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Make Forgiveness Your Passionate Pursuit
Ephesians seems to be just bubbling with wonderful truth for me. Chapter four, verse 29 through chapter five verse two is a text that has been so appropriate for me at times when I feel this fleshly anger arising in my heart against these Plaintiffs. Even as I recount these verses to you, I sense my constant frailty with regards to some of the issues mentioned in the text. Yet I also sense a constantly mounting desire to be an example of these verses. “You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. You must put away every kind of bitterness, anger, wrath, quarrelling, and evil, slanderous talk. Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you. Therefore, be imitators of God as dearly loved children and live in love, just as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God.” The main theme and driving force behind the repentance called for in these verses is found twice in the context. It is the love of Jesus Christ. In 4:32 God in Christ forgave me. And in 5:2 Christ loved me and gave himself for me. Therefore, in light of God’s love for me in Christ Jesus, I ought to forgive those who sin against me. This is hard enough as it is when it comes to conflicts in theology. There are just some people who want to die on an anthill, and they want to take you down with them. They are willing to destroy another person’s reputation on account of the smallest theological disputes. To terminate me as a pastor simply because I believe in doublepredestination is completely asinine. But strangely, I forgave each time I was assaulted with accusations. What became difficult to forgive, however, was the fact that these accusations were going to cost me my job, my livelihood, my income, and put my family in jeopardy. So here’s the irony of this whole thing for you, if you’re paying attention. I, a Calvinist, one who believes in the sovereignty of God and His immutable goodness and mercy toward those He has elected and loved in Christ, am acting as one who believed
none of it. I had quickly become a Pharisee who did not practice what I preached. It was only through a reminder of those texts that were so dear to me that began to once again build up that supernatural ability to forgive. “Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things?” This includes my job, my livelihood, my income and my family. If God gave me Jesus, He’ll give me everything else I need. “And my God will supply your every need according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). These are the kinds of truths I was preaching to myself. And from those roots that God Himself had developed in my heart, grew the fruits of forgiveness. You see, I was much more able to forgive others when I stopped putting my livelihood in their hands. When God is my hope, my strength, my salvation, my income, my livelihood, then I found forgiveness to be a sweet release from the constant tension that was building up in my heart. Since He is in charge, I can let everything go and trust in Him. Any offense, though always injurious, doesn’t have to be taken personally anymore. It’s not about me, anyway. It’s all about Him! Oh, the wondrous joys of sovereignty as it gives birth to forgiveness! I get excited about it just writing about it! It feels so good now to envision myself embracing Alex and the other Plaintiffs with the love of Jesus Christ, rather than envisioning myself in some Matrix-styled tae-kwon-do fight. That kind of thing is fleshly energy expended with only me in mind. The other is divine energy expended with the glory of God in mind. That is so much more satisfying. 2. Treat Everyone With Gentleness and Humility
In closing, it is the forgiving attitude born out of the love of God in Jesus Christ that enables you and I and every other pastor and Christian to follow that divine counsel that Paul gave at the beginning of Ephesians 4. In verses one through three he writes, “I, therefore, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live worthily of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” You see, beloved, when the love of God in Christ is being regularly, habitually and consistently exercised through the fruit of forgiveness you will be able to handle yourself in any theological dispute with humility, gentleness, patience, and tolerance. These are all
exemplified in Jesus Christ for us. The first two attributes are the very ones, and in fact the only ones, that Jesus uses to describe Himself. In Matthew 11:28-29 Jesus’ call there is so inviting that I almost want to just quit writing and heed that call. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Oh beloved! He is gentle and humble! That is the perfect picture of our Savior. As pastors we must exemplify these attributes of our Chief Shepherd. As Christians we must constantly display this toward one another. How many theological disputes and conflicts do you think would be solved if we took Christ’s yoke upon our shoulders and walked with one another in this beautiful fashion? Well, I’d personally like to be the one to tell you that you’d have none. But that’s just not reality. I did walk with my people in this manner. My own wife and deacons encouraged me that Christ shined through in this way in the first months of the conflict. Maybe I should have taken a clue from them when I didn’t get that encouragement anymore! Nevertheless, while we are to live in gentleness and humility, that is not always a guarantee that we will be able to minister and live conflict free with other believers. 3. Treat Everyone With Patience and Tolerance
That is why Paul included the other two words: patience and forbearance. The first word describes the ability to remain up under the pressure of conflict. The second word speaks of the divine ability to just be able to put up with others, tolerating them, their views, their issues, their personalities, their idiosyncrasies, etc. Where gentleness and humility do not resolve conflict, patience and tolerance will. If the theological issues cannot be worked out, they can be lived with. It must be lived with. Because if it doesn’t, then the smaller doctrines over which we cannot agree with reflect the larger doctrine of the church. If the world sees us bickering and fighting over lesser issues, they are disinclined to desire partnership with the bigger one called the local church. Our behavior is what adorns our doctrine. Our godly conduct toward each other is what makes our doctrine sound. So how do you measure up on the forgiveness issue? Have you forgiven those who have caused you harm over disagreements? Have you determined to treat them as if they had never done anything wrong to you at all? Have you prayed that God would prosper them despite
what they believe? Do you ask God to bless them and their families, their work, and all their endeavors in life? This is what true forgiveness means. And how do you measure up on the other four issues? Are you really a humble and gentle person? Or are you generally prideful and hardnosed? How much do you really put with from other people? This is especially important if you’re a pastor reading this now. How long have you been able to bear up under the load of conflict with others in recent days, weeks, months or years? Do you wait patiently on the Lord to mature and change others, or do you try to help God out and rush things along a bit? My prayer in closing is that these would be the focus of your life more so than the doctrinal, exegetical and hermeneutical issues presented about double-predestination. If I can’t live, eat, drink, breathe and feel like Christ, then what I believe is meaningless. You may disagree with me about my view. You may disagree with others who hold similar views. But love them as Christ loves you! He loved you and gave Himself for you. So love others and give yourself for them! Do it for the sake of the unity of the body of Christ, that body that He bled and died for. Prove the legitimacy of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus by the way you love the others for whom He died. Your relationship with other Christians has been made inseparable due to the blood. So treat them as such and never turn back.