Just Between Us….

Matthew 18:15

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.

Our passage today is one that most of us would probably rather just leave on the printed page.  No one relishes confrontation … even if it is well-meaning or intended to be constructive.  It is simply uncomfortable to most of us … and we are vulnerable to being misunderstood or accusations of being “holier than thou”.  We know that we too are sinners saved by grace.  So what gives us the right to point out the fault of another … the sin of another … when we struggle with our own issues and strongholds?

Well, let’s review this passage in a larger context to perhaps bring some clarity.  Jesus is teaching here, and He shares a parable about sheep who leave the flock and go astray. Of course, we can relate that the shepherd in this story is Jesus (that great Shepherd of the Sheep – Hebrews 13:20), and it expresses His deep concern for those who stray and need to be returned to the safety of the flock and the Shepherd.  The metaphor of sheep here indicate that He is speaking about His followers … believers.  Recall His words, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” (Cf. John 10:27).  So I think this parable should be interpreted within the framework of a believer who has strayed from the faith and the need to seek them out:

Matthew 18:12-17 (NKJV)

12 “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? 13 And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. 14 Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.  15 “Moreover if your brother or sister sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17 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 like a heathen and a tax collector.

I think the context of the preceding parable sheds some light on why Jesus taught us to confront a person who is strays into sin and disrupts fellowship with another believer. Jesus cares deeply for the one who loses sight and wants them to return … to be reconciled … to be restored to fellowship.  His heart is that no one should perish.  So it follows that chasing the one who sins … pursuing the one who goes astray … is an act of kindness and grace.  The purpose is not to act superior to the offender; rather, the purpose is to gain their heart for the glory of the Father!  Further, note that in the parable, the shepherd leaves the flock (gathered believers) to look for the wayward individual. Again, to me, this is a clear picture that Jesus is teaching His followers.  The concept of taking action to seek out and to return those who become lost in sin is the objective.  And so the lesson of the parable is for the Church … which I believe makes Verses 15-17 that follow connected to it.

If a brother or sister has committed an offense (sinned against you), you and I are to seek out the offender. That generally would mean that we are to confront them regarding the offense.  We are to do so privately.  If necessary, another believer or two might join you to address the matter so that truth is established over feelings and emotions. Ultimately, the sinful offense should be taken to the Church if it cannot otherwise be handled in a private manner.  Paul addresses the necessity of this process at length in 1 Corinthians 6. So, I encourage you to read the full chapter to evaluate his instruction regarding the role of the church in discipline.  Further, the context for Chapter 6 follows an exhortation from Paul in Chapter 5 – dealing with the sin of a member in the church at Corinth.  I have reprinted an excerpt for your reference below:

1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (NIV)

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside13 God will judge those outside. Therefore, “put away the wicked person from among you.”

Therefore, it is clear that we as a body of believers must deal with the sin that occurs in and among ourselves.  It is required of us the church just as it was required of the Israelites to correct sin among ourselves for the glory of God and His Name. We need to seek the one among us who strays and restore them in love.  We need to confront the one among us who sins against the commandments of God.  I think the point that Paul is making here is that those who claim to be Christians yet live like unbelievers in the world must be confronted because of the disrespect and reproach they bring upon the name of Jesus Christ.  If believers continue to conduct themselves like unbelievers, they have not separated themselves from the world … and therefore are not truly part of the church (called out ones) they profess to be.  The “hypocrisy” provokes contempt for the Body of Christ among unbelievers … and incites those outside the church to blaspheme the name of Jesus and the holiness of God to which we have been called….

Romans 2:17-24 (NIV)

17 Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; 18 if you know His will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed (profaned) among the Gentiles because of you.” (Cf. Isaiah 52:5; Ezekiel 36:20-23)

Yet, as we judge sin within the church, we are to approach our “responsibility” with the heart of God.  Yes, we are to be firm and steadfast in the truth and His revealed will.  God is holy and we are to be holy as well! But we are admonished to be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ Jesus – God forgave each of us. (Cf. Ephesians 4:32) Even those outside of the church … those in the world who live in sin and darkness … we are to engage with the same love, grace, and compassion as one seeking a sheep who has strayed. Our Lord Jesus died for us because of our sin. (Cf. Romans 5:8) He died to take away the sin of the whole world. (Cf. John 1:29) Our response to His sacrifice and atonement is to pursue the righteousness and holiness for which He died.  Let those who claim to be Christian … live worthy of that name!  And when we fail, let us gratefully receive the correction of one another in humility and in reverence for our Savior. (Cf. Ephesians 5:21) “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 7:10)

I’m not sure how well I have articulated my thoughts here, but I hope this meditation and reflection will encourage you to read further and to study these concepts presented in the Word for yourselves.  There were numerous cross-references that I did not begin to share here due to the scope of the subject, but perhaps this start will inspire you to pursue self-discipline and holiness in your walk with Christ Jesus … considering the impact it has not only upon the church, but also the influence it has upon the culture around us.  As the Apostle Peter instructed, “Live such good lives among the pagans that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good works and glorify God in the day of visitation. (Cf. 1 Peter 2:12) I believe Jesus desires that we build fellowship within the church and relationships outside the church in order to continue His salvific work in these last days. 

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

The Simple Gospel

1 Corinthians 15:1-5

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.

Here we have the “Story of Easter” (the Gospel message) in a very succinct format.  I love how Paul phrases his emphasis: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance.”  So what is the primary message of the Gospel?  Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures.  Jesus was buried. That means He had a physical body that was placed in a tomb. And Jesus was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.  Paul repeats that these events happened according to the prophetic Scriptures.  This is of “first importance” for anyone to understand.  Jesus was sent by the Father.  His life and salvific ministry to us was not happenstance.  Jesus had told His disciples, “I must preach the Kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent.” (Cf. Luke 4:43) And on the night He was betrayed, Jesus prayed, “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” (Cf. John 12:27)

So why is sharing the Gospel so important?  Well, for believers Paul states, “I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.” Sharing the Gospel is important to faith building.  When believers were under trial and persecution, the truth of the Gospel was an important reminder of standing firm in the message of salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ.  The other reason is that we are called to share “what we have received as of first importance.” The eternal life we have received in Christ Jesus is worth talking about with others who do not know Him or placed their faith in Him…. There is a sense of urgency inherent in the Gospel message. Why the urgency? Because life is short.  As the Apostle James observed, “What is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” (Cf. James 4:14) We do not know what will happen tomorrow … or before our next breath for that matter. “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, 28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him, He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.” (Cf. Hebrews 9:27-28) Yes, our sin must be judged.  God is just! And since a person cannot call upon the name of the Lord and be saved after their death, that is why the Gospel is so important … so urgent.  Jesus came to bear the penalty of our sin through His death on the cross!  And as we noted last time:  

Romans 5:8-10 (NKJV)

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life….

Yes, the resurrection of Jesus that we celebrate at Easter is how we KNOW reconciliation with God the Father has occurred; and it is how we KNOW that salvation and eternal life is found in Jesus Christ alone.  For there is no other name under heaven given among me by which we must be saved. (Cf. Acts 4:12) So I pray that each of us will take this reminder today of what is important and pass it along to others while there is still time to do so. There is a wonderful and powerful story to tell!  Let’s get the Word out so people can have an authentic encounter with Jesus … so lives can be changed by Him … so lives can be saved by Him!  Amen.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Boasting in God

Romans 5:10

For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!

After reading this verse, I had to read the whole chapter. How incredible to contemplate the immense depth of love God truly has for us! Here the Apostle Paul poses an important rhetorical question, but the theological implication is quite powerful for us!  Paul had just affirmed in Verse 8 how God demonstrates His own love for us in this: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  It was the helpless, powerless, condition of our sinful human nature … our rebellious inclination … that God redeemed through His Son.  And so Paul goes on to share the implications of this love for us in Verses 9-10. I will reprint the larger passage for you to see the context and to embrace the incredible mercy we have received from God:

Romans 5:6-11 (NIV)

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

I love Verse 11 where Paul goes on to assert: “Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  This boasting Paul speaks of must be sincere praise and worship – filled with the overwhelming joy of this knowledge!  If you and I cannot feel excited about the mercies of God granted to us through our Lord Jesus Christ, I’m not sure what would excite our souls!  This is the true meaning of Easter!  We celebrate His resurrection because of what Jesus accomplished – reconciliation, forgiveness, fellowship, abiding love, and eternal life with Him.  I pray we will all raise a shout of Glory! Hallelujah! Amen! Yes, let us join Paul and “boast” in God for His indescribable gift! (Cf. 2 Corinthians 9:15)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

God Is Faithful….

Isaiah 25:1 (NIV)

Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago.

This verse from the Prophet Isaiah is a call to praise and worship … exalting God for His “perfect faithfulness” toward His people.  We first find this gratitude for the faithfulness of God in the Book of Genesis – so this understanding of His nature has been affirmed at least since the time of Abraham.  Let’s look at that passage and some others:

Genesis 24:27 (NIV)

26 Then the man bowed down and worshiped the Lord, 27 saying, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned His kindness and faithfulness to my master. 

Exodus 34:5-7 (NIV)

Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulnessmaintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.

Psalm 57:9-11 (NIV)

I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. 10 For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. 11 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.

Psalm 71:22-23 (NIV)

22 I will praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, my God; I will sing praise to you with the lyre, Holy One of Israel. 23 My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you – I whom you have delivered.

So I think you get the point.  The earliest believers recognized and praised God for His manifested love and faithfulness toward them.  So I think we need to be mindful and grateful ourselves.  As you look back on your life and all of your relationships and experiences … can you see the hand of God in your life?  Can you see the faithfulness of God in sustaining you through all the challenges, hardships, and sufferings of life … creating the unique story of you?  I know that I can.  In fact, without the faithfulness of God to guide me through the pitfalls and challenges I have faced, I would not be here to share this testimony. I have absolutely no doubt about the faithfulness of God in our lives.  So the question is whether we have been faithful to Him.  Ask yourself, “Have you been as faithful to God as He has been to you?”

I’m sure we all feel indicted by that question.  None of us have lived a perfect life.  All of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) Even after we came to a knowledge of the truth; received Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior; and experienced rebirth through the Spirit; most of us have stumbled at best to walk the narrow road and to love one another as He has loved us. I think of Peter who boldly and rashly proclaimed that he would die for Jesus at the time of His arrest … only to swear that he “did not even know the man” just a few hours later. (Cf.  Matthew 26:74-75; Mark 14:72; Luke 22:60-61; John 18:27) So zealous was his boast and so vehement was his disownment.  And note how every Gospel writer recorded what happened! Oh, I’d say each of us has wept as bitterly as Peter at some point in our life because of our own unfaithfulness to God….

What amazes and encourages me, though, is that Jesus takes the initiative to comfort Peter and restore him to fellowship.  You can read about it in John 21.  And when we find ourselves in despair over our sin and unfaithfulness to God, the Apostle John shares with us this word of encouragement: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) John reminds us of that timeless truth: God is Faithful.  And so I repeat that message here because someone needs to hear it.  Someone needs to know that the discouragement and despair of unfaithfulness that has been defeating their life can be overcome.  Yes, you ARE forgiven! Your life and fellowship with God will be restored! God is faithful even when we fail….  Like Paul, I am convinced that nothing is able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Cf. Romans 8:38-39)

One thing that caught my attention about this passage was the phrase “things planned long ago.”  I thought about that a moment.  I thought about the plan of salvation that was in the mind of God before the foundation of the world.  I wondered, “What other things did God plan long ago?”  Well, He planned my birth.  He determined the date, the generation, the place, the nation, etc.  God knew when and where He wanted me for His plans and purposes.  And despite a time of rebellion during my youth … in spite of the disobedience, failures, and unfaithfulness in my life … God planned my reconciliation and salvation.  I am His handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for me to do. (Cf. Ephesians 2:10) And each day of my life becomes another revelation of the things He planned long ago for me.  Yes, God is faithful over your life and mine….

So I am certain there is someone who needs to know that God is willing and ready to restore your life just like He did for Peter – a man who disavowed even knowing the Lord Jesus … just like He did for Paul – a blasphemer and a murderer … just like He did for me – another wretched sinner saved by grace through faith.  God planned your day of reconciliation long ago.  God knew just the right time … when you would bitterly weep … and open your whole heart to Him.  God knew your moment of confession would come, and He is faithful and just to forgive your sins because you have called on Him.  He is at the door of your heart … knocking.  And I can assure you, it is an indescribable feeling to experience the great love and faithfulness of God poured out in your life!  I urge you to open the door and bid the Lord Jesus to come in … and let your healing begin!

Father, I thank you and I praise you for your perfect faithfulness.  You have done wonderful things … too many to count as well look back over our lives.  Each one is a testimony of your surpassing kindness and your steadfast love.  Help, Lord, each one of us to embrace that you have been faithful to redeem us … to give us a hope and a future … to give us eternal life.  These promises were established long ago … and we can receive them by placing our faith in you.  You have proven yourself trustworthy, and I pray any person who has questioned the deep of your love will see the truth found in your Word.  In Jesus’ Name I pray.  Amen.

Great Is Thy Faithfulness.  Great is Thy Faithfulness.  Morning by morning new mercies I see.  All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.  Great is Thy Faithfulness … Lord unto me. ~ Thomas Chisholm (1866-1960)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!