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Thursday, April 5, 2007

"Watch Yourselves."

I ran across a post last week that struck a chord with me It’s a very familiar chord – one that most of us have heard play out at some point in the songs of our Christian lives, but never really stopped to appreciate. See if you recognize it.

In her post, Wherein the Post That Was Deleted is Now Restored, Lisa Writes describes an incident where she inadvertently offended someone yet never learned what she’d done to cause the offense and offers us a song of wisdom out of that event.

Anyone who has read She Lives for any amount of time is probably sick of hearing me say it on my blog, but I’ll say it again anyway. (You knew I would, right?)

Offense is probably the single most effective weapon in satan’s arsenal for dividing Christ’s Church.

There! I said it.

The English word ‘offense’ is translated from the Greek word skandalon from which comes the root of the English word scandal. One example of where this word skandalon is used in the Bible is at the beginning of the 17th chapter of Luke. Jesus words, “…things that cause people to sin…” is translated from the word skandalon. Literally, skandalon means “the part of a trap on which the bait is attached, and hence, the trap or snare itself…” (Strongs Exhaustive Concordance)

What Christ says about offense here is, “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come.” Woe! I don’t want no woe, do you? But offense is bound to come and woe to all those offense-type folks! The New King James Translation puts it like this, “It is impossible that no offense should come.” In this fallen world, there are times when we are going to offend people. And there are times when we are going to be offended. Offense happens in two ways; we can give offense or we can take it. Either way, offense becomes a trap!

Christ goes on to say, “It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.” The “little ones” described here comes from the Greek word mikros, meaning “…of persons with regard to station or age…” (ibid) So, He could have been talking about children, but in the context these verses fall in, it stands to reason He’s talking about station – the spiritually young. In some ways, that could mean anybody. Each of us is spiritually young in some area. My biggest area of spiritual immaturity comes in the area of mercy. That area of my life in Christ needs to grow! Maybe someone else is spiritually young in their inability to avoid being offended?

The sins caused by offense? How about unforgiveness, resentment, gossip, manipulation, malice, slander, divisiveness, betrayal, hard-heartedness, coloring the facts, ….Oh! And according to the greatest two commandments, failure to love a neighbor as oneself. That’s serious stuff to be causing by either offending or becoming offended, I’d say. Some serious stumbling blocks, indeed!

Paul does a little re-cap of this thinking in his letter to the Roman church: “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.” Romans 14:13

Jesus then cautions His audience – His disciples – to “Watch yourselves.” Why the warning? Because they would be His emissaries, the preachers and teachers appointed to continue His kingdom agenda after His resurrection and ascension. Once He fulfilled his purpose for entering human history as a man, they were supposed to be the spiritually mature ones.

I love how He did not say, “Watch them.” Watch out for them, watch to catch them doing something wrong, watch that they don't mess you over, hold them under a microscope…. No. He said, “Watch yourselves.” It’s mirror time!

I love how Jesus issues that very convicting warning, then follows up with instruction. He doesn’t just tell the disciples what not to do, He also tells them what they are to do: If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him.”

The word for rebuke used here is epitimao. (Hang with me on the Greek stuff, okay?) Its meaning is different than another New Testament word for rebuke, elegcho, which has a much harsher meaning. Epitimao does not involve convicting a person, but rather confronting them. If they repent seven times….

Wait! Seven times in one day? Doesn’t seem like true repentance, does it? I guess He didn’t say for us to judge whether it’s true repentance or not though, did He?

Forgiveness is a huge issue. Much bigger than this post will allow. But I have one question: Are we to undermine Christ’s work on the cross by clinging to our offenses and refusing to forgive when Christ’s death was sufficient to pay the price?

Today is Good Friday, commemorating Christ’s death. Let’s think about that a little. Was His death enough to pay for whatever it is that offended us? Is it paid in full? Or do we need to do something else? Like hold a grudge? Like tell others about how wronged we were? Or how bad someone else is? What, exactly, is there left to do? (Okay. So, that was more than one question.)

The disciples’ response to Christ’s instruction is probably the most convicting thing about this entire passage for me. They didn’t go on about how all the Pharisees were persecuting them or about how insulting people were in some places where they’d served in ministry with Christ. They didn’t point out how the Roman government was oppressing God’s people or how wicked their world had become. They didn’t blame each other. They didn't dis' their church. They didn’t look for ways to twist scripture around to make themselves look good and make other folks look bad.

Their simple response: “Increase our faith!”

  • It takes a lot of faith to forgive those who have offended us.
  • It takes a lot of faith to humbly approach someone and apologize for any offense we may have caused them, whether we agree with their take on the situation or not.
  • It takes a lot of faith to bend our knees and ask the Holy Spirit to give us a heart of love for our fellow Christians rather than a heart of judgment and condemnation.
  • It takes a lot of faith to know the words “Father forgive them,” applies to each one of us.
  • It takes a lot of faith to really, truly believe His death was sufficient.

Maybe that’s a lot more faith than we can ever have apart from Christ. He’s the master musician playing the perfect chords in all the right places. Especially when it comes to grace and forgiveness. Listen to the chord He strikes:

Watch yourselves.”

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Blogger Laurel Wreath said...

Great post Carol, it is so true division among Christians is one of the best tools the Satan uses. And forgiveness is just as difficult.

I love it when you said, Are we to undermine Christ’s work on the cross by clinging to our offenses and refusing to forgive when Christ’s death was sufficient to pay the price?


April 6, 2007 at 1:35 PM  
Anonymous eph2810 said...

Yes, forgiveness and mercy takes a lot of faith.
I truly believe that His death was suffcient, nothing else for me to do. I know that I have been forgiven much, so I need to forgive. Sure I have been offended...and in some cases it took me a while to forgive (in one case almost a year). Some times it is easy to say that "I forgive you", but I have to have His guidance to really mean it...Does that even make sence (it does in my head)....

Thank you for a wonderful reflection of forgiveness on this Good Friday.

Blessings to you and yours this Easter weekend.

April 6, 2007 at 2:36 PM  
Blogger Denise said...

This was awesome, thank you.

April 6, 2007 at 2:52 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Really great thoughts--no one can offend us without our permission :)

April 6, 2007 at 4:43 PM  
Blogger Christine said...

Wow, Carol, I got out my steak knife and fork for this one! I loved all of the Greek you tossed in- I'm always seeking the real meaning of the words and passages in scripture. Being one on the staff of a church, this is perfect for me to chew on for a while. Thanks for all of the thought and love that went into this post!

April 6, 2007 at 7:30 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

Thank you for this. This was great.

April 6, 2007 at 7:37 PM  
Blogger Darlene said...

You are truly a woman of the Word, that's what I LOVE about you. I really do, Carol. You are one of my blogging mentors, and I praise God for you often. My Greek lexicon is sitting on a shelf in my closet. I was once a Greek guru, and you've inspired me once again to pull it out and dig deep into the scriptures.

April 6, 2007 at 10:26 PM  
Blogger The Preacher's Wife said...

"It takes a lot of faith to humbly approach someone and apologize for any offense we may have caused them, whether we agree with their take on the situation or not."

Girl, does it ever....and I'm loving that you are loving your lexicon...:)) It, my Bible, and CS Lewis are my best buds...

April 8, 2007 at 9:13 PM  

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