for a life of radical, God-pleasing holiness which should be the mark of every true Christian (though it sadly isn’t). Jesus attacks our propensities toward greed, lust, anger, hatred, divorce, dishonesty, retaliation…need I go on?? He shows that righteous acts performed only “before other people in order to be seen by them” is false, hypocritical and unbecoming of the person who would be honored and rewarded by God. Rather, it is the life you live when no one is looking that truly defines your character. Jesus challenges our ideas about what is best, about which pursuits are most fruitful by saying, “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” He reminds us of the faithfulness of God who will take care of us if we will but trust Him to do so, and encourages us to present our requests to God who gives to those who ask, and who opens to those who knock. It is at the conclusion of this powerful discourse that Jesus says, “Whoever hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man.”

Thus, if we can hear and receive and obey these commands of Jesus to live holy lives before God, to live genuine lives and to trust God above all else, our lives will be like a house founded upon a rock – unshakable, unmovable, steadfast and secure. For what can move the one has anchored himself fully in Christ? It is not to say that storms, and wind, and rains and flood will not come, but none of these things shall move the one who is committed to obeying God. Not so the one who fails to truly obey. He is like one whose house is built on the shifting sands. Perhaps his actions are determined by the opinions of others, or of his own whims and momentary desires. Perhaps he is concerned only with success in business, or with prestige and position. Perhaps the circumstances of his life, good and bad, or perhaps it is simply his own emotions, changeable as they are, which direct his steps day by day. Whichever of these may be the case, such a life is utterly devoid of stability. When the floods come (and they will) such a man has only these uncertain and fickle elements to hold him up. Such a person is doomed to fall. Only when we are founded solidly upon obedience to the unchangeable and immovable rock of the Word of God are our lives assured of success.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!

Let’s live completely for Him!!

Blessings.

Categories: Bible, Life