Fighting on the Battlefield of Forgiveness

Last week’s post was about how much God wants to forgive us. This week’s is about how much we need to forgive each other. There are plenty of Bible verses about this topic and so, like most Christians, I knew how important forgiveness is before writing this post. But something Paul said in one of his letters made me want to take a closer look at the subject.

The reasons Paul gives for forgiving someone in the Corinthian church provide us with a compelling reason for forgiving others. I’d never thought about forgiveness being a key part of spiritual warfare before, but I do now. Whether or not we choose to forgive is one of the things that determines whether Satan gets an advantage over us, or we get an advantage over him by drawing closer to God.

Don’t Give an Advantage to Satan

For background, in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he told them they needed to put a man out of their church who was actively engaging in sexual sin (1 Cor. 5). Now, in the second letter, Paul has heard that this man repented and Paul tells the church to forgive him and accept him back.

This punishment which was inflicted by the many is sufficient for such a one; so that on the contrary you should rather forgive him and comfort him, lest by any means such a one should be swallowed up with his excessive sorrow. Therefore I beg you to confirm your love toward him. … Now I also forgive whomever you forgive anything. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, that no advantage may be gained over us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes. (2 Cor. 2:6-8, 10-11, all quotes from WEB translation)

Choosing to withhold forgiveness– even when someone has sinned so egregiously they were put out of the church; even when you’ve heard about their repentance from someone else instead of seeing it for yourself — would give an advantage to Satan. The Greek word pleonekteo (G4122) carries the idea of taking advantage of or  defrauding someone. The word for “covetousness” comes from this word (The Complete WordStudy Dictionary: New Testament, by Spiros Zodhiates Th.D.).

Talk of Satan (which means “adversary”) gaining an advantage over us also brings to mind the idea that we’re in a spiritual battle. If you don’t forgive, you’re giving the adversary a foothold in your life. And that ought to be a terrifying thought. However, it is something we can prevent because, as Paul says, we’re not ignorant of his schemes.

Armor Up With God’s Help

We are part of a spiritual battle. The adversary (ha Satan in Hebrew) is fighting against God’s family, and we’re part of that family. Every human being has the potential to become part of God’s family and those of us in covenant with God are already adopted as His children.

Beloved, now we are children of God. It is not yet revealed what we will be; but we know that when he is revealed, we will be like him; for we will see him just as he is. Everyone who has this hope set on him purifies himself, even as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)

God’s adversary hates what God loves. Satan accuses us before our God day and night (Rev. 12:10; Job is also an example). He tries to use his wiles against us, and he’s behind the “the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” that we wrestle against (Eph. 6:10-13). The last thing we should want to do is give Satan an advantage over us in this fight. Rather, we want to stay close to God, put on His armor, stand, and resist the devil.

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Avoid Things That Separate You From God

The reason that unforgiveness is so very dangerous (I think) is connected to the wedge it drives between us and God. We’re more vulnerable to the adversary’s attacks when we are not sticking close to the source of our armor and strength. There are certain things that separate us from God, and we need forgiveness and reconciliation to heal the breach of relationship that sin causes. But we don’t get forgiveness if we’re not willing to give it.

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. (Matt. 6:14-15)

Jesus’s parable in Matthew 18:21-35 puts this in even more chilling language. In this parable, forgiveness that has already been given by a master to an indebted servant is withdrawn because that servant refuses to forgive someone who owes him a much smaller debt. Jesus caps this parable off by saying, “So my heavenly Father will also do to you, if you don’t each forgive your brother from your hearts for his misdeeds.” That’s quite a sobering statement.

God is merciful and good. He knows forgiveness can be so hard that sometimes it feels like fighting a battle. He doesn’t abandon us just because we’re struggling. But He does expect us to make an effort to deliberately, consistently forgive other people. Carrying bitterness, grudges, anger, and judgmental attitudes around will not help our Christian walk and can, in fact, hinder it.

Consider Jesus’s Example

Therefore let’s also, seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith (Heb. 12:1-2)

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Whenever it becomes difficult to lay aside the weight of unforgiveness, look to Jesus. The book of Hebrews tells us to “consider him who has endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, that you don’t grow weary, fainting in your souls” Heb. 12:3). When we consider the example He set us, we see Him forgiving even in the worst of circumstances.

When they came to the place that is called “The Skull”, they crucified him there with the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:33-34)

If Jesus could forgive the people who tortured and killed him while He was hanging on the cross, surely we can forgive whatever it is that people have done to us. Especially because God has given us warnings and instructions through His Bible and help through His holy spirit. We know the dangers of unforgiveness and we have what we need to follow Christ’s example. Let’s resolve to forgive, and to keep forgiving as often as need be, following the example of Christ and resisting the adversary’s influence so “that no advantage may be gained over us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.”

 

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Titles of Jesus Christ: Our Peace

I think that when we hear Jesus talked about as “Prince of Peace” or “Our Peace,” we usually think of Him making strife cease. We picture Him setting up a world without war and fixing the strife between human beings and God. Those are definitely part of what’s going on, but there’s also a whole lot more. We can dive deeper into what “peace” means — and gain a deeper understanding of who Jesus is and what He is doing — by studying into the Hebrew word shalom.

Shalom is a key Biblical concept. It occurs over 250 timed in the Old Testament, and that’s not counting related words like shalem. It’s most often translated “peace,” though the King James Version uses about 30 different English words. Those include prosperity (Ps. 35:27), rest (Ps. 38:3), safety (Is. 41:3), using shalom as a salutation or greeting (Judg. 18:15; 1 Sam. 25:5), and in reference to someone’s welfare (Gen. 29:6; Ex. 18:7).

The Hebrew word shalom comes from the root verb shalem, which means “completeness, wholeness, harmony, fulfillment.” That’s all included in shalom as well, along with the English meaning of “peace” as an absence of strife. Also wrapped up in this concept is the implicit “idea of unimpaired relationships with others and fulfillment of one’s undertakings (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, by Harris, Archer, and Waltke, entry 2401a). It’s a much more nuanced word than we give it credit for in English translations.

Restitution and Healing

Shalom is wholeness — nothing missing, nothing broken. It is a state that humans don’t end up in naturally. God created us perfect, but we’re now fallen people living in a fallen world. Peace is an elusive thing.

There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation, neither is there any shalom in my bones because of my sin. (Ps. 38:3, Hebrew word added, all quotes from WEB translation)

Sin is something we’re all guilty of, and it’s something that causes brokenness. We’re not whole or complete, and the covenants that people of the past made with God are broken by humanity’s sin. If you want to fix something that’s broken, missing, or stolen, God requires restitution (shalem in Hebrew) in order to satisfy the requirements of law (Ex. 22:3, 5-6, 12, 14). In order to fix what is wrong with us, the process of restitution required something on a greater level than animal sacrifice or paying some money.

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Titles of Jesus Christ: Firstborn and Heir

Who is Jesus Christ? Some consider Him a prophet, some a teacher who had some good things to say about peace and love, others say He was a madman. As Christians, we know Him as the Son of God who died to save us from our sins, rose again, and continues to be actively involved in our lives. But what does it really mean that He’s God’s Son, and why does that particular title matter to us?

God, having in the past spoken to the fathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, has at the end of these days spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds. (Heb. 1:1-2, all scriptures from WEB translation unless otherwise noted)

Firstborn’s Birthright

In Old Testament times, being a firstborn son was a big deal. You were the bekor (H1060), eldest son  and therefore the bekorah (H1062, birthright) was yours. You received a double portion when the father divided his inheritance (Deut. 21:15-17). There was a special blessing involved (Gen. 27). It was so important that any disruption to this birthright was cause for Biblical writers to take special note (Gen. 25:31-34; 48:9-19; 1 Chr. 5:1-2).

According to a message I recently watched on YouTube titled “Hebrews: Yeshua’s Amazing Qualifications,” the rights of the firstborn traditionally included a few other things as well. The eldest son acted as the family’s spiritual leader, acquired spiritual favor and honor, and inherited the blessings of Abraham. Heirship involved authority over the father’s possessions. Before there was a Levitical priesthood (which Yahweh accepted in place of the firstborns, as noted in Num. 3:12-13, 41; 8:16-18), the firstborn would even act as priest for the family.

Many parallels between Jesus and the Hebrew firstborns are easy to spot. He is the family’s spiritual leader, acting as “head of all things to the church” under the Father’s authority (Eph. 1:15-23). He is also High Priest of an order that supersedes the Levitical order as the Levites superseded what came before (Heb. 7:11-28). And that’s not where the parallels end. Read more

Faces to Faces with God

What face do you bring to God? In the Hebrew scriptures, the word for face, panim (H6440), is always plural. “The face identifies the person and reflects the attitudes and sentiments of that person,” and of course there is no single facet to the self. Our faces are “a combination of a number of features” and so are our personalities (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, entry 1782).

God is even more complex, multi-faceted, and wonderful than us. He is the God of all our faces, and He offers to show His faces to use if/when we seek Him.

When you said, “Seek my face,” my heart said to you, “I will seek your face, Yahweh.” Don’t hide your face from me. Don’t put your servant away in anger. You have been my help. Don’t abandon me, neither forsake me, God of my salvation. (Psalm 27:8-9, WEB)

Our God wants to be known. He wants to let us see Him. Whether or not we can see Him partly depends on us, though, because there are things we can do that prompt Him to hide His face. So how do we get into a “faces to faces” relationship with God, and what does it mean if we do?

Faces of Friendship

In Exodus 33:11, we’re told “Yahweh spoke to Moses face to face” (panim el panim) “as a man speaks to his friend.” Being face to face with God is part of being friends with Him. If you’re wondering how to become a friend of God, Jesus gave us a succinct guide when He said, “You are my friends, if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14). Friendship with God requires mutual interests, goals, and morality. We need to commit to following Him if we want to have a relationship with Him.

Behold, Yahweh’s hand is not shortened, that it can’t save; nor his ear dull, that it can’t hear. But your iniquities have separated you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. (Is. 59:1-2, WEB)

Sin separates us from God. There can’t be face to face relationship where there is disobedience. Thankfully, God graciously allows repentance and restoration of relationship. If you “turn away your faces from all your abominations” you can turn your faces toward Zion and “join yourselves to Yahweh in an everlasting covenant” (Ezk. 14:6; Jer. 50:5). He’s happy and eager to have us face toward Him instead of away from Him. Read more

Understanding How the God Who Exercises Loving Kindness, Justice, and Righteousness Brings Us Salvation

“I am Yahweh who exercises loving kindness, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for I delight in these things,” says Yahweh.

I quoted this scripture from Jeremiah 9:24 in last week’s post and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. God defines Himself by using these three concepts and says He delights in them. If they’re that important to Him, then they should be important to us.

I feel like we talk fairly often about the fact that God balances justice/judgement and mercy/loving kindness. But sometime we’re puzzled about how exactly that works. Back in Medieval times, theologians wondered how a God of judgement and justice could also be one of mercy. Now we ask how a God of love and mercy could also be one of judgement. I think taking God’s characteristic righteousness into account — as well as studying the Hebrew word meanings — can help answer those questions.

Shapat, justice

We in the Christian churches today often start with the New Testament when trying to understand a concept. It can be useful, though, to start with the Old Testament because that’s the foundation the New Testament writers built on. In Hebrew, words for justice, judgement, government, and ordinances are all interconnected in the root word shapat (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, entry 2443).

We tend to think of judgement/justice as a judicial concept. In Hebrew thought, though, the functions of government were’t divided as we so often do today. The primary meaning “of shapat is to exercise the process of government” in any realm or any form.

When the Bible speaks of God’s judgement or justice it’s also referencing all aspects of His government, not simply judicial laws. To quote TWOT again, “although the ancients knew full well what law … was, they did not think of themselves as ruled by laws rather than by men … The centering of the law, rulership, government in a man was deeply ingrained.” Apply that concept to God, and the notion of justice has to do with Him as the center of true law, rulership, and government. He is the source of real authority and has the absolute right to rule as He chooses.

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Seeking God’s Righteousness

I’ve been reading a book called Reclaiming Our Forgotten Heritage by Curty Landry and one of his comments about what we’re supposed to “seek first” caught my eye. This book is about how understanding the Jewish roots of Christianity can transform your faith. It’s amazing to me how much we can miss when we read the Bible in English with a Western cultural mindset. And it’s equally amazing how much it can deepen our understanding of God and His ways to dive-in to the roots of our faith.

One of the things Landry talks about is how our interpretation of words and stories in the Bible can change based on whether we approach them through a Western philosophical lens or a first-century Jewish one. An example is how we see the word “righteousness” in Matthew 6:33.

When we read “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” we in the Western world tend to think this means we have to be righteous in the sense of being a “law-abiding citizen” of heaven. But a Jewish person listening to Jesus would have thought of the Hebrew concept of tzedakah, which changes how you interpret this verse. Let’s take a look at that.

Righteousness in Hebrew

Tzedakah is about justice, righteousness, and truthfulness (Brown, Driver, Briggs lexicon, entry H6666). It’s associated with God’s fairness and is also tied to acts of charity and giving. At my Messianic congregation, this word is written on the box where we put tithes and offerings because tzedakah is so closely connected with righteous giving.

In his article “God’s Kind of Righteousness,” Lois Tverberg points out that “tzedakah means more than just legal correctness – it refers to covenantal faithfulness, often resulting in rescuing those in distress and showing mercy to sinners.” It’s quite a bit different than what most of us think of when we think “righteousness,” but it’s very much in line with God’s character.

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