Bible Reading Blog
How Often Should I Forgive?Monday, April 22, 2019
BIBLE READING: Matthew 18
“Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18.21)
To forgive may be one of the most challenging things Jesus expects us to do. It requires selflessness, maturity and wisdom. Maybe I’m willing verbalize forgiveness, but am I willing to truly let go of the negative emotions I have towards another?
I would guess that Peter’s question accentuates a fallacy many of us have about forgiveness. His question of “how many times should I forgive” implies that we have the right to limit our forgiveness. But what Peter misunderstood is forgiveness is not a matter of quantity but quality.
To expose Peter's fallacy, Jesus’ tells a parable about a servant who owes an enormous debt to the king (Matthew 18.21-34). The servant is unable to pay, but the king has pity on him and absolves the entire debt (Matthew 18.25-27). However, this servant fails to reciprocate the mercy shown to him and the king’s attitude towards him changes quickly. “…should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Matthew 18.33)
The point of the parable is this: we are the servant with an unpayable debt, and God in his mercy has cancelled that debt (Colossians 2.13-14). Even though we regularly fall short of God’s expectations (Romans 3.23) he continues to show mercy and forgiveness. But we don’t just get to revel in this grace. We are expected to reciprocate this attitude towards others (Matthew 5.7, 18.33).
After all, if God forgives me when I don’t deserve it (Romans 5.8), what right do I have to limit my forgiveness? What grounds do I have for withholding mercy from another? I have none, except on a selfish basis. My decision to withhold forgiveness from anyone would be thoughtless of what God has done for me.
To truly forgive we must recognize the gracious nature and purpose of God’s forgiveness. He doesn’t want our lives to be devastated by the effects of sin. And so, we must allow his mercy to change our hearts. Forgiveness must not be a power we wield against others or set limits on. It must be a way of life that shares what God has done for us!
If we are honest, there are times when we find ourselves behaving like the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18.28-30). However, if we withhold forgiveness, we not only spurn the opportunity to reconcile with others and find peace, we are snubbing God which has serious consequences (Matthew 18.32-35).
How do you treat people when they let you down or do you wrong? Do you keep a running tally of whether or not they are behaving in a way that keeps them in your good graces, or do you practice true forgiveness? I think our natural leaning is to think like Peter and set limits, but what Jesus is saying is that forgiveness is not a matter of how many times, but simply how. We must forgive others from the heart because we have been abundantly and mercifully forgiven by God (Matthew 18.33, 35).
Positioned to ServeMonday, April 15, 2019
BIBLE READING: Matthew 15
Powerful leaders are not typically accessible. Whether it is the CEO of a business or the president of a nation, there is a necessity to buffer the leader from everyday issues so they can focus on things of greater import. Naturally this creates separation, and often times in the shielding process the leader loses their connection with the people who have boots on the ground.
This was not the case with Jesus. Like many great leaders, as Jesus’ fame increased, his presence became more in demand. He became so sought out he couldn’t go anywhere without being accompanied by crowds (Matthew 14.13). On top of that, many of these people were sick and diseased (Matthew 15.30). It would be an uncomfortable position for many of us, and Jesus’ disciples didn’t think it was proper for a man of his position to be exposed to these things (Matthew 15.23).
But Jesus welcomed these situations. He intentionally walked by the sea and made time to be where the people were (Matthew 15.29). He healed the sick and had compassion on the crowds that followed him (Matthew 14.14; 15.30-32). Jesus made it a point to maintain his connection to the common person. Why? Didn’t he need to make sure his position was protected? Didn’t he have greater things to be concerned with?
From a worldly perspective, he should have become more inaccessible as his popularity increased. But the exact opposite happened. Rather than lording his authority over them, Jesus positioned himself to be a servant of the people. He invested more and more in the weaknesses and needs of the people to demonstrate his desire for their good. His choice to remain in-touch reveals the nature and purpose of his kingship was greater than just building a movement or creating distinction. It was about building community through service, and that started with him.
It is both inspiring and challenging that Jesus chose to serve rather than be served (Matthew 20.28). His compassion should prompt us to consider the motivation of our hearts. If I’ve learned anything from King Jesus, it is that we should never look at a person as trivial or insignificant.
Do we practice this with our lives? A smile, a kind word, a helping hand – even just an acknowledgment of someone’s existence! – can go a long way in serving others and building relationships. I fear sometimes we get caught up in doing “greater things” and overlook the seemingly “insignificant” opportunities right in front of us. However, to do so is to overlook the example of our king.
Jesus saw the value of every person and was always seeking an opportunity to serve. In our lives there are countless opportunities to serve in the kingdom (Matthew 9.37-38), but we must have eyes that see, hearts that care, and we must build lives that are accessible to others. Jesus positioned himself to serve others… are we following his lead?
I Desire MercyMonday, April 08, 2019
BIBLE READING: Matthew 12
Not long ago, a friend of mine snuck up from behind, put his arm around my neck and lifted me off the ground. For a small guy like me, there is not a more helpless feeling than being put in a choke hold by someone twice your size. In that moment I was powerless. Although he was just messing with me, a terrifying realization occurred to me: If someone stronger than me doesn’t show mercy, I am dead meat!
It is a humbling experience to realize your own helplessness. I believe that is why we tend to mask our insecurities with comparison and pride. If I can establish myself as better, stronger, more talented in some way than another, I won’t feel vulnerable or inadequate. In fact, I can take pride in some aspect of my life that I feel adept.
This is an attitude for which Jesus rebukes the Pharisees in Matthew 12. They had established themselves as “experts” in the law and were looking for ways to assert their position (Matthew 12.10)... but Jesus points out their fundamental flaw. “…if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless” (Matthew 12.7)
Sacrifices were a critical part of worship, but they were not the point. The system of worship was intended to keep the worshipper focused on God. The Pharisees, however, had overemphasized their part in worship and underemphasized the point: all men need mercy from God.
By nature, God is superior to all. He could speak a word and we would cease to exist. When we seriously consider that point, we should feel helpless. If God does not show mercy, where does that leave us? And yet, despite his preeminence, God doesn’t flaunt His power. He is patient and compassionate to everyone and doesn’t show any partiality (Romans 2.11). Which begs the question: Why does God show mercy? It is because there is intentionality to God's mercy!
We are powerless before the Almighty God, but that does not mean we are useless (Ephesians 2.4-10). We all have things we are good at, and we should use those talents to serve others; but we must realize that God doesn’t want us merely to follow a checklist or offer our lives as sacrifices. He wants us to be changed in our hearts and become more like him. His mercy with us should move us to show greater mercy towards others (Luke 6.36). Do you think of your gifts and abilities as a way to reflect the merciful nature of God?
If I am not humbled by the great disparity between my abilities and God’s infinite power, just like the Pharisees, I will never show mercy to others. I will always emphasize what I can do and minimize God. I may appear sacrificial but only to be well-thought of by others. But humility creates perspective that helps us to see our own limitations and live in light of God’s mercy towards us.
“Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5.7)
You Will Find RestMonday, April 01, 2019
Bible Reading: Matthew 10-11
There is tremendous upside to following Jesus. It is evident in Matthew's gospel that Jesus has the ability to fulfill any and every human need… but he doesn’t simply invite people to be spectators to his greatness. Jesus challenges his disciples to engage in the work with him (Matthew 10.24-25, 38). The longer people followed Jesus, the deeper he pressed them towards that commitment.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me…” (Matthew 11.29). Jesus' metaphor is a challenging depiction of discipleship. A yoke was a rigid tool for linking animals together for greater strength; but it was more the instrument of discipline than of work. The yoke kept the animals from distraction or deviation, and helped keep them moving the same direction. Jesus’ call for disciples to put on his yoke sends a clear message: He expects them to be disciplined and working in tandem with him.
The yoke is about learning to conform to his way of life. Just like a yoke keeps one animal from taking a joy-ride through the weeds, Jesus’ words teach us to reject the path we want to go and walk the path towards the Father. His teaching only imposes when we are pulling away from him. If we are trying to serve Jesus, there are times when we ought to feel the discomfort from his expectations because we are trying to go a different way.
The devil wants you to think that struggle is a bad thing. He wants you to think that following Jesus should always produce positive results in your life... and the reality is, if we are not allowing the words of Jesus to teach and train us (Titus 2.11-12), we will not experience the struggle that his discipline brings. In fact, we may live comfortable lives filled with pleasure and enjoyment... but we will never find rest.
That’s Jesus’ point. We can hustle all we want and live how we want, but without him we will experience no lasting value from our efforts (Matthew 11.28). Only in working and walking with him do we find purpose and peace.
The choice to follow Jesus must be a balanced decision, that does not overemphasize his work or negate our involvement. He expects us to work, but he does not force us to put on the yoke. However, when we submit to Jesus and learn from him, we find what our soul truly desires.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11.29).
Recognizing a Greater PowerMonday, March 25, 2019
Bible Reading: Matthew 8
Men of power are typically known for their egos, not their humility. However, in Matthew 8 we see a Roman centurion – a man of great power – approach Jesus and beg for help (Matthew 8.5). He is so humbled by the power of Jesus that he does not even feel worthy to have Jesus come to his house (Matthew 8.8).
Historically, centurions were common men who worked their way up through the ranks and established themselves as leaders. Their authority was such that they could tell people what to do and it would be done, no questions asked (Matthew 8.9). And so, for this man to appeal to Jesus implies he recognizes a greater authority.
The lesson in this story is found in Jesus’ response to this man. Jesus equates the centurion’s understanding of authority to his faith. “[Jesus] marveled and said… “with no one in Israel have I found such faith!”” (Matthew 8.10). Why is that? It’s because respect for the authority of Jesus is fundamental to faith.
Authority is a negative word in our Western society. In fact, in 21st century America, to imply that someone has power to tell me how to live my life is almost un-American! However, the negative attitude towards authority is ignorant and unnecessary. If we value freedom, we must also appreciate the fact that you can't offer freedom without the power to do so.
In our walk of faith, the authority of Jesus is critical to the freedom from sin we desire. Jesus has been given "all authority in heaven and on earth…” (Matthew 28.18), but, like the centurion, we must recognize his power, and be humble enough to submit to it. Do we realize what it means to be under the authority of Jesus?
I fear that our American ideals often devalue the need for authority, and that bleeds over into our faith. We read the scriptures more like suggestions than commands from our king… but Jesus’ power to tell men what to do is paramount to any other authority. We cannot take solace in the grace he gives if we do not demonstrate that we respect his authority to offer it!
Our faith is demonstrated when we humbly submit to the authority of Jesus. This means when he says “Go”, we go; when he says, “Do this”, we do it. This means when we read the words of Jesus, we don’t take them as suggestions but as commands from our king, for our good. It is not enough to read the words of Jesus, say “Amen” and move along unchanged. If Jesus is your Savior and your King, he deserves your respect and obedience.
When you read the words of Jesus, are you looking for your marching orders or are you reading for pleasure? Do the words of Jesus significantly impact your decisions and your life? He has authority to tell us what to do… and we must take that seriously.