Overcoming our social dilemma

Re-connecting with others allows us to connect more completely with God.

Re-connecting with others allows us to connect more completely with God.

  • Matthew 5:23-24 – “So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”

Based on this teaching of Yeshua, it is apparent that God desires us to value our relationships with others as much as we value our relationship with him. This is a principle that has far-reaching consequences in our current culture and social dynamic.

In general, I have the impression that most people in our Western society generally don’t like other people that much. This is evident in t-shirt slogans and memes that put down others, or that claim superiority over the masses of ineptitude around them. It is evident in the political tactics of candidates to sling mud at opponents in the hopes of appearing more balanced and fair. It is evident in the callous disregard for common courtesies in public. And it is evident most prominently within the negativity and polarity generated by our interactions online. All of these social strata begin to resonate with similar themes that devalue our collective experience and worth.

However, if Yeshua teaches us to value reconciliation with others on the same plane as our desire to commune with God, then it becomes clear that we have some work to do in our relationships. We need to re-learn how to be good humans, if for no other purpose than for simple politeness and good manners as we seek to respect those around us in a way that honors God. We don’t have to agree with or condone everyone who may have different views with us, but we do need to re-connect with our common humanity.

In the personal sphere, this also implies we must have stores of forgiveness in reserve to honestly and openly overcome differences with our primary and closest relationships, whether family or friends. I have seen family disputes and long-standing feuds between siblings as well as with parents devolve into bitter hatred and on-going conflict. The stress of these interactions then spills over into the lives of those around those connections, causing further ripples farther out into other areas of life.

Against this backdrop of general discontent and conflict in relationships and human interaction, Yeshua’s teaching on reconciliation and forgiveness stands in stark relief as a slender but persistent beacon of hope; hope for life and growth and sharing. What will it hurt us to forgive those who have wronged us? Likely a chunk of our pride which can indeed be painful and humbling. But the result on the other side of that pain and humility is the hope for a fresh start. It provides us the ability to return to an open and unrestricted relationship with God when we mimic his desire for reconciliation.

As a believer in Messiah, being a good human is not optional. We must set the example for others by following the examples that have been set for us.

  • Romans 12:17-18 – Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

If you enjoy these daily articles, 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.

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Setting others free through forgiveness

Forgiveness is the basis of all inter-personal relationships in the sight of God.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Ephesians 4:32

Paul’s admonition to the Ephesian believers to forgive one another comes at the end of a long list of practices that would promote unity and brotherhood. Forgiveness encompasses a summary of other practices that all promote relational unity.

Most people are familiar with Yeshua’s charge to believers that forgiveness of oneself with God is dependent on our capacity to forgive others.

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 6:14-15

Essentially, Yeshua is saying, “Forgive, and you shall be forgiven.” Paul appears to be saying the opposite: “You have been forgiven, therefore you should forgive.” Both maxims are true. For us to experience forgiveness from God, we must exhibit it ourselves. And when we have received forgiveness from God, we should therefore continue to extend it to others. Forgiveness, then, is the basis of all inter-personal relationships in the sight of God.

What I find interesting is in the passage where we typically read the words of Yeshua as “Forgive, and you shall be forgiven,” (Luke 6:37), a different Greek word for “forgive” is used than in most other places the word appears in the New Testament writings. In fact, this is the only place this form of the word is used.

The typical word translated as “forgive” is based on the root aphiemi which conveys the idea of a sending away. However, the word in Luke 6:37 is based on the root apoluo which focuses more on the action of release than the sending away. Both share nuanced meanings of dismissal or departing or leaving. However, terms based on apoluo are usually used of divorce, dissolving the bonds of marriage, a setting free of both partners.

Taken all together, these shades of meaning all provide pictures of the effects and responsibilities of forgiveness: it is to dismiss an offense that someone may have caused against us, to set them free from any perceived obligation we may be selfishly placing on them. We should be sending away those offenses, just as we have had our offenses released and sent away by God.

For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his loving kindness toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:11-12

God’s interactions with ancient Israel reveal his heart for all believers even today. If we are to faithfully mimic our heavenly Father, then our forgiveness of others should be a release and dismissal that is equally as all-encompassing and final.

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 here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Forgiveness always comes at a cost to someone

Forgiveness always positively changes a relationship, but it always comes at a cost.

The book of Leviticus is the heart of the “law of Moses,” the torah, or instruction that Moses provided to Israel. In it is outlined much of the ritual that defined the ancient Israelite worship of God. To our modern Western mind, some of the practices appear to make no practical sense, such as specific types of offerings that God expected his people to provide.

However, if one looks more closely at chapters 4-6, a pattern emerges that has significance even for us today. Amidst all of the rules and regulations, we can see that God desires to forgive his people when they have strayed from right paths.

Leviticus 4:26, 31 Through this process, the priest will purify the leader from his sin, making him right with the LORD, and he will be forgiven. … Through this process, the priest will purify the people, making them right with the LORD, and they will be forgiven.

Leviticus 5:6, 10 This is a sin offering with which the priest will purify you from your sin, making you right with the LORD. … Through this process the priest will purify you from your sin, making you right with the LORD, and you will be forgiven.

Leviticus 6:7 Through this process, the priest will purify you before the LORD, making you right with him, and you will be forgiven for any of these sins you have committed.”

All of these instructions point to one thing: God desired for the people to be reconciled with him, otherwise, why would he spend so much time describing how they were to go about making that happen?

An often-overlooked aspect of this process of forgiveness is the cost that the individual had to incur when bringing a sacrifice. Bulls, goats, rams, sheep, birds; all of these were costly offerings for sin that had to be brought to the priest in order for God’s forgiveness to be granted.

This highlights an important principle: when forgiveness is granted, it always costs somebody something; it is never free.

There was nothing inherent in the animal itself that somehow provided this forgiveness. This is even brought out in the New Testament writings.

For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Hebrews 10:4

No, it was the value of the sacrifice that demonstrated the sincerity of the giver. The offerer had to demonstrate true intent (that is, repentance). Among other things (like the identity substitution), the giving of a perfectly good animal that could provide much personal benefit to the offerer was a way of showing they were sincere in asking for forgiveness.

The bringing of the animals to the priest was not for blood debts to be repaid, and God certainly didn’t need the animals for himself. But through this process, he was teaching the Israelites that there is a value to be exchanged for a renewed relationship with God.

Forgiveness always positively changes a relationship, but it always comes at a cost. This is why it is even still a custom today to bring a gift to someone when apologizing for some sort of relationship transgression. The thoughtfulness or value of the gift demonstrates the sincerity of the giver.

We are commanded by Yeshua to forgive others and to love our enemies when they don’t deserve it or when they are not demonstrating sacrificial repentance. Even if we are approached multiple times a day by the same individual, we are to forgive them. When these types of passages are discussed today, what is rarely mentioned is the cost that this forgiveness exacts from us. If the individual asking for forgiveness is not providing some sort of sacrificial benefit on their behalf, then the one who is absorbing or carrying the cost of the forgiveness is you.

This is why the act of forgiveness is so unique among God’s people today. Forgiveness that is freely offered is not cheap, it still comes at a great expense. It is a sacrificial lifestyle with real cost to the believer in every relationship. But the sacrificial obedience that God demands of us provides for positive relationships in all areas of life and honors him by demonstrating we have learned the true value of forgiveness.

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 here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Simply respect others

Our actions towards others should be based on our own internal sense of justice, fairness, and equity.

Therefore whatever you desire for men to do to you, you shall also do to them; for this is the law and the prophets.

Matthew 7:12

Certainly, anything that you wish others would do for you, do in the same manner for them, for this summarizes God’s teachings regarding others.

The simplicity and practical wisdom of this maxim is unsurpassed. We are, after all, self-focused by nature, relating to all other things outside of ourselves as to how we are affected or influenced by them. We know what we like, and we know what is offensive to us. We know when we believe our rights have been violated. We believe we know how we should be treated by others.

Since we are so familiar with ourselves and what we believe we deserve, Yeshua uses this innate familiarity with our own perceived deservedness and turns it on its head by suggesting that is the same way we should treat others. Our actions towards others should be based on our own internal sense of justice, fairness, and equity. This is the essence of compassion.

The logic of this wisdom has been mocked by some who would take a literal rendering to the extreme. “What about individuals who enjoy being harmed by others? Should they go and harm others, because that’s how they would want to be treated?” The folly of this is self-evident: beginning with the premise of a non-universal aberration leads to a faulty non-universal conclusion.

As is typically the case, this type of flawed reasoning stems from isolating this verse from its surrounding context, which gives a broader understanding of how it is intended to be applied. In this passage (7:1-12), Yeshua is admonishing his hearers about overall unfair judgment of others and hypocrisy in their own actions. The Golden Rule is the capstone solution to resolve his preceding points regarding these illegitimate practices.

The fact that this teaching also summarizes the torah or instruction of God is of no small importance. Yeshua here defines the role and universality of the Bible message by summarizing its intent: the instruction of God should cause us to be equitable and compassionate in all of our relationships.

If you like people being nice to you, be nice to them first. If you enjoy being congratulated by others, then look outside your own perspective and do the same to others. If you desire that others provide help to you in your time of need, then find opportunities to do so for others. If you want people to respect your views, then respect theirs. While you may disagree with their conclusions, they still have the same right to hold their views as you do with your own.

Simple respect solves all interpersonal relationships. This type of compassionate living is how God implores all of us to love one another.