Have you ever been stranded on a lake? My husband and I were staying at a cottage beside a fairly large lake in Northern Ontario one weekend. Saturday was a beautiful day, so we took out the little motorboat for a tour around the lake. While we were out on the water, a pretty brisk wind came up; it was strong enough that we could not steer the boat back to the bay where our cottage was. We didn’t have any control over the direction of the boat at all. That experience helps me to imagine what the disciples must have felt like out on the water in Matthew 14:22-24.
Just before this passage, Jesus had fed the five thousand. Afterward, He sent His disciples ahead of him while he dispersed the crowds, and Jesus went up the mountain by Himself to pray. The disciples got into the boat, and by evening the wind had kicked up, and they were far out into the lake. Matthew 14:25 starts off with the phrase, “As the night was ending”. Many translations mention that it was the fourth watch of the night, which means that it was between 3:00 and 6:00 in the morning. So the disciples had been fighting the wind all night long, after a pretty busy day. Since the wind was against them, they would have been rowing. (Matthew 14:24) I’m sure I would have been physically and emotionally exhausted by this point, and they probably were too.
Then Jesus came walking up to them on the water. That might have been a little bit surprising to them, don’t you think? It’s an unusual situation, they are tired, and they are scared by what they see. The only logical explanation they can come up with is that it is a ghost or an apparition. Jesus spoke to them immediately to calm their fears. They knew by His voice who it was. So, Peter, who was known to be a little bit impulsive, says, “Lord, if it is you, order me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 14:28) This construction in the original language is known as a first class conditional sentence. That means that although it is translated with the word “if”, Peter had no doubt that it was the Lord. Jesus then tells Peter to come to Him on the water, and Peter gets out of the boat. As long as Peter is focused on Jesus, he doesn’t have any trouble walking on the stormy sea. (Matthew 14:29) But when he changes his focus from his miracle-working Lord to the circumstances around him, he begins to sink. He cries, “Lord save me”, (Matthew 14:30) and Jesus immediately does. But as He does, He says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)
Many people consider Christ’s words to be a rebuke, but I don’t believe that He was being harsh with Peter. After all, Peter had enough faith to actually get out of the boat. He was way ahead of all the others on board that night. But it wasn’t enough faith to keep him from sinking. Realistically, Peter was probably a good swimmer since he was a fisherman and spent his time on the water. But he let fear and doubt overcome his own abilities and his faith in God. As long as he was focused on Jesus, he had no fear of his surroundings. Our faith isn’t always strong either, but we can learn a lesson from Peter. Focus on Christ’s power and not the difficult circumstances that you are in. Call on Jesus to save you and to calm the storms in your life as He did for Peter. (Matthew 14:32) Faith can overcome your fears.
The phrase, “where two or three are gathered” is one that is often used in Christian circles, and therefore probably qualifies as Christianese. What is usually said is something like: where two or three are gathered, God will answer their prayer. Sometimes it is actually quoted as it appears in one version or another of Matthew 18:19-20, but it is almost always used out of context. The context is found in the paragraphs that surround it. These verses appear between the two passages that I have discussed in the last two weeks.
On October 16, 2013 I discussed the issue of church discipline, and the steps to restoring a fellow believer who has sinned in a way that is serious enough to adversely affect someone’s relationship with God. On October 23, 2013, I talked about forgiveness, and how often we need to forgive others who have sinned against us. These two passages seem to follow each other quite logically, but then there are these two verses in the middle that for some reason are thought to mean that God will give us whatever we ask for in prayer, as long as someone agrees with us.
The context of Matthew 18:19-20 is how to respond to the issue of church discipline. Matthew 18:18 links these two verses with Matthew 18:15-17. Jesus is saying that if we follow the guidelines that He has set out, if we are in communion with Him through prayer, and through reading His Word, and if we agree with others in the church (no matter how many that is), we will make decisions that are in keeping with His will. He was preparing His disciples, and that includes us, to be His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) on Earth, to represent Him after He returned to heaven.
To be clear, we do not need to have someone agree with us in prayer for God to hear our requests. Jesus often prayed alone. Were His prayers ineffective because no one was with there to agree with Him? As a matter of fact His disciples could not even stay awake while He prayed. (Matthew 26:40) He invites us to come boldly before the throne of grace to receive mercy in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16) He does not stipulate that we must bring a friend or two when we approach the throne, so that our prayers will be heard. Jesus also suggests that we should not make a show of our prayers, but that we should pray alone in our closets (Matthew 6:6, May 1, 2013). Would He say that if He knew those prayers would be ineffectual? No; Jesus welcomes our prayers, any time, anywhere and with anyone.
In last week’s post, I talked about the steps to take if someone has done something against you, and more specifically against God’s principles, but isn’t willing to admit he’s wrong. But what if he does realize he is wrong? What if he is sorry and asks forgiveness? What if he has asked for forgiveness a dozen times before, but he keeps asking for forgiveness for similar things? At what point do you stop being patient? At what point do you stop forgiving?
Peter asked Jesus that question in Matthew 18:21. Peter also suggested a possible answer. He suggested that seven would be a good number of times to be willing to forgive someone who has sinned against you. This was actually quite generous on Peter’s part, since Rabbinic teaching held that you should forgive three times, and you needn’t forgive the fourth. So Peter was doing his best to be loving, but Jesus wanted more from him—and from us. Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22) Now, do you think Jesus meant that Peter should get out his scroll (or shard of pottery since they were easier to come by) and keep track of each time he forgave someone? Then stop when he got to 78? I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant. I think the number Jesus gave was significantly larger than the one Peter gave, and even more significantly larger than what the rabbis taught, that His listeners would get the idea: keep on forgiving.
Jesus followed this answer with a parable to reinforce His teaching. (Matthew 18:23-35) Jesus tells the story of a servant who owed a great debt to his master. The master said it was time to collect, but the servant couldn’t pay so he begged for more time. Now, the servant owed 10,000 talents. A talent was the largest unit of money, and ten thousand was the largest number for which the Greek language had a specific word. Jesus’ use of these huge amounts would have had the desired effect on his listeners. There was not enough time in his lifetime for the servant to ever be able to completely repay this debt. His master had mercy on him, and forgave the debt. One would think the servant would be grateful for mercy in the place of justice. He justly deserved, according to the laws of the time, to be sold into slavery, along with his family so that at least some of his debt could be repaid. Instead, he was free to go and owe nothing. But he wasn’t so kind to a fellow servant who owed him 100 denarii. A denarius was equivalent to a day’s wage for a labourer, and 100 days’ worth of income--27.4 percent of a year’s income--was not an insignificant amount. It would have taken some time for that servant to pay back such a debt also. However, since a talent was worth 6,000 times more than a denarius, and the first servant owed 10,000 talents compared to the second servant’s 100 denarii, the amount of debt relief received by the first servant would make up for what was owed by the second servant many, many times.
The debt that was cancelled by the master to the first servant was an enormous act of mercy, and represents God’s act of mercy in giving up His own son to pay the debt that we could never possibly pay. All he asks from us in return is that we forgive the small things that our fellow disciples do to us. Significant, perhaps, but nothing compared to the mercy we have received from God. And he wants us to keep on forgiving them, without keeping a count.
My very first job as a teacher was in a Christian school. Although I had gone to church all my life, it wasn’t my first inclination to deal with disagreements in a Biblical manner. So when one of the other teachers did something that I thought was inappropriate, belittling and insulting to me, I went to a good friend, just because I had to get it out of my system. She asked me, “Have you talked to him about it?” No, I hadn’t, because he is the one who ticked me off. She told me to follow the Matthew 18:15 principle. So, I went and looked the verse up, and then went and spoke with the other teacher. We resolved the issue, and all was well.
Yes, the guideline given in Matthew 18:15 is a good principle to follow to work out differences in your interpersonal relationships, but if you look at it in the context of the following verses, you will realize that Jesus is talking about more than just a misunderstanding between friends or colleagues. If you read all four steps outlined in Matthew 18:15-17, you will see that it must involve more serious issues. These steps need to be taken if a person’s actions will hinder the relationship between a believer and our Heavenly Father.
Earlier, in Matthew 18:10-14, Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep, and He says that He is not willing for any of His sheep or His children to be lost. When we get to the next paragraph, He is still not willing for any of His children to be lost, so if one has done something that might lead to that result, it cannot be overlooked. But the process is to deal with it as quietly as possible. First, you go alone and quietly tell your brother (fellow Christian of either gender) what his fault is. Now, it is entirely possible that he won’t see things the same way you do. Perhaps you will be able to persuade him of what is right, and perhaps you won’t. If you can’t, you go and find one or two more people so that a matter may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Deuteronomy 19:15) These one or two other people need to be objective and upstanding themselves, and not just people you can convince to take your side in a matter. After all, this should not be a personal complaint, but a serious breach of God’s principles. The point of going through the steps is not only to convince the other of his wrong, but also to confirm that you were not wrong to approach him.
If these conversations aren’t enough, you go to the church. Keep in mind, that this passage in Scripture is not an excuse to air someone’s dirty laundry in front of the entire congregation. There are some issues that never need to be shared with the entire congregation and will only cause more hurt if they are. A board or committee of the church could be entrusted to make decisions on its behalf. Remember that along with striving to be holy, Jesus wants us to love one another. If you get to the point where your erring brother refuses to listen to the church, you must treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector. In fact, he has chosen to live as a Gentile or a tax collector since he has disregarded the standards that God has set. However, you are not to treat him as the Pharisees treated the Gentiles and tax collectors. You are to treat him as Jesus would have. Start fresh, and continue to try to bring him back into the fold, for your Father in heaven is not willing for any to be lost.
In last week’s post, I said that living at peace with the people around you—loving your neighbour—is more important to God than other acts of service or worship. But, what if your “neighbour” is really annoying? What if your neighbour is unreasonable? What if your neighbour has a problem with you, and you don’t think it’s justified? What if you think that you are right and he is wrong? How far will you let that disagreement go before you do something to try to resolve it?
In Matthew 5:25-26, we are advised to settle matters quickly. The longer you let a disagreement fester, the harder it will be to resolve, at least emotionally. I have to admit, this is something I have a hard time with. If I believe I am right, I feel the need to explain and to enlighten the other person. I feel the need to point out where they are wrong, so that the wrong can be fixed and the situation can be made right. I’m not very good at letting things go. I’m working on it. Matthew 5:25-26 suggests not letting a dispute linger so long that your adversary decides to take you to court. If it is left up to a judge, things might not turn out in your favour, no matter how right you think you are. In I Corinthians 6:7, Paul asks, “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” than to continue to fight it out to the point of going to court.
If we only look at things from a human perspective, perhaps it might be understandable that we would fight for our rights. After all, if we don’t look out for ourselves, who will? The answer is, God will, if we allow Him into the picture. Even if we are put at a disadvantage in a situation from time to time, God is still in control of our ultimate destiny. We need to trust Him to protect us and to bless us. God has told us not to avenge ourselves, but that if it is necessary, He will avenge us. (Romans 12:19) He will take care of those who do evil. We only need to make sure that we are doing the right thing—living at peace with our neighbours, (Romans 12:18, Mark 12:29-31) settling disputes quickly, (Matthew 5:25-26) and overcoming evil with good. (Romans 12:21)
I’ve said for decades that communication is a wonderful thing. So many misunderstandings can happen because people do not communicate their thoughts and feelings. I’ve also learned over the years that many misunderstandings happen when people communicate as well. Words can be encouraging, or they can be hurtful, and they don’t always come across as we intended. And then, of course, there are the times when hurt is intended. I can just imagine how disappointed Jesus is at times like this. Jesus very clearly tells us that the most important commandment is to love God, but the second most important is to love each other. (Mark 12:29-31) He sets a pretty high standard for us to live up to, and though we continually fail, we need to keep trying.
In Matthew 5:23-24 Jesus tells His disciples that reconciling with your brother, which in our context means any Christ-follower of either gender, is more important than bringing your offering to God. In those days, a gift for God was a sacrifice on the altar of the temple. For us, that may mean an act of service or an act of worship. It may mean participating in communion. None of it is more important to God than following the second greatest commandment.
King Saul had been given instructions to strike down the Amalekites and to destroy everything they had. (1 Samuel 15:3) But he didn’t. He spared their king, and he kept some of the choice animals to offer as a sacrifice to God. God was not pleased. (I Samuel 15:11) Saul defended himself to Samuel, but Samuel’s response (I Samuel 15:22) was that obedience was more important than sacrifice.
God’s desire is the same now as it was then. He desires our obedience which includes living at peace with all people. (Romans 12:18) This is more important than what we see as our gifts to God, and we should never think that our acts of service or worship are a way to make up for not loving our neighbour. If you have done something to offend someone, take the time to make it right with them. Then come back to the altar and give your gift to God. (Matthew 5:24) The act of service or worship you present will then be a pleasing offering.
Tradition. If we grow up being told that things need to be done a certain way, we don’t usually know any differently until we begin to question things and look for answers from different sources. The authorities will probably label this as rebellion, and perhaps it is. We would more likely say that we are figuring things out for ourselves. It’s a fine line.
When Jesus travelled around the countryside teaching His disciples, He was certainly labelled a rebel. After all, the Scribes and the Pharisees were experts in the law. They were the most religious people around, but somehow Jesus didn’t quite see eye to eye with them. He didn’t fit the expectations for an upstanding citizen much less the Messiah. But there was something about Jesus that made the people follow Him by the thousands to listen to what He had to say. Twelve of those people, His disciples, considered Him their rabbi, their teacher, and wanted to learn from Him. What we now know as the Sermon on the Mount was really the disciples sitting down with Jesus to learn from Him. It starts in Matthew 5.
In Matthew 5:17, Jesus assures His disciples that He did not come to do away with the law that was handed down to them by Moses. God is still the same now as He was then; His principles haven’t changed. Yes, there were a few things that changed when Jesus came. We don’t have to make sacrifices to pay for our sins anymore. We don’t have the same food restrictions anymore. (Mark 7:15, February 3, 2012) But the way God feels about people hasn’t changed; He still is more interested in our hearts than anything else.
Jesus tells His disciples that He isn’t doing away with the law, but He needs more from them than external adherence to the letter of the law (Matthew 5:20) as the Pharisees exemplify. The Pharisees have added to the law that Moses gave the people, and they have made things harder than they need to be, but they still don’t address the most important issue, and that is the internal factor. In the following verses (Matthew 5:21-48) Jesus gives them examples of how controlling their thoughts and intentions is just as important as controlling their actions. He starts each example with words similar to “You have heard that it was said…”, and followed with “But I say to you…”. What He was talking to them about was the traditional way of living that had been enforced by the Pharisees, but which was a misrepresentation of God’s desires for us. We may not have actual Pharisees running things nowadays, but there are still people who perpetuate distortions to God’s Word because that is all they have ever known. There is a way to avoid this though. Check out God’s Word for yourself. Read it. Study it. Pray. Yes, sometimes it helps to have someone else’s point of view to help you understand what you’re reading, but don’t let them be your only source of information. Go directly to God for the answers.
Today's post was written by Ann Mainse.
Confessions of a Weary Soul
Don’t you love it when God proves that He definitely has your number? Over the last few days, I’ve been feeling tired… worn out. Not just physically, but mentally, emotionally. If I’m to be totally honest (not a new thing, I promise!), I think sometimes I grow weary in well-doing. I know the verse in Galatians 6:9 that tells me not to, but sometimes I can’t help it. Have you ever been there? Maybe you’re there now. You’re doing all the right things, with all of your might… and you’re tired. Drained. It’s like you’re running on a treadmill (very good for you) and your energy level is depleting fast (not so good). You know you’re getting close to the end of your reserve, but the treadmill isn’t slowing down. What do you do? Well, if you’re me, you read what God has put right in front of you (like I said, He has my number). Have a look at where I found myself reading today…
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me. Get away with Me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me and work with Me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. ~ Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)
Learn to live freely and lightly. You’re smiling, aren’t you? I know I am (I think HE is too). Why is it so easy to get caught up in doing for God and forget that He’d much rather we focus on being with Him? Learning from Him. Living in Him. Why is it so hard to remember that we’re not called to observe a religion but to enjoy a relationship? We just need to come.
Oh, we know that our life is in God's hands. Jesus has our heart. God's Spirit is our fuel. But, sometimes life gets so busy that we forget to top up the tank… to stay plugged into our Source. We forget to listen to His voice. Life gets busy. And busy is not always good.
One of my favourite authors, Jill Briscoe, put it beautifully in her book, The Deep Place Where Nobody Goes: Conversations With God on the Steps of My Soul. Let’s join her for a moment on the steps…
I ran to the Deep Place where nobody goes, and found Him waiting there.
“Where have you been?” He asked me.
“I’ve been in the shallow place where everyone lives,” I replied. I knew He knew. He just wanted me to admit I’d been too busy being busy.
“I’m running out…” I began.
“Of course,” He said. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”
He sat down on the steps of my soul and smiled at me. Angels sang; a shaft of light chased away the shadows and brightened my daily day. I smiled back.
“I’m such a fool…”
“Shhh,” He said, putting His finger on my lips.
He touched my hurried heart. Startled, it took a deep breath and skidded to a near stop. My spirit nestled into nearness in the Deep Place where nobody goes.
My soul spoke, then: He answered with words beyond music. Where on Earth had I been?
Good question (for all of us). How long has it been since we’ve sat quietly with Him? Allowed Him to speak into the deepest place in us? No iPhone. No daytimer. No meals, or laundry or wonderfully needy children. Just Jesus and you.
Where have you been? He asks. The invitation is clear. Your loving Source is near. Hear Him say it again.
Come to Me…
You can see more blog posts from Ann Mainse at crossroads360.com/blog. Crossroads360.com is a multi-channel service providing entertaining, informative and transformative content. In addition to blogs, there are episodes of past television shows as well as exclusive web content. Their channels include KidsSpace, God Stories, Music, Explore Faith, Nostalgia, Everyday Life and News.