The 66 books of the scriptures that God inspired 40 authors over 1500 years, in three different languages, on three different continents to write reveal the nature and desire of our God. He also saw to it that these particular writing would be preserved through many years of people trying to eradicate them and those who believe in them. He did this that we sitting here today might still have an opportunity to read them and come to know the creator of all who loves us so dearly that He would send His Son so that we might be reconciled first to Him but also to one another. It still amazes me to think of it!
If there is a theme to be seen in the Words of our God it is “reconciliation.” That we, who are separated from a holy God, might come into fellowship with Him once again and having received His love might be able to extend it to others. The very cry of Jesus’ heart as He was about to go to the cross was that we might be one as He and the Father are one. What keeps us from this?
DO YOU REALLY LOVE?
Jesus said, “and this is how you will be known as my disciples, if you love one another.”
Jesus also said, “if you love me you will obey my commandments” and He made it clear that the two greatest commandments were to “Love the Lord your God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength and to Love our neighbor as ourselves.” In fact right after that statement He went on to say, “on these two commands do all of the Laws and the prophets rest.” What an amazing thing about our God that all of His commands revolve around love!
In 1 Corinthians chapter 13 God gave Paul the words to write concerning what this love looks like. Firstly in having Paul use the word “agape” for love, which means “love without condition,” then he goes on to give some characteristics of this love.
As I came to Christ I remember reading these words shortly after and wondering, “How is it possible for me to show this love to people!?!” A love that “keeps no record of wrong!” A love that “always trust!” You see… I was beaten, neglected and abused much in my childhood. In fact I remembered a phrase my mom said to me on one occasion as I read this passage the first time. Just after a severe beating she said, “I don’t care if you never come back or if you die on the side of the road somewhere.” I was 12 years old at the time and already had much reason to despise my family and surely had the right to hold an offense against them for the wrong they had done to me as this was one of countless of such incidences.
There I was as a young man reading these words given by a Holy God describing the Love He extends to us then saying if we don’t have this love we are like a clanging symbol. It was a humbling and awe inspiring moment in my life when the revelation of God struck me that I in and of myself could not show this love but if I would truly give all that I am to Him (including my past hurts and offenses) and die-to-self then this love would naturally flow from me.
Today I can say I am reconciled to my family and though they continue at times to do me wrong. I love them without condition, keeping no records of wrongs. I do this because my Lord asks it of me and I soooo want to please Him and have Him live through me. I can say that I love them… this statement is made by many in this world but with no understanding of what real love is as defined in 1 Cor. 13. I would ask the question of you… Do you love those in your life with whom you have had reason to hold offense? Is it “agape” love as defined by God in this passage?
DEATH TO SELF
As we come to know this awesome God and serve Jesus there comes a call to die-to-self as seen through many passages such as Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after me he must first deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.” For any Christian this is a much easier quoted passage than it is walked out. Yet is only in our dying to self and surrendering to the will of our Lord that the Lamb who was slain might receive the reward of His suffering in our lives.
As a pastor many years down the road after my salvation I often encounter people who have an offense or some reason they are not reconciled to another. The question I often ask is… are you dead-to-self? You see, if you are dead-to-self and Christ is living through you then the question is… who is left to be offended?
FRUIT VS ROOT
As we die to self and begin abiding in Christ to greater degrees we should see ourselves more and more often responding in the Spirit rather than reacting in the flesh. This is manifest in what the scriptures call the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
Take notice first that the word fruit is singular. This means that each of these words are not different pieces of fruit but are all aspects of the one fruit of the Spirit that should be evident in us.
Now… the temptation for many of you is to take a “religious” path at this point and begin measuring yourself according to these aspects. Some of you more organized ones will even get out a notebook and begin rating yourselves on a scale as to how you are doing on each aspect. While this can be a helpful exercise that I have used in discipleship/counseling, I urge you to focus on the root not the fruit. The root is where the source of our behavior begins (behavior is the fruit). The behavior/fruit is indicative of what is going on deeper inside us at a root level. The roots are where a plant pulls in it’s nutrients/food. We have all heard the saying, “you are what you eat.” This is true to some degree. What we take in and focus on for our nutrients/food for our soul with effect the type of fruit produced in our lives. Whether we focus on our own selfish desires, counsel from the wicked, as mentioned in Psalm 1, or focusing on Jesus as our source makes a difference in what fruit is manifest in our lives. Jesus said, “a tree shall by known by its fruit.” As people look at the fruit manifest in your life what inferences are they likely to make about source of your security, strength, etc…?
JUSTICE & FORGIVENESS
The thing about the forgiveness, which is necessary for reconciliation, that we as humans have such a hard time with is that it isn’t “just.” We are wired to want to see justice fulfilled. If we have been wronged we feel as though we have a right to see justice. Forgiveness contradicts that and says regardless of my right to be offended or to seek justice in some way… I release you. It is what Christ does for us each minute of each day. A lesson hard learned yet infinite in value is… while forgiveness is not just, it also is not a choice for a believer in Christ. Our life is not our own that we might choose to hold offense.
Consider the word’s of Jesus in Matthew 18:21,
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26″The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. 28″But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. 29″His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ 30″But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32″Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35″This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
When I read this it makes me shutter to think of times when I have been tempted to hold a debt of offense against someone else in light of all the Lord has forgiven me of.
WHAT IS OF GREATER VALUE?
When we hold an offense against someone or put conditions on forgiving someone saying “all will be forgiven if this injustice or that injustice is rectified”, we are telling God “I care more about receiving justice rather than forgiving and loving unconditionally like you ask”. In other words, we are saying “I care more about myself, my feelings, my wants than your wants or my relationship with you”. God does not say “forgive your brother only if they apologize for the right things or in the right way or do what is necessary to make things right”; He just says “forgive.” At some point we must ask ourselves, what is of greater value… my right to hold an offense or the dependence on Christ we gain as we choose to let go of it in obedience and trust?