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Good for Evil

October 18th, 2016

See that no one pays back evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all. (1 Thes. 5:15 NET)

The world’s way, and the way of our fallen nature, is not merely to return wound for wound - an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth - but to always injure the person more than they injured us. The truth is if you hurt someone the sinful nature in them wishes to hurt you more. Violence, left unchecked by God’s Spirit or by legal powers or social constraints, always escalates among people.

Th Christian community is to be marked by gracious responses to people who treat us ungraciously. The desire for revenge or even vindication is an ungodly desire that comes from our fallen natures. Whenever we find ourselves getting angry toward another person, wishing to hurt them the way they hurt us (or more than they hurt us), we are not listening to the Spirit’s voice, but to the old sinful nature. It is godly to forgive others from our hearts and to live a life of grace and kind consideration of those around us.

Forgiving others is good for us, good for our souls, and good for those around us - family, friends, church members, colleagues. The desire for revenge colors our world dark and foreboding. We will rob ourselves of joy each day we wish to hurt another person. Forgiveness liberates us from this darkness.

To the Israelites who were taken in captivity to Babylon, God said, through the prophet Jeremiah, that they were to bless their captors and not curse them:

Work to see that the city where I sent you as exiles enjoys peace and prosperity. Pray to the Lord for it. For as it prospers you will prosper. (Jer. 29:7 NET)

This is the idea that Paul is teaching the Thessalonians. Forgiveness liberates all and blesses all. Unforgiveness curses the one who possesses, and his loved ones, more than those it is directed toward.

Christ, in fact, told us to not only not to hate our enemies, but to love them and to pray for them. If you want to be liberated from hate, pray for God to abundantly bless the person who has hurt you. Christ said:

But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Mathew 5:44-45, NET)

Alexandre Dumas’ novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, is a classic tale of revenge. It is the story of Edmond Dantes, who as a young man is betrayed by three men who were jealous of his success and handsomeness. Falsely accused of treason, Dantes was arrested on his wedding day, tried, found guilty, and imprisoned. In the depths of despair he meets Faria, an Italian priest and intellectual, a fellow prisoner, who over the years educates Dantes and also bequeaths to him a great treasure if he ever escapes.

When Faria dies Dantes hides himself in the shroud and is thrown out to sea with the corpse. He escapes, finds the great treasure and learns that his father died in grief and his bride-to-be had married one of his enemies. He creates a new identity for himself and emerges years later as the wealthy Count of Monte Cristo. Unrecognized by those who had betrayed him, he sets about the business of punishing the three men who had falsely accused him and put him in prison. He destroys all three of their lives, yet he finds that revenge-taking is a hollow and tragic experience, and often the innocent suffer at Dantes’ hand.

In the end of the tale, Dantes realizes that human revenge is always flawed, that we lack the omniscience of God and can never understand how or who to punish. Dantes writes to a friend at the end of the story: “Until the day when God will deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is contained in these two words,—‘Wait and hope.’”

Dumas’ message is that we must leave these matters ultimately to the hand of God, that God providentially will punish the guilty and reward the righteous, and if not in this life then in eternity we will all stand before God.

There is a lesson here for us, that unforgiveness does great harm to the one who harbors it, and, if vengeance is ever attempted, it will cause innocent lives to suffer. It is better to forgive and move on with hope for a better tomorrow, in God’s care.

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A Journey to Revival

May 17th, 2016

Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your heart, you double-minded… (James 4:8, NASB)

Personal revival and the corporate revival of the church body are two aspects of the same work of God’s Spirit. Today, especially in the West, we have an unusually strong leaning toward the individual, so much so that we fail to grasp the issues that connect the single Christian to the body of Christ. Without grasping the connection between these two we will have a distorted view of the movement of God.

The two extremes are represented by the ideas that revival is either one or the other, either completely personal or completely corporate. Bu true revival is always both. It always draws a connection between the individual believer and the church body, even to the point of considering the broader Christian family.

We must begin on a personal level. However, the first thing we must do is to open our hearts individually to God, to allow him to search us and to test us individually. There is a danger always inherent in too much of an emphasis in our minds on the spiritual problems of others. Any time the thought comes into our minds, “They have a spiritual problem,” we need to quickly fall on our knees before God to confess our own unworthiness, our own spiritual problem.

And we must especially do this if we think, “They (whoever, they are) have a problem but I (or we) do not.” The thing that we should fear more than any other problem is our own spiritual blindness to our own problems. It is, of course, quite possible that we are closer to God than others are, but it is also probable that others are nearer to God than we are. The point is that we should not focus on those who appear farther away than us, rather we should ask how can we become closer.

The danger of a false standard: In all of life measurements can only be correctly evaluated if there is a clear and correct standard. A “benchmark” is a standard that is recognized and understood to be the point of reference that other things can be compared to. In survey work, for example, a benchmark is a site of known and reliable elevation, a point of reference that may be used to identify the elevation of others.

In the Christian faith only Christ is the perfect standard and only He is the One to whom we can properly use to evaluate our own spiritual health.

When my children were small, they would sometimes come home having made a poor grade on a test. I confess it did not happen too often - they were all good students, and they are all grown now. But when they made a bad mark they would often reply that other students did worse than they did. My response was usually something like this, “Are you telling me that your standard is the worst students in the class, that if you think you are just a little better than them that is good enough?” I would then tell them that they needed to aim not to be a little better than the worst, but to be as good as the best, perhaps even better.

But this is a typical human reaction and it shows our pride - to take undue pride in a poor performance. In spiritual matters we may say, “We’re not so bad, after all we do many good things.” Amos wrote a word of warning to the complacent of Israel, “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion And to those who feel secure in the mountain of Samaria” (Amos 6:1). Paul wrote, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).

The people of God, when they are at their worst condition spiritually will typically take pride in themselves, even be critical of others, rather than confessing their own problems. To the church at Laodicea the risen Christ said:

Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.’ (Rev. 3:17-19)

The path of personal revival: Revival begins with the individual letting God convict him of his sins, of repenting from his failures, and letting the life of Christ be the standard against which he measures himself spiritually. The individual must be led by the Spirit to see himself and his life in relation to the life of Christ alone. He must remove from his view the lives of others. He must be very careful of the temptation to say, “I’m not so bad as others.” He must only see the life of Christ and ask himself how far he is from Christ’s perfect standard, and his perfect life.

Revival results in the capacity to help others. Revival does not end with us, nor is it usually only about our own souls being drawn to God afresh. Jesus said:

Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

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