August 5, 2015
(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)
I just received an e-mail from the treasurer of an old Methodist camp meeting where my wife and I have owned a cottage – one of 110 in the grove – for 33 years. Our treasurer is a dear woman who has worked diligently for the good of the cottage holders over the years. Lately she has come under attack because of some misunderstanding concerning paying a major bill of several thousand dollars. It seems word has been spread by the contractor that the bill was not paid in a timely and professional fashion. The problem was not that the bill wasn’t paid. It was – ten days after receipt of the invoice! The problem was all the gossip flying around concerning the incident! Our treasurer pointed out in her e-mail the scripture that we are featuring today – Matthew 18:15 through 17:
Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault be-
tween you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.
But if he will not hear you, then take with you one or two more, that by
the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And
if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to
hear the church, let him be to you as a heathen and a tax collector.
I thought about the implications of this incident, and decided it would make good blog material! You see, Jesus, in our scripture has put forth The Four-Step Plan Works! And it would work to resolve the issues in this current situation, as well as many others – if it is applied!
“…if your brother [or sister] sins against you…” (Matthew 18:15) – Jesus identified the offending and offended parties by the term brother. He is here giving instructions to Christians! And yes, Christians can offend one another! That should be no breaking news to anyone! Not only are people sometimes offensive, they are often too easily offended! And the fact that someone becomes a Christian, that offensive/offended syndrome does not easily go away! But the Lord is giving us four practical steps that will resolve just about any issue! And it is not so much that we offend one another or feel offended, but how we deal with the offense!
• Matthew 18:15 – “…go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” Having been a pastor for 43 years, I can’t tell you how many problems would have been avoided if this first step had been followed! For often an offense is just a misunderstanding. And this gives the offending one and the offended one a chance to air grievances, explain things, and alleviate the problem.
But what if the charge of offense has sound basis to it? This is where forgiveness comes in. Did not Jesus give us the example of prayer to follow called The Lord’s Prayer? He plainly told us in Matthew 6:12 (Good News Bible), “Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.” Peter asked in Matthew 18:21, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times? ” Jesus answered in the next verse: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
Why did the Lord put such an emphasis on forgiveness? Because as it says in I Peter 4:8, “…love will cover a multitude of sins.” Our sins are covered – yes, completely gone – because of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary’s cross (see Psalm 103:12; Isaiah 1:18; John 5:24; Romans 8:1; Colossians 2:13, 14). That’s love demonstrated as never before – God’s love toward us! (See John 3:16; Romans 5:6-8; I John 3:16). Such forgiveness restores fellowship with our Creator! And when we forgive one another, that demonstrates our love for each other!
But what if the offending one is not a Christian? What then? Matthew 5:44 has the answer: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” This command is actually very practical and useful in our Christian lives!
My wife and I were robbed at gunpoint several years ago by a black drug gang. I had a sawed-off twelve gauge under my chin as the guy demanded my wallet. Another man grabbed my wife’s purse. She hung on and screamed. He slugged her, knocking her to the ground and smashing her glasses. They were gone in less than a minute – with my wallet and her purse! I felt like I wanted to strangle them that night, but there was no one there against whom I could lash out! It was a terrible night of sleeplessness for both of us! The next evening I said to my dear wife, “This is ridiculous! The Bible says to pray for these ones.” So we held hands and started praying — without much sincerity at first. But as we continued, God took away the feelings of having been violated and hating the ones who perpetrated that heinous act. Soon we were sincerely praying for these ones who had so abused us – and really meaning it! We slept well that night, and it has not bothered us since. It was God working in and through us. We just obeyed.
Anyone who has been greatly hurt and offended will benefit by practicing forgiveness. Work on forgiving those who have caused you pain. I say, ‘Work on it‘ because forgiveness is often work. You can make that decision to forgive, and then ten minutes later, the offense rises up once more in our minds, and we have to forgive again. I have learned that as we practice forgiveness — sometimes over and over concerning the same issue — the pain begins to go away.
More on This Four-Step Plan Works! in our next blog.