We may never see the positive end results of our simplest compassionate actions.
We may never see the positive end results of our simplest compassionate actions.
Exodus 2:5-6 – Pharaoh’s daughter went down to bathe at the Nile while her servant girls walked along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds, sent her slave girl, took it, opened it, and saw him, the child – and there he was, a little boy, crying. She felt sorry for him and said, “This is one of the Hebrew boys.”
It was an act of compassion which began the people of Israel as an independent nation. Rescued from abandonment in the the Nile River, Moses was brought up in Pharaoh’s household only to become the deliverer of God’s people.
We may never understand the scope of our compassionate actions, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem to us at that time that we help someone else. Knowing the history of how the Hebrew male babies were being killed during their enslavement in Egypt, it may have seemed pointless to rescue one child when so many other hundreds or thousands were routinely being killed. Yet from this smallest of caring deeds by Pharaoh’s daughter the history of a nation, and ultimately the world, was forever changed.
Boaz, a prominent man of Israel showed simple compassion to Ruth, the daughter of a distant relative, Naomi. In the process of showing a kindness to her, he ended up acquiring her as a wife.
Ruth 4:9-10 – Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses today that I am buying from Naomi everything that belonged to Elimelech, Chilion, and Mahlon. “I have also acquired Ruth the Moabitess, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, to perpetuate the deceased man’s name on his property, so that his name will not disappear among his relatives or from the gate of his hometown. You are witnesses today.”
Through this act of compassion and obedience to Torah, Boaz became the immortalized as a great-grandfather in the lineage of one of the most famous of ancient Israelites, King David.
Yeshua encouraged compassion among believers, even something as simple as giving a cup of cold water to the thirsty.
Matthew 10:40-42 – “The one who welcomes you welcomes me, and the one who welcomes me welcomes him who sent me. Anyone who welcomes a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. And anyone who welcomes a righteous person because he’s righteous will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple, truly I tell you, he will never lose his reward.”
Our actions, good or bad, radiate into the unknown recesses of influence much like ripples in a pond when an object breaks the surface of the water. While we may not personally see or become aware of the end results, God can use those positive and caring actions to bring about his good purpose in his timing.
As believers, we have been gifted with his Spirit, imbued with his very presence in order to allow that influence of kindness to flow through us to others in ways that honor him.
Galatians 5:22-23 – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things.
Colossians 3:12-13 – Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another.
Since these characteristics of kindness and compassion are hard-wired into the DNA of the believer, we should exemplify those caring attitudes at every opportunity. God has shown us that even the smallest of compassionate actions can have unforeseen results that will ultimately glorify him and accomplish his purpose on the earth.
If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.
Recognizing how Job’s friends interacted with him should help us be better friends.
Today we will be looking at the topic of compassion, and the duty of believers to humbly reach out to others in respect of reverence of God, or the fear of Yahweh.
Now this idea is based on an interesting verse in Job which has several different meanings depending on which English version one is using, or how one places the emphasis in the original language.
The NIV relates Job 6:14 in the following manner:
“Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.”
This is pretty straightforward, and even contains a nice moral theme of demonstrating that those who are not kind with their friends are demonstrating that they themselves have forsaken the “fear of the Almighty.”
Now, we’ll talk more about the fear of God in a little bit; but want I want to focus on for the moment is comparing this translation of this verse with a more accurate one from the NASB. It reads like this:
“For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend so that he does not forsake the fear of the Almighty.”
The Holman CSB reads in a similar way:
“A despairing man should receive loyalty from his friends, even if he abandons the fear of the Almighty.”
These types of translations are closer to the text and the context, and express a different emphasis of conveying that friends should extend kindness to their friends even when (or specifically so the friends don’t) abandon the fear of God.
Now, truth be told, I had written a whole article last year on this verse, focusing on the first type of translation, how not extending compassion to one’s friend could be an indication that someone has lost the fear of God. When we don’t recognize how God wants us to reach out and help others, we are negating our reverence for God. I said it this way:
“If we do not have the fear of God, Job says, we have no motivation for expressing compassion to those less fortunate or those who are going through rough patches in their lives; we withhold kindness. We instead focus on our personal agendas which end up being relatively insignificant by comparison.”
This is not an untrue statement. We are typically self-centered by nature, and if we do not have the fear of God in our lives, we typically spend little time caring for the needs of others.
However, this is not what this verse actually says when it is viewed in its entire context. Contextually, the secondary versions from the NASB and the Holman CSB are more accurate. These focus on the friends providing compassion to a friend in need so that the needful friend does not abandon all hope and reject the fear of God altogether.
Let’s look at the context to show how this bears out.
In this passage, Job is bewailing the struggle and grief he is experiencing.
Job 6:2, 4, 8-10 – “Oh that my grief were actually weighed And laid in the balances together with my calamity! … “For the arrows of the Almighty are within me, Their poison my spirit drinks; The terrors of God are arrayed against me. … “Oh that my request might come to pass, And that God would grant my longing! “Would that God were willing to crush me, That He would loose His hand and cut me off! “But it is still my consolation, And I rejoice in unsparing pain, That I have not denied the words of the Holy One.”
This is the recurring theme of Job: how he maintains his innocency and yet God is afflicting him.
Then, in his continuing monologue, Job becomes dismissive of his friends who, rather than building him up, are instead accusing Job of some wrongdoing that has resulted in his condition.
Job 6:25-27 – “How painful are honest words! But what does your argument prove? “Do you intend to reprove my words, When the words of one in despair belong to the wind? “You would even cast lots for the orphans And barter over your friend.”
Job is saying they are not acting as true friends who should be comforting him; rather they are providing arguments of why he is wrong during his time of suffering. They are not acting as true friends, but as judges, trying to outdo each other to provide the correct assessment of why he is in the predicament he is.
So, understanding the fuller context can now help us determine which of the translations of verse 14 are more accurate. Is Job saying that forsaking a friend means one has lost the fear of God themself, or is he saying that real friends would comfort a friend in need to prevent him from abandoning his fear of God?
Notice what Job says:
Job 6:26 – “Do you intend to reprove my words, When the words of one in despair belong to the wind?
Job is upbraiding them for reproving him when they should recognize instead that someone who is in despair is likely uttering words with no meaning. They should be comforting him in his affliction rather than trying to prove to him why he deserves to be afflicted. They should be doing everything they can to make sure that Job does not lose his fear of God in his despair.
This type of textual analysis really drives home to me the importance of good, comprehensive Bible study. It is very easy for us to arrive at faulty conclusions when we are pulling verses out of context for the sake of proving some point we are attempting to make. It’s kind of like Job’s friends who grasped at anything to show Job why he was in the wrong; we have a tendency to create our own type of meaning where there really isn’t any, and we miss the bigger picture of our responsibility toward others.
This, I believe, is one of the main reasons the apostle James could write the following:
James 3:1-2 – “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many ways…”
Teaching about the Bible is a humbling challenge that requires constant re-evaluation and sometimes a readjustment of perspective. Seeing how this verse can be slanted in different directions reminds me of how I need to humbly and prayerfully ensure I am also always trying to convey the correct context at all times to derive the greatest application.
Now that we understand a bit more about the context of Job 6, we can look at verse 14 as helping us understand how and why we should be interacting with our friends who may be struggling.
“A despairing man should receive kindness from his friends, even if he abandons the fear of the Almighty.”
This aligns most closely with the literal rendering of the original Hebrew which reads: “To him who is afflicted, by his friend, kindness, even though the fear of the Almighty he forsakes.”
This admonition of Job for all believers drives us to the conclusion that we should always extend kindness, not judgment, for those we know who may be suffering. In doing so, we are helping to keep them from losing their reverence for God in their despair. Or if they have no reverence for God, we demonstrate God’s love to them in simply caring for their needs without judgment.
This was recently brought home to me by reading an article by Allie Brosh, the creator of the “Hyperbole and a half” blog and books. In it, she describes in a humorous, yet poignant and profound way, how people she knew found it almost impossible to relate to her while she was battling severe clinical depression.
She relates it this way: “They try to help you have feelings again so things can go back to normal, and it’s frustrating for them when that doesn’t happen. From their perspective it seems there has got to be some untapped source of happiness within you that you’ve simply lost track of…”
This is almost the exact situation Job found himself in. His friends were trying so hard to analyze why he was afflicted, they just kept attacking his problem from their perspective, when all he really needed was some affirmation that they were there for him.
Allie continues how it appears from the perspective of the one who is afflicted: “The problem might not even have a solution. But you aren’t necessarily looking for solutions.” She then goes on to describe how the most helpful things would have been for her friends to say things like, “Sorry that you are going through this,” or “Wow, that seems really difficult, but I still like you.” In this way, they would be affirming their concern without laying down judgment on why she was suffering. That type of compassion goes a long way toward providing real comfort to those in need, even if it doesn’t solve their problems.
The good news is, Allie was able to overcome her deep depression and regain her sense of purpose. And, while I don’t personally know Allie or her spiritual state before God, if she had been a believer during her affliction, and her friends had acted in a godly, supportive and non-judgmental way, she would likely have been encouraged to not lose all hope in her reverence for God, her “fear of the Almighty,” as Job says.
So, as promised earlier, let’s explore this phrase a little further. “The fear of the Almighty” or “the fear of the Lord” are phrases that have fallen out of use in our modern religious vernacular. Rarely is God represented as a being who is to be feared; rather, his mercy and forgiveness are emphasized above and beyond all of the qualities of his being.
To better understand this admonition to fear God, we would do well to investigate the word that is translated in our English versions as “fear.” In regular vocabulary, that word to us means to be frightened or scared of something or someone who might do us harm. However, in biblical terminology, the term goes beyond that into a broader usage of “reverence” or “awe.”
If we have the fear of God, we have the deepest respect and reverence for God, recognizing just how awesome and powerful he really is. Whether we read of his power in the creation of all things, or the separating of the Red Sea, or in the resurrection of Yeshua, we are glimpsing the majesty and glory that sits outside of our natural understanding into the supernatural realm of God’s character and abilities. When we incorporate that perspective of the other-ness of God into our daily lives, we cannot help acting and working differently than others around us who have a physical-only worldview.
This concept of perspective-changing awe is a known commodity, even outside of religious environments. Marina Koren, writing in the The Atlantic periodical under their science category, relates the following assessment of awe. She dubs it “galaxy brain,” and conveys that it is a concept that has demonstrable effects in the lives of those who experience it:
“Imagine yourself at a scenic vista somewhere on Earth, such as the rim of the Grand Canyon or the shore of an ocean stretching out past the horizon line. As your brain processes the view and its sheer vastness, feelings of awe kick in. Looking at a photo is not the same, but we might get a dose of that when we look at a particularly sparkly Hubble picture of a star cluster. The experience of awe, whether we’re standing at the summit of a mountain or sitting in front of a computer screen, can lead to “a diminished sense of self,” a phrase psychologists use to describe feelings of smallness or insignificance in the face of something larger than oneself. Alarming as that may sound, research has shown that the sensation can be a good thing: A shot of awe can boost feelings of connectedness with other people.”
Having the larger perspective of awe can help us realize that the things we value as important to us in the short term of our temporary lives pale in contrast with the more important things that the God of the universe expects of us, such as helping others.
When someone receives a kind gesture from another person, have you ever heard them say something like, “This helped me regain my faith in humanity?” This implies that everyone is so used to being treated negatively by others that one kind action can have a big impact on them. As believers, though, our purpose through kindness is not to have others regain their faith in humanity (although that is a good start), but it is to have them recognize how the God of the universe is reaching out to them through our kind and helpful actions. We should be helping others to maintain their fear of the Almighty, or to recognize it if they have never experienced it.
This involves a large level of humility. Describing the “galaxy brain,” Marina Koren said when we experience this sense of awe it results in “diminishment of self.” Taken as a whole, the Bible is really all about instilling in us a sense of diminishment of self.
Proverbs 15:33 – “The fear of Yahweh is the instruction for wisdom, And before honor comes humility.”
Proverbs 29:23 – “A man’s pride will bring him low, But a humble spirit will obtain honor.”
Yeshua even spoke about the obedience of humility in this way:
Matthew 5:3 – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Paul, in writing to the Philippian congregation, says:
Philippians 2:3-4 – “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
As we have seen, humility can be accomplished through a sense of awe and wonder for the God who created all things and who placed us within his creation to make a compassionate difference in the lives of those around us. Our kindness toward others not only reveals our reverence for God, but for those who are in desperate situations, it can revive or even create a kindred sense of awe for God.
When we operate within that sense of big-picture reverence for our Creator, we are not only encouraged but compelled to express his compassion. In this way, the two greatest commands, to love God and love others, can be fulfilled in us.
If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.
We will not grow fruit for God if we are not performing the purpose for which we have been created in him.
1 John 3:16-18 – This is how we have come to know love: He laid down his life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has this world’s goods and sees a fellow believer in need but withholds compassion from him – how does God’s love reside in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in action and in truth.
Messiah’s example should motivate us to think about and act on the needs of individuals in our community. The highest gift one can give to another is to lay down one’s life, symbolically or literally. This is the life-principle we are called to as followers of Messiah, and this is the example we should set for everyone around us. When we aid people in need at the sacrifice of our own comfort and resources, we are laying down our life, i.e., putting our own selfish needs aside to meet the needs of others. This is the essence of Yeshua’s appeal for compassion and kindness from his disciples.
Matthew 5:7 – Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
When we are obedient in this fashion, we open ourselves up to the same mercy to be shown to us by God and others.
Acts 9:36-41 – In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which is translated Dorcas). She was always doing good works and acts of charity. About that time she became sick and died. After washing her, they placed her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples heard that Peter was there and sent two men to him who urged him, “Don’t delay in coming with us.” Peter got up and went with them. When he arrived, they led him to the room upstairs. And all the widows approached him, weeping and showing him the robes and clothes that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter sent them all out of the room. He knelt down, prayed, and turning toward the body said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, saw Peter, and sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her stand up. He called the saints and widows and presented her alive.
When this woman died, she was recognized for her deeds of kindness, producing and distributing clothing to those in need. Mercy was shown to her because of her merciful actions towards others.
Matthew 5:13 – “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
The aim of salt, according to Yeshua’s metaphor, is to fulfill a purpose; otherwise, it would be thrown aside as useless. We will not grow fruit for God if we are not performing the purpose for which we have been created in him, and we risk being thrown aside as idle vessels while he seeks others to work through.
We should not only declare that we believe in Messiah; instead, we should follow his example of laying down his life to aid others with whatever skills and abilities God has bestowed upon us.
1 John 3:18 – Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in action and in truth.
If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive at https://core-of-the-bible.simplecast.com/ or your favorite podcast streaming service.
Forgiveness of all others, those close to us and those who may be adversarial to us, is required in the kingdom of God.
In this episode we will be exploring the topic of Forgiveness, some practical ways to demonstrate forgiveness, and the humility and kindness required when we concede to overlook the faults and aggression of others.
Yeshua stated it this way:
Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive men their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive people, neither will your Father forgive your wrongdoing.
The overarching theme where this verse is tucked into the Sermon on the Mount is all about avoiding hypocrisy. Don’t expect something of someone else (including God) if you are not willing to subject yourself to the same principles. If you expect to have God forgive you when you have wronged him, then you should be forgiving of those around you who have wronged you.
But what does this type of forgiveness of other people look like? How can it be enacted in practical ways? Yeshua provides a couple of examples that include a brother who has an offense against you, and an adversary who is taking you to court.
Matthew 5:23-26 “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.”
From this insight, Yeshua is teaching us that a primary aspect of forgiveness looks a lot like reconciliation. By this standard, reconciliation with all others must take place prior to worshiping God or seeking his forgiveness. Seeing how these two concepts are tied together so closely, we can therefore say forgiveness is the root and foundation of all reconciliation. This is a requirement if we are to be asking God for forgiveness.
Additionally, there are two distinctive aspects of reconciliation that Yeshua brings to our attention here: reconciliation with a brother and reconciliation with an opponent. Let’s take a closer look at both of these distinctions in more detail.
When we are talking about reconciliation with our brothers, most of us are likely familiar with another famous passage that Yeshua teaches about forgiveness which involves some math: seventy times seven.
Matthew 18:21-22 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked him, “Lord, how often do I have to forgive a brother who wrongs me? Seven times?” Jesus answered him, “I tell you, not just seven times, but seventy times seven.
Okay, now on a technical note, the phrase seventy times seven could also mean seventy-seven times. But I think it can be shown that whether seventy-seven or four hundred and ninety times, Yeshua is speaking in a figure of speech known as hyperbole. He is clearly exaggerating for the sake of emphasis, but it’s an exaggerated emphasis worth making.
The point is that no matter how many times someone offends us or does something wrong by us, we, as believers, as followers of Messiah, are obligated to forgive them. This is not an option for those claiming to be in the kingdom of God. This is a hard teaching which is why it is not practiced as much as it could or should be.
By contrast, if someone is not a believer, they are not likely to pay any attention to this concept, and simply respond in kind when someone offends them. They will lash out, hold a grudge, seek retaliation, or basically do anything that does not require them to concede their position or their pride. Yet, as believers, forgiveness of those who have offended us is a non-negotiable directive of Yeshua that must be adhered to.
For many years when I considered this passage, I had the idea that I would only have to forgive someone if they came to me and asked for forgiveness. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t have to consider actively forgiving them. However, as I’ve grown, I’ve learned that we must take all of Yeshua’s teaching into account if we are to be his followers. In his teaching, there is no room for that kind of petty distinction. Our verse for study today rules out that option when it says:
“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.
Notice it says when YOU remember that your brother has something against you, you would be obligated to drop what you were doing, even if you were in the process of offering a sacrifice at the temple. That conveys two things: firstly, an obligation for reconciliation, and secondly, a sense of urgency in resolving conflict with all others at all times.
Additionally, there’s a third aspect that I touched on a few moments ago: there is no point in conducting acts of worship if we have unresolved conflict with others. From God’s perspective, this a kind of hypocritical schizophrenia that is not welcome in his kingdom. Time and time again throughout his teachings, Yeshua and his followers emphasize how deeply religious hypocrisy is hated by God. Look at some of these examples.
Matthew 23:28 – “So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
Luke 12:1 – He began saying to His disciples first [of all,] “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
1 Peter 2:1 – So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech.
James 3:17 – But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.
Maybe you hadn’t realized it, but unresolved conflict in your life while claiming you are a child of God is hypocrisy, and God is not honored by that type of dichotomy.
Now that I’ve stabbed you with that truth, allow me to twist the knife further by saying that this type of forgiveness is not only a requirement for our brothers and those close to us, but is also a requirement for those who may be adversarial to us, as well. So if you think it’s hard to forgive a brother, how much more do you think we need to rely on God’s strength to forgive an enemy?
While we might be able to comprehend how forgiveness of those closest to us is essential, we tend to bristle at the suggestion that those who can be considered our enemies or our adversaries are also to be recipients of the same level of forgiveness from us.
At the root of this reconciliation and forgiveness is a characteristic that perhaps we had not considered: respect. When we forgive and give people the benefit of any doubt, we are essentially respecting their perspective and their known or unknown motives, and we are responding with kindness rather than vindictiveness. From a practical standpoint, I freely admit this is one of the most difficult of all biblical principles to put into practice.
If we actually do this with others, won’t this open us up to be taken advantage of? Very possibly, yes. Some people will see that we are not offering any resistance and will walk all over us. However, if we truly enact active kindness and not just mute submission, what is more likely to happen is something that we are taught from the torah, or instruction of God, when we are kind to our enemies:
Proverbs 25:21-22 – If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat. If they are thirsty, give them water to drink. You will heap burning coals of shame on their heads, and the LORD will reward you.
The apostle Paul echoes this same sentiment when he writes:
Romans 12:17-21 – Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.
By being good to those who are opposing us, we are going against those natural instincts to retaliate. It is an unexpected response, and can cause them to recognize that they were acting foolishly. The metaphor of the burning coals being heaped on their head is a challenging one, but one that is meant to illustrate how recognized truth can be painful because it involves a recognition of one’s own wrongdoing. It typically takes something unusual to happen in order to shake us out of our destructive habits. When someone is nice to another person who has been only angry and mean with them is certainly one way to make that person sit up and take notice.
I’m sure almost everyone could share a story about someone who was sincerely nice to someone who was mean to them, and the person was won over to friendship, or at least, to stop the oppressive behavior. There is no guarantee that will happen, but it does happen. And regardless of the outcome, it is our biblical obligation to do so.
Yeshua makes another point about the necessity of reconciling with our adversaries:
Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.
Reconciliation even in legal matters is a best practice that we are admonished by Yeshua to demonstrate. We can recognize that when things have become legal battles, that communication, trust, and forgiveness have broken down. Yeshua instructs us to get ahead of this type of entanglement by agreeing with, or making friends with our opponents. The word here can be vague in English; it implies a “giving of oneself wholly.” To my way of thinking, if you are giving yourself wholly to your opponent, then you are essentially conceding the dispute, and you are choosing rather to bear the injustice.
This is a difficult position to maintain, but it is a precedent that Paul has set among believers who disagree:
1 Corinthians 6:6-7 – But instead, one believer sues another–right in front of unbelievers! Even to have such lawsuits with one another is a defeat for you. Why not just accept the injustice and leave it at that? Why not let yourselves be cheated?
What?! Let yourselves be cheated? Paul obviously is out of touch with our current societal standards of personal rights. Or is it rather that our current societal standards are out of touch with the perfection of God’s ideal?
While Paul is admonishing this practice among believers, Yeshua seems to be implying that we should activate this same practice indiscriminately with everyone, even an adversary who would take you to court. We have to remember that in Yeshua’s day, any type of legal court was essentially held at the whim of the judge. You could have an airtight case and still end up having the ruling go against you. Then what would be the result? You would be innocent, you would have stated your case, but you would still be in prison.
Yeshua’s admonition for reconciliation, or “settling out of court” is a safeguard and a protection for the early believers. If they practiced this, it would potentially protect them from an unjust verdict. There was no guarantee that a trial would be fair, and if they were to pursue their rights, they were putting themselves in jeopardy of imprisonment. It would go better for them if they settled or reconciled out of court. They would avoid a potential further injustice, and be demonstrating a measure of love and forgiveness toward an adversary that could potentially change their heart, as well.
Matthew 5:44-47 – But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.
As Yeshua also teaches here, by exhibiting kindness to our adversaries, we are providing them something they need, just like our Father provides sunlight and nourishing rain to all, because he knows these are basic needs, and especially so in an agrarian society. When we act the same way, we are responding as our Father would want us to respond. We are then allowing any legitimate vengeance or retaliation to come from him and him alone, since only he knows the hearts and true motives of all. Most of the time, we may also discover that no vengeance or retaliation is necessary, simply because we didn’t possess all of the facts at the time. This includes adversaries and anyone we may know to be holding something against us.
God values reconciliation over proving our personal “rightness” in any situation. Forgiveness requires humility, humility with our brothers and sisters and humility with our adversaries. Our strength in this area can easily be perceived as foolishness and weakness by the rest of the world, but if that’s the case, we are in good Company:
1 Corinthians 1:25, 27-28 – This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. … Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important.
The relationships we have are mirrors of our heart actions towards others. People will typically be to us what we are to them, and vice versa. So when we take Yeshua’s command to heart and break the cycle of mirroring behaviors, we have an opportunity to create new relationships, and these relationships can bear fruit for God.
Remember, God desires that we approach him without hypocrisy. God is always looking for our hearts to be pure and consistent in all ways with everyone; this includes those close to us and those who would maintain an adversarial position towards us. When we demonstrate humility and forgiveness with all others, we are taking a positive stance in a negative situation in which God has an opportunity to work and be glorified. Because then we are truly behaving like his children, and reaching out to the unreceptive, just like he does.
Well, once again, I hope I’ve been able to provide you some ideas and concepts to meditate on further. We need to keep in mind that if we are to truly overlook the faults of others, we need a measure of humility and understanding because we don’t know everyone’s motives. One of the clearest ways we can respect others is to forgive them when they have wronged us. Let’s keep our focus on reconciliation with all others in which God is glorified, because then we are mirroring his actions to an unreceptive world.
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God expects us to honor our adversaries, thankfully he has also provided us the ability to do so.
David asked Saul, “Why do you listen to rumors that I am trying to harm you? Today you saw how the LORD handed you over to me in the cave. Although I was told to kill you, I spared you, saying, ‘I will not raise my hand against Your Majesty because you are the LORD’s anointed.’ My master, look at this! The border of your robe is in my hand! Since I cut off the border of your robe and didn’t kill you, you should know and be able to see I mean no harm or rebellion. I haven’t sinned against you, but you are trying to ambush me in order to take my life. May the LORD decide between you and me. May the LORD take revenge on you for what you did to me. However, I will not lay a hand on you. It’s like people used to say long ago, ‘Wickedness comes from wicked people.’ But I will not lay a hand on you.
1 Samuel 24:9-13
The story of Saul and David encompasses many facets of spiritual instruction within the lore of Israel. In this instance, David and his men are being pursued by a jealous Saul, then present King of Israel, because Saul thinks David is heading a rebellion to overthrow him. The pursuit comes to a climax when Saul unknowingly enters a cave into which David and his men are already hiding. David even gets close enough to cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.
This incident highlights Yeshua’s teaching that we should not harm our enemies, paraphrased below.
Never retaliate; instead, offer to go above and beyond for those oppressing you.
David could have been justified in taking vengeance on his enemy who was quite literally pursuing him to kill him. However, in our day and culture, those who may be adversarial to us are rarely out to physically kill us. They may speak badly about us in an unjustifiable way; they may actively try to work against our objectives; they may use us for their own personal ends; but they are rarely out to actually take our lives.
If David could be so forgiving and honorable in a justifiable situation with a sworn enemy when his life was in danger, shouldn’t that give us hope that we can, and should, have the ability to overcome the advances of our adversaries?
David mentions a saying that was prevalent in his culture and his time, “Wickedness comes from wicked people.” Yeshua substantiated that perspective even in his teachings, a millennium after the events of David took place:
“A good tree doesn’t produce rotten fruit, and a rotten tree doesn’t produce good fruit. Each tree is known by its fruit. You don’t pick figs from thorny plants or grapes from a thornbush. Good people do the good that is in them. But evil people do the evil that is in them. The things people say come from inside them.
Even though this may be the case, Yeshua also encourages us to take a very specific stance with those who may be displaying the wickedness that comes from inside of them:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to oppose an evil person. If someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn your other cheek to him as well. If someone wants to sue you in order to take your shirt, let him have your coat too. If someone forces you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to everyone who asks you for something. Don’t turn anyone away who wants to borrow something from you.
If we are to be considered followers of Yeshua, then we need to abide by the principles he endorses, or rather, requires, of those who would claim to be his. These types of non-retaliatory actions require a very special form of forgiveness that can typically only be displayed as we rely on the Spirit of God providing us the strength to do so.
It is impossible to do what God’s standards demand because of the weakness our human nature has. But by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, God condemned sin in the flesh, in our corrupt nature. Therefore, we, who do not live by our corrupt nature but by our spiritual nature, are [now] able to meet God’s standards. Those who live by the corrupt nature have the corrupt nature’s attitude. But those who live by the spiritual nature have the spiritual nature’s attitude. The corrupt nature’s attitude leads to death. But the spiritual nature’s attitude leads to life and peace. This is so because the corrupt nature has a hostile attitude toward God. It refuses to place itself under the authority of God’s standards because it can’t. Those who are under the control of the corrupt nature can’t please God. But if God’s Spirit lives in you, you are under the control of your spiritual nature, not your corrupt nature.
As believers, God has provided us the resources needed to carry out his expectations that we overcome our adversaries through forgiveness and kind actions. It’s time for us to do so.