May 10: Forgiveness
Our author today states that we have a responsibility to forgive and is supported throughout Scripture. It is not a choice, it is a command as we see in Matthew 18:21-22. When our Lord says seventy seven times, it apparently indicates an unlimited number of times of forgiveness and as we will see later this is both unlimited, but also continuous and immediate. Many people often ask, however – HOW? How can I possibly forgive that person who murdered my loved one as we witnessed several years ago in a church in Charleston, SC? How can I forgive the extremely painful words that have been directed to me? How does God expect me to forgive the person who stole my entire retirement funds that I will never be able to replace? Theologian RC Sproul made a statement: “In sanctification, theologians often point out, the indicative precedes and grounds the imperative.” I know this is confusing, but basically means that God has given us all the forgiveness we will ever need and if you think that you may need much more, He never stops giving the forgiveness we need to forgive others. The moment we accept Christ Jesus as our Savior, we are “set apart” as the Holy Spirit defines through Paul, we are “saints” or “holy ones” noted in Colossians 3:12-13. We are sanctified in Christ definitively when at the moment of salvation and the remainder of our lives we are continuously sanctified by the work of the Holy Spirit and means that we have the ability to forgive others as Christ forgave us. Did Jesus forgive only some of our sins or only the minor sins? NO! He forgives completely, immediately, and continuously as long as we confess and repent those sins. God has given us the ability to do the same by the Holy Spirit! We can forgive all, we can forgive immediately, and we can forgive continuously in so far as we are continuously yielding ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit within us as saints in Christ Jesus.
HOW DO I ASK?
We move from the fact that we know we must forgive and believe that God has forgiven me all my sins; but I feel so inadequate when I am faced with asking God to forgive once more and then to forgive someone else once more when they have hurt me so badly. After all, in Matthew 18:23-27, we are told that the king forgave ten thousand talents of debt. Some have suggested that in today’s dollars, that would amount to billions of dollars. John Piper uses his insights into 1 John 1:9 to help us understand that we can come before God, with absolute assurance, that He is faithful and just to forgive all our sins and we can forgive others regardless of the number of times or the severity of the sin we have committed or someone has committed against us. That strength of knowing Christ also provides us with the assurance that we, too, can forgive as long as we pray not only by appealing to God’s mercy, but also to His justice when asking for forgiveness. Christ’s death on the cross was in such a way that “forgiveness for Jesus’ sake” is the same as “forgiveness for the sake of God’s name”, for His glory. As John Piper states, “God’s name, His righteousness, His justice is vindicated in the very act of providing such a God-honoring sacrifice.” Christ provided the way with His death, His sacrifice on the cross allows us the opportunity to honor and glorify God’s name by our acts of forgiveness in obedience to His commands. As Jesus said in John 12:27-28, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? … Father, glorify your name.” We, too, above all should be seeking to glorify God’s name in all of our actions, including seeking and showing forgiveness.
FORGIVENESS: A MARK OF A HEALTHY CHURCH
Matthew 18:28,32-33 reveals the unforgiveness of one who has been forgiven. The one forgiven certainly did not seek to glorify God or His name after the forgiveness of His master. Peter also failed to grasp the concept of Christ-like forgiveness since the society of Peter’s day felt that the only obligation one had was to forgive three times. Christ was attempting to teach that forgiveness is unlimited and continuous. As a church, we are called to forgive even at a loss as Christ did on the cross. Kingdom forgiveness is completely different from worldly forgiveness. What a world we would have if, as a society, we forgive as Christ forgives and WE CAN! God has equipped us, let us all forgive as a church as Christ has forgiven us.
May 17: Serve
THE LAW OF CHRIST
The author of this week’s lesson continues to exhort each believer in the kingdom characteristics of the church body following last week’s lesson on forgiveness, to turn our attention in Galatians 5:13-15; 6:1-5,10 to our responsibility to serve one another, especially fellow believers. I would like to focus particularly on chapter 6, verses 1 through 5. The Law of Christ, bearing one another’s burdens. How do we practically do this? How can anyone truly serve another without our full and complete focus being on Jesus Christ, rather than ourselves? I know there are many who “serve” others with hidden intent of gaining something for themselves, whether it be the public acknowledgment of what they do or with the hope of gaining something in return. I think that is the reason Paul is so strong in his admonition in verse 3. He is addressing the moral disease of pride or self-reliance, self-exaltation. It is the age old problem dating to Adam of the human heart and soul placing itself above others, especially God. Pride! O, how we all have to continually battle that disease of pride, to overcome, to place Christ first, to place others first according to the Law of Christ! Fulfilling this law by loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is a continuing struggle for all, but one that can truly be achieved as we grow in Christ and yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit. Christ freed us from the Mosaic law by completely fulfilling that law for us and replacing it with His law which provides us all as believers with a freedom we cannot know without Him. If we could only accept the freedom Christ provides by changing our focus from self to others. Once we begin to see others, love others and seek to serve them, we begin to truly know the freedom that Paul exhorts us to throughout his letters.
It likely seems contradictory to discuss bearing someone’s burdens and associating it with freedom and that would certainly be true if we view these statements and concepts from our current society’s point of view. However, when we look to our Savior, our Lord and observe His life, it opens our minds to how Christ lived, how He sacrificed, how He always placed others above Himself and can you think of any other man who has existed on this earth that was more free than Christ Jesus? God, as man, living, loving, serving His creatures. Providing for their needs over His, loving each more than they can love themselves, saving each, who will come, from a life of eternal enslavement to sin and separation from the Creator who loves infinitely, provides grace infinitely, provides mercy infinitely – can there be anyone or anything more free? Freedom to love, freedom to care, freedom to bear. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
HOUSEHOLD OF FAITH
As Paul explains in verse 10, we are to especially serve those who are of the household of faith and it is much easier to serve fellow believers, and that is our first responsibility, but as Jesus established the standard, we are to bear the burdens and love and serve the unsaved as well. We do this overtly by directly loving and serving, showing grace and mercy to those who need so desperately, but I think our service to one another as a body of believers is witnessed by our community, by the unsaved, and they will recognize that we are different. We do not live like the world, but like Christ and by doing so the unsaved world will know that they can live differently and with the love and freedom as well. As the Church, we glorify God by our obedience to the law of Christ and by doing so, call to the world to join us in a relationship that is more free and of greater joy than anything this world can ever offer.
Our scripture for this week is Paul’s letter to the Philippians 2:1-5,13-15 and its teaching is that of yielding ourselves to God for service, particularly service to and for others. However, I would like to briefly review of a sermon by John Piper entitled The Mind of Christ in which Dr. Piper covers the importance of wisdom as it relates to service. Why wisdom, you might ask when the topic of the lesson is to yield? It is primarily because in order to yield, we must make multiple decisions every day as to how we will the time, resources and energy that are not explicitly addressed in the Bible. For instance, when our sons were younger, I would often return home from work, tired, just wanting to relax, but they wanted time – my time. They wanted to play or simply spend time together and unfortunately, I would often make unwise decisions and not yield to God’s calling to spend time with my family and serve them to fulfill their needs and my position as father. Dr. Piper defines wisdom as “Wisdom is the ability of the soul to perceive God-glorifying , Christ-exalting, gospel-fashioned, people -helping ways to live, with the knowledge God gives us. It is not just knowledge, but how we apply the knowledge God provides us both through scripture and by discerning with the minds God has created within us for us to use. This is important because of how it relates to the way in which we use wisdom to make decisions to serve others, not ourselves, as our human nature continuously wants us to do. It is not “natural” for humans to give their time, money, resources, energy, love, etc. to others first, before satisfying self. This giving of self and putting others first can only come from Christ and we will not normally or “naturally” do this unless we make a conscious decision to do so and then use the God provided wisdom to do so.
The next question that usually arises is: I know I am supposed to and I believe scripture when it COMMANDS me to give myself (all of me, spiritually, mentally, and physically) to someone else – especially Christ, but HOW? I think this is precisely what Jesus was telling the rich young ruler to do when He told him to give “all” away in order to follow Jesus and obtain eternal life. We can only do so through humbling ourselves at the cross and “YIELD” ourselves to Christ and His kingdom. Jesus is the only true and great example as to do so. He humbled Himself on the cross to die for you and me, for our salvation. He truly gave it all – He yielded Himself to the Father by humbling Himself as a servant to provide us with the perfect example for each of us. How can we, as Christians, do otherwise? When we yield ourselves to Christ and acknowledge Him as Savior, profess Him as Lord, knowing that He was raised from the dead by the Father through the Holy Spirit, we are given the MIND OF CHRIST in order that we will continue to grow in Him, our Lord, in order to know and worship Him and glorify Him by and through our service to Him and to others. When we have the vision and the example of Christ before us, we will necessarily humble ourselves and yield to His calling to love and serve others before ourselves. Humble yielding becomes a true and “natural” part of our being just as it is the very essence of Jesus Christ.
Not only does Paul give us the example of Christ in encouraging us to serve others, but in verses 19-29, he uses the examples of Timothy and Epaphroditus as the humble servant leaders who gave of themselves to provide for and serve the Philippian church. Paul, himself, is an excellent example of a humble servant giving his all, yielding, humbly to pour out himself as drink offering because of what Christ first gave him. How beautiful it would be to see our church, the true bride of Christ, filled with believers who know the great sacrifice Christ made for each of us and decide to use themselves, their possessions, their time to serve others humbly, with a loving spirit and with the mind of Christ to overcome self. Christ is calling! He has commanded! Will you YIELD?