Friday, July 4, 2014

Called Out...Together (2 of 2)

In Part 1, Jesus challenge for His hearers to be more righteous than the Pharisees was discussed. In Matthew 5.21-26, Jesus commands us to leave the alter if we realize someone has an issue against us. What is the connection to church membership? How does this relate to church unity? 

Jesus challenge against the Pharisees was made because what they did only external. He later calls them white-washed tombs. Their attitude was horrible. The command Jesus discusses was the 6th Commandment given on Mt Sinai (Do Not Murder). But Jesus gets deeper than the act of murder...He goes to the issue of anger. Jesus said:
  1. to be angry (without cause) with a brother is similar to murder
  2. to call a brother a fool (Raca) was equivalent with committing murder

The issue with Jesus is the heart. Church members must have a proper attitude to have true unity. In the first verses of this section (21-23) Jesus is talking about a member of the religious community – especially his disciples. That translates to you and me as members of His church. This doesn't imply that it is ok to be at odds with those who are not believers. Primarily, it implies if we understand the work that Jesus has done for us and other believers, how could we feel that way about someone else? How can others come to know that God loves them when we, as God's people can't love one another? After all, John 13.34 is a new commandment to love one another. We must also consider that Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. So, whether the person is a Christian or not, a member of this church or not, etc...we are not to “murder” them – by action, by words, or by thought (murder is premeditated).

The next verses (23-24) are some of the most shocking in the Bible. Jesus doesn't just suggest that we leave the alter to make amends with others, He commands it. What humility one must have! What courage one must have! Perhaps, that is why it is so often ignored.

Think about what Jesus is saying...if you are at the altar. For us, you are in the midst of worship. It is time for the offering, you are ready to give your gift – to the Lord, and you remember that someone else has something against you, go to that person.

It doesn't say if you have something against the other person...although I think we can infer that here. It says, if you know that someone else has something against you.

It doesn't say that what they have against you is right, is real, or anything like that. It says if you know your brother (or sister) – again Christian brother or sister – has something against you – leave your gift...then after you have talked with the other person, then come back and offer your gift to God.

To be that kind of person – that kind of member – requires a great deal of humility and courage. It may force you to say, “I don't know what I have done to offend you, but I am sorry.” And that may set off a firestorm in your face. It may be just the excuse the other person needs to unload a bunch of dirty laundry on you. That takes GUTS! Why? Because this passage does not say that we have the right to return an unloading of dirty laundry on them.

And here action is as important as attitude. Jesus doesn't say, “Well, I understand if you are already at church, you can wait until after you worship me.” No, He says, “If you want to truly worship me, then you need to set your other relationships in order.” Maybe this is what John was thinking about when he wrote that we can't truly love God if we don't love others. (1 John 4.19-21).

Does this sound like the kind of membership that is present in our churches? Not for most. But this is the way God designed it. This is how Jesus wants His church built. Jesus wants church members are to be reconciled - to one another as well as to God.

A key aspect of this passage is the need to avoid judgment. By reconciling with others we might avoid imprisonment (v26); by reconciling with God, through Christ, we avoid hell (v22).

Yet, we can not succeed on the basis of our own righteousness. Ultimately, this passage is more about Jesus sharing what true righteousness involves. He is telling the people that they must be more righteous than the pharisees, and then He proceeds to give a couple of examples that show attitude to be on par with action. You can't just have the actions, you must have the attitude. It is a matter of the heart. And our heart (attitude) can only be changed by yielding our life to Christ - allowing Him, and His righteousness, to reign in our lives.

To whom do you need to reconcile. To whom do you need to offer forgiveness. Certainly, it takes both sides to truly reconcile and not everyone will be receptive. But Paul's statement in Romans 12.18 provides some counsel here: "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all."

May we be a people that truly reflective of the new commandment - "Love one another." (John 13.34)

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