Let’s start with a quick review and then close of the section of 1 Corinthians 3 that we’ve been studying for the past few weeks.
If you recall, we’ve been looking at Paul’s threefold illustration to describe why the Christian church needs to ensure that they remain united. Remember that in this section Paul is addressing the major problem that the Corinthian church is facing, that being divisions among them. They were a divided church.
They had divided over many issues, but to make matters worse, without telling them, the church had decided to claim different teachers and apostles as the leaders of their various factions. And so Paul begins by calling them children, chastising them for their immaturity and telling them that he’s disappointed that he can’t talk to them like mature believers, but instead has to deal with a bunch of fighting.
It’s almost like the school teacher walking into the classroom, or a parent coming into the children’s room, and seeing them brawling in the middle of the floor. That’s not why they came in, and they really don’t want to deal with it. They had a whole lesson planned out, something amazing to tell them, a story to share, a wonderful new experience to give them – but now they have to give the same old lecture about why they need to get along, why fighting is bad, how they should be treating each other better, why fighting hurts their heart, etc.
They had so much more planned for them, but now they have to backtrack and talk to them like their toddlers. That’s how Paul starts chapter 3.
And so, to teach these immature believers why what they are doing is so serious, Paul uses three illustrations. His first is to liken the church to being a farmer’s field where God is the owner and everyone else is a worker. There’s no reason to elevate one over the other because it’s God who gets the glory anyway! We covered that a couple weeks ago.
Next, he likens the church to being a building that is being built by the actions of the individual believers in the church. He warns them that a day of fire (or day of trouble) is coming and that it will test what their church is made of – so they’d better make sure that their church is made of solid stuff. We talked about that last week.
Today, we read the final of this trifecta of illustrations where Paul says the church is God’s temple. This is the most poignant of the three and it comes with a threat.
You Are God’s Temple
Open up to 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 and let’s read it together:
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
It’s really interesting the way that Paul starts this. He takes the previous illustration about the building and reveals that they’re not constructing just any building, but are, piece by piece, deed by deed, prayer by prayer, song by song, visit by visit, charity by charity, are building God’s temple!
He seems almost flabbergasted that they wouldn’t know this. “Guys! Don’t you know who you are and why it is such a huge deal that you are united under Jesus? It’s because your church, your family of believers, is the very place where God resides. Yes, as we read elsewhere, every believer is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, but at the same time, when Christians are together, they remain one, single temple. It’s an amazing concept.
He doesn’t say, “Don’t you know that you are all temples”, so you should all act like it. No, Paul changes from talking about individuals to talking to them as a collective. The “You” there is plural. He’s saying, “You are all God’s temple, collectively.”
Now, the temple, in the Old Testament, was the very location of the presence of God in the world. At the time this was written, around 54AD, the Temple in Jerusalem was still around. It would be destroyed in only 16 years. Consider what Paul was saying here – and what it meant to the people listening.
They looked around the city of Corinth and saw many, many temples. Huge, beautiful places of worship that were said to be the temporary homes of the gods. And many of the Jewish people in the church had been to see the Temple in Jerusalem, experienced the solemnness, the gravity, the power, and the presence of God in the temple. They had seen the priests walking around, had witnessed the sacrifices, and perhaps even watched as the High Priest made his procession towards the Holy of Holies, the most sacred place on earth.
And now Paul was saying that God had moved. Just as He has moved from the Garden of Eden into the Tabernacle, and from the Tabernacle into the Temple, so now God had moved again – not into another building, but into the hearts of believers. Just as the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem once housed the presence of God, so now, the temple curtain had been split, and now every believer carried the very presence of God with them everywhere they go. The Christian heart, in a very real sense, is the Holy of Holies.
Anyone Who Destroys
Which is where that really scary passage in the middle there comes from. “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.” This goes back to the temple priests who, if they did something against the temple, violating God’s rules about treating it with the utmost respect and keeping it special and holy, would be put to death. 1 Peter 2:9 says Christians are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” . In other words, every believer is given similar joys and responsibilities to what the temple priests had!
- When you visit your Christian friend, you are coming as a priest of God.
- When you share the gospel with your neighbour, you do it as an ambassador for Christ.
- When you bring a casserole over to a sick family, you are acting out your duty as a temple priest.
- When you worship in song, run the a/v, hand out bulletins, give encouragement, pray over someone, help in their garden, attend their wedding or funeral, or just shake their hand in the street, you do it as someone with the Holy Spirit inside you, a representative of God, a part of the chosen race, the royal priesthood, the holy nation.
It’s a huge deal.
Therefore, in the same way as God took seriously an Old Testament priest marring or disrespecting the physical temple, so God takes just as seriously Christians who violate the sanctity of His spiritual temple, that is, the body of believers around you.
So, to divide yourself from the church by choosing not to gather with fellow believers, or through fighting, jealousy or neglect, you risk incurring God’s wrath. To hurt a fellow believer is like profaning or blaspheming the temple of God.
How serious is this? Let’s go to another passage that works in a similar way. Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15) Does not forgiving someone mean you will lose your salvation? Or, does not attending church mean you’re not going to heaven? No, because your salvation is not bound to your actions, but to your faith.
What this is talking about is your daily relationship with God, the cleaning away of the cobwebs of your soul, the retuning of your spiritual radio so that you can remove the static of sin and hear God more clearly. This is the action of daily repentance for your sins against others, and granting forgiveness for the sins they have committed against you. If you don’t do that, then you do not understand forgiveness, and God will hold back his hand of forgiveness toward you.
In the same way, someone who is not in right relationship with their brothers and sisters in Christ, won’t be able to see or hear God well, will still have a stain of guilt in their soul, will grow more bitter towards God as they grow more bitter towards others, will be a worse image of Christ for the world to see, will be walking in darker places, will be abiding in death instead of life, and will be under the judgement and discipline of God. Does that sound like a temple priest? No, because it’s a high standard.
Unity is Critical
Believers shouldn’t divide from one another. Why? Because they are God’s Field, God’s Building, and God’s Temple. Each of those illustrations is a collective one. We are meant to be together. The only bad thing on earth before the fall of man was that it was “not good for man to be alone.” (Gen 2:18) Even in the perfection of Eden, before the Fall, standing full in the presence of God, it was not good for man to be alone. Why? Because we are designed to be together.
Therefore, as individuals in the church, each of us have the responsibility to ensure that we remain united! Unity should be the number one, overriding characteristic that shows people how Jesus has changed us. Jesus says in John 13:35,
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
In fact, multiple times in scripture, it is how we treat our fellow believers that shows the condition of our heart. One of our assurances of salvation is that we have a drive to love our fellow believers, the brothers and sisters that make up our forever family.
“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:14-15)
“Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.” (1 John 2:9)
“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:19-21)
After praying for the disciples during the Last Supper, He prayed for us. And what was the central theme of that prayer: unity.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:20-23)
How will the world know that Jesus is the Saviour, sent by God? One huge way is by how the people of the church treat one another. And Paul reveals why? Because the presence of God is no longer in a building – He’s in us. We are God’s temple, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. When people want to visit God, know forgiveness, be ushered into His presence, and be told about the message of salvation – they can come to us: the people of God’s church.
What this Means, Practically
So, what does this mean, practically? It means we live out our faith and obedience to God by loving the people of our church first. Over and over in the Bible we are told to do good, but not just to everyone, we are to begin first with the body of believers around us (Gal 6:10).
It means, of course, forgiving one another as you have been forgiven (Eph 4:32), and keeping a short account of wrongs. But it also means, as 1 Peter 4:9 says, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling”, having one another into each other’s homes – even the people you don’t know or who are difficult guests.
How about this one from Colossians 3:12-13:
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
See that? He reminds us that we are God’s chosen ones and then says that because of that, we need to be patient with one another, bearing with one another. That means when someone in the church is rude, difficult, judgemental, or anything else that annoys us, we… bear with them in love! Why? Because God bears with us all the time.
And there are so many more, but let me give one more from Hebrews 10:24-25,
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
We talked about what “the Day” means last week, right? The day Jesus comes back, and the days of trouble that will inevitably come to our life. So, how do we get ready? Stir one another up towards love and good works, encourage one another, and not neglecting to meet together.
Why? Because, to quote an old maxim, “United we stand, divided we fall.” That’s how God has set it up from the very beginning.
We are God’s Field workers, each one as valuable as the next.
We are God’s House, built by the individual actions of each person here.
And we are God’s Temple, the holiest place on earth, full of priests who proclaim salvation through Jesus alone.
How do we show it? By our unity and mutual love.
We like doing things ourselves, right? I think almost everyone here today takes pride in the skill and abilities they have, what they can accomplish, and how, for the most part, they don’t really need anyone’s help to get by. Sure – as I said last week – some of us are willing to admit our weaknesses and need for God for spiritual things, but when it comes to practical things – like home repair, cooking a meal, fixing a car, building a shed, manipulating a computer, or making clothes – we’re still pretty fond of the fact that we don’t need anyone’s help to do it.
I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Being a do-it-yourselfer is good. Actually, in scripture, God praises the one who learns skills and then applies them with diligence. It’s not only those who know the Bible and practice spiritual disciplines that get kudos, but God also shows His pleasure with those who work hard at growing their business, playing music, build, manufacture, teach, explore, or make art. During the building of the Tabernacle in Exodus 35, God called on all people who knew to spin yarn and linen, work metal, grow plans and herbs, carve wood, and more.
There were a couple of men in particular that God blessed to be able to do all kinds of practical things. It says,
“Then Moses said to the people of Israel, ‘See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of workman or skilled designer.” (Exo 35:24-29)
Sometimes Christians look at men and women who know lots about the Bible, or write, or are able to preach, or teach Sunday school and assume that’s what God wants all believers to try to live up to – but it’s not true. God needed a lot of skilled workers to build His temple and serve His people, and Bezalel and Oholiab were specially gifted by God to be craftsmen. And it’s the same in today’s church. We need all kinds of people in this world, this community, and this church.
If they would have said, “Since I’m just good at doing artistic stuff and am not a priest or a lawyer or a holy man, then I can’t work for God.”, they would have been disobeying God. All the time that these men spent alone in their sheds, planning, carving, pounding, moulding, and polishing – and apprenticing others how to do the same – brought glory to God and helped the worship of the entire nation of Israel.
And the priests would be sinning if they were to look at them and say, “I can’t believe you’re wasting your time banging metal together and weaving strings! You shouldn’t be an artist or hunter or shepherd or politician or soldier – you should quit all that and start doing important things!”. That would go against what God built and asked them to do.
God has given skills to some people that others will never have – because He decided they should have them to use them for His glory and the good of humanity. Many of Jesus parables aren’t based in the spiritual realm but in the practical side of life. He tells stories about farming, banking, housekeeping, construction, wine-making, baking, fishing, management, and law – and we never get a hint of Jesus disparaging or minimizing any of these occupations. It is the priest and the religious expert who get blasted by Jesus, not the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker.
Working in The Spirit’s Power
Why am I telling you this? Well, first, it’s important, but I also think it relates to our passage in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. Let’s read it and then I’ll riddle it out for you:
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”
The simple message today is that there are some things in this life that God offers to partner with us on and some things that He is required to do all by Himself.
If you remember Paul’s story you will recall that Paul was a skilled guy with some of the best training the ancient world had to offer. Before he ever knew Jesus, his name was Saul, and he was already a formidable intellect, an unmatched student, and a force to reckoned with. He spoke multiple languages, had memorized huge quantities of not only scripture but also secular teachings, and was one of the most skilled lawyers in the world. He was a powerful speaker and no one could match his devotion or his resolve. He had the ferocity of a shark, the skill of a fox, the wisdom of an owl, the memory of an elephant, and the determination of a pit-bull. People feared getting on the wrong side of Saul.
When Jesus turned Saul’s world upside down, he became Paul the missionary. And did Paul still use his great powers for the sake of spreading the gospel? Sometimes, yes. He gave unparalleled speeches before great worldly counsels, brought wisdom and insight to the apostles, and figured out more theology than almost anyone ever. Even the Apostle Peter said that some things in Paul’s writings are so complicated that they require a great deal of study and effort to understand (2 Peter 3:16). He was a true genius.
And yet, if you remember the story of Corinth, when Paul came into town the first time, he wasn’t he mighty man of God we might think he was. No, he was a man at the end of his rope. Saul the powerful persecutor had become Paul the broken and persecuted. He was alone, exhausted, rejected, afraid, and perhaps even ready to quit being a missionary altogether. But God had met him in a special way, had strengthened Him, encouraged him, and told him to keep preaching.
Paul’s message to the Corinthians wouldn’t be like his message to the Athenians or the Jews, or anyone else. Instead of turning all his mental and intellectual powers towards convincing people about the truths of Jesus’ claims to be Lord, God and Saviour, he decided to keep things very simple and leave the convincing up to God.
When Paul came into Corinth, he had only been an active, traveling missionary for about 4 years, but he had learned some valuable lessons during that time. One main thing he learned was that he needed to speak to people in a way they understood. He tells the Corinthians later that
“I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law… that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law… that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” (1 Cor 9:19-23)
Paul learned the importance of contextualizing his message to his audience. Which was one reason he made the decision not to “proclaim to [the Corinthians] the testimony of God with lofty speech and wisdom”. As we’ve said before, that would have been a distraction to them.
But he had learned another lesson too: that the success of his work wasn’t dependent on his intelligence or abilities but on God’s blessing. His missionary journey had broken him down, and as he taught the Corinthians, he didn’t sound like one of the greatest teachers in the world – instead, he was weak, fearful, and even trembling. He didn’t use a lot of arguments and illustrations and human wisdom (what he calls “plausible words of wisdom”), which would have impressed them, but instead, he abandoned all of that and “decided to know nothing among [them] except Jesus Christ and him crucified”.
He didn’t talk about the idols in town and draw illustrations from them. He didn’t give them history lessons or impress them with poetry and quotes from great philosophers – which he certainly could have, and that’s how the most popular teachers spoke. Instead, he kept it simple: Jesus of Nazareth is God incarnate, and the only way of salvation. He lived a perfect life, died at the hands of sinners, and rose again to conquer death, hell and sin, and offers forgiveness to anyone who would turn from their sins, and believe that He is their Lord, God and only Savior.
I’m sure there were many discussions and many challenges, but instead of trying to impress them with his great knowledge, win them with powerful arguments, twist them in circles with his intellect, he simply talked about Jesus Christ who died on the cross to save sinners.
He left the persuasion up to the Spirit of God. If God wanted the Corinthians to become Christians… if God wanted to plant a church in this pagan town… if God wanted to turn people in this crazily sinful city into disciples of Jesus… then God would have to do it.
Paul would be obedient and preach – but He wouldn’t try to do anything else. Not only was he was too tired and broken, but he had learned that if he tried to do it in his own strength, it would blow up in his face – especially in Corinth, the seedbed of Satanic influence. If he used his own strength, then maybe they would become disciples of Paul – but not Jesus. He wanted their “faith” to “rest not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” And so he left the persuasion of souls up to God, by leaving any demonstration of power up to the Holy Spirit.
Working With God
And so, I say again: The message today is that there are some things in this life that God offers to partner with us on and some things that He needs to do all by Himself.
God doesn’t need us to do anything. He is perfectly capable of doing whatever He wants, but sometimes He prefers to accomplish His will through His people, so He invites us to work with Him. He gives us skills, abilities, gifts, time, energy and opportunity – and then says, “Ok, go do the thing I just set up. I’ll go with you to make sure it works.”
It’s like when your three year old wants to help you build something. You buy the pieces, do the planning, make the measurements, organize the equipment, and figure out the best time to do it – and they hold the flashlight, pound in the final nail, or get to paint a little part of it. And then later, they can tell all their friends, “See that thing over there? I built that!” Are they right? Of course not. But what does mom or dad say? “Great job! What a big help you were! Do you want to do something else together?”
I think God is like that sometimes. He does 99.99% of the work, and then says, “Ok, now, I’ll do this last part with you. Go build this thing. Finish this up. Talk to that person. Draw that picture. Make that meal. Give them that book. Fix that thing.” And it takes a bunch of our energy and effort and time, but we finally finish, and then, when something incredible happens as a result, we sit back and think, “Wow, see that over there? I did that!” Are we right? No, of course not. But what does God say? “Great job! What a big help you were! Do you want to do something else together?”
I think it’s like that when we partner with God. Christians who walk with God a long time start to realize this and more and more turn the glory back to God. They realize that it wasn’t them that did anything, but God working through them. They may have partnered with God in obedience, but it was really God who gets the glory.
That’s similar to what Paul was doing. He knew that he was supposed to preach and teach. It was his job and he was using the skillset God gave him. Just like Bezalel and Oholiab were good at arts and crafts, so Paul was good at talking. He was called and built for that purpose, and would be disobeying God if He didn’t do his job.
But He knew that whatever happened, it was God’s show. He knew that the more he depended on his own abilities and strengths, the less God would shine through Him. The more they saw of Paul, the less they would see of Jesus. And so he resolved, especially in his weakened state, to show as little of Paul, and as much of Jesus, as possible.
Things Only God Can Do
We have to realize, as Paul did, that there is nothing of eternal we can do without God, and there are a lot of things that are completely outside of our control. And, if we want God to act (to demonstrate His Spirit and His power), then we need to stop trying to do it for Him.
It would be like the three year old taking the pencil out of the adult’s hands and saying, “I’ll plan out this project.” Or taking the skill-saw away and saying, “Stand back, dad, I’ll cut this wood.” Or saying, “Get out of the kitchen. I’ll figure out how to make Thanksgiving dinner myself! Last year you made something I didn’t like, so this year I’m going to do the whole thing on my own.”
That’d be crazy, right? A toddler can’t do that. They’d get hurt, hurt someone else, ruin the project, and likely burn down the whole house. “Here, let me wash that phone for you.
“Here, use this wrench to cut that wood.” “Here, let me decorate that car for you.” A child absolutely needs to depend on the adult to get the job done right and safely.
It’s the same with us. There are things that we simply cannot do, that require a demonstration of the Spirit, and a movement of the power of God. And if we try to do them, we just mess it up! There are a lot of things that I could list, but consider these for a moment:
As much as we want to argue and convince people that we are right, we cannot change people’s hearts – only God can do that. Faith is a gift from God, not a skill we can teach. The Gospel and all its implications can be defended and explained, but it takes God changing a heart before it will be embraced.
Or pride. We cannot kill the pride within us – only God can. We can pretend to be humble, but even then we start to get prideful about how humble we are! Only God can truly humble us.
We cannot remove fear from ourselves. We can do all manner of worldly things to try to control fear or even ignore it – but we cannot remove it. Only God’s perfect love can drive out fear.
We cannot stop worrying, and we cannot take away anyone else’s worry. We can give someone money, but we can’t remove worry from their hearts. We put someone in a safe place, assure them of their security, but nothing but a miracle from God can remove their worry.
We cannot generate love for someone, or make ourselves be able to truly forgive someone. We can chose to perform loving actions, and choose to forgive, but only God can ignite a love within us so strong that it overcomes our own hatred, bitterness or selfishness.
We cannot learn to hate our sin – that requires a miracle from God. We will make excuses for our sin, say how much we need it, explain it away, or bury it in a dark place so only we can see it. Even if it makes us sick, destroys our family, hurts our body, and destroys our minds, we can’t make ourselves hate it so much that we want to be free of it. Only God can do that. Only the power of the Holy Spirit can show us how hateful sin is. Unless God does that, we – and anyone we are praying for – will stay in their sin.
Let me give you two quick applications:
First, in all you do, partner with God. Sure, we can work with our hands, serve our family, fix something, and do a million other things without even thinking about God – and the unbelieving world does that all the time – but we can also do those things in partnership with God, which makes them an act worship and gives them everlasting value. That’s why scripture says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…” (Col 3:23), “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10:31) “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col 3:17) When you acknowledge the presence and the partnership of God in whatever task, it will bring a new meaning to all you do.
Second, and more importantly, realize that you are also utterly dependent on God for everything in your life. Don’t live as a “religious Christian” for spiritual things, but a “practical atheist” the rest of the time. You will not be able to see a demonstration of the Spirit’s power if you are trying to do everything yourself and fix all your own problems. You are designed to need God, therefore stop being too foolish or prideful to ask.
It’s not your job to hold it all together, to be strong for everyone, to fight the good fight alone, or pull up your own socks. The more you exercise your control, the less you are giving to God. The more you work in your own strength, the less you will get from God. The more you try to figure it out in your own wisdom, the less wisdom you will get from God. If you’re trying to calm the storm, then you’ll never turn to Jesus who can do it for you. If you’re trying to make everyone safe and secure, you’re refusing the help of the one who can actually protect you. If you’re trying to plan your future without talking to God, you are performing a hopeless task.
There’s a great line in a song from Casting Crowns that says, “I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held.” That’s a great line and an important truth. It’s not your job to hold on by your own power – what you need to do is acknowledge that in order to see God’s power at work in your life, you need remember that you just need to be held by Him.
We just finished going through the Gospel of Mark together, and it took 43 weeks, so for this series I want to do the opposite – I want to do four books in four weeks. Today I want to start a four-week series that I’m calling “summer shorts”, where we are going to go through four of the shortest books in the Bible, each from the New Testament: Philemon, Jude, Second John and Third John. Each of these books is less than a chapter, less than 500 words, in fact.
Now, to call them “books of the bible” is a little misleading. They’re not books, they’re letters. Each one of these letters was sent to their respective churches to address a very specific issue, and I believe that studying them will help and inspire each of us to grow in that respective area. I’m really looking forward to this mini-series and I hope you are too.
Let’s get started by looking at the letter from the Apostle Paul to Philemon – just 335 words long. Before we read it, I want to give you a little background on what is happening here.
This is a letter, written by the Paul while he was a prisoner in Rome (which we’ve talked about before), and was delivered to the same place as his letter to the Colossians. As he sat under house arrest, awaiting trial before Caesar, he wrote letters to some of the churches he visited during his missionary journeys or that had been planted by those churches. There were various motivations, but mostly it was to address issues that had cropped up in the churches – like false teachers, bad theology, church fights, etc. – after he had left.
He had various helpers around him while under house arrest, sometimes people he had brought with him to train further, sometimes people that had tagged along, and others that had sought him out. When they came, they brought him letters from the churches, financial support, and, of course, news about what was happening at the church – which all prompted the letters.
One of the letter carriers was a man named Onesimus, who had a unique story. He was originally from Colossae, but was now in Rome, and had come across Paul’s ministry – and became a Christian. Pretty soon, he and Paul became friends and ministry partners, and as they worked together, Onesimus’ story came out. It turned out that he was a runaway slave, who, in the providence of God, had actually ran away (and stole from) one of the key leaders in the church that Paul had planted in Colossae – a wealthy man named Philemon.
This complicated matters because, under Roman law, a running away and stealing from one’s master was punishable by death. Paul knew that the best thing that could happen would be for Onesimus to go back and make things right with Philemon, but who knew how he would react. Onesimus was scared that Philemon, though a good guy and a Christian, might be angry, or think that he needed to set an example of him to the rest of the people that worked in his household. But returning was the right thing to do, so Paul wrote two letters – one to the church, addressing their theological and practical issues, and one to Philemon himself, addressing the Onesimus problem.
So as we read, picture Onesimus, the runaway slave, walking towards Philemon’s house, letters in hand, then standing before his former master, holding up the letter and having him read these words:
“Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.
Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus—I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.
Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.
Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”
Who Was Philemon?
Let’s talk about the main character first, so we can get an idea of what’s happening here. It says that this letter is addressed to a few people: Philemon, Apphia (who is likely Philemon’s wife), and to Archippus (who is probably Philemon’s son and a teacher in the church in Colossians.) This family was the host family for the church in Colossae. Very wealthy, very involved in the church, and very well known in the community.
Paul and Philemon are clearly friends and ministry partners. Paul calls him “beloved” or “very dear” to Him. He’s a man who loved others, had a strong faith, showed generosity and hospitality to many people in his church and community. He was a good, Christian man who shared his faith and his finances with others.
Paul opens with a prayer for his friend Philemon, one of thanks to God for him and all the good memories Paul has of the kind of man he is. Paul, sitting under arrest and awaiting a trial that might cost him his life, had a lot of things on his mind, but Philemon was such a great guy, such a helpful Christian, such a powerful influence for good to so many churches (especially in Colossae) , that he was memorable to Paul. He likely funded some of Paul’s missionary journeys as well as supporting the hurting people of the church in his city.
Paul also says that he “hears” (using the present tense) that Philemon has kept up the good work. Even after Paul moved on, and with all the difficulties of having a big home, a business, and being in ministry, Philemon has continued to be an example of faith and generosity. Verse 7 says that Paul gets much joy and comfort just by thinking about Philemon.
His love for Paul is evident, but it’s more than that. It’s because so many local Christians and missionaries abroad have been “refreshed”, encouraged, had their weight lifted, their work eased, and their hearts filled by Philemon’s generous ministry.
Do you know anyone like that? A good, generous hearted person that, when you start to think of them, you can’t help but smile? I know a few. They’re the people you don’t need to worry about offending because they’re not looking for a problem – their patient and kind. They’ve got your back. They’re the people that you can go to with a problem and you know you’ll get help without strings attached. They’re the people that, when crisis hits, they always seem to be there with an encouraging word and something to ease the struggle. They don’t have a personal agenda, they’re not trying to fix you, they’re just there, helping, loving, giving, and making you feel loved.
I remember a time, after I was going through the darkest period of my ministry, I discovered a few of these people that make me smile when I think of them. One person stands out in particular. I had recently resigned from my church with nowhere to go, after a very difficult ministry. The government was taking its sweet time in getting us our Employment Insurance, and we were at the end of our money – literally, less than a dollar in the bank. There were no prospects on the horizon and it looked like we were in trouble. It was a tough time for my family.
One day we got a call from a lady who wondered if she could come by and bring us some strawberries. She was a quiet person – someone who never popped up on anyone’s radar. I said, “of course” and she showed up at our house a short while later. She handed me the strawberries and thanked me for letting her bring them over, and then gave me an envelope. After handing me the envelope, she literally ran to her car as fast as she could. I tried to start a conversation with her, but all I could manage was a quick thank-you as she popped into her car and sped away.
We hadn’t told anyone about our financial struggles, but had agreed to trust God for our needs. I gave the strawberries to Anita, and opened the envelope – to find a very generous amount of money – exactly what our family needed until the EI came.
The word that Paul uses in verse 7 is exactly the right word – we were “refreshed.” Her action not only blew our minds, but gave us a huge amount of encouragement at exactly the right time. It showed us the generosity of God and of our fellow believers. It renewed our faith in God and revived our weary souls. It reminded us that we weren’t alone, that God supported our decision to leave, that He would take care of us, and that not all Christians are hypocrites who do more harm than good – which is how we were starting to feel. We were “refreshed.”
Do you know anyone like this? I hope you do. Are you someone like this? I know that some of you are. You are a Philemon, one who brings joy, comfort, love and refreshment to the saints around you because of your willingness to encourage people and be there to ease their burdens. It brings you joy, and brings joy to the ones you help. You show us the heart of God, often when we need to see it the most. And we smile when we think about you.
Remember Who You Are
Was Paul just buttering up Philemon because he was about to ask him something difficult? I don’t think so. It is more likely that Paul was absolutely genuine in his praise and thankfulness – but that Philemon would need a reminder of who he was. He would need a reminder that he was a good, Christian man before Paul moved on.
We all need that kind of reminder sometimes. Sometimes, when we’re feeling low, forgotten, depressed, tempted, angry, afraid, we are presented with something that goes counter to what we believe. Satan’s voice starts to get a little louder, and more seductive. “Why no do that? You deserve it. You’ve been good, so you’ve earned it. No one will know. Why not?” and sometimes, the answer we need to give is that “We’re Christians” and that means something.
We’re not Hindus or Buddhists or Islamic pagans who believe that we just need to do more bad than good. We’re not atheists or agnostics who do things out of pragmatism or self-interest. We are Christians who believe that God is good, His ways are good, His word is good, and we want to be like Him. We are Christians.
We sometimes need to remind ourselves what we believe.
- I believe that sin is wrong.
- I believe I’m not the centre of the universe.
- I believe that God has a law that is to be obeyed.
- I believe that Satan is real, is tempting me, and wants to harm me and the people I love.
- I believe that Jesus is better than anything else.
- This is what I believe and where I’m going to stand.
- I’m committed to God and He’s committed to me.
I think Paul was saying, “Listen, Philemon, I know you possess the love of God in your heart, that you love believers, and that you have a generous heart – but in a moment I’m going to test that. Remember who God has made you to be. Remember who you are.”
On one side was Philemon, on the other was Onesimus – the runaway slave who had fled his position, stolen from his master, and was standing awaiting judgement. I know we’ve all been there, on both sides of this relationship. We’ve all been the offender and the offended. We’ve all been the one who got hurt and the one who did the hurting. We’ve all been the one who took, and the one from whom it was taken. And now the two parties, not friends but master and servant, employer and employee, stand face to face. All the power is in Philemon’s hands because Onesimus has chosen to humble himself and courageously do the right thing.
What needs to happen here is forgiveness and reconciliation, but if pride sneaks in, vengeful feelings take hold, fear rules the day, or Philemon’s or Onesimus’ heart gets hard, it could go very wrong. So now, let’s see how Paul sheds the light of wisdom on this situation. This is where we really start learn from this letter:
1. Forgiveness is a Command
First, when we look at verse 8, we see that forgiveness is a command. Paul starts this part saying, “Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required…”. In other words, Paul had the scriptural authority, pastoral authority, spiritual authority and apostolic authority to command Philemon to do this. That’s an important realization. Forgiving others and pursuing reconciliation in relationships isn’t optional, depending on how we or the other person feels, how long it’s been, or anything else. Forgiveness is commanded.
The clearest place we read this is the words of Jesus right after He teaches the Lord’s Prayer. He says that when we pray, we are to say:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:9-15)
Without even pausing for a breath, Jesus ties our understanding of the forgiveness we have from God to our willingness to forgive others. The implication is that we cannot say we understand how much we are forgiven, and how deep our sin debt was, if we are unwilling to forgive others. Therefore, Jesus doesn’t beat around the bush, but commands that His people forgive.
The command to forgive is something Paul had to continuously remind his churches about. To the Colossians, Philemon’s church, Paul says, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (3:13 NIV) to the Ephesians he says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (4:32 NIV)
2. Forgiveness From the Heart is a Blessing
But! God doesn’t want us to forgive and seek reconciliation with people merely because we have to. He wants us to want to, because of our love for Him and our love for others. Paul says to Philemon, “I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you…”
Paul doesn’t want to coerce Philemon’s love for Onesimus. He wants it to be genuine love, motivated by His love for God and for all believers – which he has demonstrated over and over and over in the past. Paul wants the love to be authentic. It is so much better, so much more of a blessing to everyone around, so much richer for both parties, so much more of an act of worship to God, if the forgiveness and reconciliation of the relationship comes not only as an act of the will, but an act of the heart. Love from God, to us, that pours out onto the person that hurt us.
Paul says in verse 14 that he doesn’t want Philemon’s “goodness” (which he spoke so highly of earlier) to merely be motivated out of “compulsion” – whether compelled by obedience, or by Paul’s order, or assumed because Onesimus stayed in Rome – but done with “consent”.
The idea of loving and serving out of compulsion is an interesting point in scripture. When Paul tells the Corinthians to give to help the suffering Christians in Jerusalem he says, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7) It is better if done with love.
When Peter speaks to the elders of the church he says, “…shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you …” (2 Peter 5:2) A leader in the church should not only serve because he feels he has to, but because he wants to. Service, leadership, discipline, preaching, counselling that is motivated by love is far better than that which is motivated by obligation.
I think we all know this deep down. Which is better, the gift given out of love, or the one out of obligation?
- “Here’s your birthday gift. I had to get it because it’s your birthday.”
- “Here’s a rose. I’m supposed to get my wife flowers because I read it in a book somewhere.”
- “C’mon honey, it’s Thursday night. Let’s go to the bedroom and get this over with.”
Everything is better when motivated by love rather than obligation, right?
3. Give Mercy & Grace
Now we move to the next part. Forgiveness is commanded, but what happens after that is situational – it will change depending on the circumstances. Remember, we’re still on Philemon’s side of the ledger and there are a lot of things that he can do to Philemon. Philemon can say, “I forgive you, but the law says I can have you killed or beaten.” There were a number of things that Philemon could do if he wanted. He was well within his rights to take his “pound of flesh” (literally and figuratively), but Paul doesn’t want that.
What would make Paul, and God, happiest, would be to see amazing grace. We all know this feeling right? A person comes to us, admits they are wrong, and we know we have to forgive them – but what about after that? Now they’re on our turf! They’ve admitted they’re wrong! They’ve opened themselves up for anything! And the temptation is to strike, right? Hurt them as much as they hurt us. Make them pay. How sorry are you really? Maybe we can get them to jump through some hoops for our pleasure. Maybe we can get them to publically humiliate themselves. Maybe we can just keep this in our back pocket and jab them with it whenever we want to. After all, it’s our right! We were the offended people!
Paul points out that even though Onesimus made a lot of mistakes, has shown remarkable growth as a Christian and is truly repentant. Yes, he was once a “useless” person, no good to anyone, but now that he’s given his heart to Jesus, he’s “useful”! His repentance is genuine, his heart is right with God, he wants to be right with you, and he has demonstrated that he wants to make it right. Honour him and what God is doing in Him by NOT exacting your right to discipline him or taking what you are due. This is an appeal to grace and mercy.
We don’t have to punish before we can forgive. All over scripture we are told to treat our enemies well – how much more-so a believer who comes to us repentant and in need of forgiveness! If the person is a Christian, then Jesus was punished for that sin. We need not add to it. Let’s not answer repentance and humility with more pain, but with grace.
4. Never Assume
Verses 13 and 14 are an interesting section because they make the point that Paul didn’t want to assume that Philemon would do the right thing. Paul didn’t want to order him, nor did he want to merely assume that Philemon would forgive Onesimus. If Paul would have kept Onesimus with him in Rome, that would have been assuming. No, reconciliation had to happen face to face. It needed to come from Philemon to Onesimus.
We should never assume anything when it comes to forgiveness and reconciliation. We need to work it through. Yes, sometimes its awkward, often risky, usually emotional, and definitely challenging, but it should never be assumed that all is right with the world. I’ve really learned the lesson about dealing with things quickly, even willing to ask the embarrassing questions like, “So, are we ok? Have I done anything to offend you? Have you forgiven me?” Sure, it’s a little hard, but it’s scriptural. Jesus says,
“…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. Come to terms quickly with your accuser…” (Matthew 5:23-25)
Ephesians 4:26 says,
“…do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”
The implication of both of these is that we need to take the time and make the effort to seek forgiveness and reconciliation, or we leave Satan the occasion to do more harm. We all know what it’s like to go through a night of uncertainty after a fight with someone. Do they still love us? Are we still friends? What happens now? Why did I say that? What can I do? Maybe it’s too late.
Dealing with it soon stops bitterness from taking hold and keeps our connection to God and others strong. So we must deal with it quickly and face to face. Onesimus had to travel 2000 kilometers to get from Rome to Colossae to be face to face with Philemon. We ought to follow his example and be willing to do the hard work of meeting with people to make sure we are forgiven and reconciled.
5. God Can Use This Too
Verses 15 and 16 are probably my favourite of the letter. They say,
“For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.”
In other words God has a plan and can use this too. Even though this was a difficult situation, and even though Onesimus was wrong, God is still sovereign over all things and can use this for His glory and the benefit of His people.
He almost seems to be saying, “Maybe this was God’s plan all along. Maybe this is the only way you would be able to see Onesimus as more than your servant or slave, but able to see him as a fellow human being, a brother in the Lord. Maybe this is part of God’s plan to finally break down the walls between masters and slaves, owners and servants, upper class and lower class, and bring unity to your home, your church, and your nation. Maybe God is setting you up as an example to follow so that more people will put away their prejudice and embrace their fellow man – no matter what class they are – as brothers and sisters in Christ. God has a plan, Philemon, and this could be the beginning of something beautiful – and you’re on the forefront of it! So… don’t get in the way!”
When our hearts are soft and our grace is abundant, God can use us to do amazing things. Paul was willing to risk his friendship Philemon because he knew that God could do something much bigger, if they could get this right. That’s big picture thinking on Paul’s part, and he invites Philemon, and the rest of us, to join him in trying to see past our arguments, hurts, and relationship issues to the bigger, gospel picture. The one that shows the whole world that we are people of love, forgiveness and acceptance; and nothing does that better than when people see forgiveness and restoration among our relationships.
6. Reconciliation Means Putting Things Right
Let’s end in verses 17-20. The final part of this section of Paul’s letter to Philemon reminds us that there are still some things that need to be put right. Onesimus did steal from Philemon, after all, and that needed to be paid back.
We spent a lot of time talking about Philemon. Paul wanted Philemon to come to the Onesimus with a generous, gracious, open and loving heart. On the other side was Onesimus, who needed to come with a repentant heart, willing to pay back what he owed. Now, that was probably extremely difficult. He was a slave, therefore probably broke, especially after traveling from Rome to Colossae. The only person that had any money in this relationship was Philemon. But that doesn’t mean Onesimus didn’t need to try. The right thing to do would have been for Onesimus to have tried to pay it back, whatever that meant, because making it right, paying it back, fixing what was broke, and doing whatever it takes to repair the damage, is an important part of asking forgiveness.
“If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.” (vs 18)
What Paul does here, in light of the situation, is what Jesus does for us – Paul asks to take Onesimus’ sin onto his own shoulders. Just as Jesus was the propitiation, the payment, for our sins when God charged our sins to Jesus’ account, so Paul wanted Onesimus’ theft charged to Paul’s account.
There’s a great line in vs 19 where Paul says, “I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.” It’s a great line because it reminds Philemon that he was converted to Christ, and learned about salvation through Jesus from Paul’s ministry. Therefore Philemon “owed” Paul something much greater than whatever Onesimus stole – his eternal life.
Don’t take that too far, as though Paul was saying that he was really Philemon’s saviour. No, it’s more a reminder of the thing we all need to remember when it comes to forgiveness and reconciliation: That we are all sinners, that we were all damned and headed to hell, until someone told us about Jesus and we were saved by grace. Understanding that grace, how much it cost to save us, and remembering Jesus’ death on the cross for our sake, makes the sins of others seem very small in comparison. Paul knows that it is so much easier to forgive people when we look at them in the light of eternity and with our eyes fixed on the cross of Jesus Christ and His gospel. It puts everything into perspective. That’s what Paul wanted to do with Philemon.
We end where we ought to: on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How can we forgive? Because of Jesus. How can we confront? Because of Jesus. How can we have the strength to take the long, difficult walk towards someone we need to forgive, or ask forgiveness from? Because of Jesus.
Let’s remember Philemon and Onesimus’ example, but even more, the example and love of Jesus Christ who paid the penalty for our sins so we might be reconciled to God.
5 Commitments to Prevent Divorce in Your Marriage and Promote Unity in Your Relationships (Mark 10:1-12)
“And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.’ And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’” (Mark 10:1-13)
Jesus is very clear about his teaching about divorce. It happens as a result of sinful, selfish actions and hard hearts. Like too many people I’ve talked to, the Pharisee came to Jesus looking for all the loopholes in God’s law that would allow for divorce. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked that. I think I’ve been asked, “What does the Bible say about the reasons to get divorced?” more than “What does the Bible say about how to prevent divorce?” They come thinking, “Is this thing my spouse did a biblical grounds for divorce?” rather than “How can I find forgiveness, restoration, counselling and healing for this relationship now that my spouse has done this thing?” People are looking for the way out of their relationship– not the way to fix it.
And I don’t begrudge them the question. When “the D word” starts to come up in our minds, it comes from a place of great pain and hurt. No one goes into a marriage thinking they will one day get divorced. No one wants the anguish, shame and cost of divorce. But it’s happening more and more today.
We all know people, and perhaps we are this person, that can’t sleep at night because of disagreements both past and present. People with broken marriages – or who have come close – and who don’t know where to start to repair the relationship. We know people who have left churches, left home, left their jobs or schools, or even their home town, because they didn’t know how to resolve conflict. The hurt was so bad that they felt their only solution to end the pain was to leave. But that’d doesn’t solve the problem, does it? Many of us carry deep scars from unresolved hurts.
Now I don’t want to go into a diatribe against divorce or the pornified, messed up, hook-up culture around us. I also don’t want to talk about the ways that God allows for divorce, because when Jesus was asked the question He didn’t answer it with “Ok, here’s what the Law says: If your spouse cheats, or abandons you because of your faith, and a good case could be made that spousal abuse is a reason too… if they didn’t do that then you’re stuck.” No, He got to the heart of the issue… literally talking about the heart of the person asking the question. He essentially said, “The only reason that this was put into the Law at all was because you have irredeemably hard hearts. Listen, God gave you to each other so you would ‘hold fast’ [which is literally the Greek word for “glue”] and become “one flesh”, a singular person, and looking to tear apart that flesh is a terrible thing that is going to cause amazing amounts of damage. Marriage is meant to glue two people together so they do not come apart again, and looking for excuses to get divorced misses the point completely!”
Our Heart First
Today I want answer the question I get asked less: “What does it take to stay together when something bad happens in a relationship?”
The principles I’m going to share today are important for married couples, but they also apply to every other relationship we have. These aren’t “how to fix the other person” type principles or even “the steps to go through to reconcile a relationship”. What I want to talk about is how to fix our own heart first, before we even get to talking to the other person. Jesus was very concerned about the heart of the individual asking the question, so that’s where we’re going to park today.
Blowing the World’s Mind
I was listening to an Albert Mohler talk this week where he spoke about the normalization of sexual sin in the church. A secular writer in the New York Times had written that all homosexuals have to do is just wait a little while because very soon all the churches who are against homosexuality will eventually come around. His evidence is that this has happened already with divorce. Churches don’t even talk about it as a problem anymore.
When divorce was on the rise, the same thing happened as we see today with homosexuality. First, churches were shocked, then many mainline, liberal, churches and religions started to accept it. Then, as the culture began to see more and more divorces around them, more and more churches started to redefine their position on divorce. They started to reinterpret scriptures and emphasize Jesus’ “Judge not as ye be judged” removing any interpretations that were hard for divorced people to listen to. Then more and more elders, deacons, pastors, missionaries and Christian celebrities started to get divorced (just as more and more are coming out as gay).
Then, as it became normalized, churches started to talk about how important it was not to ostracize or disrespect or exclude divorced couples. Let me quote from the article by this secular writer:
“A generation ago, many Christian churches followed these biblical admonitions and would not sanction what they viewed as ‘adulterous’ second marriages. Today, in large part because of the power of changing social norms, it is no longer common for most Protestant churches to refuse to marry a woman to a man who had divorced his previous wife. And few churches would exclude or disrespect a couple because either spouse had married before.”
In other words, all the world has to do is wait for us to compromise, and we will. And we have. Divorce among Christians is normal, church splits are normal, grumpy business meetings are normal… every day the Christian church grows to be more and more like the world.
If we get this right in our church, it is going to blow people’s minds. For the world, seeing people get angry, separated, divorced, fighting, back bighting, seeking revenge, gossiping, slandering is normal. It’s how things usually go. But when they see believers respond to relationship problems with grace and forgiveness, treating enemies like friends, humbling ourselves and doing the hard work of reconciliation, it blows their minds. We show how different we really are.
None of us want to be in a church that acts like the world. We don’t want to be in a church with collapsing marriages, power struggles and worldly garbage. We’re supposed to be different – and anyone who comes to our doors should expect us to be different.
It is my hearts deepest desire that when people come into this place they will find people who are full of grace, who love Jesus and the church, who speak words of love, kindness, and encouragement. Whose eyes are filled with compassion and joy, and who are turning to Jesus and pointing others to him.
5 Commitments to Cultivate Unity
So let’s talk about the five commitments we must make in our own hearts so that we can cultivate unity in our marriages, relationships and church. (These points were taken from the book/website, “The Peacemaker” by Ken Sande)
We’ve all heard that “many hands make light work”, or “there is strength in numbers”, or “a cord of three strands is not easily broken” (Ecc. 4:12). They are all simple ways of saying that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole, and that we are stronger when we stay together. We can do more when we work together.
The same is true in marriage, friendship and in the church. The depth of our relationship increases the strength of our abilities. A committed, married couple is stronger than two friends doing the same thing. Two friends working together are stronger than two workmates. A church, united under Christ, is stronger than any group united by a simple cause.
The famous preacher Charles Spurgeon once said, “The devils are united as one man in their infamous rebellion, while we believers in Jesus are divided in our service of God, and scarcely ever work with unanimity.” Unfortunately for many Christians and churches, Spurgeon is right – including in our marriages. We aren’t working together very well.
So, how do we get to working well together as a church and with our spouses? Here are the five commitments we need to make.
Commitment 1: To love Jesus Christ above all things and sacrifice our mini-agendas for His sake.
First we need to commit ourselves to loving Jesus Christ above all things, and sacrifice our mini-agendas for his sake. What does that mean? It means that we need to realize that unity in marriage, friendship or in the church isn’t something that we do ourselves. The Bible reminds us of this over and over – that it’s God who unites us and keeps us together, through the power of Jesus and the Holy Spirt.
- When the bible talks to husbands about how to love their wives it says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Eph 5:25)
- When he talks to the wives he says, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” (Col 3:18).
- To the church he says we should be “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph 5:21).
- In Ephesians 4:3 it says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
- 1 Corinthians 1:10 says, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”
- In Philippians 2:2 it says, “…make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”
In all our relationships we are encouraged to always be connected to Jesus first and then others. Our relationship with Him is the foundational relationship for all others. If we are not forgiven by Him, how can we know to forgive others? If He doesn’t show us how to love sacrificially, then how can we love others that require our sacrifice?
Christian unity originates in God: The Holy Trinity of Father Son and Spirit is always united, and invites us to be united to them. The unity we have as Christians is remarkably different from anything the world has to offer. Non-Christians rally around politics, causes, moral issues, environmental concerns, and can built their unity around a singular cause. But the Christian church is not built around a cause, it is built around a person – the Lord Jesus Christ, whose spirit inhabits all believers. And so as we commit ourselves to His name, His will, His promise, His model, His teaching, in His power, that we are able to put aside our mini-agendas.
What do I mean by mini-agendas: I mean setting aside our own desires and preferences because we see the relationship as more important. Yes, we want the dishes done, the food warm, the money situation fixed, our career to take off, the bedroom more exciting, our parenting better, the house cleaner, the toilet seat up or down, the toenail clippings and socks picked up, our in-laws dealt with, and finally get to choose the movie for once… but we set that aside for the sake of unity and because Jesus has told us to stay committed. We don’t let the bitterness take hold, and we ask God every day to help us with it.
Commitment 2: To obey the Word of God in all things.
Our second commitment that will help us maintain unity in our marriage and our church is to realize that God has given us commands and doctrines that we must be committed to. He never sacrifices the truth for the sake of a relationship, but He will always prioritizes a spirit of grace. Truth with Grace.
We commit our hearts to Jesus and our heads to the word of God. Ephesians 4:4-6 says, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Some people think that in order to avoid relationship problems, we have to avoid controversy and hard topics. They think that in order to avoid breaking up, we have to coat our conversations with little, white lies, for the sake of the other person. That’s absolutely wrong.
The Bible says that we need to know where we stand, be honest with God and one another, and then work towards an agreement about our faith, practices, theology, decisions, and everything else we need to work together. Lying causes bitterness and resentment, the truth sets us free.
Now, it’s impossible to consider a relationship, even a marriage, where everyone agrees about everything all the time. That would be amazing, but that’s not the whole point. No, what God wants us to do is be in the life-long process of growing in our knowledge of God and one another. God built differences into us, and that’s ok. It is for our benefit and growth that we bump up against, and marry, people that are very different than us. And lying to ourselves and others about who we really are sidesteps that gift.
A couple needs to be solidly united on the most important things in life: Our faith and theology about Jesus, the authority of scripture, what church we will attend together, whether they want children, where and how you plan on living… but the rest can be up for discussion and compromise. “Are we going to have a TV in the bedroom?”, “Do you put the forks in the dishwasher pointy side down or up?” or “Who makes the bed?” are not critical issues. They can be worked out – or discussed for the entirety of the marriage.
But the couple, and the church, must do the hard work of discussing the critical things in the relationship in an open, honest and Godly way. So your commitment, before you ever step into the conversation with the other person, is that you will be directed by the Word of God, honest in all you say, and gracious about everything that is non-essential.
Commitment 3: To develop Christ-like humility and submission.
Now, the third commitment we have to make before we can have unity in our marriages and church is the commitment to develop Christ-like character: especially humility and submission.
Now, I know that doesn’t sound like much fun – because it isn’t. But I’m convinced that this is where so much of what we are trying to do falls apart. There are many believers who are theologically sound and love Jesus, but they refuse to humbly submit to someone else – whether it be their spouse or a brother or sister in the church. These folks want to be right and see that their mini-agendas get moved forward.
Their pride is what keeps the relationship from being united. They are right, and they will argue with, shout down, manipulate, nag and publically embarrass the other person as much as it takes until they cave. That’s the opposite of Christ-like humility and submission. Philippians 2:3-4 says to each of us – me, the elders, deacons, servants, teachers, musicians, sound guys, husbands, wives, children: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
If we want strong marriages and a strong church then we need to be willing to put our agenda aside as less important than the other’s. A relationship where your ideas are as good as, if not better than, mine. A relationship where you want to listen first and talk second. One where you desire to hear what the other person has to say – all they have to say – because you value them. A relationship where we set aside our own wants and desires because what we want might negatively affect someone else. Even if we really, really want it – and it’s totally within our grasp – we don’t get it or do it because the other person is more important. We show up when we don’t want to because we love the other person and want to support them. Where we spend as much time thinking about the other persons needs as we do thinking of our own.
Commitment 4: To respect and pursue God given diversity.
The fourth commitment we must make is to respect and pursue God given diversity. Just as Jesus accepted us, so we are to accept others. In our marriages this means we realize that we don’t need to turn our husbands or wives into someone else, but respect and love who God created them to be. In the church this means that we love and thank God for the fact that people are different. God doesn’t want us to be the same, but He does want us to work together for the same goal.
Throughout scripture, especially the New Testament, we are reminded that God made us different on purpose. Romans 12:4-8 says it this way:
“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”
This is certainly true in the church, but also in marriages. It’s a good thing that one is a free-spirit and the other a control-freak. It’s good that one is a spender and the other a saver, one likes action the other drama, one reads the other likes music, one emphasizes quality the other durability, one wants intimacy more often than the other, one a crier the other stoic, one an adventurer the other a homebody. Those are good things – and we need make the commitment before God that we will respect the differences in our spouse, thank God for them, and then allow God to help us become better people through them.
Diversity in marriage and in church can lead to amazing things. God purposefully puts different people together so He can better grow His kingdom. We need to experience diversity so we can see God work in new ways. It makes our lives, and our church, more interesting, more creative, and stronger.
The other side of this is that instead of envying people’s differences, we embrace our own uniqueness and thank God for it. Romans 15:7 says we need to “accept one another then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Our mutual respect for each other brings praise to God! We don’t accept each other’s sins, but we do embrace our differences. God treats us like an orchestra – each instrument of unique individual value and beauty, but blending together under one Conductor, playing complimentary parts of one glorious composition.
Commitment 5: To NOT GIVE UP.
And finally, the fifth commitment that you have to make within yourself, before God, is that you won’t give up. That you will earnestly strive to prayerfully pursue peace, resolve your conflict, preserve the relationship, and stay stuck together like glue, no matter what. The key word is commitment.
Remember the words of the traditional marriage vows – words that people aren’t using anymore because they seem to hard-core:
“I, take you, to be my wedded wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy law, and this is my solemn vow.”
Those are words of strong commitment before God, and they represent the commitment that Jesus made to you. They almost sound like Romans 8:38-39:
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Satan is always sowing seeds of doubt, conflict, offence and division among people. He wants our joy diminished, our worship of God to be lessened, and our witness for Christ destroyed. He wants to make our lives difficult so that we won’t be able to work together against his demonic kingdom.
The best way to deal with these seeds is to be committed to being humble and gentle with one another and pursue, pursue, pursue everything it takes for peace! Forgive the little irritations, overlook minor offences, bear with those who disappoint is, and lovingly correct and deal with the sins are too serious to overlook.
As we make these commitments in our own hearts before God we will be able to say:
“Yes, we have conflict in [our marriage and] in our church – who doesn’t? But Jesus has transformed the way we deal with conflict. We discuss our differences candidly and fervently, but we refuse to let them divide us. We will not walk away from our marriages or from our friends. And we will not leave our church just because we’ve been offended or things are not going exactly as we want. Our relationships are a testimony to the reconciling power of the gospel of Christ, and we will strive with every ounce of our strength to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (From Peacemakers.net)
Let’s work together in this to honour God with our marriages, our relationships and our church.
Once upon a time there were two young men named Peter and Frank. Peter and Frank were friends. Not good friends, not best friends, just friends. They saw each other at school, occasionally played on the same teams in sports, and were generally friendly to each other. Peter never gave Frank much thought – and neither did Frank think much about Peter.
One day that all changed. On a beautiful day in July, Frank was riding his brand-new bike down the sidewalk – a little too fast. And on that same beautiful day in July, Peter came running out of his door because he was, once again, late for baseball practice. As fate would have it, Frank was going a little too fast down the same street as Peter’s house was on. And, as fate would have it, Peter burst through his front door seconds before Frank crossed his driveway.
Peter was still zipping up his bag as he ran out the door headed towards the sidewalk. Frank was changing gears to get more speed. This was Frank’s first bike with gears, so it was absolutely amazing to steal a glance at his feet to watch the mechanism guide the chain up and down the gears.
You can probably guess what happened next. WHAM! Frank hit Peter, Peter hit Frank, bags and bikes and baseballs went flying – and so did Peter and Frank. Frank landed on the grassy place near the road, but Peter landed with a CRUNCH on the sidewalk. The doctor would tell him later that he had fractured his wrist and got a concussion – nothing too serious, but it would mean a night in the hospital – and worse, no baseball for the rest of the Summer.
As Peter lay there in his hospital bed, he couldn’t sleep. He wasn’t really allowed to sleep much, since the nurses kept waking him up. With his head on the pillow some thoughts began to rumble around in Peter’s mind. “Why would Frank do that? I’ve never done anything to him. I’ve always been really nice to Frank! Frank could have gotten out of the way. And he shouldn’t have been going so fast anyway…”
The more Peter thought about it, the angrier he got. “Nothing even happened to Frank. Not even his bike got a scratch!”
Peter tried to sit up in bed, but when he put pressure on his wrist, it hurt – a lot. And when He finally did manage to sit up… it made his head feel dizzy and achy… and this made him remember that his baseball career was over for the summer. “Maybe forever!”, Peter whispered aloud, through his tightly clenched teeth.
His heart and his mind began to race his head filled with more and more thoughts. “Did Frank do this on purpose? Maybe he did! Wait a minute… I was the last person chosen for the team, and he wasn’t even on it! Maybe he wanted to be, but was jealous. Maybe he wanted me out of the way!”
All through the night, Peter thought of more and more ways that Frank had hurt him, more and more scenarios and plots that Frank must have concocted to stop him from having a good summer, from being a great baseball player, from having any future at all! And Peter began to think of how terrible Frank really was, and how Frank had always been like this, and how Frank had fooled everyone into thinking he was such a good guy, and how Frank would never even be punished for what he’d done because everyone was calling it “an accident.” It was no accident – and Peter was sure.
Peter left the hospital the next day with a cast on his wrist, a list of things he wasn’t allowed to do that summer, and a very big grudge. His clothes were dirty since they were the ones he had come to the hospital in, and his mouth tasted terrible because he hadn’t brushed his teeth since the morning before. The bitter, yucky taste in his mouth was really, really bad. He asked his mom for something to eat on the way home. She smiled and said, “I suppose we can!” They pulled into Frank’s favourite restaurant to get him an orange juice and a breakfast sandwich.
He wolfed down the sandwich and drank the juice – but it wasn’t nearly as good as it used to be. And the bitter taste in his mouth was still there – and it was even worse. He went home and brushed his teeth – with the wrong hand, since the right one was in a cast – and he thought of Frank. He spit out the toothpaste, rinsed with mouthwash, but the bitter taste remained. He brushed again – and it was still there.
No matter what he ate or drank or how much he brushed, his mouth always tasted bitter. Which made Peter even madder at Frank. “This is all Frank’s Fault! He’s why everything tastes bitter!”, Peter yelled at the bathroom mirror.
Then the doorbell rang. Peter’s mom answered the door and yelled upstairs, “Peter, honey, come here. Frank’s at the door!” Peter’s face was red and he had tears in his eyes. In his calmest voice he yelled back, “Ok, mom!”. He quickly washed his face, took a deep breath, and walked down to the entryway. He stood on the bottom step, not willing to come all the way down.
Frank stood there with his baseball cap in his hand, looking at the carpet. Peter took note that the picture on the cap was the crest of team that he would no longer be playing for. “He came to rub it in,” Peter thought.
Frank spoke in a quiet voice, “Hey, Peter. I’m really sorry about what happened. I didn’t mean to crash into you. I was going too fast and I wasn’t looking where I was going. I know you got the worst of it. My bike got a little scratched, but you ended up in the hospital! I just wanted to come over and say that I’m really sorry and that I forgive you too for the accident.”
Peter winced. “Forgive me?” he thought. “You forgive me?” Peter slowly replied.
“Yeah, well”, Frank replied, “I talked to my mom and your mom and they both agreed that it was partly your fault, but I still feel bad, so I wanted to forgive you too. Ok?”
Peter’s face grew red. “Whatever. I have a headache. I need to go.” Peter shot back and stomped upstairs. Frank stood in the doorway for a moment and then walked out, closing the door behind him.
Peter ran up to his room, slammed the door, and grew angrier. The bitter taste in his mouth grew worse. “He forgives me?!“, Peter spoke allowed.
All at once, almost out of nowhere, a plan began to form in Peter’s mind. A plan of revenge. He would get back at Frank. And he knew just how to do it. But he knew he couldn’t be caught, and that no one would understand. His parents had told him to “get over it”. His coach told him “There’s always next season!”. His friends told him “it isn’t that big of a deal” and to “leave it alone”. But he just couldn’t just leave it alone. To Peter, it was a big deal.
The next day Peter laid his trap. His plan was to hide in the bushes outside Frank’s door with a pile of sticks and stones. His plan was to throw the sticks and stones at Frank and then take off as fast as he could. Then Frank would be hurt and they’d be even. Frank would never know what hit him! And so Peter sat there, crouched in the bushes, waiting, seething, with the bitter taste in his mouth getting worse and worse and worse. He tried to spit, but he was afraid the noise would give him away.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, Frank came out of his house. He grabbed his bike from the garage and began to peddle down the drive. Peter grinned and grabbed his first stone, throwing it as hard as he could… and WHAM! it hit Frank right in the head – and it bounced off. Frank didn’t even seem to notice it! Peter grabbed another and threw it as hard as he could… and WHAM! he it Frank right in the chest! And again, it just bounced off… and Frank didn’t even seem to notice.
Peter was confused, and saw he had only one chance left before Frank would get away. He grabbed the largest stick, and from his crouched position in the bushes he aimed for Frank’s ankle and swung as hard as he could. WHAM! and this time something did happen.
Instead of Frank feeling hurt… Peter’s head started to hurt… bad! Peter reached up with his hand and touched the spot. He brought his hand down and saw blood on his fingers.
And then, out of nowhere, he suddenly had a pain in his chest! And then, just as out of nowhere, his ankle exploded into pain! His head, his chest, his ankle – all the same places that he had hit Frank, Peter was now bleeding and in excruciating pain. Peter let out a SCREAM of agony!
Frank heard the scream. He turned his bike around. It sounded like it was coming from the bushes by the driveway. He pulled his bike up to it, looked inside, and saw Peter lying there, surrounded by sticks and stones, looking terrible – like he’d been beat up.
“What happened, Peter?!? Are you OK?!?”, Frank asked. “I’m going to go get my mom!”
But Peter, rolling on ground, holding his ankle and his head, shouted back through his tears, “THIS IS YOUR FAULT! I DON’T WANT YOUR HELP! LEAVE ME ALONE!” and forced himself to get to his feet. On his way up he grabbed another stone and threw it at Frank’s face… it hit him right in the cheek, but bounced off… and immediately, a huge, painful scar opened up on Peter’s face. A trickle of blood ran down his chin.
Peter yelled again, “NOW, SEE WHAT YOU’VE DONE!!!” And began to limp, as fast as he could away from Frank, cursing and trying to spit out the bitter taste from his mouth – which had never been worse.
And as he hobbled away, looking more and more pitiful with every step, he thought about Frank. “I hate him so much. He did it to me again. Why do I let him do this to me?” And he began to consider another plan. Tomorrow… when he felt better… he would get bigger stones… and bigger sticks… and really teach Frank a lesson.
And as Peter walked away, planning how he would get revenge on Frank, he noticed that he was actually starting to get used to the bitter taste in his mouth… it was still horrible… but he was getting used to it. And in time… he thought… he might even learn to like it.
This is a story – a parable about unforgiveness – and I hope it helped you learn something, because it’s something a lot of us have experienced.
People do bad things to us – sometimes on purpose, other times by accident – and it’s up to us to decide how we should respond. Jesus said that we are to forgive our enemies, just like He forgave us. Even though we are sinners who break God’s law, God loved us so much He was willing to send Jesus to take the punishment for our sin. In response, Jesus asks us to forgive others too.
That can be hard. Sometimes we want to have revenge, like Peter did to Frank. He thought that if he hurt Frank that he’d feel better – but that wouldn’t help, would it? No, in fact, trying to hurt Frank only made him feel worse.
In my story, the sticks and stones represent our words. Peter was trying to hurt Frank with words, but it wasn’t working. Why? Because Frank had already forgiven Peter. Frank wasn’t angry. Frank new Peter was speaking out of pain, so he wasn’t hurt by Peter’s unkind words.
That’s one of the greatest things about forgiveness. Not only does it show that we love God, but it helps us to love others and to rise above the evil they want to cause us.
Do you remember the bitter taste in Peter’s mouth? The Bible warns us in Hebrews 12:15, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble”. Bitterness is what happens when we don’t forgive, and it causes all kinds of trouble for us. Holding onto anger and not forgiving someone is like chewing on an orange peel or a bitter root — it makes everything in life taste worse.
So, if you’ve been hurt, let me encourage you to talk to God about it and forgive the person – not because they deserve it – but because in Jesus God has forgiven you, even though you didn’t deserve it.
The sinless One and judge of mankind was arrested in the middle of the night, dragged into a mockery of a trial where he was falsely accused publicly humiliated. The King of Kings was and brought before the foolish and wicked Herod Antipas, who had beheaded his cousin John the Baptist and wanted Jesus to perform tricks for him – while the religious experts of the day vehemently accused him. The Lord of Lords was then sent to Pontius Pilate, a cowardly prefect who knew Jesus was innocent, whose wife was warned in a dream to let him go, but succumbed to the pressure of the crowd and had Jesus severely beaten in hopes of quelling their blood lust.
But it didn’t work. The crowd of Jews, the people of God through whom Yahweh had chosen to love despite all of their wickedness, started chanting “crucify him, crucify him!”. Pilate tried again, hoping to use custom of releasing one prisoner during the feast of Passover to free Jesus – but the crowd wouldn’t have it. Instead, the people of God, the scribes and elders of the people, chose to release Barabbas – a murdering terrorist – instead of the one who had taught peacefully, harmed no one, healed the sick, and raised the dead.
Since his arrest at midnight Jesus had faced six different trials, three before Jewish officials, three before Roman officials – full of false accusations, foolish judges, and cowardly officials.
The sun had only began to rise when Pilate succumbed to the crowd’s anger, looked Jesus in the face, and condemned him to crucifixion – the most terrible form of punishment they had, usually inflicted on slaves and enemies of the state.
The first stage of crucifixion would be to take Jesus – who had already been beaten once – to the Praetorium to be stripped and scourged with a leather whip that had pieces of sharp instruments embedded in the cord, designed to remove flesh quickly. Then the soldiers took him so he could be mocked further by having a crown of hard thorns driven into his head and beaten with a make-shift scepter made out of a reed. “Hail, King of the Jews!” they would shout as they spit on him and beat him with their fists.
He was then forced to carry his own heavy, wooden cross through Jerusalem, from the Praetorium to Golgotha – a 600 meter trip that took three hours to complete – all the while being ridiculed and beaten. Because of His wounds and blood-loss, Jesus wasn’t physically able to carry the cross, so another man, Simon, was forced to carry it for him.
When they finally reached the place where the crucifixion would take place, Golgotha, called the Place of the Skull, Jesus, who had done nothing wrong, was laid upon the cross, had his feet and hands nailed to it, and was raised up for all to see.
As He hung there, for six hours, in ever-increasing and excruciating agony, gasping for air – only able to draw a breath when He put weight onto the nails driven through His hands and feet, He spoke in short sentences.
His first words – the very first words He spoke from the cross – are recorded in Luke 23:34:
“And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’”
“Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.”
“Father, forgive the ones who stand before me now, grinning in their senselessness, in total ignorance of the cosmic treason they are committing. Forgive the soldiers who drove nails through my hands that healed the sick and blessed their children, and the feet which went from town to town teaching truth and offering peace. Forgive the ones who scourged this flesh – the body I chose to take so I could come to this place to save them. Forgive the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law who stirred up the crowd to call for my crucifixion. Forgive the crowd who chose a murderer over the One who offered them life. Forgive the rulers and judges who bent the laws and cowered to pressure, sentenced me to be here, perverted justice and condemned the only person to ever live a perfect life. Forgive my disciples who abandoned me, most of whom are too afraid to admit they know me, let alone stand with me in my most dire hour. Father, forgive them all. They have no idea the depth of evil they are committing, the depravity of their action, the utter darkness of their words and deeds, that they were killing the Son of God, the Light of the World.”
Jesus Loved His Enemies
It wasn’t just words when Jesus said:
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44).
He lived and died by these words. At the beginning of the Gospel of John it says:
“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:9-11)
Jesus loved His enemies. He came and “His own people did not receive Him”, but He loved them anyway. His loved showed His love for us by dying on the cross.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)
Jesus died so His enemies could live. From the cross that they had nailed Him to, Jesus was able to forgive them. Was this just pious platitudes from a holy man who wanted to impress people with His holier-than-thou goodness? Certainly not. These words were spoken out of real and true love for the people He came to save. Love for blind fools who preferred their sin, pride, idols, and pleasures, more than they loved anyone or anything else – and certainly more than they loved the God who created them.
Did His words change anything? No. As Jesus spoke, the Jews continued to mock Him, the Romans continued to cast lots for His clothes, the criminals that hung next to Him hurled more insults. He gained nothing from these words – except to demonstrate His infinite love for humanity.
Christians know what we are no different than those who stood at the foot of that cross. We too have hurled insults at Jesus, mocked His ways, made ourselves Lord of our lives, worshipped ourselves, and revelled in sin. We know that it was our sin that put Jesus there. It was not just the world’s sin that Jesus died for, but our sin. We are as guilty as those who traded Barabbas for Jesus, as guilty as the ones who drove nails through His hands, as guilty as the disciples who abandoned Him, because we have also traded righteousness for sin, unholiness for holiness, darkness for light.
And yet, Jesus forgave us. He forgave me? He has no reason to. I’ve given him every reason to feel resentment, bitterness, anger and coldness towards me. I don’t deserve His forgiveness – and certainly not His love, kindness and blessing.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:2-9)
What amazing love. Our response to the amazing love that Jesus has shown us must be to show that kind of love to others. Especially forgiveness.
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4)
Do you see how this section starts? “If then…”. If you’re a Christian, if you know the deep love of God, if you have admitted your sin and met the Saviour… then it’s going to change your heart. Instead of living like one of the normal people “on earth”. If you’re a believer, then you’re not normal. Your heart is now connected to things that are “above, where Christ is”. Jesus is the longing of your heart, the preoccupation of your mind, the North that your compass points to. And so, “set your minds on things that are above”.
Forgive As You’ve Been Forgiven
In light of what Jesus has done for us – the love He’s shared, the example He’s shown, the commands He’s given, and the Holy Spirit He’s placed inside us – we have all that we need to fight against sin. When you became a Christian, Jesus changed your identity. He took off your old self (the one that loved sin), destroyed it, gave you a new self (one that loves Jesus), and has promised to give you everything you need to live a new life in Him.
After this declaration comes a whole list of sins, and then something that is given special emphasis. Look at verses 12-13.
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
There it is. As a chosen one of God – a special person that Jesus chose, not because of anything you had done or ever would do, not because you deserved it, but only because the Amazing Grace with which He loved you – share that love with others. How is that love demonstrated? Through compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and forbearance. There is one action that epitomizes and exemplifies everything in that list: Forgiveness.
“Forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
This is, for many, the hardest command that Jesus gives us. To love our enemies and to forgive those who have wronged us. To love them and forgive them as much as we’ve been loved and forgiven by Jesus. That’s hard. Actually, that’s impossible without God changing our hearts first. But God takes it very seriously.
God Takes Forgiveness Seriously
There’s no place in scripture that says it’s easy. And there’s no place that says you have to feel like it. Forgiveness is an act of love and obedience, not towards the one who offended you, but towards the One who forgave you. You muster the strength to forgive only because of the miracle that Jesus has done in your heart – it’s impossible otherwise. Unless Jesus has taken off your old self and given you a new self, there are going to be some kinds of forgiveness that are impossible. Some kinds of forgiveness require a movement of God’s Spirit, and an act of total humility before Jesus to accomplish.
Jesus takes forgiveness so seriously that He says:
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
And elsewhere, at the end of the parable of the unforgiving servant:
“And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:33-35)
Why does God take forgiveness so seriously? Because our response to forgiveness shows our understanding of what He’s done for us. (Tweet this.)
If Jesus has transformed your heart, then it will result in a changed life. (Tweet this.) A person who has experienced the immeasurable mercy, grace and forgiveness that Jesus purchased for them on the cross, cannot look at another person and not grant a smaller portion of it to someone else. Unforgiveness shows that a person hasn’t really experienced God’s forgiveness. It diminishes what Jesus did on the cross.
“Forgive them Father, they don’t know what they are doing.” is sometimes the only thing we can say to a deep hurt, and is often the only place we can start to grant forgiveness. Sometimes all we can pray is:
“God, they don’t know how much they hurt me, and I don’t know how to get over it. I loved them, opened my heart to them, and they crushed it. But, in obedience to You, out of love for You, because of the love you’ve shown me, in light of the sin debt that you forgave in me, I will choose to forgive them. I don’t feel like it right now, but I will forgive them anyway. I’m still hurt, but I will forgive them anyway, so You can help me heal. I’m still angry, but I will forgive them anyway, and trust your justice. I’m still sad, but I will forgive them anyway, and come to you for comfort and peace.”
I implore you, in the light of what Jesus has done, to begin this year by forgiving those who have sinned against you. Kill the bitterness inside you. Put resentment to death and live in the life and light of the love of Jesus Christ.
Here’s the audio for the sermon:
You may have noticed that I changed the title of this series. Instead of being “Being People of Integrity”, I’ve simply called it “Christian Integrity”, and that’s because I believe that it’s important to distinguish the fact that we are specifically talking about the characteristics of a person and church of faith. These things don’t universally apply to everyone in the world.
Worldly Vs Christian Integrity
If “integrity” is simply taken as being honest and consistent, then there is a worldly kind of integrity. The non-Christian mechanic or plumber who doesn’t overcharge can have integrity. The school teacher who loves their students and sticks to the textbook has a form of integrity – even though they could be teaching falsehoods. The soldier who is sold out to their country and willing to die could be said to have high integrity by their superiors – even though they represent an evil nation.
Christian Integrity is a higher form of integrity. It is a supernatural thing, beyond simple honesty and consistency. Christian Integrity requires being a person who has God as their Father, Jesus as their Lord, and the Holy Spirit guiding their thoughts and deeds.
In this series, we are taking apart Psalm 15 which begins with the question, “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” What do the people who dwell with God look like? When people join the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, what are the expectations? What can they expect when Jesus rules the hearts of people?
What we see in Psalm 15 are six descriptors of a functioning, obedient, growing Christian. This is obviously not an exhaustive description, but it is a good place to start. The first was Integrity, and we said that it is the roof of the house, which is built on the foundation of our salvation through Jesus Christ.
Our Integrity is held up by the other five traits of being Truthful, Loving, Honouring, Trustworthy and Generous. We’ve already looked at being Truthful and Loving, and for the last couple weeks we’ve been in verse 4 as we’ve discussed the flip side “Honouring the Faithful”, which is “Rejecting the Vile”. This week we are looking at the second part of verse 4 where it talks about Honouring the Faithful. A Christian “despises a vile man but honours those who fear the LORD”.
Finding an Honourable Person
Remember that the word “honour” is a word that means “to be heavy or great”. It is a word that means that when you a certain person, their presence has great meaning to you, and their words have a special weight and significance to them. You honour them, respect them, treasure them, and highly esteem them. In your life and heart, they are given VIP treatment.
Most of us don’t have a lot of people like this in our lives. Especially with the advent of the internet, social media, the 24 hour news cycle, and other technologies, it’s hard to find someone who has strong Christian integrity. It’s hard to trust anyone these days. Who do we look for to find a strong marriage with statistics that say most are unhappy and over half of them ending in divorce? Who do we look to for Christian leadership when so many preachers and pastors have crashed and burned in their ministry? Who do we look to be an example to us in the godly use of money when most people are up to their eyeballs in debt? It’s really hard to find an “honourable” person these days.
Which makes it so much sweeter when you find one. When you find that teacher who has been consistently loving God, defending the faith, and strong in their convictions for the long-haul. RC Sproul is one of those men for me. He celebrated his 75th birthday this week and is still going strong. If you type the words “RC Sproul Controversy” into Google, nothing comes up! Yes, there are people who disagree with him, but all in all, he has a stellar reputation and a great Christian man and strong Gospel teacher.
Personally speaking, there are only a few people in my life who I would consider to have Christian Integrity, and they are a great blessing to me. My wife is one of them. When they speak, I listen. When I get an e-mail from them, the world stops and I read it. When they recommend a book, I read it. When they correct me, I listen and try to change my behaviour.
I hope you have someone like this in our life, because they are a great blessing! I do hope that you are able to honour these people in your life because they are a great gift from God.
Elevating Fellow Believers
But I want to be clear that Psalm 15:4 is not only talking about the kinds of believers who have earned the right to be given special treatment. RC Sproul has spent years developing his reputation, and he deserves to be listened to. This verse is talking about something a little different. God is not saying “Honour those who deserve it…” but “Honour those who are believers…” It says, “…honours those who fear the Lord.” That’s all beleivers, no matter what stage of maturity they are in. It’s talking about elevating the view of Christians in our life.
This is hard for us because we have so many of our priorities messed up. Matthew Henry, in his commentary on the Bible says that a Christian
“…values men by their virtue and piety, and not by the figure they make in the world.”
Let me give you an example of how I came face to face with this in the past week.
As you know, the Olympics are on, and of course I’m cheering for Canada, but I love watching these men and women do their best in their events and am in awe of their skill. I cheer for them as they compete and am happy for them when they win. I was honouring them.
However, this week I read something about the Olympic village that makes me remove my honour from them. It was an article entitled “Olympic Village brimming with love for Valentine’s Day” that changed my mind.
I don’t want to get into the graphic details, but it begins like this,
“… love is in the Sochi air this Valentine’s Day. What do you expect when you ram beautiful, young and fit athletes into a confined space, and allow their emotional highs and lows to be released in a fit of competition. Oh yes, the athlete’s village is a physical place —if you catch my drift.”
The rest of the article goes on to describe the unbridled lust (not love) the alcohol fuelled parties, nudity, and general lasciviousness that is part and parcel of living in the Olympic Village. It gives me a new view on these athletes. I don’t want to paint them all with the same brush, but this is being described as the norm.
This is what Matthew Henry and Psalm 15 are describing. Don’t misplace your honour. Don’t honour the dishonourable. The true value of a person is in their character, their piety, and their virtue when they are in front of people and when they are not. We should not be fooled by people who look good on the outside – but give honour to people who are in relationship with Jesus Christ and are seeking to be more godly every day.
Again, not perfect people, or only great preachers and missionaries, but the average believer who is walking in daily obedience, struggling with temptation, maybe inconsistent in their walk, but growing in God more and more as the days go by.
I would rather honour a junkie who has turned their heart over to Jesus and is in a daily spiritual battle with addiction and their old life-style, than a gold medal athlete who competes for their own glory, gives their body over to lust, and doesn’t give Jesus a second thought.
We Don’t Do This Well
God is very serious about how Christians treat one another. If there is one place, one group, on family that should know how to love one another… it’s the family of God. And yet, our track-record of getting along as believers is quite terrible.
We have sects, and divisions, and denominations. We even have a term for what happens when people in a church can’t get along and then start two separate church – we call it a church splits. I’d love to know the statistic comparing church plants (on purpose, missional, evangelistic minded, celebrations) to church splits. Even within the church we have cliques, gossip sessions, and back-room meetings. We smile at someone on Sunday, and then slander them on Monday.
The Christian church has a history of killing one another in the name of Jesus Christ! Instead of embracing new ideas, different ways of thinking, and uniquely gifted people, more often then not the Christian church freaks out, ostracises them and then attacks. Like Martin Luther who was chased down, exiled and nearly killed because he dared to challenge the church authorities to defend some of their practices. Or William Tyndale was burned at the stake because he wanted to print the bible in English.
Those are extreme examples, but lesser crimes happen all the time, in many churches around the world, in our city, and even within these walls. And God takes this very seriously.
God’s Kids Fighting
Parent’s understand why God feels this way. I often go to the park with my kids. Sometimes I play with them, other times I stand back and watch. And almost every time we go, there’s some kind of disagreement. And those problems come in three different forms.
First is when two kids I don’t know start to fight. How do I feel about that? Well, I don’t like it, but I’m not really emotionally invested in the kids, and I’m not their parent, and unless they start to really hurt each other, I don’t really get involved. It doesn’t grip my heart.
Second is when some strange kid starts a fighting with one of my kids. What happens then? Then I step in! I find out what happened, I tell my kid to apologize if it was their fault, and if it wasn’t [which it usually isn’t because my kids are awesome] then I protect my kid, maybe get the other parent involved, or tell my kid they need to be gracious and kind and let it go. If my kid gets into some kind of conflict, then I get emotionally invested and I jump in to protect my kid, teach my kid, and parent my kid.
The third scenario is when my kids fight each other. This happens more often. My kids start to fight, one isn’t being fair or hurts another – on purpose or accidentally – and now I react a much different way. I jump in. I grab them both and pull them aside. There might be discipline involved where one has to apologize, ask forgiveness and sit on the side for a while. Sometimes, it’s serious enough that we have a long talk about it. And if it’s a big enough deal, we leave the park, talk about it in the car, and then maybe even carry though some disciplined at home.
It’s a bigger deal when it’s two of my kids! I don’t want my kids fighting! They are a family. They’re supposed to love each other and work together. I have a totally different reaction to when my kids are fighting with each other, then when strangers are involved. Why? They’re mine! I love them! They know what I’ve said about how to act. They know the standards of our home. And I hate it when my kids fight! Not just because it’s noisy… but because it shows me there is something wrong with their heart.
I think God feels the same way when His kids aren’t getting along. When two people outside the church are sinning against each other… that’s to be expected. They are sinners, who love to sin, and who don’t know God. When a non-Christian is in conflict with a Christian, God gets more involved and will protect the Christian, or might discipline the Christian.
But when two of His kids are sinning against each other, I believe, because of my reading of scripture, He takes it very seriously, and it hurts him very deeply. Why? Because it shows how far His children’s hearts are from Him!
What’s Behind Christian Conflict?
Let’s Look at what James 4:1-4 says is going on behind the scenes when Christians fight. When God looks at a family of believers who is not honouring one another, He doesn’t just see the surface issues we see like arguing over what song to sing, who should be doing what, or what color the carpet is in the sanctuary. He sees something much deeper.
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (vs 1)
In other words, when Christians argue, it’s almost never for a good, holy, righteous reason. Rarely is the fight over bad doctrine, disregard for scripture, or unholy living. It’s because one of them, or probably both, is being selfish. It’s a heart problem. Passions and desires out of control.
I want a certain style of music or type of ministry because they like it best. IO feel like I should have some kind of leadership position and not someone else. I want to be heard because I think I’m important and me opinion counts for more. I want it done my way, because I’m always right.
“You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.” (vs 2)
That’s the root of most problems between believers. They aren’t arguing over core theologies or anything truly important to the kingdom. Most of these issues have nothing to do with what is on God’s heart. It’s just two people being selfish. They want something and aren’t getting it, so they fight.
Often, God’s not even involved, because they know as soon as they go to God, He’s going to show them how petty it is, and how prideful they are being, and how they need to submit to one another in love… but they don’t want to hear that.
“You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (Vs 3)
This selfish mindset affects our prayer life. We ask God for things that are not good for us, that are wrongly motivated, that will elevate us instead of him, that will bring shame to others or harm others who we feel deserve it. We “ask wrongly” for these things because they are not motivated by our love for God or to Honour the Faithful Christians in the church… but to spend on our passions. We want to feel good, look good, have more, gain more power or prestige. And God doesn’t answer those prayers.
“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (Vs 4)
When Christians fight, argue, quarrel, gossip, slander, hurt or sin against one another, they show themselves to be people who act like the world – not children of God. Christians that fight with other Christians about non-essential issues are called “adulterous” – which means they have left their first love, God, and are now embracing a new love – themselves. In fact, when Christians fight, divide and sin against one another, they are not only acting like the world… but are, in fact, acting like the enemies of God.
It is the enemies of God who fight against Christians, who make church a difficult place to be, who gossip and slander against believers, and hurt and abuse Christians. It is the enemies of God who make Christians stressed out and miserable. That’s Satan’s job! Christians shouldn’t be doing that to each other! It is literally satanic for Christian’s to fighting against one another over non-essential issues.
Dealing with Problems Among Christians
So what do we do when problems come up? Do we burry them in the sand, sweep them under the rug, and just pretend to get along for 2 hours each week. Everyone smiling fake smiles, no one arguing or getting close to one another, no one changing anything, no one saying anything that could be a criticism for fear we learn we have an argument? No, of course not. What God wants us to work through our issues (which we talked about last week) and “honour” one another.
If something between two believers, they should treat each other with “honour”. The fact that this person is a brother or sister in Christ should have great meaning, because this person has great meaning to Jesus. Jesus gave His life for that person. Their tears and frustrations, their complaints, their encouragements should have a special weight and significance to them, because it’s possible that the Holy Spirit is speaking through them. They are worthy of respect because they are a man or woman of God. They should be treasured because God treasures them. They should be highly esteemed because they are children of the Most High God, adopted into the Creator’s family, are co-heirs with Christ, and will one day judge angels! Ask yourself, “in your life and heart do you honour other believers?”
The “One Anothers”
I want to show you what that looks like. Consider what would happen if your favourite celebrity, or a famous teacher, or someone you respect were to offend you. Your love and admiration makes it a little easier to give them grace, be patient, give them a chance, forgive them. But it doesn’t come so naturally within the average Christian relationship.
We’ve talked about this before. Do you remember the “One Another” verses. There are at least 54 “one another’s” in scripture. They are wonderful descriptors of how Christians are to honour one another, and they all flow out of what Jesus said to His disciples in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.””
How? How do we do that? How do we “love one another”? The bible spells it out in great, great detail through the “one anothers”. Most simply say “love one another”, but others are very specific. Listen to some of these:
- Romans 12:16, “Live in harmony with one another.”
- Romans 15:7, “Accept one another,”
- Romans 16:16, “Greet one another”
- 1 Corinthians 1:10, “…agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you…”,
- Galatians 5:13, “…serve one another”,
- Ephesians 4:2, “…be patient, bearing with one another in love.”,
- Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”,
- Ephesians 5:21, “Submit to one another.”,
- Colossians 3:16, “…teach and admonish one another …”,
- 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “…encourage one another…” ,
- Hebrews 10:24, “…spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”,
- James 4:11, “do not slander one another.”,
- 1 Peter 4:9, “Offer hospitality to one another”,
- 1 Peter 5:5, “clothe yourselves with humility toward one another”,
These “one anothers” are all talking about how we relate to other believers. How we live out Psalm 15, “honour those who fear the Lord.” That’s what it looks like. That’s how we are to act towards each other. This is the heart we are to have when something comes up between us, or when we are serving with one another. It’s our default position when in relationship with other Christians.
Let me pause and ask, as you look at this list, and how you have conducted yourself over the past while – have you been doing this? How have you been treating the favoured ones of God? How have you been treating God’s kids, your brothers and sisters in Christ?
Bear With One Another
Let’s read Colossians 3:12-17. I want to focus in on something that I think is important to us, and will give us a key phrase to grab onto when dealing with people in the church. Start in verse 12,
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
The Bible says, God says, that we are to “Bear with each other”. It’s the same word used in 2 Thessalonians 1:4 which talks about enduring persecution for the faith. Same word. Sometimes being part of a church is going to be difficult. When those times come, we are to “bear with each other.”
What that means is that when conflict happens, you go through it together. We don’t take off, pretend it didn’t happen, reject the person, or find a new church. It means we stick together through thick and thin, work it out even when it’s hard, figure it out even though it’s confusing, make it work even when it seems impossible, and let God take over the situation to make the impossible possible.
“…as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
Do you see that? What kind of forgiveness did Jesus give you? Did He forgive some of your sins… but couldn’t get over certain things, so He still holds them against you? Did He forgive you… but then keeps bringing them up and making you feel guilty all the time? Did He forgive you… but then go behind your back and tell a bunch of people? Did He forgive you… and then never speak to you again, refusing to sit with you or acknowledge you? No! Our model for forgiving one another is the forgiveness we received through Jesus Christ!
“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.” [Other translations say, “… since as members of one body you were called in one body.”] (vs 14)
What that means is that we are supposed to think of our church in the same way we think of our body. It is strange to think of our body at war with itself. When a person’s body fights with itself, we call it an auto-immune disease. It’s an allergy, it’s cancer, it’s Chrohn’s, it’s eczema, it’s Lou Gehrig’s Disease, it’s MS. When the body starts to attack itself, something is very wrong. We don’t want some parts of our body to fight against other parts of the body. We want our body bound together in “perfect harmony”, and at “peace”.
When Dr. God looks at a group of Christians who can’t get along… it’s not a small deal… it’s a major disease in the body. Jesus wants his church to be a healthy body that works together to build up the rest of the parts, not a sick body that harms itself.
4 Practical Steps to Christian Harmony
Let’s close by looking at verses 16-17 which gives a bit more practical advice and helps us to know what we need to work on so that we can be a united body, honouring each other, living out the “one anothers”, and growing in love with the believers around us: (Start with the last part of verse 15):
“And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
If you are struggling with loving other believers, here’s how to pray and what to do.
1. “Be thankful” for them. This is the first step in changing your heart. Pray, “Thank you, God, for this person. They are different from me, but that’s ok. I don’t understand them, but you do. You built them, created them, chose them, equipped them, and are working in their heart. They irritate me, but they love you and you are working on them. They are my brother or sister who I will spend eternity with. Make me thankful for them, who you made them to be, and help me treat them with honour.”
2.Let the Bible guide you. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teaching and admonishing one another with all wisdom…” (3:16a) Not guided by your heart. Not your own wisdom. Not your friends. If you are struggling to love someone, go to the Word. If you’ve got a problem with what another Christian is doing, check out what God has to say about it first. Use the Bible as your guideline (not your hammer, your guideline) for your attitude and behaviour. You might be surprised to find that it’s not them that needs the attitude adjustment, but you! And if the person is going against scripture, then you bring them the word of God, not your own opinion.
Kid’s do this naturally! They invoke my name as the authority. One comes to me and says “Daaaaad! So-and-so is doing this!” Then I say, “That’s ok, I asked them to do that. I’ve got something different planned for them that you don’t understand right now.” Or I say, “Thank you for telling me, you’re right, they shouldn’t be doing that. Tell them that Dad says to quit it or they’re in trouble.” It is not my kid who has the authority… I do. I’m the Dad.
3. Be Gentle and Persistent. In this passage it says we should be able to be “…singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
This tells us two things. First, a loving church is full of people who can sing and worship together. They sing the same song. People who don’t get along can’t worship God together very well. The animosity creates a barrier between us and them, and us and God. This also tells us that we need to be persistent in working through our problems, so when we are on the other side, we can be singing the same song.
If you say, “I can’t worship with that person in the room”, and you are not working towards a solution to whatever is harming the relationship, then you are not obeying God’s will to reconcile with your brother. If the presence of that person is causing you to not be able to worship God, the fault is not with them… it’s with you. Something is wrong with you. Nothing should stop you from worshipping God. And if that person is a believer, and has demonstrated themselves to be a person of faith, then you should be working through Matthew 18 so you can, if at all possible, sing the same song. We talked about how to do that last week.
Consider the words of Jesus when he said in Matthew 5:23-24,
“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.”
God desires we be reconciled, before He desires our worship.
4. And finally, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
All of our actions should be able to be done “in the name of the Lord Jesus” Christ. When dealing with our brothers or sisters, in our minds we can think, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ… I…”
- forgive you…
- love you…
- serve you…
- ask your forgiveness…
- will put myself second to you…
- will love your family…
- will walk with you…
- will help you…
- will do it your way…
- will keep at you until you repent…
- won’t stop loving you…
You can’t say, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ… I…”
- gossip about you…
- hate you…
- will never speak to you again…
- will sin against you…
- will slander you…
- will ignore you…
- will give you a dirty look when I pass by.
That’s not Jesus.
I know this is hard for some people, but we are called to so much more. Let me end by reading Ephesians 4:1-6 which is Paul’s urgent appeal from his prison cell to a group of Christians who had some relationship issues, and needed to put Jesus back at the centre:
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”