Scripture Reading: Genesis 32 1-13
How do you react when someone is giving you a hard time? What do you do? I know that during my life I have come across all sorts of different characters and some have been so helpful and wonderful Christians, (and many have not professed any religion), but there have been those who are so intolerant and unforgiving, and some of those are regular church attenders! There are times I would like to tell them what I really think of them but then I realize that I am not just representing myself, I am representing God. He wants us to develop a Christ-like character so we have to persevere through the negative feelings we have and most of all be patient. Easier said than done isn’t it? Ellen White* said in Manuscript 1, 1891:
“The trials of life are God’s workmen to remove the impurities, infirmities and roughness from our characters and fit them for the society of pure, heavenly angels in glory….
and she asks us how many dishonour Christ and misrepresent his character in the home circle? (I could also add in the Church!)
….how many do not manifest patience, forbearance, forgiveness and true love! How many have their likes and dislikes and feel at liberty to manifest their own perverse disposition rather than to reveal the will, the works of Christ. The life of Jesus is full of kindness and love. Are we growing a divine nature?
As human’s we can be great actors. We can put on a face that hides our true feelings; therefore it is not always easy to discern the real person that is standing before us?
Jesus welcomed everyone but amongst those he invited into his presence was a Judas, who would betray him. Satan has put his ‘Judases’ into all Christian churches. They come for the loaves and the fishes – the bread and the wine. They enjoy being a part of a ‘club’ where they feel comfortable and hide their real motives under a cloak of righteousness but stealthily spread their venom to feel superior. Of course we don’t know who these are and we may never know until the wheat is separated from the chaff. Therefore we should never make personal judgements about anyone because we are not their judge. God alone knows the motives of everyone who professes his name.
Being human, means we are of nature or natural and - we don’t have a perfect character. So natural can mean faulty. Consequently, we can genuinely dislike another member of our church or for that matter anyone. That person may have done something that we don’t agree with. It may only have been a small thing but it was enough to justify the dislike. After all we all do things differently and that difference can cause friction. So what should we do or how should we act toward that person when it is so hard for us to even like him or her? What does the bible teach us? In Luke 6:31 it says:
Treat others the way that you would like to be treated. (Paraphrase)
A few weeks ago, George gave a good sermon in which he stated that the God we believe in and believes to be, is the God that will be reflected in our characters. In these past few years, we have seen what many in the Muslim faith consider their God to be. He is a God of punishment and retribution who does not tolerate his children doing things against him. Many believe that they are his instruments to punish those who do not follow the precepts of their holy book, which they believe is God’s will for their faith. For the Muslim there can be no grey areas in belief because God will rain fire and brimstone onto those who step outside his requirements. Many believe it is the duty of a devout Muslim to do what they think their God wants them to do, which is to kill those who do not follow their religion.
I am not saying this to condemn individual Muslim’s who follow their God peacefully, but it is increasingly clear that their God is not the Christian God of the Bible! However, for some Christians, the Muslim God is no different from the Christian God because they believe he is a god to be feared and should never be crossed. Of course most Christian’s and Muslim’s don’t go around killing with bombs or guns, but if we believe God is a vengeful and intolerant god, who gives permission for his children to hurt others, then we are no better than those who believe the same. If we think the Christian God is a god of punishment, then we will show this god in our words and actions. We can damage someone without even touching them. Words of dislike in someone’s ear can destroy a person’s character and that is the same as killing them.
As Christians we are the elect of God. We are ‘born again’ with a spirit character and these new characters are to be holy, merciful, kind, humble, long suffering and patient. (2 Timothy 2:24; James 5:7). We are to bear with one another so if anyone has a complaint against someone, as Christ forgave us, should we not forgive them? (Colossians 3:12-13).
Many people have left the church and given up on god because they see him as a tyrant who will eventually kill those who disobey his law and this has been confirmed to them by some of those who profess Christ.
A few weeks ago I was speaking with a member of my wife’s family who was brought up in the Seventh Day Adventist church but no longer believes. She expressed her fear that God would destroy her because she no longer attended church. I could understand her dilemma because when I was outside the Seventh Day Adventist church, those of my wife’s family who started the church in South Shields had a similar understanding of God that resembled the tyrant God that many today still believe in.
When I was studying the religion, fear or God’s punishment came across strongly and his love and forgiveness of our sins seemed to me only to be given by God if we subjected ourselves to him in fear. Do we still have legalists in the church today? The answer is a definite yes, and not only is the problem confined to one Christian church.
Of course as I got to know God through His Son, my fears melted in his abiding love. However, I know of some who still cannot reconcile a God of love as shown in Christ with the character of the Father as written in the Old Testament.
Our attitude to others shows the type of person we are! The fruits of a tree are in full view when ripe, so our characters can be seen to be good or bad. If someone leaves the church because of some disagreement, and does not return, then the person who caused a member to leave will be held accountable for their soul. In answer to Cain’s reply to God after he killed Abel (Genesis 4:9), ‘Yes’ we are our brothers and sisters keepers. It is therefore our Christian duty that we never be the cause of someone leaving the church.
Every Sabbath we preach God’s love and forgiveness, but do we show it in our words and actions? Jesus taught us to forgive and even incorporated this into the Lord’s prayer. (Matthew 6:5-14). If we are devoid of forgiveness, then we cannot repeat the Lord’s prayer without being a hypocrite!
In our Bible reading, we read of Jacob’s fear of his brother Esau. He prayed to God for deliverance from his perceived anger he thought that Esau had against him because he had stolen his birth-right. Jacob had been commanded by God to go back and reconcile with Esau and He would favour him. In later chapters we can read of Jacob’s wrestling with an angel of God, which was no doubt due to struggling with his conscience after he had fled in exile to his uncles house, believing his brother would kill him. It was a long time before Jacob was courageous enough to return home and this was God prompting him to do so. Can you put yourself in Jacob’s shoes? What would you if someone, especially a member of your own family, had stolen something of value from you? Would you be angry at them, or forgive them? Although Jacob had been impressed to return home and reconcile with Esau, he was still anxious because he did not know how he would be received by his brother. Many of us live in fear of our past sins catching up with us or as I have said before, hold a grudge against someone who has done something wrong to us. We can’t let go and move on with our lives.
Jacob wasn’t at all sure about Esau; and even though he had been assured of divine protection (Genesis 33), when he heard that Esau was coming out with 400 men he divided his people into two groups so that if Esau attacked one group the other could escape! How often do we imagine the worst that can happen to us and give God no credit for the fact that he can heal all the wounds and fix our problems? His trust in God was so limited, that he felt he had to take action himself. But look what happened, God had already sorted the problem out long before Jacob had decided to return home. Esau had already forgiven his brother. Whilst Jacob by stealing his brothers birth-right, had fled into hard service Esau prospered and became a prince. Jacob wanted to pacify his brother by saying he didn’t insist upon his birth-right. He was trying to put right the wrong he had done his brother. The Wisdom of Solomon states that if someone rises up against you when you have offended them, don’t go out against them. Make a peace offering. (Ecclesiastes 10:4). This is what Jacob was trying to do but he did not know that Esau had already forgiven him. Had Jacob trusted God, he would not have been anxious.
Forgiveness does not mean that we will forget, but by forgiving we heal ourselves. We transfer our flawed system of justice to God’s system and in the process our lives begin to change. You see we want justice for the hurt that we have received. As humans that justice is to give back the same to the person who has hurt us. We wrestle with the idea of forgiveness but in our hearts we want to hurt that person. We want to see him or her squirm and be hurt more than they hurt us. That’s the devil’s way and because we are sinners, many times we think and act like the devil. His justice is cruel and unjust. Some say that God is cruel and unjust – after all doesn’t the Bible tell us that we should give and Eye for an Eye and a Tooth for a Tooth? (Exodus 21:23-25; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21).
As I have previously said, many Christian’s today cannot reconcile a loving and caring God in the form of Jesus, with the God of the Old Testament? But let’s stop and think for a moment - what does an Eye for an Eye and a Tooth for a Tooth actually mean in practice?
An Eye for an Eye and a Tooth for a Tooth was in relation to the Mosaic Law used by the Jews in their justice system. What it really meant was ‘the punishment should fit the crime’. There has been nothing found that this law was every carried out literally. As God had already established a justice system to hear cases and determine penalties in Exodus 18:21-27, - the system of justice he set up would have been unnecessary if he had intended a literal Eye for an Eye and a Tooth for a Tooth penalty.
However, in the New Testament era, it seems that the Pharisees taught this principle as applicable to personal relationships. It is probably from them that many still follow this saying as though it had a literal meaning! To the Pharisee, it was acceptable to take personal revenge on someone who had hurt you. Consequently, if someone punched you, it was acceptable to punch them back. To give an insult for insult. But Jesus, in His Sermon on the Mount, contradicted the understanding of this teaching about personal relationships when he said:
“You have heard that it was said: ‘an Eye for an Eye and a Tooth for a Tooth, but I tell you, do not resist and evil person…… Jesus then goes on to reveal the truth about God’s heart concerning interpersonal relationships when he continues saying….
…..do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. and if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:39-4)
When Jesus gave this ‘New Command’, He did not do away with the Old Testament law (Matthew 5:17). No, he was separating the responsibility of government (which was to punish evil doers – justly), from our personal responsibility that each one of us have towards one another. Instead of ‘getting even’ we are to love our enemies. Enforcing an Eye for an Eye is the magistrate’s job, forgiving is personal between individuals who do not see eye to eye or have been physically or emotionally hurt by another.
When we read the writings of the Patriarch’s and Prophets of old, many emphasise the violence of God towards His creatures. But to understand why God had to do what he did during those times, we have to understand the time’s and the people He was dealing with. God is long-suffering, he does not act in haste or anger. He is patient and kind and never wants anyone to perish, therefore He opens the way for his children to walk on the straight path. He give’s chance after chance after chance. He never gives up on anyone but He cannot make a person stay on the right path. He gave us freedom to choose, therefore we can choose to walk a different path from the one He has chosen for us! When we choose to walk away from him, He still does not take his eyes of us and He will keep pleading with us until we no longer hear his voice. When that happens, Satan is the voice that is heard and his commands become our actions and we all know that this will lead to eternal death. This life is fraught with danger but as long as we keep our eyes focused on Jesus, we will be safe. We must realise that it is the small sins that we cherish, which can lead to bigger sins. A begrudging heart or a nasty word to someone. Ignoring someone we do not like or destroying their character with unpleasant remarks behind their backs will put us on Satan’s ground – and Satan loves it when we do these things.
It is my prayer that each one of us examines his or her own heart and be truthful to yourself. If you have a grudge or a dislike of someone, go out of your way to forgive them. It doesn’t matter what the initial problem was or who caused it – reconcile your differences. Those you forgive may never be your best buddy, in fact they may never speak to you again - but that is their problem! You have forgiven and in doing so you have healed yourself and been put right with God.
Ralph Jackson 2018
*For the life of Ellen G. White, visit: (http://whiteestate.org/about/egwbio.asp)