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Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Commandments of Jesus Continued...

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Commandment Number Five : "If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, first go and be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:23)
This commandment in my mind works like a magnet that draws to itself Jesus’ Commandment to Love One another and also to forgive each other. In the same context Jesus says, “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court, do it while you are still with him on the way, otherwise he may hand you over to the judge and the judge may hand you over to the officer and you may be thrown into prison.”

The ultimate test of whether we are Christians is in our capacity to show love towards each other. In fact when Jesus talks of the End Times in Matthew chapter 24:10 he links many falling away from the faith with the love of most growing cold. The Apostle Paul states that God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us.

According to this commandment, if I have wronged my brother and have not tried to reconcile myself to him then I am not fit to approach God with my gift.

Think about this for a moment. This potentially means that if I have sinned against another Christian and have not tried to make amends then everything that I think I am doing for the Lord until that reconciliation has been made is completely pointless! My righteous deeds would be as filthy rags, because Jesus requires that I ask my brother for forgiveness.

If I do not seek my brother’s forgiveness then I am acting outside of the realm of Love. I am showing that I do not care that I have sinned against him and therefore do not love him. This puts a big question mark on the validity or the genuineness of my faith.

By asking my brother’s forgiveness I am also facilitating his ability to forgive. Further to my sinning against him in the first instance, my brother might be struggling to forgive me, but by asking him for his pardon, upon admitting that I have wronged him, then I effectively release him from the struggle – thus showing him Love.

Forgiveness is such a monumental issue in the Christian faith. Christ came to make possible God’s forgiveness of us through his death on the cross. But this commandment shows that not only do we have to forgive each other but we also need to actively seek each other’s forgiveness, otherwise we are not fit for service in the kingdom.

I went to a church where a person, we will call them Jack, had offended Jill (also a pseudonym). Jack’s crime against Jill was actually quite serious and certainly immoral. However Jack never sought Jill’s forgiveness and in fact denied they had even done anything wrong when it was obvious to more than a few people what had happened. In the meantime Jack continued to serve in the ministry team in front of the whole church. Every Sunday Jill had to come to church seeing Jack on the stage “offering their gift”. Jill raised the issue with her pastor and though the pastor confronted Jack, Jack denied what he had done and continued to serve before the church. This ultimately led to Jill leaving that church, although Jack was not fit to bring his “gift before the Lord”! Jack should have obeyed this commandment and asked for Jill’s forgiveness.

As I have said before, we Christian’s must do good deeds not for our salvation but that others may see our good deeds and praise our Father in Heaven. For anyone who knew of Jack’s sin against Jill and saw him offering his gift at the altar, tell me how that glorified God? How would those who knew about it, especially non-Christians or those weak in the faith, be able to Praise God while his “servant” revels in his blatant sin against Jill? They might be tempted to think Christians are Hypocrites, or even to follow Jack’s example because if a minister can get away with that sort of thing then so can we!

In a way this is a very comforting commandment because if you are the one who is in the position where God wants you to forgive someone, you can take comfort in the fact that God also requires that they confess their sin. Very often when struggling to forgive someone it’s easy to think, “That means they’ll just get away with it.” But that is not true. God requires their confession just as much as he requires you to forgive, just be sure to actually forgive them and leave their conscience to God.

Commandment Number Six: I tell you not seven times but seventy Seven times! (Matthew 18:22 - When Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother when he sins against him.)

The core of the Christian message is Love. Not the weird New Age “anything goes” love of the modern world, but the unconditional “Agape” Love of God for a lost creation. Jesus puts it a better way of course, “For God so loved the World that he gave his only son, that whosever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”(John 3:16) He also said, “Greater Love has no man than that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

The Christian is commanded to Love his brother in a very practical way, by demonstration. Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” And to drive his point home he says, “Whatever you have done for one of the least of these my brethren – you did for me.” (Matt 25:31-46)

We are to love one another. Whether we like it or not this proves that we are Christians. Paul says that “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he is given us.” And John says, “Whoever has not love has not God for God is Love.” (Romans 5:5)

My point is that God demonstrates his Love for us through forgiveness, and Jesus commands us here to demonstrate God’s love by forgiving one another. He says, “For if you forgive your brother when he sins against you, your Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matt 6:14-15)

There’s a hard line you probably won’t hear in Church today. Your Father will not forgive your sins? You’re probably thinking, “I thought there was only one unforgivable sin!” But it is as I said above, the ability to Love one another, and therefore forgive one another, proves that we are saved because by being saved God has already forgiven us.

Of course we all struggle with hurt, we all struggle against those whose treatment of us is so reprehensible that we can’t imagine why forgiving them would even be a virtue, but if Jesus can cry out from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” Then we must follow his example, for that proves we are truly his disciples.

Imagine if Jesus did not forgive his executioners. His entire ministry would have unraveled in that single moment and the world would have perished with it. Jesus would have proved himself a liar by not being able to practice what he preached and thus becoming an unworthy sacrifice. Do you see what was at stake by that single act of forgiving his captors as he bled to death from the cross? Shouldn’t we do likewise?

Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother when he sins against me?” And Jesus replied with a parable about the servant who owed his master 10,000 talents. Because he was unable to pay his master ordered that he and his wife and his children be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees and begged him, “Be patient with me and I will pay back everything.” His master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him, “Pay back what you owe me!” He demanded. His fellow servant fell on his knees and begged him, “Be patient with me and I will pay you back!” But instead he refused and had him thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw they were greatly disturbed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called that servant in. “You wicked servant!” He said, “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay back everything he owed. (Matt 18:23-35)

Jesus said that this is how your heavenly father will treat you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.

If God can forgive us we ought to forgive each other.

On a side note, notice here that the Servants in the parable could have gossiped among themselves about the evil servant, or they could have chosen to deal with him themselves but instead they went to their Master and told him everything that had happened! I believe that is the blue print for us to follow when we find that we can forgive a person for their wrongs against us but it doesn’t change their behavior toward us - we prove that we have forgiven them by taking the issue to our Master. We only prove that we have not forgiven them when we do not take the issue to the one we claim to serve.

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