Search This Blog

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Worship and Reconciliation

 Worship demands that we be reconciled one to another. Perhaps this is just a reminder to some and perhaps to some, since it is something that seems logical, but not anything that has been cause for contemplation. Reconciliation encompasses an enormous amount of material, but our focus here will just be its relation to worship.
Remember that Matthew 5, 6, and 7 comprise what is known as Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Chapter 5, verses 3-12 are referred to as the Beatitudes, and afterwards Jesus gives commentary on how our relationship to God and others is to be lived out in the real world. Verses 13-20 deal with living out God’s commandments in a way that was not being done previously. In verses 21 and following, Jesus begins several sections citing Old Testament law and tradition and then explains how the people of his day had mis-applied God’s intention. It is in this context that Jesus deals with relationships and more specifically touches on reconciliation and worship in verses 23-24.

    "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. [Matthew 5:23-24 NIV]

At first, the connection may not seem very obvious, but as we begin to study, the implications begin to come to light. The “therefore” refers directly to the previous two verses:

    You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell. [Matt. 5:21-22, NIV]

Jesus is stressing how important relationships are and that our attitudes toward others is just as important as our actions. In that context, Jesus goes on to say, “therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar...” Here is where the direct tie to worship begins. The offering referred to here was not the round plate to receive offerings with which we are familiar, but “offering” in this context was that which was being offered to God, whether for the forgiveness of sin, or as a thank offering, regardless, it was an act of worship to Jehovah. So, Jesus tells the hillside multitude that even if they are in the very act of worship and there remember that they have offended someone, to stop the offering and be reconciled to that person, because worship cannot happen until reconciliation takes place. These are strong words indeed, so strong in fact, that I am concerned that we have done more to ignore them, than obey them.

What does it mean to be “reconciled?” Perhaps the simplest way to understand the term is to think of reconciliation as “restored relationship.” Christ provided the way that we might be “reconciled,” to God, that is, that the relationship between God and man might be restored. In a similar way, when we seek to be reconciled with another person, we are seeking to restore a relationship. In our relationship with God, we confess to God that we have broken the relationship through sin and ask for His forgiveness. We were totally helpless to change the situation; we could provide no restitution or pay the debt owed to restore the relationship: Christ did it all. Confession carries the idea of “coming to agreement with,” that is, when we confess our sin we agree with God in how He sees sin and that we have broken the relationship. Again, there is much more that could be said, but for right now let’s continue to apply our basic knowledge to the passage.

In order to be reconciled to the one that we have offended, there must be a recognition that we have done or said something that resulted in broken fellowship and we “confess” to that person and ask for forgiveness.  It may be very possible that the other person might carry a portion of the blame, or that the offense was totally unintentional. Regardless, we must be obedient about our responsibility to take the initiative to reconcile the relationship. Even if the other party is 99% responsible in our opinion, God has commanded that we ask forgiveness to what we have done. Admitting that we have offended someone is difficult. Pride and stubbornness block our admission of guilt and sometimes restitution must be made, but the fruit of a restored relationship is worth the effort.

When we ask for forgiveness, we are not to imply guilt or responsibility of the other person by saying, “I was wrong to do such and such, but you hurt me as well..,” or “if this offended you...” Saying such things only makes things worse. However true, these comments imply that we are more interested in sharing or avoiding blame than restoring the relationship. The need is to confess the wrong and ask forgiveness; the fewer the words the better, because many times other things will be said that might be misinterpreted and cause more damage. Many times the other person will ask for forgiveness as well, knowing that it was a mutual offense. If that occurs, grant it humbly and in no way say anything that would imply that you expected that response.

Asking for forgiveness is more than just saying “I’m sorry.” As I heard a pastor growing up say, “they’re sorry about it too.” Sorrow is an emotion, and reflects the feeling about the situation, but forgiveness reaches down to the depths of the offense. This is why we must ask for forgiveness.

If the person forgives, express gratitude and go. If they do not, many times it is because there might be doubt that you understand the depth of the hurt or there may be doubt of the sincerity of the request. This is especially true if the offense is an often repeated one, as in the case between husbands and wives. Sometimes there may be a hesitation because there has been mutual offense and the other person is reluctant to forgive because to do so would mean asking forgiveness for their personal offenses. If the person cannot forgive, perhaps the most appropriate response would be to say something like, “I realize that this hurt you deeply and I hope and pray that one day you will be able to forgive me.” You must continue to respond in love the that person, regardless. In time, God will be working in their heart and hopefully there will be reconciliation.

Worship demands that we be reconciled. More than ever, I am convinced that the reason that worship doesn’t happen in some churches is precisely because God’s people are not willing to be obedient in this area. Sometime in the past someone said something, did something, etc., and those offended are still nursing the hurt or still trying to justify some right words spoken the wrong way. The Spirit of God is a Spirit of Unity and unity cannot happen with such division. The principle here is that we must seek forgiveness from those we have offended, or we really cannot worship as God intended.

What about those who have offended us? An equally interesting and related passage is found later in Matthew 18:
    Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. "Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. "The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. "His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' "But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. "Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." [Matthew 18:21-35 NIV]

While the passage in Matthew 5 deals with seeking forgiveness when we have offended someone, here in Matthew 18 Jesus is teaching about forgiving those who offend us.  The purpose of these statements is not to provide full commentary, but underscore the fact that if we are to reflect the nature and character of God, then we must forgive. Remember that God has forgiven us, and no one will or could ever do to us what we have done in our sin against Holy God. Forgiveness is a releasing of the consequences of what should happen into the hands of the only One who knows all there is to know about the situation and circumstances and has the power to do something about it that is in line with His perfect will and plan.

We forgive by an act of the will, not whether we feel like doing so; it is an act of obedience, not a feeling. It has been said, “I can forgive, but I can’t forget.” The truth is you may never forget; but we cannot afford the cost of the continual nursing of an offense, lest it consume us. It is also something that we continually have to do, it is a part of dying to self. Remember, Jesus’ statement implied that it would be a repeated process. It may be that to be able to work through some situations you may need the assistance of a mentor or trained counselor. The important thing to remember is that as we approach the Lord in worship, we do so not clutching on to old hurts and unresolved offense. We must forgive those that offend us; we must release them to the Lord.

Some might ask, “It doesn’t seem fair, why should I have to go ask forgiveness and then also forgive? Isn’t part of that the responsibility of the other person as well?” The answer is, “yes,” it is a mutual responsibility. Reconciliation is a two-sided coin, we seek forgiveness and we forgive. Why? Because it is that important to God that we reflect the unity of who He is and the love that He has for us. Because Jesus and the Father are one. Because we cannot adequately worship God until be are reconciled one with another. Worship demands that we be reconciled.

What would happen in our churches if our people would begin to reconcile one with another? Great revivals of the past were marked by men and women being reconciled both with God and one another. When our desire to worship God is greater than our pride, when our desire to be fully obedient to Him is greater than our hesitancy to be reconciled to one another, I believe we will see revival in our churches.

What can we do? The first time I began to seek reconciliation from those I had offended, I literally made out a list of the individuals I needed to go to ask forgiveness. I wrote out word for word what I needed to say and called them up. We can make another list of those that have offended us and forgive and release them by an act of will to God. There exists a host of great materials on this and so I will not try to duplicate it here, the important thing is that we do it. We seek forgiveness and forgive, because worship demands that we be reconciled one with another.

No comments:

Post a Comment