Most of us who were raised with brothers and/or sisters know what it’s like to not always get along. It’s a part of growing up. But most of us, in spite of that, are still glad for the experience. It taught us how make it in the real world. You learn to be around other people and get along with them. So it was good for us in the long run.
The church can be like that as well. Sometimes God puts us in the company of people we’d rather not be around. But either way we know that God can use these situations to shape our souls positively. I thought of this as I was mulling over Jesus’ teaching on Christian community in Matthew 18. There are several points around which He gives instructions and guidance:
These are important questions. Two quotes come to mind from the book Forgive & Forget by Lewis Smedes…
And this is profoundly true. For the faithful, our response goes back to the nature and character of God, who delights in forgiveness and grace. We give our enemies too much power if we let them live in our minds any longer than absolutely necessary. But if our strength and guidance come from Jesus, it makes no difference whether someone does something seven times or seventy times or four hundred-ninety times. And it also makes no difference if they repent with sincerity or not (cf. Luke 17:3-4). Our standard and our strength go back to Jesus – the one who did not retaliate against His tormenters, but endured the cross. Then He rose from the grave – not to visit Pilate or any other enemies in a fit of rage, but to visit His followers and begin the church. And that’s what has led to the place where we fellowship to this very day as brothers and sisters in Christ.
God bless you.
Andrew McHenry, Pastor
First Congregational Church
I delight in seeing people’s lives changed. I enjoy it when people take fresh interest in the things of God, Jesus, the Bible, and the church. I am passionate about being part of something that God is doing. I delight in seeing the body of Christ at work, and it gives me great pleasure when prayers are answered for people who are suffering.
Those are probably my most holy passions. But there are also more neutral things that I delight in – like the Royals winning the World Series, the Jayhawks having a good season, eating good ice cream and pizza, taking train trips, listening to progressive rock music, and keeping up on current events. All of us have certain things like that. They’re not in the catalog of things that Jesus calls us to, but they’re not really bad either.
But if we’re honest we should also admit to the unholy things that we’re susceptible to. These would range from greed and the lusts of the flesh to holding a grudge. And it is possible to delight in holding a grudge. It can become so much a part of one’s mindset that it’s hard to let go of it.
I see this as different from someone who struggles with forgiveness. Sometimes you have to remind yourself: “I’ve forgiven them. There’s no need to revisit in my mind something that happened a long time ago.” This indicates a spiritual challenge. The problem comes when one is no longer willing to struggle – when you enjoy being angry so much that you don’t want to let it go.
The last three verses in the Old Testament book of Micah describe the character of God in great detail. One key part is the line that says “[You] delight to show mercy” (Micah 7:18b – my emphasis). This prophecy uses the Hebrew word “hesed” which is variously translated as mercy, love, lovingkindess, steadfast love, or loyalty. No single English word can encapsulate all that it means.
This central observation develops in response to the previous question: “Who is a God like you?” (in Micah 7:18a). The gods of the other ancient near-eastern mythologies were anthropomorphic: they were just like people. They had personalities that were temperamental; they were not prone to do good things for others unless there was some kind of self-interest involved (usually with offerings). They were prone to hold and/or operate out of grudges against others. But the God we worship is not like that. For contrast Micah hearkened back to His work in the exodus: God rescued the Israelites from slavery by parting the Red Sea (in Exodus 14). This is a unique experience of deliverance, reflective of the unique God that we worship, which is why Moses sang out essentially the same question: “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord?” (in Exodus 15:11).
Micah gives basically the same question but points it in a slightly different direction when he emphasizes that God is the one who pardons and forgives. Then follow several emphases about God’s character (in Micah 7:18-20):
Brethren, be assured that God is not like people. He doesn’t get angry and stay angry indefinitely. He delights in showing His steadfast love. He is a God of compassion. This is most especially visible in His son Jesus Christ – who fed the hungry, healed the sick, taught a gospel of a different kind of kingdom, and endured the worst of what this world can do to a person. He died a violent yet an atoning death, and rose from the dead to live forevermore. And so the old hymn sings of delighting in Him…
There is a name I love to hear,
I love to sing its worth;
It sounds like music in my ear,
The sweetest name on earth.
It tells me of a Savior’s love,
who died to set me free;
It tells me of His precious blood
The sinner’s perfect plea.
O, how I love Jesus –
Because He first loved me!
God bless you,
Andrew McHenry, Pastor - First Congregational Church
The blog of Andrew McHenry, Pastor of First Congregational Church of Emporia, Kansas.