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.