Periodically, I go through my Facebook friends and begin a process of deleting those I rarely talk with or those who asked to befriend me just because I may have posted a church picture or two of them and they want to download it for their records. But then there are those, who somehow just got on my nerves by something they posted, said, or did to me and I’m fed up with them. I hit that unfriend button so fast, it will make your head swirl.
Church folks have some of these same bad habits, Rick Morley says they express them like this:
If another member of the church sins against you…just talk about them behind their back.
If another member of the church sins against you…just call a bunch of people in the church to complain about them. You may even want to start a letter-writing campaign against them.
If another member of the church sins against you…just send them a nasty email. Copy the clergy. And, while you’re at it, CC the bishop. If another member of the church sins against you…don’t say anything. Just avoid them. And, if you can’t avoid them on Sundays, then just leave the church.
Is that the way a grace community or a friendship is maintained. No, that’s not how friendships are maintained either in the world or in the church. And that’s not what Jesus directed us when conflicts arise among friends. . Un-friend them on Facebook, not just yet.
Jesus gives an approach for his believers to follow. I dare say it can be used in the secular world as well, and should be when possible. Listen to those verses of scripture in Matthew 18:15-20 once again, only this time from the Message Bible Translation:
15-17 “If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.
18-20 “Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this. When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.”
Now then Jesus gives us three actions we should all apply in our lives as Christians, as disciples of Jesus when conflict arise among brethren and I dare say even among those who are not saved, who are not followers of Christ. Are you ready? Let me give them to you right now.
First, Jesus says don’t procrastinate, don’t wait until the other person contacts you, but you go immediately as a disciple of his to reconcile with that brother or sister. I once saw a caption wherein the leader of an organization (a pastor, a steward, stewardess, trustee, or some other leader) had convened a meeting and got involved in a heated conversation which ended with both of them at odds with each other. In the cartoon the leader is sitting at his desk with marks of frustration and anger protruded out of his head staring at the phone. The caption read, “He’ll call and apologize because I haven’t done anything wrong.” Needless to say the phone never rang.
Have you ever found yourself waiting on someone to come to you and apologize because you knew you were in the right and that other person was wrong? Lord, have mercy! You are out of order as a disciple of Jesus because Jesus puts the onus on the believer to begin the reconciliation process without thought for who was right or wrong. Jesus knows there’s something more at stake that who was right or who was wrong. And Jesus knows that procrastination only causes the tear to widen, the sore to worsen, and the wound to become gangrene.
Secondly, Jesus says if you two can’t work it out alone, then bring in another believer as a mediator. Why another believer? Because a believer will have both of your interests at heart but God’s interest more than either of you. In fact Jesus says take two if you don’t trust the judgment of one believer. So I recommend each of you get some objective believer, someone you trust, to hear both sides of the case and then help you determine a way to regain your love and trust of one another. It’s all about reconciliation. Don’t unfriend them on Facebook, not just yet.
Third, Jesus says if all else fails take the issue to the church. Why? Because gossip, rumors, spread hatred among brothers and sisters who are already at odds with one another. No one wants to attend church with someone they have been offended by and that person is acting as if nothing happened. For that reason a lot of people stay away from church and a lot of persons stay away from meetings and gatherings that they once enjoyed. That in a real sense is the reason some of these pews are empty this morning. Offense has occurred and the matter did not get resolved in a timely manner.
It is in the church, God’s house of worship and praise where disputes should be settled among friends and brethren. It is after a time of prayer, listening, and each person having a forum for understanding wherein disputes can be squelched and people brought back together. The only person who wins when there are harsh words, animosity among brothers is the devil. The church loses its love fellowship, but satan has the opportunity to gain a new convert with a hardened heart. When friends are separated because of an unresolved issue, it is not resolved because you unfriend them. It lingers in the heart until bitterness, anger, and resentment take root. It is at this point that people who were meant to be your friends for life, become strangers in your life. And with this God is not pleased.
Jesus reminds believers that their words are eternal; chalked full of eternal implications. Death and life are in the power of the tongue and just unfriending that person is not the answer. Vowing to never have anything else to do with that person is a cancer awaiting activation by the lies and misperceptions the devil will feed each of those who are in dispute. What kind of witness does a believer have who is at odds with a fellow believer and then refuses to reconcile? It is not a witness in favor of our God and His Christ. Of that you can be sure?
So you may now be ready to go deeper with me. What is the real reason Jesus insists on reconciliation among believers? Let me tell you; I don’t want to keep you in suspense. It is because of forgiveness. Forgiveness is the key to a community of grace; without forgiveness the church will never accomplish its mission. Forgiveness is the lynchpin, the pillar, the foundation upon which the church was created. The church is to not only offer forgiveness to the world, but to each other as well.
The Exodus text is instructive. Just as God forgave the children of Israel and delivered them out of bondage to Egypt, God has forgiven you and me. God has been so good to us. God has looked beyond our faults and seen our need. God has blessed us in spite of us. The Bible says, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Can you imagine that God has changed your destiny from hell to heaven, poverty to prosperity, mourning to gladness? God has done this for us my friends, Hallelujah!
God has forgiven you of a sin debt that was to condemn your soul to hell. This gospel that I preach to you this morning confirms “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” This gospel guarantees: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Therefore, beloved, when we don’t forgive it is because we have forgotten how much God has forgiven us. When we don’t forgive, we’re in danger of condemnation. Hear the gospel of forgiveness found in Luke 6:37-38 (The Message Bible)
37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
To be so angry with your brother or sister that you are willing to unfriend them rather than to hear them is unconscionable for a believer. God expects better of you than that. Jesus expects better of you than that. And you should expect better of yourself than that. You should desire to ensure that every brother or sister, every child of the living God has the opportunity to benefit from the same salvation that you now possess. I urge you today to remember what God has done for you and learn to reconcile, don’t unfriend them just yet.
Move 4 (Conclusion)
The children of Israel celebrate Passover to remind them of the forgiveness of God and the deliverance that accompanies people when they have been set free. Unforgiveness imprisons but forgiveness liberates.
Christians come together around the Lord’s Table to share a Communion Meal. We share the bread and the cup to remind us of what Jesus did for us. How he suffered, bled, and died on the cross so that we might be reconciled to God. Because of what Jesus did we are forgiven. His shed blood is the atonement for our sins.
But beloved, we have to walk out that atonement. We have to forgive one another. Forgiveness is the glue that binds the hearts of Christians together. We all make mistakes, we all offend others from time to time and when that happens, forgiveness is in order. If you know that someone has offended you, don’t unfriend them just yet. Why not offer them forgiveness; that same chance at reconciliation that God offers you through Jesus Christ.
I join the Apostle Paul in saying, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Jesus wants to forgive you of your sins and likewise Jesus wants us to forgive one another. You may be someone who would like to come and surrender that anger, bitterness, resentment to Jesus. You may be someone who has held on to some hurt for years or for a moment. I want you to kneel right where you are and ask Jesus to forgive you and strengthen you so you can reconcile with your friend. Do it now, and receive God’s forgiveness and power. Do it now and be free from condemnation and guilt. Or you may have unfriended someone and now the relationship seems lost. But I serve a God who can heal a broken relationship, a broken friendship. You can recover that friendship in Jesus Name! This is your time, pray now.