Romans 13:8-14 and Matthew 18:15-20
(Quoted scripture is New International Version)
In the comic strip, Andy Capp, the principal character is a chronically unemployed Englishman who spends most of his days playing soccer and most of his nights at the corner pub, both of which drive his long-suffering wife, Flo, up the wall. In one episode, Andy is pacing the floor while Flo stands with her arms crossed.
Finally, she breaks the silence: “Three whole days without speaking. This is ridiculous.” In the next frame she says to Andy, “I’m sorry I acted the way I did . . . you were right. Friends?”
A bit confused, Andy says, “OK, friends.” Flo hugs him and gives him a kiss on the cheek. As Andy leaves the house, he meets one of his soccer buddies, who says, “I’eard that, Andy. It takes a good woman to apologize when she is in the wrong.”
As they walk down the street, Andy reflects on his friend Chalkie’s remark and replies, “It takes a better one to apologize when she’s not.”
Sometimes this is the best way to solve relationship issues; to say you’re wrong and to ask forgiveness, even when it has not been you fault. Is it worth the anxiety, and sleepless nights to insist you’re right, even if you are right; or is it better to recognize that your pride is getting in the way of reconciliation and restoration of a relationship.
The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 13:8-10, ‘Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.’
Sometimes the most wonderful way we can love, is to ask forgiveness for something the other person thinks we’ve done, even if we know we have not. We all look at things from a different perspective.
Remember the example of the minister, the archaeologist, and the cowboy getting their first look at the Grand Canyon. The minister exclaimed, “Truly this is one of the glories of God!” The archaeologist commented, “What a wonder of nature this is!” And the cowboy said, “Can you imagine trying to find a lost steer in there?”
People look at life from different perspectives. People are in any moment in time, the sum of all their life experiences, and we see things from our personal point of view.
Reinhold Niebuhr, was an American theologian, commentator on politics, and public affairs and professor at Union Theological Seminary. In his book The Irony of American History, he writes, “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime: therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone, therefore, we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”
Sometimes it takes asking forgiveness from the one who has offended us, even if we’ve done nothing to them. This is the hardest thing to do, but it is the purest form of love.
Jesus said as he hung on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Remember Paul wrote at the end of this passage in Romans, “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ–” (Romans 13:14a)
If you are having relationship struggles with family members or friends or co-workers, is it worth the anxiety you’re experiencing to hang on to your pride? Clothe yourself with Jesus Christ, swallow your pride and work toward restoration. Be the example of love.
If you see someone who is a friend, especially a church member sinning, it is also pure love to help them. A woman tells of praying for a friend whom she knew had become involved in an extra-marital affair. One Sunday she happened to be sitting behind her friend in church. During the prelude, she leaned forward and put her hands lovingly on her friend’s shoulders and whispered, “Be careful that you don’t throw away something very beautiful. I’m praying for you.”
The friend involved in the affair began weeping softly and almost immediately broke off this extra-marital affair. Years later this woman attended a high school graduation. One of the young people graduating was the son of the woman who had been having the affair. This woman came up to the woman who had confronted her and gave her a big hug. “You were so right,” she said with gratitude. “If you had not spoken those words to me that day, I would have thrown away nearly everything that was important to me. Thank you so much.”
Jesus is the example of pure love, and he was also the example of tough love.
In Matthew 21, Jesus enters the temple in Jerusalem and throws out all who were buying and selling there, saying, “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’ (v. 13).
In John 3, when the Pharisee Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the dark of the night, Jesus practices tough love when he tells Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, not one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (v.3) “Everyone must be born of the Spirit.” (v.8b) In other words, you can follow God’s laws exactly and still not enter the kingdom of heaven, until you ask for and receive the Holy Spirit’s power, by confessing with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believing in your heart that God raised him from the dead. Only then can you be saved and enter the kingdom of God. (Romans 10:9)
Jesus is not only the example of pure love, and tough love, he teaches us in this Matthew 18 passage how to be examples of both to one another.
V. 15, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”
Gossiping about what others have done wrong and not confronting them one on one, is not love; and ignoring it will not make it go away. One on one, face to face conversation using words spoken in love, not condemnation, is real love. For those of us who do not like conflict, and do everything in our power to maintain the peace, even this confrontation done with love may be difficult.
Then Jesus advises a little tougher love, “But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ (v.16)
If he refuses to listen to them, Jesus says, then it’s time for real tough love. “—tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (v. 17)
As I was reading and praying about this passage, it came to mind, how did Jesus treat the pagans-the gentiles, and the tax collectors? Zacchaeus was a tax collector, whom Jesus called to come down from a tree and with whom Jesus went home to dine. Zacchaeus’ reaction to Jesus’ love resulted in this chief tax collector saying, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (v. 8) (Luke 19:1-10) Love may convict the heart and help love for God and love for neighbor to grow within that heart.
The Apostle Paul was commissioned by Jesus to take God’s love to the pagans-the gentiles, you and me. In Acts 9:15, after Saul was blinded by Jesus on the road to Damascus, the Lord said to a believer named Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” He was speaking of Saul the persecutor of the Jesus’ followers who would become Paul the missionary to the gentiles, the pagans.
How did Jesus treat the tax collectors and the pagans? He loved them. We are called to do the same. We are not to condone sin, and we may come to a place in our relationships where we have to agree to disagree and maybe even part ways. However, we must always choose love to handle relationship conflicts.
One last point to make on this passage from Matthew 18. In verse 20, Jesus tells us, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
We are not meant to practice pure love or tough love on our own. Jesus wants to be here, in the midst of our lives, in good times and in bad. If Jesus is the main focus of our life, and we strive to ‘clothe ourselves with Jesus’, everything we do, every relationship we enter into must be for the glory of God. Remember, when you don’t know what to say, ‘Just say Jesus.’ You and I are not meant to walk this earthly journey on our own. God came to us in Jesus to tell us of God’s love and to show us how to love God and one another.
Once upon a time, two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in their 40 years of working together. It began with a small misunderstanding, and grew into a major difference, and finally exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence. One morning, there was a knock on brother John’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “I’m looking for a few days’ work,” the man said. “Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there that I could help with?
Yes,” said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my younger brother! Last week, there was a meadow between us, but he took his bulldozer and dug a small river between us. Well, I’m going to do him one better. See that pile of old lumber? I want you to build an eight-foot high fence between us. Then I won’t need to see his place or his face anymore.” The carpenter said, “Show me the nails and the tools, and I’ll do a good job for you.”
The older brother had to go to town, so he left for the day. At sunset, when he returned, his eyes opened wide, and his jaw dropped. There was no fence there at all. The carpenter had built a bridge that stretched from one side of the river to the other, with handrails and all! And his younger brother, was coming toward them, his hand outstretched. “You’re quite the guy,” he said, “after all I’ve said and done.” The two brothers met in the middle, and shook each other’s hand. They turned to see the carpenter leaving. “No, wait! Stay a few days. I’ve a lot of other projects for you,” said the older brother. “I’d love to,” the carpenter said, “but I have many more bridges to build.”
Jesus wants to be in the midst of our earthly journey.
When you and I come to the end of our days, God won’t ask how many fences we made, but He will ask how many bridges we built. He will not accuse us of loving too much, but He may judge us for loving too little.
Sometimes it’s pure love, sometimes it’s tough love, however if we want to bring honor and glory to God, it is always love.
God showed us His love when he came to live among us in Jesus. Jesus taught us about love, and showed us how to love one another. May we go forth today clothed in Jesus, to love one another
Pastor Rosemary DeHut