Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Conflict happens (Part 4)

“…as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:12-15, NIV)

There are way too many naked Christians walking around today – in the church and in the world. I know you and I look respectable enough sitting in church wearing our finest, but what’s in your heart and mine? Do we have God’s finest on?

Compassion. Caring enough for others to help. Caring until it costs us. Kindness. Humility. We covered that last week. There’s no room for pride in the believer’s heart. Gentleness. Patience.

“Clothe yourselves with” these things. That’s what Paul instructs. These are the virtues that allow us to live fight-free. They are, again, the traits of a servant. Servants care about others and serve them. Are you clothed today?

But there’s more here in Colossians 3 than just getting the right heart-clothes on. Paul can’t leave well enough alone. He has to bring up the not so small matter of forgiveness.

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Easy to say. Hard to live out. Am I right?

But listen. If revenge is the match that lights the fuse of explosive conflict, unforgiveness is the foul breeze that allows the embers of long past grievances to smolder. When sisters refuse to forgive each other, the battle goes deep into the heart. One brother’s unwillingness to let go of the past, poisons his every interaction with the one he will not forgive. Though his brother may act as kind as kind can be, he does not see it. He hears praise as an insult. He considers kindnesses cruelty. And so the unforgiving man lives in agony. He suffers every time he sees his tormentor go whistling along his merry way.

“How can he be so happy? Has he forgotten how he wronged me? God curse him!”

Strong words, I know. But the unforgiving man feels them in his heart. His anger, his hatred knows no bounds.

Unforgiveness will eventually destroy every close relationship. The man who refuses to let bygones be bygones will have few if any friends. And he, while calling down curses upon his supposed enemies, will in fact be inviting the wrath of God.

Listen to Jesus’ words on this matter. “…if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15, NIV)

Kind of moves “forgiving my sister” up on the to do list, doesn’t it? And Jesus piles it on.

“If [your brother] sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” (Luke 17:4, NIV)

Even repeat offenders are to be let off the hook. We’re left with no defense if we choose not to forgive. We know, because Jesus has made it clear, that we are disobeying God when we do so.

Who are you at odds with? Against whom do you hold a grudge? Will you quit sinning against your sister today? Will you let it go? Will you forgive your brother?

All you have to lose when you forgive is enemies and I don’t know about you, but I could use a few less foes. I need friends. I need fellow Jesus followers who bear with me. I need forgivers in my life because I screw up all the time.

It’s time to bury the hatchet. What’s done is done. Forgive and put an end to division.

Challenging stuff God’s given us this week. Giving up revenge. (We talked about that yesterday.) Letting God take care of wrongs done against us. Relinquishing our right to judge to the perfect Judge. Giving up grudges. Forgiving our brother from our hearts. Giving up our anger so our relationships can be restored.

You’d laugh at me if I told you obedience to these commands of God was any easy thing. Everything in our bent human nature shouts, “No way! I won’t do it! I will avenge myself! I will not forgive!”

But, friends, we have the power to say no to what is so natural to us and live strife-free.

“…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)

Revenge is part of the old that’s gone. Good done in return for evil is part of the new that has come. Grudges are part of the old that’s gone. Forgiveness is part of the new that has come.

You are new in Christ. Let him show himself to the world through your compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16, NIV)

Do you need help? Does forgiveness seem impossible? Does your desire for revenge seem too strong to resist? Are you afraid you cannot do what God asks of you?

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11, NIV)

If you need help, go to God in prayer. He will help.

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