August 12, 2011

Hard Sayings X: The Hate Parade

Hamas Suicide Bombers
The Inability to Forgive and Live Peaceably With One's Neighbor

You know the parable of The Unmerciful Servant. It ends like this:

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you? In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” ~Matthew 18:32-35

Jesus is talking to Peter here. Jesus over the course of His ministry has tried to drive home the amazing importance of forgiveness not only to His disciples but others also. What does Jesus say before this passage in Matthew 18:21-22?

"Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."

So this means on the 491st time we can poke someone in the eye and stop forgiving them right? Wrong. I have heard this one explained this way: If you forgive someone that many times Jesus is figuratively saying that you should continue to forgive them forever or ad infinitum. Eh, perhaps, but not necessarily. Abundance of forgiveness is definitely called for in most if not all situations. But what about deliberate mistruths that lead people astray from God, even after the person has been warned what they are doing is wrong? They change for a little while and then revert back to bad habits. This then calls for a rebuke not continued forgiveness. If they repent, then yes, forgive. That being said, I believe there is something more going on here.

Let me ask this question. If you ever wanted to get really good as something like hitting a baseball or learning how to write, what did you do? You practiced...over and over and over. In some sports like football, wrestling and basketball they call it drilling. When I say drilling I literally mean the dictionary definition of: "a disciplined, repetitious exercise as a means of teaching and perfecting a skill or procedure." The reason you drill like this is to make the actions become second nature so that a person's action is automatic in a given situation. It allows for their cognizance to be more intensely focused in a broader scope to do other tasks for the Lord, just like an outfielder in baseball is attempting to catch a pop-up to centerfield while he is simultaneously aware of where the runners are infield base. Why? So he knows what to do with the ball once it hits his glove. Does he throw home to stop a runner from scoring or throw to second to get a forced out?

But then again...this might just be a reference to Lamech's boast in Genesis 4:23-24

‘Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.”

Lamech descended from Cain who had been under God's protection in Genesis 4:15’s, “If anyone slays Cain…” God said vengeance would be taken on that person sevenfold.' Lamech eight verse later makes a war song as this is poetry in the original Hebrew claiming no one would be able to injure him and not suffer a reprisal or, “If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.”

The story of Lamech would’ve been well-known to Jewish men since they had to learn Torah. Jesus knowing this could’ve used the seventy times seven as a point of contrast in the absolute opposite direction morally. Instead of the basis for revenge, Jesus makes it the basis for forgiveness?

We must never forget that message of the Bible is a message of forgiveness. Forgiveness of man's sins. Forgiveness of wrongs against us and a study in how to have proper relationships with believers and non-believers alike. God is a holy and forgiving God full of grace and mercy. We as believers are called to be like God, therefore holy, forgiving and full of grace. It would be expected that one who clings tightly to a benevolent and forgiving God should “go and do likewise” to others. If we truly want to be like Jesus Christ we therefore need to have this attitude amongst ourselves as Christians or as the Bible implies, we are to be the People of Christ: Christians. If we of all people do not extend this forgiveness to other people, what happens?

We are told unequivocally in the parable. If we are pardoned our debts by Christ and claim to be Christ, yet we do not extend this exact grace to others…then we couldn’t possibly be of Christ as much as we say we are, could we? COULD WE?!? Better look more closely in that mirror folks. Are you holding grudges? Is there a person you just can’t stand? Does even the very idea of speaking or dealing with them is absolutely repulsive to you? Does it initiate a vomit reflex? A neighbor? A co-worker? A relative?

If we do not give grace and mercy to others, the King, our King who did and does give this grace and mercy will have our heads for it. God said He will deal with us in a similar manner. Since this can be understood as possibly losing one’s salvation I will state that I believe this passage can be understood this way. The unmerciful servant got punished because he never had a true change of heart and was behaving with a double standard. He had never changed. In our case it would be a person that said or appeared to have been saved and repented, but his actions clearly spoke otherwise. Christian in word only does not a real Christian make. [Go read that again]. A simple prayer to accept Jesus into you life and then no subsequent action or change of behavior after the "conversion" is dubious at best. Better to discern that you are actually in the faith. This unmerciful servant showed that he had not change by his behavior to someone else after he himself had been forgiven a debt. God forgave us we are obligated to forgive others. OBLIGATED as true Christians. Otherwise...we are not true Christians are we?

What we are seeing here is a case of "what’s good for me is not necessarily good for you". We are talking about hypocrisy here or a hypocritical heart. God forgave us because we truly repent. This unmerciful dude did not. A man that is not truly forgiving and subsequently repentant is not a adherent to the King in the truest sense, therefore condemned or as the parable tells us tortured until he could repay the debt. For a Christian that is just not possible without the work of Christ. If a person has truly accepted the work of Christ and they have internalized the teachings of Christ…there will be forgiveness. If no forgiveness, they are not as Christian as they claim to me and that is a dangerous place for anyone to be. You must check to assure you are truly in the faith.

"And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace." John 1:16

It’s about having grace towards others just as God has towards us. A true response in love will manifest itself in forgiveness. Those that do not respond in love will exhibit minimal or no forgiveness. Those that do not extend grace and forgiveness towards others better look more closely at whether God extended it towards them and if He's not they should ask themselves why? This ain't brain surgery folks. At the other end of the spectrum taken to its absolute extreme we have unforgiveness, hostility and genuine hate (not the "hate" the media uses to attack its foes). Which do you suppose God wants? How could revenge or hostility caused as a product of unforgiveness ever produce anything of value?

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