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Wednesday
Feb252015

The Fundamentals of Forgiveness, Part 1 - Matthew 6:12-15

There is much sloppy thought and practice in regards to the biblical doctrine of forgiveness.  One of the most common errors in the church and outside of it is not the withholding of forgiveness, but the idea that all of us are required to forgive everyone, all the time, for everything.  If that were the case, both the Scriptures and this sermon series would be very short.  The verse and this sermon series would say:  "forgive everyone, all the time, for everything." - period.  But, the Bible doesn't and thus, I don't.  The messy part is figuring out the biblical principles and parameters and applying those to the messy realities of life.  In all areas of life, it is easy to overemphasize one thing or another and this is particularly so with the doctrine of forgiveness.
Disclaimers:  1) There is no way that I can speak to all of the aspects in one, two, or even three sermons.  This is going to take a while.  2) I also cannot answer all the questions in one sermon. 3) Please be  patient.  4) It may be a while before I define forgiveness.  Definitions are important, but I must lay some groundwork first.  Now, let's look at some important basic principles.
In verse 12, we read of the plea for forgiveness.  There is an assumption that all of us need forgiveness.  There is no conditional phrase – it is a petition.  We are making a plea for God's grace and we need forgiveness because we have debts.  Sin is pictured here as a debt, and the sinner as a debtor. All humankind has a debt to the Creator.  A debt of obedience to His Word and love of His person and works.  It is a debt which is a natural part of our relationship to Him as the creature.  And that debt is not paid!  We often think we do, but no one pays what is owed.  This ought to prompt a question:  If our sins are all forgiven in Christ, why should we continue to ask forgiveness?  Among the answers are:  1) Because we sin daily, 2) Because such prayer is a chief part of thankfulness, and 3) Because in this way we are strengthened, kept humble and meek, and are taught mercy and grace to our fellow man.  Notice also that there is an assumption that all of us have been sinned against.  But we have to remember that the assumption works both ways.  If it is assured that we are sinned against, is it not also assured that we offend?  Is it not assured that the offense is real?  Is it not also assured that we would long to be restored and forgiven?  In this verse, the plea for God's grace is intimately related to our relationship to our neighbor.  So the first BIG fundamental of forgiveness is, forgiveness is theocentric.  The concept and practice of the biblical doctrine of forgiveness is based upon who God is.  God is Merciful; God is; Just; God is Ready to Forgive.  The concept and practice of the biblical doctrine of forgiveness is also based upon what God does.  He truly forgives those who come to Him seeking forgiveness; He truly forgives those who come to Him even if they struggle and offend more than once; He also withholds forgiveness from some, (but this will be dealt with in a subsequent ministry).  This principle is no small matter.  The importance of the biblical doctrine of forgiveness is found in the latter half of verse 12.  The use of the word AS indicates, "in that manner".  Please get this.  The grace you seek is the grace you are obligated to extend.  When understood as a greater/lesser argument, the force comes into focus.  We are asking much, much more of God than anyone can ever ask of us.
In verse 14 we read of the promise of forgiveness.  Now we see a conditional (it will not be the last).  How important is it that that you forgive?  The if/then clause in this verse is quite stark:  you cannot have one without the other.  We are going to be confronted with absolutes which will cause us some discomfort as we see the biblical doctrine, but consider your own sins and forgiveness.  Your sins are paid for with the broken body and shed blood of Christ.  It was absolutely necessary that His blood be shed so that you may live.  That sacrifice on your behalf was graciously applied to you and you rejoice in it and you praise His name for it.  How can you be miserly with forgiveness when it was so graciously applied to you?  In this we can see that the grant of divine forgiveness places obligations on the recipient.  If you claim the merits of the blood of Christ, you also claim the obligations of the covenant.  If you claim the merits of the blood of Christ, you also claim that you have no claim apart from the Lord's mercy.  If you claim the merits of the blood of Christ, you claim that you are unable to meet the demands of the debt you owe.  You are, therefore, in no position to withhold forgiveness.  Indeed, it is an extreme act of despising the sacrifice of Christ to withhold forgiveness.  It is also an underestimation of the significance of the depths of your own sins.  This is why the link between your willingness to forgive and the action of divine forgiveness is so strong.
Lastly, in verse 15 we read that there is a prerequisite of forgiveness.  "But if you forgive not men their trespasses…."  The principle already implied is now stated explicitly.  We cannot expect divine forgiveness if we withhold it from others.  Your readiness to forgive (or lack of readiness) is very strong indication of your appreciation for divine forgiveness and is even a prerequisite for it!  How can you expect pardon from God when you withhold it?  To blithely refuse to forgive your fellow man is to flirt with divine condemnation toward yourself.  That potential should prompt every true believer to sober examination and reflection.
So, in summary, you are to forgive you fellow man because:  1) God commands that you forgive.  You do not have the prerogative to withhold it.  2) The Lord has forgiven you [the assumption is that the reader is a true believer].  3) Forgiveness is withheld by the Lord if you withhold it.  4) You are not to avenge yourself, but to leave that to God.  He will execute His justice in His time.  No amateur Providence allowed!  In forgiving because you have been forgiven, you will be strengthened in your walk, you will bring glory to God, and you will experience peace in your mind and with your fellow man.
All For Him,
Pastor Schlegel
Wednesday
Jan152014

What's Love Got To Do With It? - I John 4:7-12

What is love?  There have been many answers offered over the years, but in our current day the answers have become more and more irreconcilable and distant from any biblical foundation.  Should we accept the notion that love is merely a "secondhand emotion" (as Tina Turner sang)?  Is true love defined how we want it to be defined and according to our own experiences?  Is there a true and biblical definition which we should embrace?  The Scriptures do provide a definition and that definition begins with who God is.  Verse 7 says that the source of love is God.  So if He is the source, true love reflects His character and being.  That is, being made in the image of God, we have the capacity to love and be loved.  But that love must conform to God's love in order to truly be love.  Love is not merely (or primarily) an emotion or feeling, but is properly a reflection of the faithfulness and self-giving that is intrinsic to who God is.  Further, the apostle defines love both positively and negatively.  First, everyone who loves…knows God.  Notice, it does not say, “knows about God.”  Knowing God is more than mere head knowledge; it is close fellowship with Him.  Second, whoever does not love does not know God.  So, the lack of love demonstrates a lack of knowledge and fellowship.  And the reason for this is because, "God is Love."  The definition of love is inextricably tied up in the nature of God Himself.  It is not so much that God is a loving God, true as that is, but that the definition is seated in God’s unchanging character.  Love does not so much define God; God defines love.

The supreme example of such divine love is found in the giving of our Savior, Jesus Christ as verse 9 says.  This love was extended to His people, not because we loved Him, but because He loved us.  Lest we have the wrong idea, the Apostle begins with the negative.  There is nothing in us that would prompt us to love, or that is lovable.  Indeed, we were enemies and rebels.  Rom. 5:8 - "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."  God is the source, and performs the primary act, of love.  The Father sent His Son to be our propitiation.  God’s wrath had to be satisfied and that satisfaction fell on Christ, the one given to us.  We could not turn away the just wrath of God ourselves and God provided what we never could in order to restore us.
 
This is all beautiful and wonderful theology, but theology without application is useless and the Apostle gives us the divine application.  Since God has loved us, we ought to also love one another.  If we claim to love the God who no one can see, and yet fail to love the one we can see, we are deceiving ourselves.  The invisibility of God reinforces the argument for response on our part.  We do not see God directly, but we do see the image of God in our brothers and sisters in Christ and even in those outside the household of faith.  So one of the ways we are called upon to demonstrate love to God is to show love to those around us.  True biblical love is not just warm and fuzzy feelings; it has an object.  This is true whether it is the divine love towards us, or our love to one another.  It is not disconnected from our everyday existence.  In the case of the divine love toward us, God’s love is perfected, that is, it finds its terminus, its desired goal and purpose in us.  God did not just take a handful of love, scatter it around the universe and we were lucky to have some fall to earth.  No, God’s love is particular, focused, and it has a purpose and that purpose is found in us, in our being reconciled.  And your reconciliation to God should not end there.  We are loved so that God may be glorified in us in this life in real, tangible ways; in particular with respect to our neighbors.

Tina Turner asked, "What's love got to do with it?"  The answer is, love has everything to do with it.  But not love as the world defines it, for true love is defined by the attributes of God, and not by Hollywood, MTV, or any such thing,  It has everything to do with it because love was shown to us while we were altogether unlovely and unlovable.  It was the divine love that brought our Savior to this earth.  It has everything to do with it because everyday, and in every way, we reflect, or should reflect, the love of God to us toward those around us.

All For Him,

Pastor Schlegel
Wednesday
Jun122013

The Faithful Shepherd - I Peter 5:1-4

Brothers and Sisters,
In the beginning of I Peter, chapter 5, the apostle provides the church with a "how-to" manual for the execution of the office of elder.  The Christ-honoring performance of the calling of elder is not left up to the person called, nor to the congregation, but is laid out for us in the Scriptures.

The preeminent function is noted first:  to feed (lit. shepherd) the flock of God.  Shepherding (as opposed to merely feeding) also includes tending to the flock's needs, guiding the flock to good pastures and protecting the flock from predators.  All of this activity is summarized in the phrase in verse 2, "taking oversight thereof."  They are responsible to be watchful over and careful about the flock entrusted to them.  In fact, elders are called to a double responsibility and accountability.  They are responsible to the flock and to the Chief Shepherd.  They must give an account for those entrusted to them.  These are grave and serious responsibilities.  Who in their right mind would agree to have this kind of responsibility?  Peter more or less asks the same question by addressing the question of motives.  First, no one should serve because it is their "turn" or there is no one else.  Rather, one should accept the weight of office in a sober and voluntary way.  Not that there are not doubts; there will always be doubts.  Secondly, one ought to be eager, but eager for the right thing.  Personal gain of any sort (money, stature, etc.) must not be the motive.  Much damage will befall the flock which is overseen by those who have the wrong motives.

Elders are also examples to the flock and not the lords of the flock.  (Notice the assumption is that they are examples, not that they should be examples.)  The rule of the elder is to be one of persuasion, exhortation and correction; not violence (physical or spiritual).  An elder must remember that his responsibility is to be a steward over God's heritage:  it belongs to Him, not to the elders.  This means that the goals and methods are to be according to the owner's goals and methods, and for His glory.  The ministry of the elders is one of humble service and of showing the shepherd's heart, not the heart of an earthly monarch.  The ministry of the faithful under-shepherd always points to Christ and reflects the care of Christ for the flock.  If this is not happening, it may indicate that the shepherd has lost his sense of place.  He may have forgotten that he is an under-shepherd.

Notice the focus of the inspired apostle throughout this text is the Savior.  It is all about the one who laid down His life for the sheep – the one who suffered (verse 1).  It is His flock; it is His heritage and inheritance.  Peter also yearns for the appearance of the Chief Shepherd.  The faithful under-shepherd must keep his eyes on the Savior and have an eternal perspective.  If he does not, the weight of office, and the sacrifices required, can be overwhelming.  The faithful elder must follow the Savior's example of faithfully performing his calling as he shepherds in His name.  The pressures of the day, or the effects of the latest controversy, can bring despair if one does not have his eyes on the Savior.

All For Him,

Pastor Schlegel

Wednesday
Jun052013

Commit The Keeping Of Your Souls To Him - I Peter 4:15-19

These verses represent the conclusion of the Apostle Peter's inspired instruction for us in the context of living the pilgrim life.  In a sense, he summarizes what he has said before.  Repetition is good.  He also gives you some final application before moving on to a different topic in chapter 5.  The first point of Peter's summary is, if you suffer, let it be for the right reasons.  Notice that this is phrased as an option.  The other option is to suffer for the wrong reasons.  And Peter provides examples of what those wrong reasons are:  murder, theft, evildoing, and meddling in others affairs.  Is this all?  Of course the answer is no, but it is a representative list.  There are many, many more examples of that which we ought not to be known for or engage in which are not so obvious or rare in the world.  Many have been spoken of in the previous chapters.  So be sure that if you suffer that it is for the testimony of Christ and not for "evildoing."  And if you do suffer because of the testimony of Christ, remember that it is for the glory of God.  Way back in chapter 2, verse 21, Peter taught us about the foundational principle:  "For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps…."

Secondly, Peter reminds us that the time of testing is at hand.  This is as true for Peter's original readers as it is for us.  The testing may be unique to a particular time and circumstance, but for all believers, the time is at hand.  Indeed, as the text says, "judgment" begins at the house of God.  "All must pass under the judgment of God; God’s own household first, their chastisement being here, for which they should glorify Him as a proof of their membership in His family, and a pledge of their escape from the end of those whom the last judgment shall find disobedient to the Gospel...Judgment is already begun, the Gospel word, as a 'two-edged sword,' having the double effect of saving some and condemning others, and shall be consummated at the last judgment...If even the godly have chastening judgments now, how much more shall the ungodly be doomed to damnatory judgments at last."  (Selections from the commentary of Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown)

Lastly, Peter exhorts us to "commit the keeping or you souls to Him" if you suffer according to the will of God.  One can suffer according to the will of God or, as implied, contrary to it.  This is what Peter was saying a few verses ago.  It is not according to God's express will that you suffer for being an "evildoer."  To suffer according to the will of God is, as this verse indicates, for "well doing."  And as Peter has said before, if you suffer for evil doing, you are only getting what you deserve (and probably less).  But to do well and suffer for it, while often hard to understand is not outside of the will of God, nor is it outside of His control.  It does not indicate that He has abandoned you or His people.  So, commit the keeping of your souls to Him as unto a "faithful Creator."  It is both our duty and our privilege to to do so as we follow the example of our Savior, "…who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously…"  (I Peter 2:23)

All For Him,

Pastor Schlegel

Wednesday
May152013

I Will Not Forget You - Isaiah 49:13-16

At the beginning of this short passage, the prophet enlists the creation to sing the praises of God.  His exhortation is based squarely upon what has come before in this chapter and is intended to encourage the Lord's people during some tumultuous times.  The Lord has been faithful in the past and has promised a glorious future for His Kingdom, but everything about their current experiences seems to indicate the opposite.  The northern kingdom (Israel) is crumbling or has crumbled and the divine promises appear to have failed.  But notice the first two words in verse 5 in this chapter.  In light of His faithfulness, He adds comfort to comfort.  Not only are the people of God going to survive, but even the Gentiles will be brought in.  So rightly in our text the heavens and mountains should sing.  Though His hand may be heavy, it is out of love and mercy that He brings to pass what appears to be a crushing providence.  In spite of what appears to be the end, the Lord is faithful and true to keep His promise and provide what is needful:  a Savior.  He says to His people, I will not forget you.  But…

But Zion said, "The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me."  Notice what is going on here:  the people are disagreeing with what God Himself has proclaimed.  Now isn't this the way it often goes?  The covenant people were delivered from bondage by a mighty hand, and in response they grumbled and longed to return.  The Lord fulfilled His promise in every detail with the generations that followed, and they turned away and were swept off of the Land.  You and I live in the time of the fulfillment of what the faithful of Isaiah's day longed for.  The Lord has given us a redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, the focal point of all of the covenant promises and that Savior died so that we might live. We have to ask ourselves an important question:  are we are likewise despairing in the face of God's faithfulness?  Are we saying, "the Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me"?  It cannot be the case that the Lord will not bring to completion what He has begun.  As we read in Phil. 1:6, "…he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ."  If you have been His, you still are His; If you would be His, you will be His from the moment you repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.  He will never forsake you.

Having had His faithfulness questioned, the Lord responds with a tender illustration and the illustration begins with a rhetorical question:  "Can a woman…?"  What tenderness and mercy the Father has for His children.  He accommodates your weakness and frailty and responds to the challenge with gentleness and with the most tender illustration:  the mother and her child.  The devotion, self-sacrifice, and concern of a woman for her child are proverbial.  Yet, as the text says, they may indeed forget their child.  So the Lord, arguing from the lesser to the greater, admits that a woman may forget her child.  What is possible for a human mother is impossible for God.  And thus, there is great comfort, for the Lord says, "I will not forget you."  Indeed, His people are engraved upon His hands.  That is, our condition, our need, our circumstances are ever before Him.  Our memory cannot be erased from the mind of God.  If you are His, He sees you.  He sees your condition.  He loves you.  Do not doubt that.  He has not forgotten you and will not forget you.  He loves His people so much, that He gave His only begotten Son, "that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."  So sing with the heavens and break forth into singing with the mountains, for the Lord remembers His people:  He has not forgotten you.

All For Him,

Pastor Schlegel