Meditating on the Commands of Christ (34): The Sweet Relief of Reconciliation

Matthew 5:23-24 “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” This is the first less-than-imperative “command” of Christ that I’m going to tackle. While meditating through the gospels last year, I found 33 such teachings and wondered if these “If-then” declarations should be included as commands, since technically they are “conditional” rather than “imperative” statements. So, do we “have” to obey them? Only if the first part of the statement is true: If we want to give something to the Lord, then God wants us to be reconciled to anyone who has something against us first.

Do you want to give something to the Lord? I do. My life. My heart. My thoughts. My actions. I want my life to be a gift to God that makes him happy. Do you feel that way? If so, then God says the first gift we can give him is this: We should seek forgiveness for how we’ve hurt our loved ones and reconcile with them. God loves each of us so much that he identifies with each person’s pain. He doesn’t want any of his children left out or left behind! “Trinity” comes from two words meaning “tri-unity.” God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are often defined by their being three in one. “Three-way UNITY!”

In Jesus’ high priestly prayer, recorded in John 17:21-23, he prays: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us . . that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one.” God wants us to live in love and unity with one another even more than he wants us to give him any other type of gift!

Wow! This says something profound about how highly God values unity and how deeply he desires it. Jesus prayed to his father for unity in the Church. Reconciliation is a precious gift that we can give him. No where does Jesus command us to give God anything! Did you know that? Although the word “give” is mentioned 1392 times in the Bible (KJV), in the New Testament it isn’t until Judgment Day that we are told, “Fear God, and give glory to him” (Revelation 14:7).

The vast majority of times giving is mentioned, it is in the context of God giving to us, and our giving to other people. It’s like the runoff of rain on our roof. God showers us—our home—with blessings, and the runoff waters the gardens of loved ones—friends and neighbors—all around us. We live in a vast spiritual ecosystem of clouds, rain, runoff, streams, lakes, oceans, transpiration and evaporation, only it’s not literal water that our spirits crave, but receiving and giving love and forgiveness.

How do we seek forgiveness and reconciliation? I think we can start by asking God to show us how we’ve hurt the other person (which we may never fully comprehend) and to help us understand how they feel. We need to repent—to be genuinely sorry—so sorry that we will go way out of our way to make sure we don’t do the same thing again—and then to seek their forgiveness.

What if they won’t forgive us? “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle” (Proverbs 18:19). I have seen this dynamic over and over again! Even if the offender repents, the offended person is often unwilling to forgive, because to forgive means the offended person has to absorb the pain and suffering caused by the offender, while the offender “gets off scott free.” Many people choose to hold a grudge and refuse to forgive, but this is not the way of Christ, who prayed for those who crucified him, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). I think it is only through a deep experience of God’s forgiveness and love for us that we are able to truly forgive those who have hurt us. This is the way of Christ . . . and the way of the cross.

If you have sincerely repented and tried to reconcile, but without success, don’t despair. Just as we persevere in prayers for our loved ones to trust Christ as their savior, so we need to persevere in prayer for those we’ve offended to find the grace to forgive us. There is sweet relief in reconciliation, and that is our calling, so don’t give up, but don’t let disunity discourage you from faith. Keep your faith in God. Keep looking up and find your joy in him! Remember that someday He will bring unity and peace to earth. In the meantime, we can “seek peace and pursue it” (1 Peter 3:11, ESV), and we can practice: “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18).

All things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (20): Sin No More

Not “You have sinned,” but “Sin no more.” Jesus never ignores sin, nor does he deny its existence, but from the moment he engages us, he points out the true future course he wants for us: Sin no more. Simple. Straightforward. Staggering.  The man Jesus is addressing had been sick and unable to walk for thirty-eight years. That was longer than Jesus had been alive. How could Jesus have known that the man’s illness had been related to sin? In John 9, we read the account of Jesus healing a man who had been blind since birth. On that occasion, when Jesus’s disciples asked whose sin had been the cause of the man’s blindness, Jesus defended both the man and his parents, saying the blindness had not been caused by sin.  How did Jesus know these things? Who can come up to a complete stranger, look inside their heart, and know the state of their soul? Who can heal the lame and blind? Only God! This is one of the many ways in which we know that Jesus was more than just a compassionate healer and teacher. Jesus was God in the flesh!

God incarnate came to earth, not simply to live as an example for us to follow. He came to earth to die for us so that he can save us. However, after he saves us (just as Jesus saved the lame man), he gives us his example to follow! Jesus lived a sinless life, and he tells us to stop sinning—to die to ourselves and our own ambitions . . . to give up our own agenda for success and let the life of Christ live itself out in us. Furthermore, he adds a warning, “Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee” (John 5:14).Are you struggling with some sin that has disabled you? Have you made an idol out of some person and it’s ruining your life? Or, maybe you thought everything was going to be perfect if you could only have (fill in the blank with anything but God), but you have whatever and it’s still not perfect? In fact, it’s not even “okay.” You’re hooked. You’re addicted. You’re immobilized.

No matter what you’ve done or how lame you’ve become, Jesus can heal you, and he will if you want him to. I met a man at an art festival several years ago who thought there was no hope for him to be saved because he’d divorced his wife some twenty+ years before and married another woman. He was overwhelmed with relief and joy to know that it does not matter what sins we’ve committed in the past. Jesus died in payment for every sin that each of us has committed, and he offers to save us and heal us at any point in our life when we ask. That’s the wonderful news!

The other piece of wonderful news is that Jesus does not condemn us. He doesn’t say: “You sinned!” But, he points us to the future and says, “Sin no more.” How? Well, I have no clue. I can’t look into your heart and tell you anything, because I’m not God. But, Jesus is and he can! Ask him, and he will tell you how to keep from sinning from this point going forward! Once we’ve surrendered our lives to Christ, his Holy Spirit indwells us, and he will lead us into lives of truth, love, and peace if we just ask. So, just ask, and “sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.”

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

“9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.10 The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed.11 He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk.12 Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk?13 And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place.14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee” (John 5:9-14).

P.S.—I just reread this and realized that you might get the impression I am saying that we “can” or “will” never sin after we believe in Jesus. I wish that were true, but it’s not. I have been a Christian for over 50 years, and I still struggle with sin. But, here’s what I think: Jesus is telling us what we should do, and what we should aim for. We should attempt to live pure and holy lives that are free from sin, and we should have as our goal to avoid “every appearance” of evil. Once we have given our lives to Christ, we need to recognize evil for what it is and repent every time we sin. We need to give up any way of life that is contrary to the teachings of the Bible and Christ. We need to agree with Christ about what is good and what is evil and pray for the Holy Spirit to help us “turn away from evil and do good; let him [that’s us!] seek peace and pursue it” (1 Peter 3:11, ESV). Sound more possible?