Take the First Step

You’ve been hurt. Somebody has done you wrong. Maybe it is a big deal. Maybe it is something seemingly smaller. What should you do?

You know that somebody in the church is upset with you. They feel hurt by you. They feel like you have wronged them in some way. But maybe you do not think you did anything wrong. What do you do?

I’m not going to make this complicated or flowery. If there is a problem between you and another person in the body of Christ, you take the first step to try to make things right.

Matthew 5:23-24 – 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Jesus tells his followers that they need to be eager to make things right when conflict exists. He even goes so far as to tell them to leave behind a gift, be reconciled, and then return to complete their offering. His point is one of urgency.

So, if you know that a person feels wronged by you, what do you do? First, fight down the feeling of being offended that somebody would dare think that you had wronged them. You probably know that your first reaction, when a person says you have done them wrong, is to be upset that they would dare think so. Let that go. Fight down the urge to go and tell them why they are wrong for thinking you are wrong. Instead, go to them and listen. Go and hear. Perhaps you will find that you are not as perfect as you think. And even if they are wrong, at least you will have done them the kindness of hearing them. Then, if you are wrong, apologize, seek forgiveness, and try to make things right if possible.

But what if you really did not wrong them and cannot agree with their accusation? You can still take the high road. You can still be gentle and gracious. You can still be understanding. You can still tell them that, while you cannot agree with them about how they are feeling, you do care about them and are sad that there is something that has come between you.

What if you are the one wronged? The best thing you can do is take action. Of course, you might need to first evaluate your opinion to see if you have missed anything. But if there is away in which a fellow believer has hurt you, go to them. Do not go angry and accusing. Just go and ask them for a conversation. Ask them to hear what you believe has happened. Do not be shocked if they defend themselves. After all, that is your first reflex too. Get past their defensiveness and let the other person know that you want your relationship with them to be reconciled. Smaller things you can just let go. Larger things may require that the person own what has happened and express repentance.

In both cases, Christian, if you are divided from another believer, if no attempt to solve the problem has been made, you need to take responsibility to take the first step. If you are the one wronged, go and communicate, offering the person forgiveness when they repent. IF you are the one who has wronged another, go and seek their forgiveness. If someone thinks you wronged them, but you do not think you did anything wrong, go and listen, seeking to be at peace with them to the very best of your ability. No, do not lie and pretend you did something you did not do. But be gracious, kind, merciful, and understanding.

At the end of the day, Christian, what we need to recognize is that Scripture calls on mature believers to take responsibility to settle conflict. Decide that you will take the first step instead of waiting for somebody else to do it. The goal is not to win in a conflict. The goal is to glorify Jesus.

How Dare They Say That

Sometimes things in the Bible take a good bit of work to understand. There are doctrines that have to make us work to wrap our brains around them. But there are other things in the Scripture that are gloriously straightforward.

In Ecclesiastes 7, Solomon gives us a nugget of wisdom that is really helpful in a very common situation. Imagine the scenario. You find out that somebody you know said something unflattering about you. It hurts your feelings. How should you react? Try this.

Ecclesiastes 7:21-22

21 Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. 22 Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.

This is so great. Do not take to heart everything you hear that somebody said about you. Why? You do the same thing to others.

Now, before you get self-righteous, just go ahead and admit this is true. You have not, for the totality of your life, held your tongue. You have said nasty things about others in moments of frustration. You might try to avoid it. You might try not to do it. But you have not been perfect here.

But, wait, you probably didn’t mean it. Right? You probably should get a pass for what you said. You were frustrated. You were hurt. You were bothered. So you spoke. But deep down, you are not a nasty person.

Very good. Now, take the excuses you make for yourself, apply them to the other person who spoke negatively about you, and see what happens. At the end of the day, you should realize that you and the one who said stuff about you are in the same boat. So, the first and best piece of counsel is to recognize that you are just as guilty as they are, so get over it.

There is, of course, more to be done in these situations. We should always try to learn from negative things. Maybe we need to change and repent of something that someone else saw in us. Maybe we need to go and talk with them about hurtful speech and offer forgiveness. But so often, the best move we can make is to start with the understanding that they are only doing to us what we have done to others, that there is probably a reason why they got where they are—just like there was a reason why we got where we were when we spoke negatively about others. And if all that is true, we need to start from a point of grace. Do not take it to heart, because a lot of things are said that will disappear in a moment.

Ethnic Reconciliation in Ephesians 2

open with coffee and notebook

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians contains in it gospel glories that are rich and wonderful. Paul writes of God’s predestining grace, the promise of an eternal inheritance for all Christians, the way we were dead in sins before God made us alive in Christ, and so much more.

Paul also is clear to note that what God has done in the gospel accomplishes some amazing things, things that many in the past would have seen as impossible. Paul sees that the gospel of Jesus Christ, the predestination and salvation of Jews and gentiles, has brought about an ethnic reconciliation that is so amazing, so stunning, so wonderful that the plan to do such a thing is referred to as the mystery of God.

Ephesians 1:9-10 – 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Ephesians 3:1-6 – 1 For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Notice that the profound mystery of god, the mystery hidden in the Old Testament, is that God in Christ would reconcile to himself believing Jews and gentiles. The mystery is that the people in the Old Testament days did not understand that their entire national religious system was a pointer to a profound work of God whereby he would make a people for himself that is not a Jewish or a gentile nation, but a united family of believers.

And look at how Paul speaks of this reconciliation at the end of chapter 2. What is said here is tremendously important to Christians today.

Ephesians 2:11-13 – 11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

This section says what I have already been pointing out. It is a biblical glory that God has united two different ethnic groups, two peoples who had been violently separated in times past.

Ephesians 2:14-16 – 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

What does the word of God say has happened? Because of the work of Christ, the two have become one people. The wall of hostility has been broken down. The ethnic division has been abolished. How? This division was not overcome through special events focused on celebrating diverse cultures, nor through political maneuvering, nor through repeated apologies for wrongs done by any group’s forefathers. No, the reconciliation is effected by the glorious and mysterious work of Christ. The cross of Christ reconciles what had been divided. The blood of Christ makes one what others could have never imagined as less than two. The work of God in Christ, as Paul says, kills the hostility.

Ephesians 2:17-22 – 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Christ comes and brings peace. Christ unites people of diverse ethnic and historical backgrounds through his cross and his eternal plan. Christ builds us all into one household, one living temple of God. Christ is our reconciliation. All who are reconciled to Christ have become one family, no matter what the history of our lives beforehand.

Why point all this out? There is much talk about reconciliation in the broader Christian community. And I fear that this talk, this emphasis, is doing far more to undermine the work of Christ that God highlights in Ephesians than it is doing to strengthen the body. When a person comes into the family of God, our identity is changed. We become, not American or Japanese, not Chinese or Jewish, not black or white or any other color; we become Christians. Christian is now our identity. What had formerly been utterly divided through the actions of evil and selfish men is now united in a way that the world cannot understand. We are not united, however, by focusing on our differences and putting together events of false reconciliation. Instead, we are united when we see one another as blood relatives, family in the blood of Christ.

One beauty that I have in my life is that I see no skin color, none at all. I’m blind. If a person stands before me, I have no idea if they are lighter than me or darker than me. I have no idea if they have eyes of a different shape or hair of a different texture. I do not know, and I do not care. And, by the grace of God, I can call any Christian brother or sister, because God has broken down any walls that would divide our ethnic groups because of the finished work of Christ.

Do I have ancestors who were evil? Probably. So too do you, regardless of where you come from. Should we pretend that evils and wrongs in the past did not occur? Of course we should not. We should learn from the past and realize that great harm has been done when Christians attempt to define humanity as if different races exist. There is one race—human. Skin color or accent is no longer relevant under the blood of Jesus.

But if we continue to attempt to develop a form of reconciliation through event after event, highlighting differences and ignoring that the Bible now calls us one, we do not honor the reconciliation that Christ has already accomplished.

Note as well that, when Paul speaks of the unification of ethnicities in Christ, the breaking down of the dividing wall between groups, Paul does not suggest that either group attempt to redress past wrongs. Surely the gentiles to whom Paul was writing had wronged Jews. Surely, in other times past, the Jews had wronged the gentiles, even ancestors of gentiles in Ephesus. But Paul did not even look at those issues. Why? Paul did not touch those things, because Paul saw that a miracle had been done whereby divided groups, separate ethnicities, have become one family under the blood of Jesus. And Paul would command nothing be done that would highlight the differences when such a miracle of actual, spiritual, familial reconciliation and unification had taken place.

Christians, may we see that, in Christ, all ethnicities are reconciled. We ought now seek to magnify and proclaim that reconciliation rather than seeking to highlight divisions. May we honor the work of Christ better by embracing one another as family. May we be able to declare to the world that God has killed any past hostility between us and broken down any dividing wall that ever existed through the finished work of Christ. Yes, let us learn from past mistakes of previous generations. Yes, let us see to it that, as far as we are concerned, unfairness and racism be removed from our society. But let this be done because we are already reconciled in Christ.