Recently I could have bit a nail in two. You’ve been there. Which reminds me, one day I was sitting talking to my then-pastor, and lamented, “There’s not a day (or probably an hour) that goes by but that I sin!” He looked astounded, as though I had admitted to something like stealing the last bite of food a hungry family had. I just looked at him, wondering if he lived in the real world. With one glance he was telling me that he could not relate to what I had just said. Had we been Catholic, I would have suggested he go to confession and catch up.
Anyway, back to the nail. Steam was coming out my ears, but I still remembered to walk with my shoulders back, stomach in, chest out–a book on my head would have been adequate. Childhood training is hard to overcome. Heading for the door of the high-class business office, I grabbed the handle, only to have the door firmly stay in place–still locked. Apparently it was 9:29, and I had not even thought to check. Rather than turn and walk away, I yanked my foot back as if I were going to kick it through the door. At the same moment, the businessman on the other side unlocked it (I confess, I had not seen him), and calmly asked “Is this easier?” He was very sweet in the face of my intense (though well-controlled, except for the foot part) anger, and I vented for about ten minutes. I was there so long that my husband came to get me. He probably figured it was to be him, or the cops, and he preferred it be him. The truth was, I felt I was paying big bucks for useless results, and it was either say so, or burst open. I don’t doubt for a second, like the remark to my pastor, that you’ve been in the same situation, probably many times. I seldom get so furious, but there are times…
The agitation lasted every time it crossed my mind for the next several days, and as S.M. Lockridge said, “Then came Sunday.” If you want to truly know if God is at work in your church, do something wrong. If it comes out of the pulpit on Sunday, without the pastor knowing what you’ve been thinking, and hits you between the eyes, stabs in your gut, and steps on your toes, God’s there. My pastor began. Mercy. Love. Forgiveness. Restoration. You name it, he managed in the next 40 minutes to say it straight to me; the good thing was, he was saying it straight to some others as well.
It wasn’t so bad that I had gotten so angry–the situation called for righteous indignation as someone was letting an instrument of Satan hurt some children. That pushes the buttons of almost every mom and dad I know, at least those who are saved and living out their salvation. To add authorities whose hands are tied by red tape into the mix only hurts the innocent even more. But why didn’t I just turn it over to the Lord, and let Him work it out? Revenge is a human reaction that overcomes most of us at some time or other, isn’t it (at least if you’re honest)? But that doesn’t make it right. Revenge for a deed against someone who has hurt you can best be handled by giving it to God to fix. “I will repay,” He says.
Our testimony is important. I nearly blew mine with the person I talked to, until he understood my agony and frustration, and realized my anger was intense concern for justice to prevail. Otherwise, the next time he saw me, he would have labeled me (whatever…almost anything would have been sufficient.) It strongly reminded me that in the church we let frustrations and grudges affect our testimony, our name in the community, and perhaps, by way of social media, it can be heard around the world! Restoration between brothers and sisters in the church is critical to the health of the congregation. It brought to mind a memory from several years ago, when a beautiful woman I knew made a bad mistake in her life. Everyone knew it, and it became the subject of conversation throughout the community–and the church. Much later she returned to church, full of repentance and yearning for restoration, only to have one of the “pillars” say to her, “Whenever I see you, all I can think of is what you did.” She was devastated, especially so because the church is the one place where people who are sinners–forgiven but not yet perfect–should exercise mercy toward those who have acknowledged their sin and have sought forgiveness. The man had not learned that lesson, and his sin was as great as hers had been. Sin is sin.
Showing mercy to someone who does not deserve it, Proverbs tells us, is like heaping coals of fire on their heads. What a picture! And yet we are not to take pleasure in the sense that they are receiving what they deserve, for truly, we ourselves did not deserve the mercy that God Himself gave us when Jesus took our sins, had them nailed to His cross, and suffered for them. Would that we never sin! One day we won’t, but until then, remind yourself that mercy triumphs over judgment. Mercy matters. Greatly.
Get your notebook, a good beverage, and sit back in your easy chair–perhaps with friends, and click on the sermon for Sunday, October 29, from Thomas Road Baptist Church, and listen as Jonathan Falwell preaches on mercy, using Philemon as the text. Click on http://www.trbc.org/sermon-archive, and choose the sermon “Mercy Matters.” It may help you the next time you are ready to bite a nail in two! The study below will help cement those points into your heart, and help you as you deal with all the chaos that is in our country.
TINY GIANTS: Mercy Matters Pastor Jonathan Falwell
When someone hurts us—or injures someone dear to us—the idea of revenge may seem like a logical step, but it is not the right thing to do. Can you think of a time when you showed mercy rather than having reacted with revenge?
For the next three weeks we are going to look at the three shortest books in the Bible (according to the original Greek). We want to bring the wisdom that these small books contain to light and apply it to our lives, especially in these days of turmoil. As we look at the first book, Philemon, we want to focus on learning lessons from the Apostle Paul.
Focal Passages: Philemon.
Think About or Discuss:
The Right Testimony
- Read verses 4-7. Why was it so amazing that Paul, a prisoner in Rome, would hear of the faith of Philemon, who lived about 1,300 miles away? That would be about the same as someone in the Midwest hearing of you, living in an eastern state—without benefit of electronic equipment or motorized methods of transportation. Read Proverbs 22:1. Is this still true today?
- Paul said he “keeps hearing”: what did that indicate? What were some of the good reports Paul was hearing about Philemon?
- When Onesimus fled from Philemon, he must have known that once he had damaged his reputation, there was a possibility Philemon would not forgive him; most people would continue to think of his past actions whenever they saw him. Why are people still like that? Can you think of an experience from your past?
The Right Response
- Read verse 8. Why did Paul say he had confidence to ask a favor of Philemon? What was Paul’s other option? Why did he feel he would not have to command Philemon to carry out the favor?
- Read verse 10. He was now ready to bring his request to Philemon. What was it? Why did he call Onesimus his child? Why did he want to be certain these two were restored in relationship?
The Right Action
- Read verse 21; Paul had not lacked confidence to ask the favor of Philemon (verse 8) because he knew Philemon was in a right relationship with God. How did he expect Philemon to react when Onesimus eventually arrived in Colossae and sought out Philemon?
- How does this relate to the church today, as brothers or sisters harbor grudges or ill-feelings toward each other? What should they be doing? What Scriptures back up your answer? *(Listed at end of study.)
The Right Example
- Back in verse 1b-2, who was going to be hearing this letter from Paul? What impact would have been made on the early believers if Philemon had not been willing to forgive and forget?
- What should be your response for every negative action someone has taken against you?
Showing mercy to someone who has not merited it, perhaps by a deed done to us or someone we love, is one of the hardest actions for us to take as humans—and believers. Every part of our emotions become involved, and revenge is easy to focus on. Yet as Christ followers, we must overcome the desire to retaliate, and from the bottom of our heart, forgive. How do you take that step? It is not going to be a giant leap, overcoming all the animosity you have built up: it will be tiny steps forward. The best way, and perhaps the hardest, is to begin to pray for your enemy. Pray however the Lord leads, as long as it is in line with what Jesus would have done. Pray for their recognition of the hurt they have caused, for their conviction of the sin, or perhaps pray that God will lead them to see that what they’ve done needs forgiveness. In whatever manner you pray, if you do it daily, eventually you will find that the hatred is leaving you, little by little. It is impossible to pray for someone and continue to call them an enemy.
Pray for yourself, as well. Bitterness is like a weed that gets hold of your life, and, like poison ivy, keeps spreading (Eph. 4:31), defiling everyone in your immediate circle. But gradually you will be able to grant mercy to the one who has been your adversary, as you realize that you, too, were once full of trespasses and sins, and yet God reached down and gave you forgiveness that you did not deserve. If the one who has hurt you will not accept a restored relationship, remember that God is not going to forget the offense, and will discipline the person as only He knows best. His way is always right, His timing will be perfect, and He will perhaps save them. What if they come to you, as Onesimus did to Philemon, and ask forgiveness? Will you give it?
Memory Verse: Philemon 7: For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother. (NKJV)
*Matt. 18:15-17, 21-22; 1 John 2:9-11; Matt. 6:14-15; Col. 3:13
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