Sermon Series


February 2, 2014 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

The Prophet Haggai 1:1-15 [NLTse]
On August 29 of the second year of King Darius’s reign, the Lord gave a message through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest.
2 “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: The people are saying, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.’”
3 Then the Lord sent this message through the prophet Haggai: 4 “Why are you living in luxurious houses while My House lies in ruins? 5 This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Look at what’s happening to you! 6 You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes!
7 “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Look at what’s happening to you! 8 Now go up into the hills, bring down timber, and rebuild My House. Then I will take pleasure in it and be honored, says the Lord. 9 You hoped for rich harvests, but they were poor. And when you brought your harvest home, I blew it away. Why? Because My House lies in ruins, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, while all of you are busy building your own fine houses. 10 It’s because of you that the heavens withhold the dew and the earth produces no crops. 11 I have called for a drought on your fields and hills—a drought to wither the grain and grapes and olive trees and all your other crops, a drought to starve you and your livestock and to ruin everything you have worked so hard to get.”
12 Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of God’s people began to obey the message from the Lord their God. When they heard the words of the prophet Haggai, whom the Lord their God had sent, the people feared the Lord. 13 Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave the people this message from the Lord: “I am with you, says the Lord!”
14 So the Lord sparked the enthusiasm of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the enthusiasm of Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the enthusiasm of the whole remnant of God’s people. They began to work on the House of their God, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, 15 on September 21 of the second year of King Darius’s reign.

The small remnant of Israel was going through hard times. It was 520 BC and they’d been back in the Promised Land for eighteen years.

History and the Bible tell us that in 721 BC the Assyrian army destroyed the Israelite capitol of Samaria, relocating other conquered peoples into their lands and exiling and relocating the Israelites to foreign cities. The Assyrian Empire was overthrown by the Babylonian Empire, and in 586 BC the Babylonians destroyed the Judahite capitol of Jerusalem (remember that after Solomon’s death that Israel had split into two different nations, Israel to the north and Judah to the south?) and, again, relocated other conquered peoples’ into Judah’s lands and exiling and relocating the Jews across to other, foreign cities.

The Persian Empire conquered the Babylonian Empire, and then the Median Empire annexed the Persian. In the Book of Ezra chapter 1 we read that in 538 BC the Medo-Persian king, Cyrus, issued a decree that all the Jews who had been resettled across his lands were free to return to Jerusalem and work together to rebuild God’s Temple there. And the Book of Ezra tells how after a year of preparations and travel how those who had returned began rebuilding: Finishing the sacrificial altar and the foundation of the Temple, and starting on the walls.

Ezra 4 tells us that the peoples who’d been living in the land when the Jews returned wanted to join them in rebuilding, but how the Jewish leaders wouldn’t let them, and how those peoples then began conspiring to keep any and all construction work from going any farther. And history and the Bible tell us they were successful, and that the Temple building and its wall sat in ruins until 520 BC, the second year of King Darius’ reign, and the time of our morning’s reading from the prophet Haggai.
And it was a time of great hardship. Famine and drought choked the land and the people. Although the Temple was still just a footprint on the ground the altar was functional and the people had been faithful in the practice of their sacrificial rites, but the sky seemed like brass and the earth like bronze, and what they could make grow and what they could bring home was spent or eaten up all too quickly! And the people were afraid: Afraid for their next meal, afraid for their children and livelihoods, afraid for their very lives!

So they tightened their belts and cut back, and they worked harder and tried to work smarter, and they prayed more and worshiped more (consulting the teachers of the Law to make sure they were doing everything right), and they cried out to the Lord!

But God’s ways are not our ways, and how we seek to solve our problems does not tend to be the response the Lord is always looking for. The Jews cried out to Him and His response through the prophet Haggai was, “Build My House!” And the leaders and people replied, “Now’s not the time, Haggai. Can’t you see how we’re struggling? We need to be careful; our existence is on the edge of a knifeblade. We need rain! We need good soil! We need to plant and harvest and tighten up and perhaps set some treaties with our neighbors for food, if we can…”

Yet God’s answer to their troubles was, “I know your circumstances. I know your needs. I you’re your fears. Build My House!”

Last October I preached and taught about tithing for the first time in a long while. (Too long a while many of you said.) Following that message different ones of you brought to me various teachings you had heard over the years about tithing – what it should be, what it should not be – wanting to better understand this practice that has helped so many Christians across the centuries offer themselves more fully to God and grow closer to Him.

The two most frequently asked questions have been: “I know tithe means 10%, but is the entire tithe really supposed to be given to our local, “home” church?” and, “I know the tithe was a big deal in the Old Testament, but does the tithe apply to the New Covenant and our life in Christ today?”
I’ll start with the first question, that is: I know tithe means 10%, but is the entire tithe really supposed to be given to our local, “home” church?

The answer is, “yes”. I have read and studied the different teachings out there, even by many prominent Bible teachers and pastors. Some have likened the tithe to part of Israel’s tax system and so argued that, since some of the tithe went to governance and some went to the Tabernacle and Temple, that the tithe to one’s local, “home” church to support gospel-ministry today could be less. But the Bible doesn’t back up such an argument. I can say that because the tithe – fully 10% of a person’s wages – was actively practiced by Jews in Jesus’ day while they were paying full governance taxes to Rome.
Other Christian leaders, acknowledging the variety of para-church ministries carrying out the purposes of the tithe around our various communities today, have taught that perhaps 5% is adequate for giving to one’s “home” church as long as the remaining 5% is given to other ministries furthering the purposes the tithe was to be used for.

But this doesn’t stand up, either, since the annual Temple tax, the cost of sacrificial animals for the three festivals requiring Temple attendance, and all the gifts expected to be given to the poor and blind and lame, etc… were all in addition to the locally-given 10% tithe, even though these additional offerings satisfied the purposes of the tithe, as well.

So, yes, the entire tithe really is to be given to our local, “home” church.

The second question, I know the tithe was a big deal in the Old Testament, but does the tithe apply to the New Covenant and our life in Christ today? is also a “yes”. In Luke 11:42, the Lord Jesus is criticizing various religious leaders. And He says, “What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.” So Jesus calls us to practice the tithe even as He makes clear that the righteousness and love of God’s grace is so very much more important!

I’m going to say that, although perhaps trying to be a blessing to us all, those who argue against the tithe are in fact hurting us and fostering our old nature’s love of money. Reducing the tithe to anything less, even proposing a half-tithe (as long as the other half is given to Christ’s purposes, as well) will only to encourage our desire to control where our money is spent and what ministries our money supports.

But practicing the tithe engages us in God’s battle against greed in our lives and our desire to rule and to think that anything is truly ours at all. (And, as far as supporting the many worthy ministries and causes out there: As the Lord grants us abundant wealth, or as our thrifty practices result in extra money to spend, our Father sets us free to joyfully and enthusiastically assist these other works, as well!)

All this being said, some of you have commented to me how hard it can be to tithe in such challenging economic times. And as I’ve told you the impact that tithing has had on Amy’s and my lives and lifestyle, many of you have encouraged me to share that impact during a message like this one. Now, I don’t pass these things on because Amy and I are “all that” and such superior Christians, I pass these things on in the hopes of giving you some real-world examples of how tithing can look and affect a marriage and a family and a home. So,
Because we tithe Amy and I get most of our clothing second-hand and we don’t go out to eat as often as we’d like, and sometimes don’t go out to eat at all.

Because we tithe we have had all manner of fights and arguments about it, and about money, and about our budget and what we’ll spend and where.

Because we tithe we have the lowest level of cable television (with only a handful of channels and ESPN that doesn’t have sound), Eden and Caleb don’t have cell phones, we drive used cars, and nobody is involved in any computer gaming that costs money.

On the other hand, because we tithe we know we’re a part of helping others around the church and our community who are in need. Because we tithe we don’t have the pressure to keep up with what everyone else has: All of us know we don’t have the money to buy new, and designer, and excess. Because we tithe we know we’re a part of the church’s Benevolences ministry, and Light In the Darkness, and White Gifts, and the Live Nativity, and we know that countless people have come to experience grace in ways they have never experienced before! Because we tithe we’re a part of the Church-Family events that we all invite our friends and neighbors to so they can see our Christian friendships and beautiful community here. Because we tithe we’re a part of the small groups, Sunday School classes, and Bible studies that teach and grow our faith, and are a part of supporting YoungLife and the Tri-State Pregnancy Center and missionaries around the globe! Because we tithe we feel good about our relationship to God’s Word: Because He’s telling us to do something and we’re able to see ourselves actually doing it…

Because we tithe we’ve gotten to see God working wonders in our lives. This past year Amy needed a lot of physical therapy and we were getting in over our head in medical bills. There was no way the PT place knew that, but God did. And one day, out of the blue, we got a letter from their accounting department that said (and I quote), “Because you have been faithful to your commitment” we are forgiving your debt! We’d been paying God our tithe and been paying them the monthly budget amount we’d agreed to with them: So, which “commitment” were we being praised for as they forgave our debt?

Because we tithe, although we are very careful about treating ourselves to things, we will often have people give us gift cards or money out of the blue given so that we might go treat ourselves! When you step out in tithing, especially during those times when you’re sure you can’t make ends meet, God meets you, and often provides exactly the things we need at just the times we need them.

Amy and I committed to tithe for the first time when we first arrived here in Milford. Since we made that commitment we’ve had times when it was relatively easy and other times when we knew we couldn’t afford it, but the Lord has provided and we have never regretted it.

I know times are tough. The Lord told those Jews who’d returned home that their tough times were because they hadn’t built His House. It might not make sense to us, how building a building could affect weather and productivity. But God’s ways are not our ways! Are things tight for you? Then tithe! Let’s do without. How much more influence could the church have if we all tithed? How many more lives might be transformed? Where can we cut back for God?

Let’s show our Father we trust Him and not money. And if you’ve cut everything back and you can’t pay your bills, then – because all the rest of us tithe – we’ll be able to help you keep a roof over your head and enough food on your table and adequate clothing day by day…

Don’t you know that this building and the ministry of First Presbyterian Church of Milford is here today because those who went before us tithed?! Some of you were baptized here. Some of you were married here. Many of you have had your souls transformed as the Holy Spirit has used this church in your lives. Do you really want to drive by here in 20 or 50 years with your grandkids to show them the church where God did all these special things in your life only to see that it’s become an art studio because we didn’t role-model tithing for future generations?

Commit to tithing for the next 3 months and see what God does with that. Not grudgingly; not like I made you, but with the anticipation of beginning a great adventure with God! Don’t give 1%. Don’t give 8%. Isn’t it time to believe the Lord and give the full 10% and see what He’ll do with that?

Through the prophet Isaiah the Lord said, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts, and My ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so My ways are higher than your ways and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (55:8-9) “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God,” Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 3:19). “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously,” our Lord and Savior said, “and [God] will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:33)

The prophet Haggai records that when the people began to obey the message, then the Lord told them: “I am with you, says the Lord!” And He sparked their enthusiasm for Him. The word enthusiasm comes from the Greek en theos, to have God within.

My brothers and sisters: Tithe! And let’s watch our spark be fanned into flames!

January 26, 2014 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

Acts 2:1-12 [NLTse]

On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. 2 Suddenly, there was a sound from Heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. 3 Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 4 And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

5 At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. 6 When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.

7 They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee, 8 and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! 9 Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, 10 Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” 12 They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other.

I would like to introduce all of you to a very special friend of mine: The Holy Spirit. I know that some of you know Him and know Him very well. But I know that others of you don’t know Him, and I know that still others of you think you know Him, but don’t know Him as well as you think you do or have been deceived to think Him to be very different than He is.

I think the most accepted deception about my Friend the Holy Spirit is the idea of Him being some very powerful (though fairly impersonal) “force” that is at God’s command, that was at the Lord Jesus’ command, and that has been at the command of a handful of mystics and extraordinarily faithful folks over the centuries. I think His very name, the Holy Spirit has perpetuated that deception as we tend to think of spirits as powers and forces and things to be manipulated and controlled and to protect ourselves from. So I wanted to introduce you to my Friend the Holy Spirit today in the hopes of dispelling and disproving such things.

First, I want to make clear that I’m not speaking on my own behalf in introducing the Holy Spirit to you this way: He asked me to. So, for the most part I’m just trying to be a good friend back by doing what He’s asked me to. Because the first part of those lies about Him that the Holy Spirit wants me to dispel and disprove today is that malicious idea that only a few “mystics and extraordinarily faithful ones over the centuries” are the only ones who get to know Him. He’s asked me to speak about these things today because He wants you to get to know Him.

As proof of this the Holy Spirit has asked me to have you look at Luke 11:13 with me… After teaching a bit on prayer the Lord Jesus, comparing God the Father to earthly fathers, says, “So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.”

Raise your hand if you have ever asked God for anything… (You can put your hands down.) Now raise your hands if you’ve never asked God for anything… (If some raise their hands then ask them, “Are you able to talk with God and ask for His help and for things but you’ve just chosen not to?” …) So we all could ask the Father for things, [even if we never have], and many of us have asked of Him, is that right?

So, according to Jesus’ words here in Luke 11:13, who will God the Father give the Holy Spirit to? [Answer: “Those who ask Him.”] Who here could ask Him, if you chose to? … So, according to Jesus’ words here in Luke 11:13, who among us would receive the Holy Spirit if they asked?

J Hooray! That was one of the things the Holy Spirit wanted me to help you know today: Yes! He wants you to know Him, and wants you to know that, if you haven’t already, that the Father is ready and willing to give Him to you if you’d just ask! (You can see more about that in the “Holy Spirit” Insert in today’s Bulletins.)

And with that in mind, something else about those lies the Holy Spirit wanted me to talk with you about is that He’s not some “force” out there. He wants you to know that He’s a Person.

You may be thinking, “If the Holy Spirit was a Person then why isn’t His name ‘the Holy Person’? But a spirit can be a person. Any entity that thinks and feels and wills is a person. Because when I say that the Holy Spirit is a Person I’m not saying He has hands and feet and eyes and ears and mouth and so on. These are not the characteristics of personality but of corporality. Corporality means He would have a body or a material or physical existence, and I’m not saying that. I’m telling you He is a Person, that the Holy Spirit has a set of emotional qualities and ways of behaving and interacting with others around Him that makes Him different and unique among other people, other persons.

And the Bible tells us the Holy Spirit has knowledge, and searches out the deep things of God, and reveals those things to Christians. (1 Corinthians 2:10-11) The Bible tells us the Holy Spirit makes choices, using us according to His will. (1 Corinthians 12:11) (Which, of course, is where so many go astray, trying to get the mysterious and mighty power of the Holy Spirit to empower them for the works they want to accomplish, instead of being useful to Him for the works He wants to accomplish in and through us.)

The Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit as having thoughts and feelings and purposes (Romans 8:27), and of loving (Romans 15:30). (We Christians spend much time praising and celebrating and rejoiding in the love of God the Father and the love of God the Son, Jesus Christ. But how often do we even consider the wondrous love of God the Holy Spirit?)

The Bible credits the Holy Spirit with goodness, intelligence, and the ability to teach and instruct people (Nehemiah 9:20), and speaks of the Holy Spirit being grieved (Ephesians 4:30)… (A mere influence or power cannot be grieved…)

If the Holy Spirit were merely some mysterious, wonderful power then you and I in our weakness and ignorance would try to somehow to get hold of and use Him. But if the Holy Spirit is a real Person – infinitely holy, infinitely wise, infinitely mighty, infinitely tender – then the real truth is that we need Him to get hold of and use us! If we think of the Holy Spirit (as so many do) as merely a power source or a godly influence then our constant thought will be, “How can I get more of the Holy Spirit?” But if we think of the Holy Spirit the way the Bible speaks of Him, as a divine Person, then our thoughts will become, “How can the Holy Spirit have more of me?”

The deception that the Holy Spirit is merely some divine influence or power that we can get hold of and use only leads to pride and us strutting about as though belonging to some superior order of Christianity. But when we truly understand that the Holy Spirit is a divine Person – as real a Person as Jesus Christ Himself, an ever-present, loving Friend and mighty Helper, Who is not only always by our side but at the same time dwells in our hearts every day and every hour and Who is ready to take us through every joy, emergency, and calling of life – Who desires to take possession of our lives and make eternal use of us! well, it will put us on our faces in wonder and worship and keep us on our faces in wonder and worship. I can think of no thought more humbling or overwhelming than the thought that a Person of divine majesty, glory, and eternity dwells in my heart and is ready to use even me…

I’m going to be sharing more with you about my Friend, the Holy Spirit, on and off over the upcoming weeks. But let me end by saying that if the Holy Spirit has not yet come into your life to empower and make you more effective for building up and expanding Christ’s Kingdom here in Milford and beyond, please come talk with me or one of the elders whom you will find up front here after the Service.

January 19, 2014 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

It was after one o’clock when we were awakened to the sound of someone drumming all around us. We sat up, still somewhat asleep, but all was quiet. Then it started again, louder and longer this time. We realized it was our new next door neighbor practicing drums at one o’clock in the morning!

Amy picked up the phone and told me she was going to call the police. But I asked her, please, not to, that I would just go knock on his door and talk to him, instead. She was concerned about how he would react, but finally said okay.

So I went next door and knocked, and he was so very sorry he’d woken us up! He hadn’t realized how the sound would carry. And that was the end of it: We never heard him practicing after 9pm ever again. And he would come over to talk when he was having troubles. And then he started coming to our church dinners, and then began attending worship…

We live in a society that has more ways to help us be in touch with each other than ever before: Telephone and Voicemail, email and texting, Facebook® and Skype®, etc… And yet we are growing more and more impersonal in our dealings with each other than, perhaps, ever before in human history!

One of the ways we are being impacted by this growing use of social media in the place of voice to voice or face to face communication is in the ways we handle – or do not handle – our conflicts, grievances, and interpersonal struggles. People don’t sit down and “work it out” anymore. People write letters to the editor or get laws passed or get all your friends to hate the person along with you or start telling stories to hurt the other person’s reputation.

And many of these things aren’t new, but today they are more prevalent and more encouraged by the culture than ever before.

And yet we were made to live in harmonious, reconciled relationships with one another. Patterned after the perfect relationship God enjoys in Himself: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. God has revealed Himself to be three separate persons with unique manifestations and characteristics but while sharing the same character traints and existing in perfect harmony and unity together. We were made to enjoy such communion with our fellow human beings even as we were made to enjoy such communion with God.

The Lord wants His church to show the world what He is like and what it’s like to live with Him as our King, so He has made clear in His Word how we are to deal with our disagreements and the struggles and conflicts we have with one another. And because so many of those with whom we have troubles are not part of the church we can adapt these same principles to the disagreements, struggles, and conflicts we have with our friends, teachers, co-workers, bosses, and even family members, as well.

Matthew 18:15-17 [NLTse]

15 “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. 16 But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. 17 If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.

As we prepare to walk through Matthew 18:15-17, let’s begin with our own frame of mind and attitude. In Psalm 4:4 King David sings, “Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent.” But in his letter To the Ephesians the apostle Paul, quoting the psalm, writes: “And ‘don’t sin by letting anger control you.’ Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.” (4:26-27)

When we are hurt by someone we will often respond in one of two kneejerk reactions: We’ll either go for immediate revenge; or, we’ll not do anything but simmer and grow bitter. So as the Holy Spirit teaches us God’s Way and Truth and Life for our disagreements and conflicts we can see in the direction of Matthew 18 the importance of not rushing in and yet the importance of not delaying too long. Paul makes clear to the Ephesians the importance of not delaying too long: Because our growing anger can give a foothold for the devil in our lives. A little thing festers into a bigger thing, and the little things pile up together to become something huge. So we must not delay too long.

And yet it is also important that we not rush in too quickly because anger and hurt can give us a feeling of self-righteousness as we focus on our pain and the one who inflicted it. Because of that we can sometimes need time to remember that we are sinners, too. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught, “Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3-4)

As forgiven-sinners made new in Christ we have no business pointing out other people’s sins if we’ve lost sight that we’re sinners, too. Only with the humility that comes from knowing that we, too, hurt others and that we, too, need others to point out our sins to us do we have any right to confront each other.

A second reason to delay, while not delaying too long, is that if we are going to confront another with their sin we must do so out of genuine love for them. Paul, writing again to the Ephesians, says that if we want to respond to the lies and wickedness of others like Christ would, that we must “speak the truth in love”. (4:15) The Lord Jesus was as direct as can be. He called the Pharisees and other religious leaders “hypocrites” and told them they were like a “brood of vipers”. Harsh words! Yet He was able to be so direct because He loved them and knew they needed such harsh words to hear that truth. So if we do not love the one who hurt us we must first deal with the much greater sin in ourselves of not loving them before we seek to confront them about whatever their sins may be.

Now onto Matthew 18…

Notice how we’re to go privately at first. So often we tell everybody and their mother about what somebody did against us before ever telling them. Then if we do ever confront them we’ve so thoroughly dragged them through the mud to others around the office or among our friends or at church that no wonder they don’t want to ask our forgiveness and be friends again! So Jesus says, “Go privately.” Don’t let anyone know. Bring your Bible. Gently, humbly, show them and tell them what you’ve experienced. That way, they can tell you they’re sorry and change their ways without any embarrassment or shame from others around them.

Now, if they aren’t sorry, or if they won’t acknowledge their wrong, the Lord tells us that if we want to live out this abundant life He’s given us then the next thing to do it to go find somebody else who’s experienced this person’s sin. The Lord isn’t telling us to go tell somebody else about the sin. No, He’s saying for us to go and find somebody else who’s been hurt or offended or sinned against by this person in the same way, and, with that person, to go and confront them again, together. Again, the idea is to keep it all as private as can be so that if they are sorry and repentant that they can make amends and you can all be reconciled together without any embarrassment or shame to mess things up.

Now I want to pause right here to say, I know this takes all of what many of us used to consider “the fun” out of our conflicts. I know that many of you, perhaps, used to enjoy the revenge of making the person who hurt you look bad in other’s eyes. I know that many of you, perhaps, used to enjoy the attention and pity you used to get in describing the ways you’ve been hurt and wronged. Yes, Jesus is telling us that we must give all that up to gain the true joy of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)

That being acknowledge, if even after the two of you who’ve experienced their sin have humbly confronted them in love they still refuse to acknowledge their sin, then Jesus tells us to “take your case to the church”. In our case I would encourage you that here’s the time to get one of the elders involved. Now, you don’t have to. You could stand up in the middle of Coffee Hour and start making a stink about it.  But I hope you won’t, but would bring it instead to one of the elders and share it with them. Not being a part of the hurt and offense the elder might be able to offer some insights you have missed, and the elder can then serve as a “neutral party” to join you in confronting the person one last time. And perhaps that elder’s presence and confirmation will be what the person needs to apologize and be reconciled with you.

However, if not, the elder is in the best place to initiate whatever discipline might be appropriate to keep the unrepentant person from encouraging others in sinful and hurtful and self-serving ways. (That’s not the goal the process is striving for, of course. The Lord is calling us to be reconciled to each other, to overcome the “divide and conquer” works of the devil, to show the world how we Christians love each other, and in doing so to give the world a glimpse of Heaven and the Kingdom of God.) But sometimes church discipline is what’s needed to help that happen. (See 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 and 1 Timothy 1:19-20)

Lastly – though perhaps it would be best if done firstly – forgive them whether they are sorry and repent or not. You can’t fully make up and trust can’t be fully restored without their acknowledgment of their sin and their seeking your forgiveness and God’s grace to change, but forgiving them will release you from holding a grudge, and from bitterness growing up inside of you over time. And then what you’ve allowed to happen to you over time will leave you worse off than anything they ever could have done.

You can see how this process – although strictly given to us by the Lord to help us live our new life with other Christians – can be so readily borrowed for use in our relationships with non-Christians, as well. And though sometimes it may seem best to us for the other party to be the one to come and be reconciled to us: The boss or the leader or the teacher or the one who “they know what they did!” However, the Lord calls us – whether we’ve wronged or whether we’ve been wronged – as soon as He’s pointed these things out to us, to go and be the ones to make the first move towards reconciliation. To be like Christ, given power by His Spirit, to always and never give up moving to be reconciled with others.

18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone… Never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God… Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. (Romans 12:18, 19, 21)