Squirm

Those who have sinned must repent; those sinned against must forgive

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Read: Matthew 18

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. … If they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15a,17b)

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.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

Reflect:

All eyes must have turned to Matthew, the ex-tax collector, as Jesus gave his advice for dealing with unrepentant sinners. No matter how much Matthew squirmed, though, he still recorded Jesus’ words in his gospel.

Jesus gave three steps of increasingly public rebuke before increasing authority for drawing a sinner’s attention to their own sin. This process gives people an opportunity to recognise and admit their own sin. There’s a reason the saying “blind to their faults” is a saying. Then this person is able to repent privately instead of letting the matter go public.

But ultimately, an unrepentant sinner needs to experience some earthly penalty, or they will go on unrepentant towards the ultimate penalty of all, hell. In this case, social exclusion (from the church) provides a punishment that will hopefully be recognised as the metaphor it is; symbolising the exclusion from God’s presence that an unrepentant sinner risks. Social exclusion such as not eating with the person and not entering their house, while still allowing for public conversation, has the benefit of shielding brothers and sisters in the church from the harm that the sinner’s behaviour might wreak.

Matthew chose to place next in his gospel Jesus’ advice for how often one should forgive sin. Now it’s Peter’s turn to squirm. “Seventy-seven times,” Jesus says. He’s not just multiplying Peter’s suggested seven times by eleven. Rather, Jesus is making reference too the story of Lamech the murderer (Genesis 4:19-24)* who killed instead of offering forgiveness for personal injury, and claimed seventy-seven times vengeance.

As outrageously unrepentant as Lamech was for his crimes, so you are to be just as outrageously forgiving of another’s crimes against you, Jesus seems to say.

crux:

Those who have sinned must repent; those sinned against must forgive.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

“Against you only have I sinned” … yet I have hurt and wounded many with harsh words and hard deeds. I repent of my sin. Please forgive me LORD. Make a clean heart within me and change my ways.

Please allow others in my church who are close to me to observe my sin and rebuke me for it. Make me humble enough to accept such rebuke and be corrected.

LORD, I don’t want to be like Lamech, desiring vengeance. Make my heart soft and tender, eager and willing to forgive. Please help me to love my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ with the forgiveness that covers over wrongs, for your glory.

Amen.

 

* For this insight I must thank Lois Tverberg and Ann Spangler, authors of Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus (2009, Zondervan) pp. 38-39, which I am currently reading.

Unless

Unless I hate my sin, I won’t really love my Saviour

Read: Matthew 3

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:8-10)

Reflect:

John the Baptist, or John B. as I like to call him, is firm and direct with his audience of Pharisees and Sadducees. They are “religious” people who have come to hear a “spiritual” person and the message they get is this:

“It is not enough to say you’re sorry, you need to show you are sorry.”

This is the same message James gave in his epistle: Faith without works is not real faith; practice what you preach; don’t just talk about it, go and do it.

John B. told his religious auditors that their whole identity was in question: it was not enough to claim a genetic heritage as Israelites, in Abraham. Genes aren’t enough to connect a person into a true relationship with the true and living God. Being a Jew was not enough to save them then, just as it is not enough to save anyone now.

John B. uses fiery imagery to get across the point that the unrepentant Pharisees and Sadducees were risking their lives when they refused to “prepare the way for the Lord” (3:3) in their own hearts by repenting of their sins. Repentance from sin is necessary because until we despise our sin, we will never welcome our Saviour.

crux:

Unless I hate my sin, I won’t really love my Saviour.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Please help me to hate my sin.

Show me how utterly despicable my sin is in your sight, so I may despise it as you do.

O LORD, I am scared as I pray this prayer. What might you make me suffer so I begin to hate my sin? What have I been clinging to that I will have to give up?

I know I’m forgiven: thank you for forgiving me by Christ’s sacrifice.
I know I’m justified: thank you for justifying me by Christ’s blood.
I know I am saved: thank you for saving me by Christ’s death.

I also know I am not yet fully sanctified: thank you for your promise to complete the work you have begun in me by your Spirit’s presence and counsel.

LORD, make me love righteousness. Help me think about noble, admirable, praiseworthy and excellent things. Keep me from evil; deliver me from temptation. Help me to flee from the devil and run to you. Make me fruitful in repentance.

Thank you for raising me up, a mere stone that you have transformed into a child of Abraham.

Amen.

Regrets

Do not walk willingly into immorality

Read: Song of Songs 2

[She] Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you
by the gazelles and by the does of the field:
Do not awaken or arouse love
until it so desires. (Songs 2:7)

Reflect:

Although Jeff and I weren’t Christians when we met and married, I chose to read the first seven verses of Songs 2 aloud as part of our wedding service.* Songs 2:7 challenges me now as then: “Do not awaken or arouse love…”

When we married, I looked back on my previous relationships with regret, remorse and a certain amount of shame – though not yet with repentance at that time. I have long since repented of all my sexual immorality, and I know that I am forgiven by the grace of God. But I still wish I had learnt the lesson of Songs 2:7 long before my wedding day.

Sexual sin – whether in thought or deed – is no different to any other sin in that I need to not do it! And since I didn’t avoid this sin, I needed Christ to atone for this sin (along with many, many others) through his death on the cross.

For my present and future, I need to keep away from sexual immorality. I need to “not awaken” ungodly love. Since I’m now married, the only valid, godly expression of sexual love for me is shared with my husband. I need to flee inappropriate arousal, and whatever might feed it in me. I need Christ to purify my love.

Crux:

Do not walk willingly into immorality.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

I thank you once again for the forgiveness and freedom you have given me in Jesus Christ. Please keep me from dwelling on the regret I feel for my past sin and instead help me to enjoy the peace and purity you have given me when you made me a new creation in Christ Jesus.

LORD, please help me to stand firm against sexual temptation and against any temptation to form inappropriately intimate relationships. Please protect me from Satan’s snares. Please counsel me and guide me by your Spirit so I do not ever willingly walk into immorality.

Please help me to teach my daughters especially – and also my ‘daughters in the faith’ – to not walk willingly into immorality. Please help me to show them the value and virtue of purity and fidelity, modesty and morality.

Amen.

* Songs 2 begins with a reference to my namesake, the fertile pasturelands of Sharon.