The maturity of forgiveness

Judgment provides a needed distinction between right and wrong, but forgiveness captures the possibility of love.

Do not judge, or you will be judged. For with the same judgment you pronounce, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Matthew 7:1-2

Don’t criticize others.

This teaching of Yeshua highlights that there is a balance, or a universal equity that God maintains. If an individual is overly critical of others, the same level of critical judgment will be applied to them. This is not always recognized by others because the timing of this judgment does not always immediately follow an infraction. However, the Bible promises that justice will be realized in the balance of God’s Creation, in his time.

This is expressed more fully in the parallel passage in the Gospel of Luke:

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

Luke 6:36-37

Forgiveness is a quality that sits outside of judgment. When judgment is the primary objective, the possibility of forgiveness becomes diminished. Both are necessary, but both serve different purposes.

Judgment provides a needed distinction between right and wrong. We rely on our judgment to ensure that fairness is being practiced or demonstrated. This is not a complex function. For example, even toddlers can recognize when playmates are being fair or unfair when it comes to sharing toys.

Forgiveness is a more complex quality that requires an increased level of maturity. There has to not only be a recognition of a wrong that has been committed, but another “something” beyond the understanding of that wrong that still reaches out to the other individual to maintain a positive relationship.

Through recognition of the reality of this universal balance that God maintains, on even the most basic of levels we should be challenged to grow in maturity in our relationships and our dealings with others. As we encourage the seeds of this nascent maturity to thrive, they are enabled to grow into acts of mercy, and ultimately to blossom into genuine love.

Following the path

We are not to rely on our own wisdom as our primary source of planning and actions.

Trust in Yahweh with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct you on pleasant paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

The word for trust in this famous passage has shades of meaning which include confidence and boldness, running to a secure place for refuge, being free of care or worry, having a steadfast hope. All of these are different ways of representing the believer’s inner reliance on Yahweh.

It is not an admonishment that we are to abandon all reason and understanding. We are simply not to have our own wisdom as the primary source of our planning and our actions. We must leave room for direction from God, maintaining a view to his kingdom and purpose in this life.

The language used here can be likened to a traveler who is trekking through a wilderness in fog. He uses his wisdom and understanding to find the path that will take him where he needs to go. However, once he is on the path, he places his confidence in the path that it will carry him to his destination, even though because of the fog he cannot see the full length of where it is heading. He is carefree from having to choose his own potentially hazardous way through the wilderness,

Our wisdom instructs us to find the path; the path is that in which we place our trust, since it has been provided by God. We have confidence the path that God provided will lead us to our destination. God promises the path will be smooth and pleasant compared to the directionless wilderness ways of our own choosing.

Get on the path, stay on the path, follow the path.

Having a single focus

We have clear vision when we have a single purpose.

The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

Matthew 6:22-23

The lamp of the body is its gaze; with clear vision, your whole being will shine brightly.

We have clear vision when we have a single purpose. There is nothing that can distract us from our primary objective. A person who is consistent and true stands out from a crowd because they have a definitive purpose and role. Standing out creates a separate-ness, a holiness, that can positively influence others.

Interestingly, Yeshua here contrasts the person who is single-minded with someone whose eye is considered “bad” or “wicked.” When we don’t have clear purpose, we tend to have divided interests among many other things that may not be in our best interest and lead us into wickedness. These secondary objectives cloud our vision and create a darkness that envelops our judgment.

The larger context of this saying is that it is joined directly to Yeshua’s admonition that we cannot serve two masters: God and worldly wealth. In this respect, focusing primarily on worldly gain will divide up our interests more, taking us further from singleness of purpose.

When we constantly look upon the things of God and his kingdom, our lives of unified purpose and godly intentionality become shining examples to others.

Vigilance over temptation

Prayer to avoid temptation keeps us focused and receptive to God and his resources.

And he [Yeshua] came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Matthew 26:40-41

Yeshua was speaking this to Peter for the specific purpose of admonishing him to stay alert with him while he was praying in Gethsemane. However, this has become a type of universal admonition, and not without good reason.

Praying to avoid temptation was a key teaching within Yeshua’s template for prayer. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Based on the original word definitions, this can be expanded and paraphrased as “May we not be lead into adversity and hard testing; nevertheless, rescue us from anguish, harm, and all evil.”

Praying in this manner is a demonstration of vigilance. When praying to avoid temptation, 1) there is an awareness of the possibility of impending challenges and 2) there is a recognition of God’s ability to provide assistance or escape.

The act of praying focuses the mind on the essential needs of the moment. This is necessary because vigilance also involves alertness and overcoming the distractions and limitations of fleshly influence. While our spirit may be willing, many times we become spiritually disoriented as worldly impulses (whether internal or external) overwhelm us.

Remaining steadfast in prayer to God keeps us focused and in communication with the One who is more than able to provide us the necessary strength to overcome.

Holiness and Purity of Heart

Purity of heart is a root and a foundation of holiness.

Core of the Bible Podcast Episode 5: Holiness and Purity of Heart

Holiness, in its essence, is “apartness” or “separateness.” Purity of heart is definitely something that is different than the rest of the world, and is a primary aspect of this state of being set apart. When we are kept from disobedience, or sin, then we are in a state of apartness or being separate. Purity of heart then is a root, a foundation, of  holiness.

In the sense being discussed here, the heart is the wellspring of who you are physically and ethically.

Proverbs 4:23-27 – Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.

When the heart is right, then our speech, our focus, and our walk will be in line and keep us from disobedience. How many times can you recall saying the wrong thing, or taking your eyes off of God, or walking where you shouldn’t be walking?  My own personal list would be extensive.

According to this proverb, we need to keep our heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. What is in our heart is what we express.

Luke 6:45 – The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. 

What is in the abundance of your heart? You know it by the things you say. If your heart is pure, then your speech will be pure.

Additionally, the Bible tells us that the heart doesn’t just need to be pure, it needs to be continually purified. This is similar to the cleansing effect of fire on precious metals, refining them until they have no contrary elements left.

Psalm 66:10 – For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.

Proverbs 25:4 – Take away the dross from the silver, and the smith has material for a vessel;

Isaiah 48:10 – Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.

Daniel 12:10 – Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined, but the wicked shall act wickedly. And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand.

Refinement is the state of being free from a mixture of false and true until only what is sincere and genuine remains. This is a process, not an instant occurrence. As you can tell from these passages, some of this refining takes place through affliction, some is self-induced by those who are wise. The implication is that if it is not done voluntarily, God can make it happen by outside means.

Another example of ongoing refinement is that it is like a vine that is pruned of dead, unproductive branches so that the plant has the energy and room to bear more fruit.

John 15:1-2 – “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

1 John 3:6 – No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.

3 John 1:11 – Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.

Hebrews 12:14 – Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

Living in this way with a pure heart is what sets you apart from the rest of humanity; this is what holiness is.

Lighting the way for others

As you act with integrity based on the wisdom you have received, your good works make a difference in the lives around you.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16

Be shining: let your good practices be seen by all. Magnify God.

The life of a believer is a life that is all about others. It’s not just about receiving light for your own path, but about lighting the way for those around you. As that light is received, they can recognize and honor God for who he is.

We don’t have the luxury of receiving wisdom from God simply for our own benefit and use. That does not align with our integrity. Integrity is not only about doing the right thing, but doing the right thing in the sight of, and for, others. In fact, integrity doesn’t exist until it can be demonstrated to someone else, whether it be God or your neighbor.

The reality is that the truth of God can’t be contained. As you act with integrity based on the wisdom you have received, your good works make a difference in the lives around you. Those acts of integrity then act as a light for others who see the consistency of your beliefs and your actions. When that happens, God is magnified, that is, brought closer in reality to them.

Put your lamp on the lampstand where it belongs. Together, our collective lights become a city of righteousness that magnifies and broadcasts a beacon of God’s truths to our world, and a generation of those living in the darkness can be drawn to him.

The Single Objective

To be willing to sell everything you have in order to gain one single objective is a demonstration of the very highest commitment.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

Matthew 13:45-46

How invested are you in the kingdom of God? Yeshua taught us that we should be seeking the kingdom first, not somewhere further down a list of spiritual things we think we should be doing.

This parable illustrates the immense value that a true seeker places on the discovery of the kingdom of God. To be willing to sell everything you have in order to gain one single objective is a demonstration of the very highest commitment.

In a believer’s life, everything one has and does should stem from the reality of the kingdom. God’s purposes should have priority in all decision making. When you are fully invested in seeking the things of God, this desire for conformity to the kingdom becomes second nature. It becomes all-consuming and touches every aspect of your life. Living out the principles of God’s kingdom brings it to life among all of those around you.

Is the kingdom to you a pearl of the highest value, or only one of many other similar pearls strung together that you wear to adorn yourself to be admired by others?

The honor of difficult giving

Give and loan freely to whoever asks of you, expecting nothing back from them.

Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. … And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.

Luke 6:30, 34-35

Give and loan freely to whoever asks of you, expecting nothing back from them. The distinctive aspect of how believers are supposed to model giving is to go outside the normal boundaries of the culture; to willingly give to those who would be considered unlikely recipients: those who can’t repay, even those who could be considered enemies.

This is not a practice for the faint of heart. Giving as God intends requires mettle and resolve. This is not “feel-good” giving. In fact, this type of giving can hurt because it seems so contrary to common sense.

Why should I give to those whom are unable to repay? Why should I give generously to those who could be considered adversarial?

  • Because this type of intentional giving is what is expected of us by God.
  • Because everything we have is temporary at best.
  • Because everything we have has been provided by God, so why should we hold back what has been freely given to us?
  • Because believers are supposed to be distinctive in this world, not to follow the conventions of the existing culture.
  • Because God is kind to the ungrateful and evil, and our goal is to be like him, and to exemplify his character of compassion in this world.

Giving in this manner has a promise of reward: you will be considered a child of the Most High.

I can think of no higher honor or greater decoration to be bestowed upon us.

Choosing life over anger

Angry words designed to hurt are rendered powerless through the life generated by forgiveness.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Matthew 5:21-22

Do not call someone a fool or an idiot or be unrighteously angry with anyone. According to Yeshua, the damage caused by emotional outbursts is equivalent to taking the life of an individual. Anger breeds an environment of death.

Anger is also a demonstration of unfiltered, and typically unjustified, opinion because the words we speak always come from the overflow of the heart.

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

Luke 6:45

Additionally, when we lash out at others, we reveal the weakness of our own character. Raw emotion can cause division because it is typically not based on the truth, but only on a perception of what one believes to be true. The reality of a situation may be significantly different.

If anger fosters death, then forgiveness fosters life. What anger kills, forgiveness resuscitates. Angry words designed to hurt are rendered powerless through the life generated by forgiveness.

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?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Matthew 18:21-22

This demonstrates that the stores of forgiveness available to us are bountiful enough to outlast and overcome any personal infraction. Life can always overcome death. Choose life.

Resting in His Care

When we focus on the things of this world more than God, then we have lost our true perspective.

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”

Matthew 6:26-32

Your life is more valuable to God than all the beauty and provision represented in his Creation; he knows all of your needs.

As believers, we are easily and constantly distracted from what is truly important by our bodily needs and desires. Living on this earth presents us with challenges and struggles that can pull our focus away from God.

Trust is about perspective. When we focus on the things of this world more than God, then we have lost our true perspective. Yeshua calls this condition “little faith.”

Yet, the simplicity of trusting God can restore us to our spiritual and emotional “center.” A sincere understanding of God and his ability to provide for our basic needs gives us a foundation of trust that we can then build on. When this reality seeps deep inside to our core, it becomes a tap-root that can sustain us through the most adverse conditions.

God cares for what he creates. Whether birds, flowers, grass or people, he has built into his Creation practical mechanisms for sustenance that allow his universe to thrive. Seeing this provision and beauty within his Creation is his evidence to us, his proof, that he has the ability to provide for our needs. All we have to do is recognize this, and rest safely and securely within his care.

The ancient believers expressed a similar amazement at the care that God bestows upon mankind within the vastness of his Creation:

“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. … When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”

Psalm 8:1, 3-4