Monday, September 30, 2019

Forgiving Others

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

(Matthew 6:14-15 ESV)

Immediately prior to the words spoken above, Jesus had taught to his disciples the prayer we know as the Lord’s Prayer. In this prayer, he told them to pray: “…forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Then, after concluding the prayer, he further explained this petition.

As it’s the only petition he went on to explain in greater detail, this tells us how important it is. As believers, as a people who’ve been forgiven, we are called upon to forgive others. In fact, we are required to do so.

We have to be careful with this statement, that we are required to do so. Forgiving others is not a work by which we merit salvation. However, the fruit of our own forgiveness, the necessary result of the forgiveness granted us by God, is our forgiveness of others.

In fact, if we fail to forgive others, we will not be forgiven. If we don’t extend to others the forgiveness that God has given us, we will not be forgiven. So this, you see, is a matter of grave consequence.

This is also an area where many of us tend to struggle. Although we long desperately for the grace and mercy of God, we are not willing to extend that grace to others. We feel that, instead of granting them forgiveness as an act of grace, they have to become deserving of our forgiveness.

We rationalize this behavior by saying we will not allow others to walk all over us. We rationalize this behavior by saying we have too much self-respect to allow others to treat us poorly. We tell ourselves that, when people wrong us repeatedly, forgiveness is no longer required.

This reveals that we don’t truly understand the gospel. It reveals to us that we don’t truly understand the magnitude of our sin. Understanding the gospel, and believing the gospel, will naturally cause us to extend forgiveness as an act of grace.

The gospel tells us that, because of our sin, we are completely undeserving of God’s blessings. The gospel tells us that God has granted us forgiveness even though we don’t deserve it. The gospel tells us that he’s granted us forgiveness even though we can in no way make it up to him. The gospel tells us that, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, God looks upon us as if we haven’t sinned.

It’s this grace that we’re called upon to extend to others. As we’ve been forgiven, we are to forgive. We are called to give grace to those who are undeserving, and to those who have wronged us repeatedly. We are to look upon those who have wronged us as if they haven’t done so.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

I Swear...

“But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your "yes" be yes and your "no" be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.”

 (James 5:12 ESV)

Years ago, I had gotten into a strange habit when speaking to others. I would often begin my answer to a question with the phrase “to be honest.” I think it was my dad who caught me on this. Half joking, he once said to me: “So the rest of the time you’re not honest?”

His point was plain. I do tend to be a very honest person. I won’t claim perfection, but generally this is the case. And, because this is true, why would I need to utter such a phrase? I should simply speak honestly all of the time, and people will know what to expect from me.

The same thing is true when it comes to taking oaths. Many of us are in the habit of swearing. We’ll say things such as: “I swear to God,” or simply, “I swear.”

Now, there are times when taking oaths is acceptable and even good. When we are serving as a witness at court, we are sworn in. Public officials will take an oath of office. Service members are required to take an oath. And we should not hesitate to do so in a circumstance such as this.

However, when it comes to our daily conversation, and when it comes to our day to day commitments, oaths are not necessary. There is nothing to be gained by making them. We should make every effort to lead an honest life, we should make every effort to honor our word, rendering them unnecessary.

As James says it above, we should let our yes be yes and our no be no. We should mean what we say and honor the commitments we’ve made. And, being truthful people, these oaths will be unnecessary. Knowing that we are trustworthy, people will take us at our word.

There will be times, of course, where we forget a commitment we’ve made. There will be times when, for good reason, we change our mind. But these should be the exception rather than the norm. And we should be willing to apologize and give reason for this change when it does occur.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Living in Hope

“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”

(James 5:7-11 ESV)

The Lord has given to us a tremendous hope. He’s assured us that, one day, Jesus will return. He’s assured us that, when Jesus returns, the dead will be raised imperishable and that those who are alive in Christ will be transformed. He’s assured us of a new heaven and earth. And he’s assured us that we’ll live forever in this new creation, where there is no more suffering, death, or mourning.

As we endure the trials of this life, we can’t help looking forward to the fulfillment of these promises. In fact, we would prefer that Jesus come back now. We would prefer that the hardships of this life would come to an end that we might enjoy the blessings of which Scripture has spoken.

We, however, do not know when this day will come. It may come soon, or it may be generations away. And, for this reason, we are called to patience.

James compares the patience being required of us to that of a farmer, waiting for the fruit of the earth. He has to wait while the crops receive the early and the late rains. He has to wait until the time of harvest is at hand.

He points us also to the patience of the prophets as they proclaimed the Word of God. He points us to Job, who remained steadfast in the face of many trials. Their example is one we can emulate as we look forward in hope.

He then reminds us of the Lord’s purpose. He does so because, as we wait, it’s easy for us to call this into question. As we endure the trials of life, we can begin to question his motives. And God’s purpose, James assures us, is compassionate and merciful.

God’s desire is for our salvation. But it’s not for our salvation alone. He desires the salvation of all mankind. And, as we await Jesus’ return, he’s working for the salvation of the lost.

In the meantime, we’re not to grumble against one another. We’re to avoid this complaining, realizing that it can lead to judgment. It reflects not the patience to which we are called, but our momentary displeasure.

May we, then, look for the Lord’s coming in hope. May we patiently await his return, knowing that God is faithful to his promise. And may we remain steadfast, living in light of this hope, without wavering.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Taking Advantage of the Needy

“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.” 
(James 5:1-6 ESV)

No matter how we compare to others in our nation, the fact of the matter is that we are rich. As Americans, we are among the wealthiest people in the world. Even those considered “low income” in our nation have far more than most people in the rest of the world today. 

As those who are rich, we have to take the above passage seriously. Even though we may believe ourselves to be innocent, even though we may believe that we haven’t or don’t take advantage of others, we have to evaluate ourselves when it comes to those who have less. We have to do so because it’s the natural tendency of our sinful nature.

The rich have a tendency to be discontent with their wealth. They have a tendency to always want more. And they have a tendency to do whatever is necessary to make that possible, even if it means harming or taking advantage of others.

As I say this, I’m reminded of Martin Luther’s explanation of the Seventh Commandment in his Small Catechism.  He says: “We should fear and love God so that we do not rob our neighbor of his money or property, nor bring them into our possession by unfair dealing or fraud, but help him to improve and protect his property and living.”

Even if we believe that we haven’t robbed our neighbor of his money or property, we may have stolen in other ways. We may have taken advantage of his misfortune to acquire something unjustly. Or we may have taken advantage of his misfortune to improve our own.

For example, imagine your neighbor has an awesome sports car. You’d like one for yourself, but they cost too much money. Your neighbor, then, loses his job and has to sell his car in order to provide for his family. And you come in with a low-ball offer because you know he’s desperate. You pay him far less than the car’s value, knowing that he’ll accept it in his time of need.

Or perhaps someone is desperate for a job, and you hire him. However, knowing he is desperate, you fail to pay him a fair wage. You take advantage of him, in his hardship, for your own personal gain.

These are the situations to which James is referring. We live in luxury while taking from those who have little. And, if we are guilty of this, his warning must be taken seriously.  We must repent of our sin, look to Jesus for the forgiveness of our sin, and make things right with our neighbor.

As God’s people, we are called to love our neighbor. We’re called to serve our neighbor. We’re called to seek his blessing, rather than his harm.