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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)

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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.

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Last week, when we were talking about the model prayer that Jesus gave His disciples, I made quick mention of Matthew 6:14-15. I think these two verses warrant a little further discussion. As I said last week, Jesus has already paid the price for our sins, and His gift of forgiveness is freely available to us; all we have to do is accept it. Our request for daily forgiveness helps us to be aware of our own sins, and helps to keep us in a right relationship with God—one where we depend on His love and grace.

Matthew 6:14-15 says that God will not forgive our sins unless we forgive others. We must be careful not to interpret this in a way that will contradict other passages of scripture. Romans 3:24 tells us that we are all justified by God’s grace through the redemption that has been provided by the death of Jesus. Ephesians 2:8-9 says that we are saved by grace through faith. It is a gift from God, and not something that we can earn. Therefore Matthew 6:14-15 cannot be referring to the matter of salvation. If you have accepted Christ’s salvation, however, and you want to be His follower, you should be willing to forgive others. Of course, our human nature is a factor, and it isn’t always easy. I know there have been many times that I have prayed something like, “Lord, I really want to forgive, because I know it is the right thing to do, but my heart isn’t quite in it yet. Please help me.”

We must also remember that forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Dr. Grant Mullen, author of Emotionally Free explains. “Forgiveness involves just you and God. Reconciliation requires another person. So, just because you forgive doesn’t mean you’re reconciled or that you have to reconcile. Some people are just too dangerous to reconcile with. You just have to forgive and be separate.” Let us hope that that is not true of our fellow followers of Christ. God would like us all to be one family, His family, characterized by love for each other, but since we live in a fallen world, that isn’t always possible. We cannot always determine how others will act toward us, but we can control how we act towards them. If we want to do it God’s way, that will be with love and forgiveness.

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Are you old enough to remember what life was like before Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites were created? Can you think back to a time before the Internet was a common term? If you are too young for that, you might not understand what I’m talking about, but life was different then. Now, people announce everywhere they go and every little thing they are doing. Things that never used to be considered important enough to mention to anyone now get shared with everyone.

That sheds a whole new light on Matthew 18:15-17. Decades ago, if someone had been offended by someone else, they may have been tempted to tell their close friends, and even though that was inadvisable, the matter would have still remained relatively quiet. Now, if someone is annoyed by something, it will very likely get posted to Facebook for hundreds of other people to see and share their opinions about.

The procedure given in Matthew 18:15-17 is probably intended for more serious infractions that may result in excommunication if taken to the bitter end, but I think that the principle is still valid for interpersonal grievances as well. If you are upset with someone because of something they did to offend you, and you wish to resolve the issue and preserve the relationship, announcing your frustration to the world is not likely to help your cause. It is possible that the other person has offended you without even realizing it. If that is so, the matter will be resolved quite easily once you share your hurt. If it was an intentional slight, you will at least know where you stand. We are asked to forgive (Matthew 18:21-22, Luke 17:3-4), and we are asked to love our neighbour (Luke 10:27), but we are not required to remain friends with anyone who intentionally abuses us. We can be respectful to them. We can be gracious and civilized. We can follow God’s steps for reconciliation. But if, in the end, they don’t want to do their part to contribute to a healthy relationship, you do not have to continue to associate with them. If they are family members, of course, it may not be as easy as all that, and that’s where the graciousness and civility will be essential. Nonetheless, we don’t have to go out of our way to spend time with them. At the point where they are ready to adjust their behaviour, because you have already forgiven them, you will be ready to renew the relationship.

The purpose of this blog is to look closely at individual Bible verses or short passages of scripture, but those verses should never be considered outside of the message of the entire Bible nor outside of their immediate context. One verse that is frequently taken out of context is Matthew 18:19. Many people believe that if two or more are together in the same room praying for the same thing, that they will get the answer they desire. This verse, however, is sandwiched between instruction on how to restore a relationship with a fellow believer (Matthew 18:15-18) and how often we should forgive. (Matthew 18:21-22) The agreement referred to in Matthew 18:19-20 is in the context of church discipline.

If two on earth agree about what measures are necessary in the way of church discipline, it is likely because they have both already sought God’s guidance in the matter. Because they are praying for God’s will, and because they agree, God is there with them. Therefore, whatever they decide to do, shall be done. This presumes that they have already been following God’s steps for reconciliation: private confrontation, the testimony of two or three witnesses, the decision of the church. It is only as a last resort that anyone should be asked to leave the congregation. (Matthew 18:15-18)

That is not to say that agreement in prayer is not a good principle. By praying together, we can encourage each other and hold each other accountable to praying according to the will of God. Hebrews 10:24-25 urges us to spur one another on, and to not abandon meeting together, because--we learn from Proverbs 27:17--as iron sharpens iron, one friend sharpens another. We help each other, and we are kept from feeling like we are facing the trials of life alone when we meet together to pray.

There are, however, other passages in the Bible where we are instructed, or shown the example, to pray alone. Just before Jesus gave the disciples a model for praying that we now know as the Lord’s prayer, (Matthew 6:9-13) He told them that they should pray alone and in secret to avoid being like the hypocrites who prayed publicly so that they would look pious. (Matthew 6:5-8) In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus left His disciples Peter, James and John and went off by Himself to pray. His most important instruction to them was not about how to pray, but to in fact keep praying and not fall asleep. (Mark 14:32-42) He wanted them to focus on communicating with God rather than giving in to their own physical desires. If our heart is focused on prayer, then we will pray without ceasing, (I Thessalonians 5:17) whether we are alone or with others.

Whatever we pray needs to be in keeping with all scripture that teaches us about prayer. (Matthew 6:9-13, I John 5:14-15, James 1:6-8, Hebrews 10:22) God is not obligated to give us whatever we want just because we get someone else to agree with us, but He does listen to and answer the prayers of His people whether they pray in groups or alone. We are encouraged to take all of our cares to Him. (Philippians 4:6)

Are you old enough to remember what life was like before Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites were created? Can you think back to a time before the Internet was a common term? If you are too young for that, you might not understand what I’m talking about, but life was different then. Now, people announce everywhere they go and every little thing they are doing. Things that never used to be considered important enough to mention to anyone now get shared with everyone.

That sheds a whole new light on Matthew 18:15-17. Decades ago, if someone had been offended by someone else, they may have been tempted to tell their close friends, and even though that was inadvisable, the matter would have still remained relatively quiet. Now, if someone is annoyed by something, it will very likely get posted to Facebook for hundreds of other people to see and share their opinions about.

The procedure given in Matthew 18:15-17 is probably intended for more serious infractions that may result in excommunication if taken to the bitter end, but I think that the principle is still valid for interpersonal grievances as well. If you are upset with someone because of something they did to offend you, and you wish to resolve the issue and preserve the relationship, announcing your frustration to the world is not likely to help your cause. It is possible that the other person has offended you without even realizing it. If that is so, that matter will be resolved quite easily once you share your hurt. If it was an intentional slight, you will at least know where you stand. We are asked to forgive (Matthew 18:21-22, Luke 17:3-4), and we are asked to love our neighbour (Luke 10:27), but we are not required to remain friends with anyone who intentionally abuses us. We can be respectful to them. We can be gracious and civilized. We can follow God’s steps for reconciliation. But if, in the end, they don’t want to do their part to contribute to a healthy relationship, you do not have to continue to associate with them. If they are family members, of course, it may not be as easy as all that, and that’s where the graciousness and civility will be essential. Nonetheless, we don’t have to go out of our way to spend time with them. At the point where they are ready to adjust their behaviour, because you have already forgiven them, you will be ready to renew the relationship.