Mercy in Relationships
Scripture - 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
As you listen for the word of God, remember that everyone who is in Christ is a new creation, for everything old has passed away. Let us be in Christ this day, as we listen for the word of God.
I have started looking for a new car to replace the Camry I inherited from my parents. It is a great car, but it is a 2010 model with close to 150K miles. I have been listening for God’s direction on making a purchase, & I believe I have heard God’s message. I am looking to buy a Scriptural car, the same make & model of car that Christians drove in New Testament times. The make of the car was a Honda. The model was an Accord. For Acts 2:1 says of the early church: They were all in one accord. No? Maybe I shouldn’t give up my day job!
Of course, they did not have cars 2,000 years ago. But what a wonderful statement that is: They were all of one accord. It does not take long in the Book of Acts, however, before the accord that the Christians experienced was threatened. Disagreements were voiced & troubles between one another arose. The Book of Acts even says of the relationship between Paul & Barnabas: There arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other (Acts 15:39). As you read further in the New Testament, the letters of Paul to the Corinthian Christians describe significant discord in that church. Paul’s letter to the Galatians tells of a conflict with legalists within the church. Ephesians was written to help mend a rift between Gentile & Jewish Christians. And so goes the rest of the New Testament. It was a challenge in the first century for Christians to be of one accord.
It remains a challenge in the twenty-first century for Christians to be in one accord. We, too, find it hard to live in harmony. Yet we are called to be at peace with one another. This is not easy. It is very difficult. We need mercy in our relationships with one another. Thankfully, God provides his mercy to us so that we can show mercy to others. We are able to live in one accord in view of God’s mercy.
Although we seek to live in peace with one another, frequently we are in discord. Ephesians 4 identifies some of the causes of discord. Verse 29 says: Let no evil talk come out of your mouths. Evil talk is what Paul identifies as causing discord. What is evil talk? Paul describes it as: bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander & malice.
The Greek word that is translated as evil is frequently used of food that spoils. It is like a banana. When bright yellow, it looks beautiful & smells tasty. But if the banana is abused, it does not look so good.
And if I leave it out on a hot sidewalk for a couple of days, it will look & smell even worse. That is because the banana is corrupted.
This is true of our relationships with one another. They are beautiful & delightful when we are in one accord. But when our relationships are subjected to the evil influences of bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander & malice, things get messed up! Even in the church there is sin. The ugly influence of sin corrupts relationships in the church. A trusted friend gossips about you. A church leader snubs you. A colleague ridicules you. You become the victim of evil talk.
Or you are the source of the evil discourse. Maybe you cause the decay of relationships. When someone disagrees with you in a church meeting, you resent it & seek to destroy a reputation in the congregation. When you do not feel valued by a church leader, you make it your mission to undermine their authority. When a decision is made that is contrary to your opinion, you are bitter & cast aspersions on the decision-makers.
When we feel wronged by others, our immediate inclination is to turn against them, seek revenge, & retaliate to harm them. Yes, even in the church such evil conditions arise to destroy the sense of community. As one frustrated pastor commented: “The commandment that is most neglected in our church is the one that says: You shall not bear false witness against one another.” It is for reasons like this that Paul implores us to the ministry of reconciliation.
Paul has even more to say about relationships in Ephesians 4. He provides a proscription – Let no evil talk come out of your mouths – but immediately follows that up with a prescription – but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. Paul says that our talk should not be for the purpose of evil, but for the goal of construction, for building up. We are not to tear others down but instead are to build them up. This is what makes for healthy relationships in the church. And that makes for a healthy church.
The key to reconciled relationships is forgiveness. Again, Paul offers this constructive counsel: Put away from you all bitterness & wrath & anger & wrangling & slander, together with all malice, & be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
When engaged in evil talk, if we are the source of that evil, we are to repent of it. As Paul says, we are to put it away. We get rid of it through confession of our sin to God & to the ones we have wronged. Lent is a penitential season, & so especially at this time we are to confess our sins to God & to one another & seek reconciliation with those we have wronged.
The good news is that God has promised forgiveness. God forgives our sins for the sake of his Son Jesus Christ: in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. God reconstructed our broken relationship with him by reconciling us to himself in Jesus. Through the suffering, death, & resurrection of our Lord, he has forgiven our evil & restored a right relationship to him. This is his mercy. This is his grace. When we have sinned against others, when we are the source of evil in a relationship, we confess our sins to God & to those we have wronged. We are assured that we are forgiven by God & we seek the forgiveness of others.
But sometimes we are not the source of the evil but the recipients of it. This happens when someone else sins against us. This occurs when others direct evil talk against us, when they slander & malign us. How are we to respond in order to be constructive in the relationship rather than to corrupt it even more?
Paul has given us the key: Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. We forgive those who have sinned against us. We forgive those who have wronged us by their evil words. Why do we do this? Because, Paul reminds us, Christ has forgiven you. We forgive because we have been forgiven. We pardon others of their wrongs against us because we have been pardoned by the mercy of God. Since God has forgiven our trespasses, we forgive those who have trespassed against us. We cannot do this by our own power, but by the power of God working through us. His forgiving power is given to us & then is channeled through us to others as we forgive them. We forgive in view of God’s mercy!
A young preschooler was praying the Lord’s Prayer out loud. She recited the words as she heard them, but they were not quite accurate to the original prayer. But her version captured a significant truth. She said, “Forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.”
Even in the church there are those who put trash in our baskets. They deliver the evil talk of bitterness, anger, clamor, slander, & malice. Paul tells us to put all that away. We are to take out the trash! We do so by forgiving. We do not let the trash putrefy in our heads & hearts. We release to God the wrongs done to us & the slander spoken against us. We forgive. We forgive because we have been forgiven. We have been forgiven of the trash in our baskets that stank to high heaven but was removed by the passion of Christ. “Forgive us our trash baskets,” we cry to God in this season of Lent. And in view of his mercy in Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. In the power of his mercy & grace, we now forgive those who put trash in our baskets.
Let us pray. Jesus, dear & closest brother to all who struggle, help us get over our attitude of entitlement & fragile sense of superiority. Forgive us the insults & injuries we inflict on you by failing to love & honor our brothers & sisters in Christ. Amen.