Friday, April 10, 2015


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“They did it, they should come to me and apologize!” Have you ever heard that, or something similar, before? Nice idea, but not how the Scriptures tell us to handle a situation where we have been offended.

One of the most poignant illustrations of how offense should be handled is found in the story of Iketa. This man, an Ecuadorian Indian, was responsible for the deaths of more people that has been accurately documented. He was responsible for the death of Nate Saint, a missionary who, with his companions, was murdered when they tried to take the Gospel into the jungles of Ecuador.

You can’t find a bigger offense than murder!

Did the families of the victims wait for Iketa to recognize his fault and come to them to ask for forgiveness? No, they didn’t. Instead, the missionaries, including some of the wives of the murdered men, went back to deliver the Gospel to those who had committed the crimes. As a result Iketa, and others, came to faith in Christ. He was there in 1992 when Marg, Nate’s widow, came to present the Auca Indians with the New Testament in their own language.

The offended went to the offender. Just as God, as the offended, did not wait for us, the offenders, to come to Him and ask forgiveness, but sent His own Son to provide the means of reconciliation, so the Scriptures tell us that when we are offended the first move is ours.

The key passage to support this instruction is Matthew 18:15-20.

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I tell you that if two of you agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.

Notice that the instruction concerns what we need to do when another believer has offended us. But the principle of the the tax collector and pagan, or how we deal with non-believers, is illustrated by what God did in coming to us, and what the missionaries did in returning to Iketa.

In dealing with a brother who has offended us, we initiate the process of reconciliation. First of all we go in private to that person and tell them what they have done to offend us. In some cases we may discover that there was no offense intended and it was a misunderstanding, or that the person wasn't aware that we took offense, or recognition of the offense might be instant and an apology might come immediately. The process toward reconciliation and forgiveness might be quick and relatively painless. That is as it should be.

But if the offender does not recognize his fault or refuses to ask for forgiveness for a fault he does recognize in himself, then the second step comes into play. We are to gather a couple of trusted friends and share our problem with them and ask them to come as witnesses to our attempt to reconcile. It also delivers a message to the one who has caused the offense, telling him or her that we take this seriously—both the offense and our desire to restore the relationship.

If this second attempt does not produce a good result, then the matter is to be taken before the church. A person who will not pay attention to the church’s attempts at reconciliation is, by Biblical standards, not a believer at all and should be treated as such.

How do we treat an unbeliever? Well, history tells us that when we practice church discipline (which isn’t often) we don’t always handle it well. The idea here, as in the illustration from Ecuador and the illustration from God’s treatment of us, is that we try to bring this person into a genuine relationship with Christ. We pray for that person, witness to them, love them, and work to restore their relationship with God. We are to reach him or her for Christ and love them right to the foot of the cross. Until their relationship with Him is right, their relationship with us will never be right.

When we follow the Biblical protocol for reconciliation, then we have the promise of God’s blessing on the process.

Let’s return to the matter of the witnesses that are mentioned in Matthew 18. What is the importance of this step in the process of reconciliation?

Proverbs 11:14 says: “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisors make victory sure.” The prayer, support, encouragement and wisdom of others in whom we have confidence can help us approach the one who has offended us in as irresistible a manner as possible. And their presence as part of the process gives us credibility if we are forced to take the third step and go to the church for help.

Credible witnesses were important in the system of justice God put in place, through Moses, in Old Testament times. Deuteronomy 19:15, which says: “One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” But even during the time of the apostles, the presence of witnesses was critical to any disciplinary action taken by the church. Paul writing to the church in Corinth (a church that had lots to discipline) wrote: “I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged. This will be my third visit to you. ‘Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others…

It is easy for us, as the ones who are offended, or as the church facing the need to discipline a member, to forget that “there but for the grace of God go I.” None among us is exempt from exactly the same sin that we see in others. Galatians 6:1, 4, 5 reminds us about what our attitude should be when we face someone who has offended us.

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted…Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to someone else, for each one should carry his own load.” This is in keeping with Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 7:3-5: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speak from your brother’s eye.

The process of forgiveness and reconciliation is not something to be ignored or to treated lightly. Nor is it to be started without careful self-examination. But it must be done. Paul goes on in Galatians 6 to remind us that as brothers and sisters in Christ it is our responsibility to seek reconciliation. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (6:2). This is the law of love by which the rest of the world will know that we are followers of the Lord. Our brother’s sin is a burden we carry just as all parts of the body suffer when cancer strikes another part of that body.

But how often do we forgive? How often do we engage in the process of forgiving and being reconciled before we give it up as a lost cause? Peter wrestled with the same issue. After Jesus gave His disciples the protocol for reconciliation Peter asked the Lord how many times he should forgive someone who offended him. He suggested that seven times might be good. Seven was a perfect number in the minds of the Jews. As well, legally, a Jew only needed to forgive three times before he could legitimately harbour an unforgiving spirit! Jesus’ answer would have surprised everyone listening: “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). This was not meant to be taken literally, but served as an illustration to the disciples that forgiveness is limitless. How limitless was further illustrated in the parable that Jesus told following this startling statement.

A king discovered that one of his servants owed him a whole pile of money. The king, well within his rights, ordered the man’s family and all his possessions sold to pay the debt. The servant pleaded with the king and the king relented and went so far as to cancel the debt entirely.

The servant left the presence of the king but ran into another man who owed him a few dollars. When the debtor pleaded that he couldn’t pay, the servant ordered him to be thrown into prison until the money was paid back.

The king heard what had happened. He was justifiable upset. He had forgiven the huge debt held by the servant, and now the servant refused to forgive a little debt owed to him. The king expected a “pay-it-forward” attitude from the man he had forgiven. As a result the king threw the servant into prison until his debt had been paid. Then Jesus concluded the story by saying: “This is now my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).

The parable, of course, illustrated how much God has forgiven us compared to how little we have to forgive in others. How dare we be less than as merciful with others as He has been with us?

Friday, March 6, 2015


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Our Daily Bread told a story some years ago about three mountain climbers, taken from The Rocky Mountain News. The climbers got lost in the snow while they were going through the Pawnee Pass in Colorado. They were faced with some decisions to make and unhappily made all the wrong ones!

They decided to keep moving. They came upon Crater Lake. There was a slope leading down to the lake so they decided to slide down the slope in the hopes of finding a path once they got to the bottom.

It turned out that the slope was not as gentle as it first appeared. Their speed of descent started to pick up. They could hear water and then, to their horror, they realized that they were heading toward a waterfall. They dug their cleats into the snow in a desperate attempt to keep themselves away from the falls and managed to find a ledge. Here they waited until they were rescued.

Sin is a slippery slope, so goes the moral of the story. It doesn’t seem so bad in the beginning but before we are aware of our danger we are heading downhill to disaster. The article ends with this cryptic statement: “Stop your fall.”

The article was built around Isaiah 1:16 which ends with: “…stop doing wrong.” One of the areas of our lives where we struggle to do what God’s demands of us is in righting the wrongs we have done to others.

We don’t always consider the consequences our words or actions have for others. We vent or act to relieve ourselves of whatever is bothering us, without caring about the damage caused by what we say or do. Basically, it’s selfishness in action.

Proverbs 18:19 tells us about one of those consequences, “An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel.

Walls. Resistance. Broken relationships. Even those who are offended may “put on a happy face” but you can be sure that a door deep inside has been slammed shut.

But what exactly is an offence? One definition is: “You offend another person when you cause them to go off the righteous path either by encouraging them to do so outrightly or by being a stumbling block to their growth and development as believers. This can be done by deeds or by words. This often happens without intention or simply because of insensitivity to others.”

I’ll bet that wasn’t what you expected! We have already looked at what some of the consequences of being offended are. And it would be easy to slough off those consequences by saying: “Well, so-and-so is responsible for how they react, not me!” That is true. But all of us bare responsibility for having put that other person in a position of having to choose whether or not to be angry, or hurt, or unforgiving, because of some callous word or deed that we have committed.

Jesus told His disciples that it would be better for them to be drowned than to offend a weaker or younger believer. He told them that they needed to be absolutely brutal when ridding themselves of anything that would cause such offence. “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:7)

Paul said a great deal to the believers of his day about a particular issue that had the potential of giving offence. It had to do with meat that had been used in pagan sacrifices and then offered for sale in the marketplaces. Some believers wouldn’t eat it because it had been used in pagan worship and were offended if another believer invited them to dinner and served such meat. Paul said that meat was meat, but he would not take the risk of causing another brother to go against his conscience in order for him, Paul, to exercise his freedom to eat whatever he wanted. “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall” (1 Corinthians 8:13). We might call that excessive, but the Word of God doesn’t, and provides us with an important principle and an attitude that we need to cultivate. It is a serious thing in God’s sight to provide the means by which another believer might be led into sin.

So what happens if I do offend? (And we all know that we do.)

In the Lord’s famous “Sermon on the mount” He said: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23, 24).

Worship doesn’t happen unless the wrongs have been righted. The offender is to go to the one he has offended (the issue described in this passage has to do with the offender being angry and calling a brother “a fool”). He is to seek reconciliation with the brother he has offended. This, at the very least, would involve an apology and a plea for forgiveness from both his brother and the Lord.

In the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32, the boy returns to his father and confesses what he has done: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.

Notice that the son recognizes that his primary offence has been against God. This is noteworthy because if we were to stop to think before venting or acting out, we might realize that it isn’t simply another human being that we are offending but God Himself. This was also the case when David repented of his sin with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah. He said, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:28; Psalm 51:4).

Humility is something that we have a hard time practicing. We tend to try to put a positive spin even on our acts of repentance. There are a number of whys that people “repent.” Some are more effective than others.

I’m sorry” is good but lacks the element of recognizing sin for what it is or asking for forgiveness.

I made a mistake, but so did you” is pretty much a guarantee of NOT being successful at reconciliation. It may well be true that the other person has some responsibility for putting a stumbling block in your path that caused you to sin, but you have arrived at this moment to deal with YOUR sin. As well, a “mistake” is not the same as a “sin.” If it’s a sin, call it by its name.

If I have offended you, forgive me.” Oh, that wretched “if!” It begs the other person to say, “Oh no, you didn’t!” and let you off the hook. If you are in any doubt, a better expression is: “I feel that I have offended you, please forgive me.” That puts the burden on you, not on the other person. If that person has been offended they will have no doubt about your spirit of repentance. If they truly were not offended (and perhaps should have been), they’ll love you all the more for your sensitivity.

I know I have offended you, forgive me” is pretty safe. Add an “I’m sorry” and you have probably done all you can do to pave the way to reconciliation.

What happens if you follow all the steps and the person you have offended refuses to forgive you?

Peter, speaking to persecuted believers, writes in1 Peter 4:19, that after they have done everything right and still not seen any change in the circumstances, they are to commit the problem to God and continue to do what is right. “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” This same principle will apply to a situation where forgiveness is withheld.

Romans 12:17, 18 and 21 give us clear direction here: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Each of us can only do what WE need to do. The rest, as it is committed to God, is up to Him and the person in whom He is continuing to work. His, or her, journey, is still in progress, just like yours and mine.

Friday, February 6, 2015


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Unhappily, our thoughts are not the only things we have to deal with when we have an unforgiving spirit. Bitterness, anger, the desire for revenge, hurt, often result in actions that compound the damage done by our thoughts. The thoughts destroy us—the actions have the distinct possibility of destroying others.

The famous “Golden Rule” based on Luke 6:31 tells us to treat others in the same way that we would like to be treated. Edwin Markham said: “We have committed the Golden Rule to memory; let us now commit it to life.” How true, but how difficult.

The problem with not following this excellent advice is that evil perpetuates evil. All we have to do to prove this statement is to read the newspaper or watch the news. We do indeed eventually reap what we have sown.

Proverbs 20:22 tells us clearly directs us: “Do not say, ‘I’ll pay you back for this wrong!’ Wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.”

But the New Testament takes this instruction even farther. It is hard enough not to look for “pay back” and to wait for the Lord to sort things out, but Paul adds the Golden Rule to the equation.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good” —Romans 12:17-21.

Did you see the progression?

Don’t look for a way to get revenge.

Live at peace with everyone as much as it is possible to do so.

Let God avenge the wrong done.

Do to your enemy what you would want him to do for you if you had wronged him.

Don’t let evil vanquish you, but let your good response vanquish evil.

Did I leave one out? We like the idea of heaping “burning coals on his head” but that phrase is not what it seems. The shame that comes to those who have wronged us when we treat them with love and compassion, like the burning coals, has more impact than any act of revenge ever could.

Payback and seeking revenge are two actions that we are instructed to avoid. The assurance we have is that God, who sees everything, will make sure that wrongs are righted, in His own way and in His own time, and so that He will be glorified.


The devil is in the details so it is said and, while most of us are not into physically abusing those who have done us harm, there are more subtle ways to get back at those who have wronged us; ways that we find easier to justify when it comes to actions that reflect a lack of forgiveness.

The book of James is a key resource when it comes to dealing with one of the actions that demonstrates a lack of forgiveness. When our spirits are not right with another person it is probable that our conversation about that person will not be right either. Jesus spoke plainly about the problem in Luke 6:45 when He said: “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

James deals with this problem of the tongue in chapter 3.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a relentless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be” (3:2-10).

Jesus spoke strongly against allowing the tongue to be used as an instrument to punish another person. He likened the tongue’s misuse to murder. In His famous Sermon on the Mount, recorded for us in Matthew 5 through 7, the Lord says this: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry [the attitude] with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says [action] to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, [action] ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21, 22).

Raca” is a term of contempt. But notice that both James and Matthew include a reference to hell! These are strong words which remind us that what our tongues say is taken very seriously by God. The attitudes, and the actions that often accompany them that indicate an unforgiving spirit, must be dealt with by us or they will be dealt with by God.

The Old Testament book of Proverbs is another place where we find much instruction on the evils of the tongue. Take Proverbs 26 for example.

18, 19 “Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows is a man who deceives his neighbor and says, ‘I was only joking!’”

From this we assume that the man said or did something that reflected a bad heart attitude and then tried to cover it up by lying.

20, 21 “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.

22, 23 “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts. Like a coating of glaze over earthenware are fervent lips with an evil heart.

24-26 “A malicious man disguises himself with his lips, but in his heart he harbors deceit. Though his speech is charming, do not believe him, for seven abominations fill his heart. His malice may be concealed by deception, but his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.

A unforgiving attitude will eventually reveal itself. But in any case, to say one thing and to feel another still offends God, who views the pleasant words covering an unpleasant attitude as lying and deception.

28 “A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.”

Slander is tucked in-between some other nasty stuff in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, reminding us again that an out-of-control tongue is considered a major evil.

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

The snide comments, the gossip, the “put-downs,” even the prayers that we sanctimoniously offer on behalf of people that include information that doesn’t need to be shared with others since God already is aware of it, are “easy” sins for us to commit. But they convey something within us that isn’t right, and that often includes an unforgiving spirit.

What should our words sound like? What should come out of our mouths?

Ephesians 4:29-5:2 tells us what should characterize the person who demonstrates a forgiving spirit.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly beloved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

The outer action is a symptom of an unforgiving spirit. We need to search our hearts and allow the Spirit of God to search our hearts for anything that might drive us to an inappropriate and sinful action.

As David reminded us, opening ourselves to the God’s searchlight is critical to moving towards a forgiving spirit. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23, 24).

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


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Most of us know that we need to do the right thing whether we “feel” like it or not. We have been told that eventually our feelings will catch up with our actions, that our emotions are treacherous and not to be relied upon.

At the same time, we sometimes deny that we need to forgive someone for an offense even though our emotions tell a completely different story. Or, we simply refuse to forgive the offense and believe, falsely, that our lack of forgiveness will have no effect on our lives.

That assumption could be very expensive.

The story is told about the Franklin Expedition to the Arctic in 1845. The explorers were looking for the Northwest Passage. They went poorly equipped, with only enough coal to feed their steam engines for twelve days. But they did take along a 1,200 volume library, fine china and crystal and personalized silver cutlery.

The ships were trapped in the ice and after several months the men tried to make their way south to find help. No one survived. Later it was discovered that two of the officers had pulled a sled loaded with silver cutlery for over sixty-five miles before they finally died of hunger and exposure.

When we carry around what is useless, and even dangerous, we suffer the consequences. Anger and bitterness, the fruit of an unforgiving spirit, will kill our peace and sap our spiritual, physical and emotional energy.

Hebrews 12:1 tells us to: “…throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles….” This is good advice.


Paul has something to say about things that are associated with bitterness in Romans 3:13-18.

Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Bitterness has friends. Bitterness internalized eats us up from the inside out. Eventually the “friends” appear: plotting revenge, slander, angry words, constant turmoil, et al. This passage is a description of the man of sin who chooses to sin because he has no fear of God.

That’s not where believers want to be!


Another emotional response that characterizes an unforgiving spirit is anger. James 1:19-21 has some practical suggestions on how to deal with it.

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for a man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

The context suggests that, as believers, we need to practice what the Word of God says in relation to our responses especially, as James mentions specifically, to “keep a tight rein on [our] tongue” (vs. 26). Remember that ancient adage: There is a reason why the Creator gave us two ears and only one tongue.

As believers committed to that “righteous life that God desires” we need to deal with bitterness and anger and its root cause, the unforgiving spirit if we want to live out the life that God designed for us.


Both Hebrews and James tell us to dump the stuff that causes us to fail in our pursuit of the righteous life that should characterize the believer. How do we do that?

Hebrews 12:14, 15

Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

When an unforgiving spirit destroys the peace that should exist between brothers, the most serious consequence is the break this causes in the relationship that both enjoy with the Lord. Out of this break in relationship—sin—comes bitterness and bitterness entertains all its other “friends” and contaminates everyone it touches. God’s grace, or favour, does not rest on the person who refuses to cultivate all the characteristics of righteous living.

The passage does not assume that the other person involved in the problem will respond correctly, hence the “make every effort.” We can only do what we need to do and then leave the rest to the Lord.

Proverbs has much to say about the issue of dealing with feelings. Here is a sample. Anger and bitterness often give way to seeking revenge. Solomon writes: “Do not plot harm against your neighbor…Do not envy a violent man or choose any of his ways, for the Lord detests a perverse man but takes the upright into his confidence” (Proverbs 3:29, 31, 32).

Sometimes, though we might not plot revenge on those we have not forgiven, we enjoy it when something hurtful happens to them. It becomes our vicarious revenge on them. This is what the Scriptures say about that: “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice, for the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from him” (Proverbs 24:17, 18). The assumption here is that God has brought some kind of discipline into the other person’s life, but we are not to be happy about any suffering endured by those who have offended us. I am reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:1, “…with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”—a solemn warning indeed!

It is easy to believe that as long as we don’t act on our feelings and “put a good face” on  the problem, we don’t have to deal with them. Proverbs warns us that eventually everything will be exposed—including what we have so carefully harboured in our hearts because of our unforgiving spirit. Proverbs 26:24-26 reminds us: “A malicious man disguises himself with his lips, but in his heart he harbors deceit. Though his speech is charming, do not believe him, for seven abominations fill his heart. His malice may be concealed by deception, but his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.”

Perhaps the privotal passage on this subject is given to us in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

Here’s what he says:

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”

This passage is loaded with lessons for us. But the bottom line is that harbouring the emotions caused by an unforgiving spirit, and the actions resulting from them, is characteristic of those who do not know the Lord. If we truly belong to the Lord and want to “live by the Spirit” we have to deal with those things that are not of the Spirit.

We have to abandon the negative emotions. Even when we have forgiven, Satan will bring those negative emotions back into our minds. But certainly when we haven’t forgiven, the first step in dealing with the emotions is to forgive. Then, each time we are tempted to relive those negatives, we can go back and lay them at the foot of the cross. Eventually Satan will give up trying to trip us up with them.

Paul’s words to the Ephesians remind us that no one could offend us as badly as we have offended God. But He forgave us because of Christ. Not only did He forgive us but He treats with love and mercy because of that forgiveness. This is our model.

…do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children…” (Ephesians 4:30-5:1).

Is this easy? No, it isn’t. But it is directly commanded by God, who has given us the resources to do it and who will do it in us as we submit to Him.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ…it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Ephesians 1:3; Philippians 2:13).

We need to dump the junk that will kill us.

Friday, January 9, 2015


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George MacDonald wrote: “The principle part of faith is patience.”

Unhappily, patience is something most of us don’t have in abundance. Ours is an “instant” world. We expect instant communication, instant “fixes,” and instant gratification. It’s the way the world works. Waiting for God to act in the face of injustice often leads to frustration, to unbelief, and to taking upon ourselves a role that only belongs to God Himself.

Several years ago, Our Daily Bread published the following story:

“What can travel the ocean currents for years before arriving at the shore and still produce life? It’s called a ‘Sea Heart,’ a bean native to the Tropical Rain Forest. Impervious to water, it has been known to travel the ocean currents from South America and end up on European shores.

This seed that carries life, rides the waves and survives the elements, illustrates a basic spiritual principle. God’s plans might include extensive periods of waiting while He works out His design for us. This happened to Noah, who put up with ridicule for 120 years while he built a boat on dry land; it happened to Abraham, who had to wait for a son till he was an old man; it happened to David, the chosen of God, who had to wait for God’s timing before he could become king.

Sea Hearts can’t choose to be patient, but we can. Nothing is more difficult, or better for us, than to follow the example of David who wrote Psalm 25. By waiting on the Lord we can have peace and our faith can grow even while we are riding the stormy waves of life.”

David cried out to God for justice on many occasions. We know from the Biblical record that often justice was slow to come, if it ever came at all!  But in spite of the depth of his despair at his circumstances, his writings inevitably reflected his confidence in a trustworthy God who would take care of everything that had to do with him.

This confidence, this resting in the Lord and on His promises, is something most of us still need to learn. When we hear of terrible events taking place around the world we wonder if justice will be served. When it isn’t, we tend to anger or despair. Every day we are assaulted through the media with stories that we’d rather not hear. And sometimes the horrors are close to home. Today I heard about a pastor (one associated with the denomination I belong to and to a church I have connected with on a number of occasions) who murdered his pregnant wife because of an affair he was having with a member of his congregation. He got off with 15 years. I also read an article in my own church bulletin which was both offensive, untrue, and unjust, written by a church leader.

And I prayed for justice (after I got angry). The idea of being patient until God fixes things was not at the top of my list of things to do, believe me! Today was a good day to revisit the Scriptures to remind myself of what God says about my reaction to injustices.

1 Peter 2:19-25 says: “…it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

As is always the case, Christ’s example is our model to follow when it comes to reacting to injustice. The idea is not that we shouldn’t react by standing up for truth and righteousness, but that our reaction should never be to add another sin to the one already committed. Jesus did not react sinfully to the sin committed against Him.

But let’s go back to the beginning of the passage. How we react to injustice is based on what we know God wants us to do, as illustrated in the life of Christ—bear it without recriminations, angry retorts, accusations, bad language, retaliation, or threats. Remember that the Lord was quick to call sin what it was, but when He was treated unfairly he never compounded the problem by adding sin to the sins already committed by those who sought to abuse Him.

Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” There is a world of promise here, first of all because we are assured that there is someone who will judge justly at some point. Secondly, students of the Scripture know enough about God to understand that He WILL act. Paul quotes Deuteronomy 32:35 when he writes in Romans 12:19, “‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” This statement is made as part of a series of instructions on the practical realities of loving people (12:9-21) that ends with: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The book of 1 Peter was written to believers who had been scattered throughout the world of that day because of persecution. Some may have already lost everything in their efforts to escape being abused, imprisoned or killed. Some were in danger of losing everything as the intolerance against Christians spread. Peter understands the risks and encourages them to be like Christ, to stand up for their faith, and to “bear up” under the consequences that might come for being faithful. 

1 Peter 3:13-18a: “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander, It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God…

"...set apart Christ as Lord." Before I react in any way, I need to renew my commitment to follow Christ in my thoughts, words, and action, to make sure that He is the Lord of my life.

As I read these verses I was reminded that I will need to say something to someone with authority to change things, for example, about the message that the article in my church bulletin conveys. But what I say must be with “gentleness and respect.” If there are consequences to me because of what I say they should not be because I sinned in how I expressed my concern.

1 Peter 4:19: “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

The message here is not one of withdrawal. Peter encouraged the believers who faced unjust treatment NOT to avoid anything that would result in bringing themselves to the attention of those who were just looking for an excuse to wipe them off the face of the earth, but to persevere in doing what was right. These actions were based, and continue to be based, on the truth that God, the Creator and Judge, is faithful to those who stand with Him.

But there is another reaction to injustice that needs to characterize the believer. James writes: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

Joy? You must be kidding! But notice that the joy is not in the trial itself, but is the result of correctly handling the trial. When we look beyond the moment of trial to the reward of spiritual maturity that come after having successfully handled it, we can rejoice that God has trusted us with that experience.

Being treated unjustly is one of those trials that come into our lives to “toughen us up.” Notice that “toughen” is different from “harden.” If unjust treatment makes us angry with those who have hurt us, unforgiving, bitter, then we become hard. But injustice that drives us to become mature in our faith, to trust God more deeply and to practice forgiveness as we have learned it from the cross, then we become strong, tough, able to face better whatever life has yet to bring our way.

There is the story told of a tree so badly bent over that its branches touched the ground. Someone remarked that it was such a pity that it was so crooked. His companion disagreed: “Those trees that were not able to bend when the storms roared through are now shattered and broken. This tree developed the capacity to lean, and survived.” Toughening makes us stronger, hardening just makes us easier to break! And break we will if we refuse to forgive others as Christ forgave us.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


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The story is told of a seminary student paying his way through school as a bus driver. One day several young men got on his bus and refused to pay their fares. The driver saw a policeman, stopped his bus and reported what had happened. The policeman forced the young men to pay their fares. After he had left the scene the delinquents badly beat the driver.

The youths were arrested and declared guilty before a judge. But the student, who had given testimony at the trial, asked the judge if he could serve the sentence that had been handed down to the young men. When asked why he would want to do such a thing, the student said, “I’ve forgiven them.” The judge refused to allow him his wish but, over the months his assailants were in jail, the student visited them regularly and several of them came to faith in Christ as a result.

Other than that of Christ, probably the best known example of extreme forgiveness in the face of injustice is found in the Old Testament story of Joseph found in Genesis 37 - 50. Though Joseph’s story covers more than ten chapters we are still left with very little information as to how Joseph felt during his roller coaster ride from favoured status to abject misery and back again, all because of the unjust treatment he received from others.

But what we do know about is how Joseph responded to the evil that was done to him.

Let’s review his story.

1. Favoured by his father (Genesis 37:3, 4)

Certainly neither Joseph nor his father might have been aware of the injustice here, but Joseph’s other brothers were feeling badly treated by Jacob when he lavished special treatment and special privileges on the son given to him by his favourite wife—yet another example of Jacob’s injustice responses. In a way Jacob bears at least some responsibility for what would subsequently happen to Joseph. His favouritism contributed to the many other injustices Joseph would suffer.

2. Dreams of leadership (Genesis 37:5-11)

Perhaps it was the security that his father’s special affection gave him that caused Joseph to be so free about sharing the dreams that he had. The brothers were incensed when this young upstart told then that he had seen them bowing down to him. Even Jacob was somewhat annoyed to discover that he too would one day bend the knee to his youngest child. On the other hand, it might have been those dreams that kept Joseph’s spirit up during all his trials. He trusted God to deliver on what had been shown to him in his dreams.

3. Brothers conspire to kill him (Genesis 37:18-24)

But rather than shrug off their father’s favouritism and Joseph’s brashness, the brothers allowed their anger, resentment and bitterness to grow. When Joseph appeared on the horizon while they were tending Jacob’s sheep, they quickly hatched a plan to get rid of him. The one spark of humanity turned up in Ruben who had planned to rescue his younger brother from the dry well. Unfortunately he came too late and the others sold Joseph to Midianite traders. They believed that he, a pampered son, would not survive life as a slave. Certainly they never expected to see him again. Deceiving their father with a story of Joseph’s death was cruel, and in its own way, unjust.

4. Sold as a slave (Genesis 37:25-28)

And so Joseph came to Egypt where he was sold into Potipher’s household as a slave. Of all the people the Midianites could have sold Joseph to he falls into the hands of someone connected to the court of the Pharaoh. We begin to see a few more threads in the tapestry of God’s design that will bring Joseph to the attention of the king and place him in a position to help his people—even those who betrayed him.

5. Put in charge of Potipher’s household (Genesis 39:1-6)

The text doesn’t dwell on how Joseph might have been treated in Potipher’s household, but we are told that his exemplary conduct brought him to the attention of the master who, as a result, put him in charge of his household. The text tells us that this was because God was with Joseph and brought about this change in status on his behalf.

6. Falsely accused and imprisoned (Genesis 39:7-20)

Despite his favoured status in Potipher’s household, Joseph’s story continues to be characterized by injustice. The master’s wife, her advances toward Joseph spurned, turns on him and falsely accuses him of trying to rape her. Even if Potipher knew differently, he could hardly turn against his own wife in favour of a slave, so he sends Joseph to prison as punishment for his “crime.”

7. Made head over the prisoners (Genesis 39:21-23)

What did Joseph think and feel? He did what was right and it turned out so wrong! We are not told what might have gone through Joseph’s head and heart. But the text tells us that he didn’t change his behaviour. He continued to do what was right. That in itself gives us a pretty strong clue that he continued to trust that God was working out a plan even through the injustice that he was suffering. Because God was with him, the head jailor saw the value in making Joseph his right hand man and putting him in charge of the prisoners.

8. Interpreted the dreams of two prisoners (Genesis 40:1-22)

It turned out that God brought to the prison a man who would be instrumental in bringing Joseph to the attention of the Pharaoh—eventually. Pharaoh’s butler and baker got themselves into hot water with the king and ended up in prison. While there God sent them dreams that foretold their fate. Joseph was able to interpret those dreams. The only time we hear any kind of plea for justice from Joseph comes as he asked the pardoned butler to bring his case to the attention of the Pharaoh. But the time was not yet right and so the butler forgot.

9. Forgotten for two more years (Genesis 41:1-13)

Two years passed. It seems like another injustice. How could the butler's memory be so bad considering the circumstances under which he had met Joseph? The tangled threads on the underside of Joseph’s tapestry do not reveal what God is doing on the upper side.

10. Interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams (Genesis 41:14-36)

Dreams torment the king. Even his most skilled advisers can’t come up with answers to the questions that those dreams generate. The butler remembers and shares his prison experiences with the Pharaoh and Joseph is sent for. It is noteworthy that Joseph makes no claims of his own in order to ingratiate himself with the king. He acknowledges that it is God who interprets what He has sent by way of the Pharaoh’s nightmares. The scene is being set. Bad years are coming, following on the heels of the good years.

11. Made responsible for food production and distribution in Egypt (Genesis 41:37-49)

Surely Pharaoh had lots of men who could have done what Joseph was tasked to do. But it was the time and place and person that God had foreordained to be in Egypt to prepare for the famine to come and to rescue Jacob and his family from starvation. Joseph was chosen, having already been prepared in Potipher’s household and in the king’s prison to “look after” things. We are not quite at an “aha” moment in the story; an explanation for all the evil that has happened to Joseph, but we are getting close.

12. Reveals himself to his brothers (Genesis 45:1-6)

Eventually Jacob is forced to send his sons to Egypt to buy food. The famine has been extensive—famine was generally considered to be a sign of God’s judgment. Their encounter with Pharaoh’s second-in-command, whom they do not recognize as their brother, does not go well. The first time Joseph does not reveal his identity to his brothers, but rather he tests their character. Has anything changed in their attitude while he has been away? Will they betray another favoured son as they had betrayed the first? On the brothers second trip to Egypt, Joseph meets his younger brother, Benjamin, for the first time. Overwhelmed by joy, and with a heart full of forgiveness, he tells his brothers who he is and how God has taken their evil and turned it into good for their sakes.

13. Reunited with his father (Genesis 46:29-34)

The family is reunited, setting the stage for the growth of a nation whose foundation will be built on miracles delivered from the hand of God Almighty. Joseph could have demanded justice. No one would have condemned him for making his brothers pay for their treatment of him. It is almost as though they got away with the evil they had done. But Joseph doesn’t care about retribution or vindication because Joseph sees the upper side of the tapestry and understands that even injustice serves God’s purposes.
…do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you…to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives  by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:5, 7, 8)

Joseph broke the chain of hate, jealousy, fear and injustice when he forgave his brothers. He understood that it was God’s business to set things straight as He chose, and Joseph’s business to believe that God works out His purposes as He chooses.

Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:19).

The New Testament parallel to this thought is easily identified in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

And what is God’s purpose for His children? “…to be conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Romans 8:29).

When we refuse to break the chains that have resulted from the injustices perpetrated against us by forgiving those responsible, we continue the cycle of evil and never grow in our likeness to Christ who forgave far worse injustice than any of us could ever suffer. We short-circuit the purposes of God—the purpose He has for our lives and for those who have sinned against us.

To be able to face with joy and peace the injustices committed against us, we have to believe, as Joseph did, that God is in absolute control of our lives and everything that affects our lives, and that He is working through these events to make us all that He wants us to be as we respond to Him in faith and complete obedience.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


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“It isn’t fair!” is a phrase we use, and hear, constantly. I suppose the snarky response would be, “And who told you life was supposed to be fair?” The truth is, life isn’t fair, and never will be fair. I know this by experience, but still have to remind myself of its truth. Many people, optimistic by nature, live with the expectation that things will change for the better. However, expectations can come with nasty surprises.

The abused wife thinks her life will get better if she tries harder to please her husband.

The employee figures that as long as he is doing his job he’ll never get fired, or laid off.

Women believe that eventually “equal opportunity” or “equal pay for work of equal value” will become reality.

It doesn’t always work that way. Life isn’t always fair.

As you read the story of Joseph Scriven, the author of the words to What A Friend We Have in Jesus, you are reminded that the unexpected happens, loss is inevitable, and that there are no guarantees outside of the absolute truths of Scripture.

The question remains: “What can I do when life presents me with one of these unfair situations?”

We want God to explain. But often the heavens are silent. He ignores our pleas, and pays no attention to our fists raised in anger (which is a very good thing!).

It’s a test! Like every test, the teacher doesn’t give us the answers until after we have turned in our papers. Alfred Edersheim wrote: “For God to explain a trial would be to destroy its object...simple faith and implicit obedience.

But then comes the thorny question of how to forgive when there might be no possibility of the situation becoming “fair” as a result?


We look at a sample of such a situation in 2 Samuel 16:5-12.

The story takes place in the days when David was king of Israel. At this point in his reign, David was having plenty of trouble with his children. In fact, one of his sons, Absalom, conspired against his father and tried to seize the throne for himself. As a result David fled Jerusalem just as Absalom was entering it.

Some people like to follow the old adage and “kick a man when he’s down.” This was David’s experience. As he journeyed away from Jerusalem, a man who had held a grudge against David for many years because of Saul’s death, came out to the road to throw stones at David and call him names (2 Samuel 16, 7, 8).

Under normal circumstances such an action invites retaliation. David’s supporters were ready to trounce the offender and teach him some manners, but David’s response to the offense, and to the enthusiasm of his followers, is unusual.

Verse 10 says “But the king said, ‘What do you and I have in common, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’

That presents us with an interesting question. We may believe that persecution or abuse or whatever the evil might be, comes ultimately from Satan, sometimes through people. But we also know that even Satan cannot do anything unless God allows him, and then only under the conditions that God sets. The example of Job (Job 1:6-2:10) and Peter (Luke 22:31, 32) come immediately to mind.  So David’s response here is correct. God had allowed Shimei to curse David and to throw stones, so David was willing to take the abuse because God had permitted it. It wasn’t fair from a human perspective, but David understood that there was a purpose behind it that he was not aware of.

It’s this “other perspective” that we need to pursue. What God does, or doesn’t do, often mystifies us. It isn’t humanly possible for us to perfectly see things from God’s perspective because His ways and His thoughts are far beyond ours. Isaiah reminds us of this truth: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.’ declares the Lord.” Just how distant one is from the other is described in the following verse: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8, 9).

But as hard as it might be to see things from God’s perspective, it is to our benefit to try our best to do just that.

Isaiah 46:8-11 tells us: “Remember this, fix it in mind, take it to heart you rebels. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.

The context of these verses is important. God is delivering a message to His people that He will raise up someone who will be His instrument of discipline on Israel because of her disobedience. While God’s discipline of us may not be the reason for the unfairness in our lives (it can be, but isn’t always) the point of this passage is that there is no other God, and that our God will accomplish His purposes just as He decides and just as He has planned. In Israel’s case, God would use a pagan king to do that, reminding us that God uses for His purposes even those who do not acknowledge Him.

When we look at the unfair circumstances of our lives we need to remember that God has complete control over those circumstances and uses them for His purposes.

In Lamentations 3:37,  38,  Jeremiah the prophet writes: “Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?” Once again the context is one of disciplining those who have rebelled against God. But the basic principle in all situations is true that nothing happens, good or bad, unless allowed by God.


I mentioned Job earlier. We need to return to Job 1 to look at this man’s story a little more carefully. The ironic thing is that we know the backstory to Job’s horrific experience—but Job had no idea what the reasons behind his suffering and loss were. No one could blame him for thinking that life was unfair.

Read Job 1:6-22.

Notice what happens in verse 8 after Satan whines about having to wander the earth (supposedly looking for someone to bother!). “Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.

If, in our other examples, God allows difficult circumstances because He is disciplining His church, such is not the case here. Job was a good man. This wasn’t a case of discipline.

Notice too that God actually OFFERS Job to Satan.

I suppose it never occurs to many of us that when we are treated unfairly that it might be because God has offered Satan the opportunity to test our goodness and our godliness so that the devil can see for himself that a believer can remain both good and godly under difficult circumstances?

Notice that God is in control both of the offer and the limits on the offer. “...everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger” (1:12). Later, God would allow Satan to go just a little bit further and touch Job’s body: “...he is in your hands; but you must spare his life” (2:6).

And remember that Job knew nothing about this tug-of-war going on between God and Satan.

When we look at Job’s situation we can identify with it. We know that there are times in our lives when unfair things happen to us—things that are not discipline for some offense we have committed, or the consequences of our own unwise decisions. So how did Job handle the situation?

When Job lost his family and possessions, this is the response from him that we have recorded in Scripture: “At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship...In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (1:20, 22).

He mourned, as demonstrated in the tearing of his robes and shaving his head. After all, he had lost all his children in one blow. But he also worshiped and did not accuse God of having done something wrong.

Later, after he lost his health and his wife encouraged him to curse God, Scripture records this: “‘You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?’ In all this, Job did not sin in what he said” (2:10).

Job seemed to know that both good and not-so-good came from God. Like David, he trusted that God had a reason even though he could not point out what that reason might be.

It’s one of the most often quoted verses from Scripture, but perhaps one of the hardest to believe. Tucked into the middle of a discussion on the difficulties of life, and the effects of sin on creation, Romans 8:28 is Paul’s expression of hope in the midst of struggle.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Just a little farther down in the chapter comes the statement: “If God is for is, who can be against us” (vs. 31) and then, “…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (vs. 37).

The “Why?” question haunts us. If we are treated justly and even when we need to accept the just consequences of our failure and sin, we have no difficulty dealing with the question. We KNOW why. But when we are treated unfairly. mistreated without cause, the “why?” question is one of the first things that pops into our minds. We crave explanations, answers, reasons, for whatever it is that is happening. And often the heavens are silent. God doesn’t explain and we are required to trust Him to have had a good reason for allowing us to be treated unfairly.

In these verses from Romans, Paul expresses his confidence that even though life may prove to be unfair, somehow, in some way, through some means, God will use those experiences for our good and to accomplish His purposes. The bottom line of those purposes is expressed in Romans 8:29, a verse we don’t often connect to the assurance of verses 28: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son….

From before the beginning of time, God had a plan for those who would come back into relationship with Him through faith in Christ. That plan of redemption included restoration—the restoration of the character of Christ in each one of His redeemed children. Christ came, not only to save us, but to model for us these character qualities that God has designed for us to have in our own lives. He became one of us to show us that we could truly become one with Him in every sense.

So somehow, in some way, by some means, the injustices we face in our lives will contribute to the development in us of the character of Christ. And because He loves us nothing can deter Him from completing that plan in our lives. We will overcome to become—what He has designed us to be.

In the light of the promises of God to use the injustices of live to make us more like Jesus, 1 Thessalonians 5:13-24 encourages us to take positive steps to model Christ even when we are being treated unfairly. All of the passage is important, but a few phrases are particularly appropriate for dealing with injustice and understanding its greater purpose in conforming us to the image of Christ.

Live in peace with each other…Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus…Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

The last verses remind us again that whatever God sends our way is meant to “sanctify” us, or to make us holy. Though we can’t do that ourselves, we have the promise that God, through the work of His Spirit, will do it in us as we respond correctly to the challenges of our lives.


One of the instructions in the verses from Thessalonians is “…give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Enduring is one thing, being thankful is another!

Perhaps part of the secret is to look beyond the circumstances and focus on the end result that is promised—being like Jesus. Combined with the assurances from Romans we can take heart in knowing that we will overcome to become.

We also have the example of Christ to follow. In identifying with us by becoming one of us, Jesus opened Himself up to being treated unjustly. As one who never sinned, it couldn’t be said of Him that He “deserved” what He got as a consequence of some wrongdoing. Jesus paid the ultimate price for the injustice perpetrated on Him—He paid with His life. How He responded to such extreme injustice leaves for us the example of how we need to respond when we are treated unfairly.

Hebrews 12:1-12 describes this for us. The Lord Himself looked beyond the circumstances to the end result. For Him, that meant the return to the glory that was His before He took on flesh and become one of us.

…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (vss. 1-3).

While it is not inconceivable for us to suffer injustice to the point of death, most of us will never have to go to that extreme. We are encouraged to view these circumstances as part of our training in righteousness.

In your struggle against sin, you have not resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and punishes everyone he accepts as a son’” (vss. 4-6). The quote is from Proverbs 3:11, 12 and is not meant to say that the injustice suffered is necessarily a punishment from God—otherwise it would indeed be justice. The purpose of the quote is to say that whatever the cause of the difficulties in our lives, they need to be looked on as part of a training process, taken seriously, but from the encouraging viewpoint that God loves us so much that, as the saying goes, he accepts us as we are, but loves us too much to leave us as we are (Leighton Ford).

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?…God disciplines us for our good, that we might share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (vss. 7-11).

Here again is that aspect of the end result that we need to focus on—holiness, righteousness, and peace.

The ability to forgive an act of injustice directed at us is directly related to our ability to look beyond the act to the God Who has permitted it as a part of His training plan for our righteousness. The process is not pleasant, but at the end of it comes the satisfaction of having pleased God by overcoming to become like Jesus.

This perspective allows us the ability to forgive those who are the instruments of injustice in our lives because they are God's instruments designed to make us more like Christ.