Why We Do What We Do When We Meet to Worship

By | September 12, 2021

Some churches host elaborate programs to entertain an audience. (Or some churches try this but do it very poorly.) Other churches have a liturgy so formal that only its ministers understand what is going on. Yet other churches may sing hymns, read Scripture, and do biblical things, but only for the sake of connecting with a tradition and not from a love for the gospel. At our church, we seek to obey the Scriptures in simplicity when we meet together, and I hope and pray it is because we truly want to worship the Almighty God who has saved us through His Son.

A handful of passages indicate what we do when we meet together. In short, we do what the Scripture tells us for the sake of building up the church (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:5b, 12, 26b, 40). Unbelievers are certainly welcome to attend our services, and we hope that God uses His truth and our love to draw them to saving faith in Christ (cf. John 13:34–35; 1 Corinthians 14:22–25).

First, Hebrews 10:24–25 commands us to encourage one another when we meet the together. We do not abstain from meeting together but physically meet together in order to stir one another to love and good works. Our time with one another in the aisle and lobby is important.

Second, 1 Timothy 4:13 commands Timothy in his capacity as a pastor to lead the church in reading Scripture, exhortation, and teaching. So, our pastors offer a pastoral prayer, read the text from which to preach, and use this text for teaching and exhortation. Men in general may participate and help in leading the assembly (cf. 1 Timothy 2:8, 12), so we extend our Scripture readings and prayers to the men.

Third, Colossians 3:16 commands us to teach and admonish one another in song. We obviously sing first and foremost to the Lord, but we do so as a congregation. Music is not meant to entertain but to worship God and build us up in the faith.

Fourth, Acts 4:35, 37 and 5:2 each mention public contributions to the church’s financial needs (i.e., laying funds at the feet of the apostles as they stood before the congregation). This public practice of collecting funds was apparently for all the churches on the first day of the week (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:1–2). We give from the heart and according to our means as an act of worship to God (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:3; 9:7).

Fifth, we observe the two ordinances. We baptize those who come to the faith and observe the Lord’s Supper together. Jesus commands us to make disciples, baptizing them as they are made (Matthew 28:19), and the apostles instructed us to remember our Lord’s death by observing what we call the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17–34; cf. Matthew 26:26–30a).

More could be said, but these texts at least give an introduction and overview to what we do as a church.

Jeremiah’s Prophecy of Judah’s Exile in Babylon for Seventy Years

By | September 6, 2021

Babylon took Israel captive “until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths… seventy years,” a promise made “by the mouth of Jeremiah” (2 Chronicles 36:21; cf. Ezra 1:1).

What was Jeremiah’s prophecy, and what were these Sabbaths that were equivalent to seventy years?

Jeremiah 25:11–12 states, “This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste.” Jeremiah 29:10 repeated, “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.”

Zechariah spoke in retrospect of these seventy years (520–518 BC; cf. Zechariah 1:7; 7:1). Their duration was a time of God’s anger, and their end was due to His mercy (Zechariah 1:12). The people fasted during these years, perhaps mourning the siege, breach, and destruction of Jerusalem, as well as the murder of Judah’s governor Gedaliah (Zechariah 7:5; cf. 8:18–23; 2 Kings 25:1–4, 24–25).

Each of these “Sabbaths” (2 Chronicles 36:21) was “a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land” that was to have taken place every “seventh year” after “six years” of farming (Leviticus 25:3–4; cf. 25:1–7). Israelites were also to cancel debts (Deuteronomy 15:1–11) and free slaves in this year (Deuteronomy 15:12–18; Exodus 21:2–6). If seventy years were necessary to recover these Sabbaths, Israel apparently failed to observe the Sabbath year seventy times, indicating disobedience for 490 years.

Daniel confirms this understanding with a prophecy four years before the end of these seventy years (cf. Daniel 9:1). Daniel referred to Jeremiah’s “seventy years” as the “the number of years that…must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem” (Daniel 9:2). Interestingly, in response to Daniel’s prayer of repentance for the nation’s 490 years of disobedience (cf. Daniel 9:3–19), God told Daniel of seventy “sevens” of years to come, another 490 years. Sixty-nine of the seventy “sevens” (483 years) took place (cf. Daniel 9:20–27) and ended when the Messiah was “cut off” on the cross (Daniel 9:25–26a). The final “seven” of years will come when the Antichrist makes a covenant with Israel, breaks it, and persecutes the nation. Thankfully, Christ wins the day in the end (Daniel 9:26b–27; 2 Thessalonians 2:8). The gap of time between Daniel 9:25–26a (483 years) and Daniel 9:26b–27 (seven years) is similar to the gap of time between Isaiah 61:1–2a and Isaiah 61:2b (cf. Luke 4:18–19).

So when exactly were these seventy years?

King Nebuchadnezzar sieged Jerusalem and took many people captive in 605 BC (2 Kings 24:10–17; cf. Daniel 1:1). Nebuchadnezzar then destroyed Jerusalem and its temple and took more people again in 586 BC (2 Chronicles 36:11–23). Using 605 BC as the first of Jeremiah’s seventy years, when the Persian king Cyrus commanded Judah to return to her land in 539 BC (2 Chronicles 36:22–23; cf. Ezra 1:1–4), and they did so in 538 BC, we could identify two years later in 536 BC as the end of these seventy years when Israel “made a beginning” of rebuilding the temple (Ezra 3:8–9). If reentry into the land is the end of exile and thus cuts the seventy years short by two, then perhaps God in His sovereignty cut those days short for the sake of His nation, similar to how He will cut short future judgment for the sake of His elect in Matthew 24:22.1

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  1. For a helpful discussion of the above texts, see F. Charles Fensham, The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah (New International Commentary on the Old Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982); Derek Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1979); and John A. Martin, “Ezra,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985). []

A Great Commission Challenge from Israel’s Prophets for Us Today

By | September 5, 2021

After 70 years of captivity, Israel returned to her land in 538 BC (Ezra 1:1–4). The nation began to rebuild the temple in 536 BC. When the foundation was complete, some people shouted for joy, but the old men wept because the remembered the first temple and knew that this one was not the same (Ezra 3:10–13). Couple this response with foreign opposition (Ezra 4:1–24), and we understand why Israel stopped working on the temple for 15 years.

But what got them working again? God raised up Haggai and Zechariah to prophesy in 520–518 BC in order to motivate Israel to finish the temple. Moved by the prophets, Israel’s governor Zerubbabel and her high priest Jeshua arose and led the people to finish (Ezra 5:1–2; cf. 6:14).

And just what did Haggai and Zechariah say to the people? And just what might we learn from this message to motivate us when we are discouraged from ministry by other Christians and enemies of the cross?

A verse from each prophet captures at least one of the lessons that we need to remember as well—the work of the Lord may seem small to us, but it is glorious in the eyes of God.

Haggai may have been among the old men, but he was not one of the ones to weep. Instead, he gave a rebuke: “Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes?” (Haggai 2:3). Zechariah noted this crowd as well and said their attitude would change: “whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice” (Zechariah 4:10).

And what would move these people to joy? In short—the presence of God. Zechariah promised, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). Haggai promised the same: “My Spirit remains in your midst” (Haggai 2:5). With God on Israel’s side, the nation was told to fear not, be strong, and work (Haggai 2:4–5). These prophets spoke God’s Word from 520 to 518 BC, and Israel completed the temple in 516 BC. Their attitude had changed. Israel “celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy” because “the Lord had made them joyful” (Ezra 6:16, 22).

Like those who compared the temples, we, too, can sometimes have nostalgia and weep because what is now is not what was then. But, if we are faithfully carrying out the Great Commission, we can also know that God is with us through Christ and the Spirit to do His work today (Matthew 28:18–20). And what we think was better than the present may not be quite what we thought it was.

Whatever the past may have been, we know God is with us today. In light of the Great Commission, fear not, be strong, and work!

An Overview of Ezra

By | August 30, 2021

Ezra wrote the book that bears his name approximately 450 BC. Similar to Luke’s writing of Luke-Acts, Ezra writes history in the third person and then shifts to first person when he is part of the story (cf. Ezra 7:27–28). Ezra 1:1–3a echoes 2 Chronicles 36:22–23, indicating that he perhaps wrote the Chronicles. He likely wrote Nehemiah as well.

As to its contents, Ezra is a story of rebuilding and reform. Chapters 1–6 recall how Israel rebuilt the temple. Cyrus decreed it (Ezra 1:1–4), provided the resources for it (Ezra 1:5–11), and allowed people to go do it (Ezra 2:1–70). These people were led by Zerubbabel and made up the first return from Babylon to Jerusalem (538 BC). From roughly 536–516 BC, they built the temple in spite of opposition (Ezra 3:1–6:12) and celebrated its completion (Ezra 6:13–22).

Chapters 7–10 tell of reformation. Ezra led the second return from Babylon to Jerusalem in 458 BC (Ezra 7:1–8:36), and once there, the people already present confronted Ezra with the problem of Jews having married pagan wives. This sin included priests and Levites. This unique situation required a unique solution (putting these wives and children away), and Ezra brought about reform (Ezra 9:1–10:44).

Theologically, Ezra is an amazing story of the faithfulness of God. Based upon His promises to Abraham (cf. Genesis 12:1–7), God sustained the nation and returned to the land those who were willing to come. Based upon specific promises through Isaiah, God raised up Cyrus to repopulate Jerusalem and rebuild the city and its temple (Isaiah 48:24–45:13).

Ezra is also a story of the sovereignty of God. In showing Himself faithful to Israel, God turned the hearts of the Persian kings Cyrus and Darius to give decrees to help His nation (Ezra 1:1; 6:22; cf. Proverbs 21:1). He stirred the spirits of his servants and the people as a whole (Haggai 1:14). “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit” was how the Israelites completed the temple (Zechariah 4:5; cf. Ezra 6:13–22).

Ezra is also a story of the mercy of God. Israel’s first deportation to Babylon took place in 605 BC. Two more would take place in 597 and 586 BC. Jerusalem would be destroyed, its temple razed, and its people taken away (cf. 2 Chronicles 36:15–23). In keeping with the prophecy of Jeremiah (Ezra 1:1; cf. Jer 25:11–12; 29:10), God ended Israel’s exile and began to return His people to their land after seventy years of exile were over.

In the Bible as a whole, the Abrahamic Covenant promised help to Israel, and Isaiah anticipated Cyrus and his decree. Sadly, however, Israel murdered her Messiah. Nonetheless, a happy ending will come. Just as God in Christ is faithful to us in our salvation, so also “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26; cf. Romans 9–11). When all is said and done, the Father and Son will be the temple in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:22), and Israelites and believers from every tribe and language and people and nation will worship God forevermore.

 

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Read-Aloud Revival Premium Membership: Is it Worth It?

By | August 28, 2021

Several years ago when my oldest 2 were very little, I subscribed to the Read-Aloud Revival email list so that I could  get a recommended list of books sent to me. At the time, I didn’t really have much of an idea of what good children’s books were, except for any book that I had myself encountered as a child. The list was and is wonderful, and it was so helpful to me at the time to be able to find great books to read to my kids.

Sarah Mackenzie, a homeschooling mom of 6, created the website to encourage other parents in how to help their children love reading. The more I looked at her website and saw what she and her team offered, the more I was able to see how helpful and fun her website is. There are many ways to advantage of the good stuff for free: podcasts, monthly booklists, and blog.

About a year and a half ago, however, I decided to “take the plunge” and join Read-Aloud Premium, only open to new members at select times throughout the year. I initially joined with a monthly membership at $15/month. This way, if I didn’t think it was quite worth the money, I could cancel at anytime without losing much. After a few month, I chose to switch to a yearly renewal of $149/year (saving $31 total compared to a monthly renewal).

I will be honest and say that I initially was still not sure whether it was worth it for me. I loved everything that was offered, but I just wasn’t using it like I could. So, I decided to work hard at taking advantage of more that premium membership offers, and I am really glad I did.

Let me share my favorite aspects of premium:

  • Ralph Masiello (ralphmasiello.com). Ralph is a children’s book illustrator, and Sarah often has Ralph do drawing workshops for the kids. I love to do the workshops right along with him, because it is so fun. He is funny, patient, and encouraging. He gives the kids time to catch up or reminds them to pause the video (Every live-stream video is recorded to be viewed later by premium members).
  • WOW (Writers on Writing). Sarah regularly invites children’s authors to present a workshop for kids on writing. Some have been more interesting and fun than others, but they’ve all been helpful and a great supplement for teaching creative writing.
  • Author (or Illustrator) Access events. After a family book club, in which Sarah recommends a picture or chapter book for everyone to read or a mama book club for the moms, she often has an interview with the author or illustrator. This is so much fun to feel like you’re meeting these people and gaining insight into their books. Kate DiCamillo, Tomie DePaulo, Lois Lowry, Andrew Peterson. . .
  • Master Classes for homeschooling moms. You could totally be a non-homeschooling mom and enjoy the benefits of premium membership, but this has probably clinched it for me. Either Sarah or a guest will speak for about an hour about some aspect of homeschooling, and this has been such an encouragement to me.
    • I’ve been encouraged time and again that “getting everything done is not the goal.” She speaks about setting ultimate goals for your homeschool (eg., I want my kids to look back and say **this** about homeschooling) and actually going about accomplishing them.
    • She gives tips for how to start your year (a little at a time), how to evaluate your year, etc.
    • She invited a guest that discussed your and your children’s personalities, and how they play a big part in how you homeschool (and parent actually).
    • She invited a voice actor that gave tips on how to read with different voices for various characters. So fun and helpful!
    • She has a God-centered focus. She will tell you that she grew up in a Protestant minister’s home, then converted to Roman Catholicism after much study. I do not know what she believes about the Gospel itself, and I understand that her particular beliefs about salvation are likely different than what I believe the Bible teaches, but I do not recall her saying anything yet that is unbiblical. She encourages prayer and Scripture as she speaks, and I can be encouraged by that, even if I am not agreeing with her theology.

There are even more ways to be involved in Premium, especially if you like to interact with others on the forum. Any member can start a discussion and interact with others. I’ve never seen any comment that is rude or snarky, and that is saying something! Everyone is always kind and encouraging and helpful. I do not interact much on the forum, but it’s there if you like it.

All that to say, that I have come to the conclusion that RAR Premium is worth it for me. The reason I thought I’d share this now is that the price is going up starting October 1. Membership is currently open right now as I write, so if you join in now, you can lock in your price before it goes up. (If you join the monthly renewal and then decide to switch to yearly as I did, you must do that before the price goes up to lock in the lower yearly price.)

You can get a lot more info and testimonials right here: https://readaloudrevival.com/become-a-member/.

Happy Reading!

 

The ABC’s of Confrontation

By | August 23, 2021

Forgiveness has been the theme of my posts these past few weeks. Last week we explored when Scripture compels confrontation, repentance, and forgiveness. This week is a biblical and practical look at the confrontation itself. How should it take place? What do we say, and how do we say it?

What follows below are some “ABC’s” that try to capture some basic wisdom necessary when confrontation takes place.1

To the one who confronts the sinner:

Affirm your affection. If you are truly being faithful as a friend to openly rebuke a fellow Christian, state the obvious. Affirm your Christian affection for the sinning party with words. Don’t take it for granted, and don’t let your conservation be only about the sinner’s sin.

Be prepared to be wrong. You might state your case and find out from the would-be offender that you are mistaken concerning the facts or your brother’s intentions (Proverbs 18:17). Two or three witnesses might encourage you to drop the matter instead of bringing it before the church (cf. Matthew 18:16).

Communicate carefully. Say exactly what the issue is and then say no more. Choose your words wisely. Always avoid “always,” and never say “never” in your rebuke. The sinner most likely does not always commit this sin or never do what is right. Even in rebuke, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).

Do it right. Involve the right people—the sinner himself (Proverbs 25:9–10; Matthew 18:15) and only others as necessary (cf. Matthew 18:16–17). Use the right manner—be gentle and gracious with your words (Proverbs 15:1; Colossians 4:6). Do it for the right reason—for the other Christian’s good and not for personal vengeance (Romans 12:17–21; 1 Corinthians 13:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Peter 3:9).

Expect a little but hope for a lot. Don’t assume that the conversation will play out perfectly as you might picture it in your mind. Confrontations are often like a maze. You can see the entry and the exit, but the twists and turns along the way might keep you from reaching your destination. At the same time, if both parties are truly Christians, they will walk in the Spirit and avoid reactions and distractions that would keep them from their goal (cf. Galatians 5:22–26).

Forgive. If your rebuke is warranted and goes well, your offender repents and asks for forgiveness. If so, forgive and let the matter go. Perhaps there are consequences that you cannot avoid. Perhaps the matter is civil, and legalities must run their course. But that does not mean that you can do your best to put the matter behind you and remember it no more (cf. Hebrews Jeremiah 31:34; 8:12; 10:17).

To the one who is caught in sin:

Apologize. If you have sinned against your brother, repent and ask for his forgiveness (cf. Luke 17:3–4). Be diligent to put your sin to death and live righteously instead.

Be thankful for the wounds of a faithful brother. Serious sin needs rebuke, and this rebuke is Christ’s love through him to you (cf. Revelation 3:19). His love endures in adversity, and he remains faithful to you in spite of sin (Proverbs 17:11; 27:5–6).

Communicate carefully as you respond. As above, be wise in what you say. Specifically…

Don’t become defensive. Embarrassment, surprise, shame, or shock—in the moment, receiving a well-deserved rebuke can activate our adrenaline and produce all sorts of responses. As difficult as it may be, we should not become defensive. That might only heighten the tension of the situation and likely lead to more sin.

Expect a rebuke here and there. The power of sin is broken for Christians, but we still sin from time to time. Sometimes we sin against others or are exposed for habitual sin. Whatever the sin may be, we will need an occasional rebuke from another.

Fellowship again. Don’t merely apologize and walk away, never to return to fellowship again. In fact, your fellowship should be all the better because you’ve seen the faithfulness of your friend (cf. Proverbs 27:5–6). Rather than being offended and unyielding (cf. Proverbs 18:19), your brother responded with love to your sin. Friends like that are few and far between. Let your fellowship continue.

  1. Many thoughts in this post are gleaned here and there from Chris Brauns, Unpacking Forgiveness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008) and John MacArthur, The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998). []

When Sin Compels a Confrontation and Forgiveness Must Be Formal

By | August 16, 2021

Last week, we saw that even when one is wronged and seriously so, he can choose to overlook the sin. But there are times when overlooking a sin is not an option. In these situations, Scripture requires a confrontation, an apology, and forgiveness to restore the relationship. This is conditional forgiveness—we cannot forgive the sinner unless he repents for his sin.

Hear Jesus on the matter: “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:3–4). All the components are there—the sin that harms the relationship (sins against you), the confrontation (rebuke), the condition of repentance (if he repents), and forgiveness (forgive him). Additionally, Jesus stresses that the innocent party should be ready and willing to forgive repeatedly (cf. Matthew 18:21–22, 35).

So, whereas sometimes “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8) and it can be “glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11), there are other times to say, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love,” a love manifest as the “faithful…wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:5–6). But just when are these times?

Adapting the thoughts of others,1 I’ve found it helpful to ask four questions to determine whether or not to confront a sinner who is sinning against me or someone else. If the answer is “yes” to any of the questions below, a confrontation must take place. And, God willing, this confrontation will lead to an apology and forgiveness that restores the relationship as before. And maybe the relationship will even be stronger for having weathered some sin and forgiveness.

Does the sin harm the bond between us?

Sometimes the victim cannot overlook the sin and must confront the sinner. In this instance, the sin is of such a nature that it has severed the relationship between the innocent and sinning parties. As seen above in Luke 17:3–4, the sin is “against you” and Jesus commands the offended party to “rebuke.”

If the offender has clearly sinned and refuses to repent, the innocent party should confront again with two or three witnesses. If repentance is still not forthcoming, the sin should be brought before the church (Matthew 18:15–18). Every step along the way (and even in excommunication; cf. 1 Timothy 1:20), the goal is for the offender to repent.

Does the sin harm the brother himself?

Sometimes a sin becomes a habit and traps the sinner in the sin. “If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1). The sinner is wandering and needs a brother to bring him back, snatching him from death and fire (James 5:19–20; Jude 23). He could otherwise harden himself against God if not exhorted by his brothers (Hebrews 3:13).

Does the sin harm another brother in Christ?

Sometimes a sin is against someone other than yourself. Righteousness in this situation demands another Christian to come to the rescue by confronting the brother who is harming another. The innocent might be poor, fatherless, widowed, or oppressed in some other way (James 1:27; cf. Exodus 23:6; Proverbs 31:8–9; Isaiah 1:17; Jeremiah 22:3). Whatever the sin may be, there are times when a Christian must confront one brother in Christ for sinning against another.

Does the sin harm the body of Christ?

Sometimes the sin is so sinful that it can ruin the testimony of a church. Overlooking incest, for example, is not loving but arrogant and not even practiced by pagans (1 Corinthians 5:1–2). Other sinners that we must confront include those “guilty of sexual immorality or greed…an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler” (1 Corinthians 5:11). Additionally, tolerating this level of sin encourages further sin in the church (1 Corinthians 5:6–8). Allowing one bitter root of a person to spring up and bear poisonous fruit could defile the body as a whole (Hebrews 12:15; cf. Deuteronomy 29:18–19). If such a one is unrepentant, he must be put out of the church (1 Corinthians 5:13). Even then, however, this action is meant to provoke the sinner to repentance, and, if he repents, he should be forgiven and restored (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:5–8).

Seen in the questions above, some sins compel a confrontation, and the confronted must repent. The one confronting can then forgive, and both go on as before. May God use us as a means of grace to one another to conquer our sins and persevere.

 

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  1. See especially John MacArthur, The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998), 128–34. []

I was wronged. Should I expect my offender to say, “I’m sorry”?

By | August 9, 2021

Sometimes we fret over whether or not a confrontation will shatter a relationship that seems cracked and falling apart. How do we discern whether or not to confront someone for a sin and ask for an apology?

The following examines the Scriptures to answer this question and adapts the thoughts of others into my own words.1 Much more could be said than what follows, but here at least three questions to help determine whether or not a confrontation is necessary.

First, is this sin important?

Don’t get me wrong with this question—every sin is important in that it violates the infinitely holy nature of our perfectly pure God. The idea with this question is to discern the relative importance of the sin.

Sometimes Scripture indicates encourages nonretaliation. We can expect to be persecuted by our enemies, and we must love them in return (Matthew 5:10–12). When enemies or anyone slaps us or takes our coats, we can overlook this kind of offense and give kindness in return (Matthew 5:38–41). A minor offense does not need a major response. If the offense is minor, let your “love cover a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). It might just be your “glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11). Jesus taught this love (Matthew 5:10–12, 39–40) and lived it out as well (Isa 53:7; Matthew 27:12; Mark 14:61; 15:4–5; Luke 23:9; John 19:9; 1 Peter 2:22–23).

Second, is this sin intentional?

It is one thing for someone to offend another in a premeditated manner. It is quite another for someone to offend another by accident. In connecting this question to the previous question, an important matter may be worth mentioning to the offender. However, if the matter is not important, and if the offender intended no offense (as best we know), then it is likely best to “overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11).

Third, is this sin individual?

By individual, I mean that the offender has offended you and you alone. It could be a private or public offense. It might even be quite serious. However, even then, if the sin is against you and no one else, you may choose to overlook the sin.

Joseph overlooked the sin of his brothers selling and sending him away (Genesis 45:4–5; 50:20). David overlooked Shimei’s curses and casting rocks (2 Samuel 16:5–14; 19:18–23). Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of His killers (Luke 23:34), and Stephen did so as well (Acts 7:60). Not every killer came to Christ, but some of them did in time (cf. Mark 15:39; Acts 2:37; 9:17).

For whatever these individuals overlooked, God Almighty would exact perfect justice in time. But whether or not an offender finds forgiveness from God, we as individuals can overlook sin. This love does not mean that justice might demand consequences and a formal apology for serious sin, but it does mean that we can overlook what we can and be willing to forgive.

So, should you expect your offender to say “I’m sorry”? As one pastor put it, “The short answer is that it is a matter of wisdom or discernment.”2

Hopefully the three questions above provide some general wisdom and discernment. And for anything left unsaid, I would encourage you to read the book cited in the notes below.

Next week, I hope to write on forgiveness again and clarify when Scripture requires someone to confront the offender.

 

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  1. See especially Chris Brauns, Unpacking Forgiveness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008) and John MacArthur, The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998). []
  2. Brauns, Unpacking Forgiveness, 98. []

Philemon: An Example of Forgiveness

By | August 2, 2021

During Paul’s imprisonment in Rome (Philemon 1; cf. Acts 28:30–31), a household slave named Onesimus stole from his master Philemon and ran away (cf. Philemon 18–19). If Philemon caught Onesimus during this time, he could have severely punished him as a result. Philemon’s wife Apphia and his son Archippus would have known about the situation, and the church that met in their house was likely aware as well (cf. Philemon 2). Onesimus’s sins affected many.

As time went on, Onesimus somehow found Paul in Rome, and Paul led him to saving faith in Christ (cf. Philemon 10). As much as Paul wanted to keep Onesimus with him, he returned him to Philemon whose say determined Onesimus’s future (Philemon 11–14). Paul encouraged Philemon to receive Onesimus as a brother in the Lord, and Paul took Onesimus’s debts upon himself (Philemon 15–19).

Paul assumed in advance what we can assume in retrospect today—Philemon forgave Onesimus. Paul was confident of this forgiveness, and Philemon may have gone beyond Paul’s words to free Onesimus from servanthood as well (Philemon 21). In fact, Paul was so confident of the matter (and his release from prison) that he asked Philemon to prepare a room for him to use in a future visit (Philemon 22).

Among many lessons that we could explore from this example, here are at least three for now:

Forgiveness shows our faith.

Philemon was a fellow Christian, likely led to Christ by Paul (cf. Philemon 19). Paul expected Philemon to forgive. Because Philemon knew the forgiveness of God through Christ, he would gladly forgive as well (cf. Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:12–13). Christians cannot be contentious, grudge-nursing people. Love does not resent but believes and hopes and endures (1 Corinthians 13:4–7). Whether we suffer theft or abandonment or worse, we forgive the one who did wrong and remember his sin no more (cf. Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:12; 10:17). A failure to forgive contradicts one’s faith and may show no faith at all (cf. Matthew 18:35). Forgiveness shows our faith.

Forgiveness should be free.

Paul could have given an apostolic mandate for Philemon to obey, but he did not want Philemon’s “goodness” to “be by compulsion but of [his] own accord” (Philemon 14). As Jesus taught, forgiveness is “from your heart” (Matthew 18:35). Compulsory forgiveness is cold and false. Forgiveness might need some prodding from time to time, but, in the end, it should be voluntary and free.

Forgiveness is helped by friends.

A friend can help bring others together. As Christ advocates for us before the Father (cf. 1 John 2:1), so also Paul spoke to Philemon on Onesimus’s behalf and assumed his debt. He even encouraged Philemon to receive Onesimus as himself. When one Christian sees or anticipates the need for reconciliation between others, it is sometimes appropriate to mediate as a helpful means to peace. Paul had mediated before (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:5–11), and he had received this grace himself (cf. Acts 9:26–28). From this story and others, we see that a friend can help the offended party to forgive.

I don’t know who reads these posts, and I can only imagine the sorrows that some readers have borne. Whatever you may have suffered, we should forgive one another like Philemon forgave Onesimus, especially if the matter is between two Christians. Better yet, remember your forgiveness in Christ, and forgive others just the same.

 

PS In case anyone is wondering, next week I hope to answer the question, “Should the sinner be sorry before I can forgive?”

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The First Step to Forgiving Others: Be Forgiven Yourself

By | July 26, 2021

“We aren’t speaking anymore.”

“My sin is too big for God to forgive.”

Have you ever heard statements like these?

One pastor observes, “Early in my pastoral ministry I noticed an interesting fact: nearly all the personal problems that drive people to seek pastoral counsel are related in some way to the issue of forgiveness. The typical counselee’s most troublesome problems would be significantly diminished (and in some cases solved completely) by a right understanding of what Scripture says about forgiveness.”1 He explained his observation further—people had trouble understanding the forgiveness of God or how to forgive others. They suffered ongoing personal guilt or problems in their relationships as a result2.

At my church, we recently examined the misuse of the tongue (James 3:1–12), the need for heavenly wisdom in achieving peace with others (James 3:13–18), the causes for quarrels and conflicts among us (James 4:1–5), and how the grace of God overcomes these sins through humility and repentance (James 4:6–12).

For a couple of weeks, we will break from James to answer the question, “But how do I fix the relational damage after a conflict has taken place?” In short—forgive one another. But forgiving others begins with being forgiven yourself.

Paul commands us to be “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). He provides the context elsewhere (“if one has a complaint against another”) and similarly commands, “As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13). In both passages, the paradigm for forgiving others is how God has forgiven us in Christ. You must be forgiven in order to know how to forgive. So, let’s explore that for a moment.

First, we remember that we were sinners and provoked the wrath of God. We “were dead in the trespasses and sins in which [we] once walked” and “were by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1, 3). We were God’s enemies, hated for sin, every single day (Psalm 5:5; 7:11; John 3:36). We needed to be forgiven.

But then, we believed in Christ and what He did for us. “Through this Man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you” (Acts 13:38). The Father crushed Him for our iniquities and made Him who knew no sin to become sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (Isaiah 53:4–6; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24; Hebrews 9:28). His death provided a path to peace with the Father, and the righteousness of His perfect life became ours (Romans 5:10). Through the instrument of faith and on the basis of Christ’s death and life, God released us from the guilt and punishment for sin. He forgave us.

To forgive someone else is to seek no vengeance for wrongs committed. It is to love and look past the offense and go on as before. And if that seems hard to do, remember how God forgave you through Christ. By being forgiven yourself, you will know how to forgive another.

 

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  1. John MacArthur, The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998), 7. Most of the thoughts and the passages in this post are distilled from the first chapter of this book. []
  2. Ibid., 7–8. []