Ministers of Reconciliation

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This will be a strange start for those of you that don’t know me, but it makes sense in my way of thinking. I do a lot of counseling with married couples, many of whom are on the verge of divorce. What I often find them troubled by is fighting in front of their children. Many think that they should not do it because it troubles the kids, makes them think their parents will divorce, or whatever, i.e. that it makes for an unstable environment for the children. For those of you who are counselors out there, you might disagree, but I tell them it is okay to fight in front of their kids. Now I assure them that knock-down, drag-out fights are not healthy at all, especially not in front of the kids, but that arguing is natural and is okay for the kids to see provided they also see you work things out and make up. Rather than provide an unstable environment, it provides a very stable one that shows the children a healthy way to handle the conflict they will inevitably experience in their lives.

Somehow along the way, we as a church have perpetuated a dysfunctional way of disagreeing over the years. We fight, no one gives in, both parties think they are right, and something of a divorce often happens. We have split over such things as Sunday school, one cup or many cups, having a church kitchen or not, ad infinitum. We don’t mind fighting in front of everyone else and arguing for our own way, but then we never reconcile. We don’t know how to make up. So our kids growing up in our churches never see the type of reconciliation our very Bibles teach us. How can we be ministers of reconciliation if we don’t even know how to do that among our closest friends?

Here’s my example from Scripture. You might disagree with my interpretation of the situation and there is enough ambiguity that I could be wrong, but there is a situation in Corinth that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians and seems to be solved in 2 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, Paul has heard of a Christian who has his father’s wife. Paul tells the congregation in no uncertain terms to cast this wicked person out because of his unrepentant situation. He wants to deal with the flesh so the man will be saved. By the time Paul writes 2 Corinthians, it appears that his advice has been followed and has worked. In 2 Corinthians 2:6-10, Paul writes:

6 This punishment by the majority is enough for such a person; 7 so now instead you should forgive and console him, so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 I wrote for this reason: to test you and to know whether you are obedient in everything. 10 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ. (NRSV)

It appears that this is very likely the man who has been kicked out and he has repented. Paul’s advice is reconciliation. Let him back in and reaffirm your love for him because his punishment has been enough and brought about the desired repentance. Now it is time to show love.

Okay, last I knew we did not disagree about anything as serious as blatant immorality conducted by a Christian. Instead, we divided on matters of opinion. People disagreed so strongly that the congregation divided, half or more going one way and half or less going the other way. People did not reconcile, agree to disagree, love one another and move forward as brothers and sisters struggling with their own understanding of their faith. This is a huge problem. What we modeled was how to be obstinate, not budge on one’s own opinion, and drive someone else away. We did not model reconciliation. We drew lines in the sand and would not budge.

I’m not saying there is never a time to draw a line in the sand. Paul did that in 1 Corinthians 5, but it served a purpose—reconciliation. He drew a line in Galatians and would not allow Jewish Christians to require Torah obedience from their fellow Gentile Christians. John in 1 John draws the line at denying that Christ came in the flesh. There are certain lines that are important, but we have not drawn them there. We’ve drawn them based on our own interpretations of certain church practices typically. And so we divide and we perpetuate it because our children have learned from us how to fight and not give in.

After all, we’re right, aren’t we? And when we get into arguments that get heated, we’re not the only ones at fault, right? How can I apologize when I know he or she also took it too far and hurt me too? It’s not about you and your right to not reconcile. It is about showing humility, the very humility Christ had (Philippians 2) and reconciling with your brother(s) or sister(s) in Christ, just like Paul urges of Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4). It is about being Christ-like and giving up your own rights because it’s not about you. This is how Paul attempts to solve the eating meat sacrificed to idols problem in 1 Corinthians 8-10. Those who want to be able to eat it argue vehemently for their right to do so. Paul starts 1 Corinthians 9 by arguing for his rights as an apostle just so he can give them up in 9:15. Amazing! It is not about me and my right to be right. It is about showing love for my fellow believer.

In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul writes:

14 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. 16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. (NRSV)

We don’t live to ourselves but to Christ. We cannot be ministers of the reconciliation God offers to us through his son if we can’t learn to live out that reconciliation among fellow believers. We need to learn to say we’re sorry, even and especially at the expense of giving up our right to be right.

Living in community means that we will have disagreements. We don’t turn and run when things don’t work out as we like. We instead take the hard, but worthwhile, road of loving and forgiving, in that way modeling the very forgiveness we receive from God through Christ. The world needs to see the church as a witness of God’s reconciliation. They need to see that we can work out our problems and still love one another. The world needs to see the humility that realizes that I’m wrong and I’m a sinner in need of God’s grace and even in need of forgiveness from other people as well.

Will we break the cycle of division by showing future generations how to work things out peaceably? Will we show the example of our Lord by learning that humility can be a wonderful instrument leading to peace and love? Can we show respect for our fellow human beings by asking their forgiveness when we’ve wronged them? I hope so. Where else will people learn of Christ’s forgiveness?

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2 Responses to “Ministers of Reconciliation”

  1. Bob Lollar Says:

    Duane, Jesus’ papble of the Pharisee and the tax-collector is also a facet to your discussion. The Pharisee listed off what “right things” he was doing thereby justifying his way as being the only way to be “right with God” and he condemns the tax-collector in the process. Jesus says the tax-collector was “right in God’s eyes (justified) not because of what he’s done or doing right but because of his humilty. Most of the disagreements that I have witnessed have not had an element of humilty but of hubris. Paul’s waring is appropriate: “Brothers,suppose someone is caught doing something wrong. You who have the spirit should set him right, but in a spirit of humility keeping an eye on yourselves so that you too, won’t be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens- in this way you will be fulfilling the TORAH’s true meaning which the Messiah upholds. If anyone thiks he is something when he is really nothing, he is fooling himself. So let each of you scrutinize his own actions.” Gal.6:1-4
    Bob

  2. Alayna Says:

    I so appreciate your comments, Duane. If only they were shared from a pulpit to touch the heart of more than me…

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