God is on our Side

In the fifth chapter of his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul emphasizes God’s desire for reconciliation with those who are separated from Him.

“Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

Reconciliation between offended parties can be very tedious and difficult work. Many will tell you that unless both parties are truly dedicated to being reconciled, a disagreement or a feud can go on for years or even for life. This is true whether in personal relationships, or in those between whole groups of people or nations.

These words to the Corinthians confirm for us that God, on His part, is dedicated to reconciliation with us, the people of the world. This availability for reconciliation demonstrates to us God’s great love, for as the text says, He is willing to overlook our trespasses in order to restore our relationship. This is astounding considering that we are the ones who rejected God in the first place, and who have rejected Him with our sinful actions too many times to count.

It is a good thing that Jesus supports the concept of forgiving someone “490 times” in Matthew 18. It is a good thing that “God is love” according to 1 John 4, and that love “does not take into account a wrong suffered,” according to the famous love passage of 1 Corinthians 13.

Many people get this picture backwards. They think of themselves as the innocent party who was just minding their own business, when all of a sudden God marched up with a list of unreasonable demands that had to be met or the relationship would be severed. But scripture, as we have seen, just does not fit that picture. God is actually the one who is willing to overlook the past and invite us back into His arms. God is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance,” according to 2 Peter 3:9.

We are going to have to humble our pride if we are to come to Him. We cannot portray Him as a demanding tyrant who forces us to jump through hoops for His own arbitrary reasons. Rather, God, like a loving parent, knows what is best for us and calls us gently and lovingly to follow the path of life.

The apostles found themselves as ambassadors on Christ’s behalf, literally begging for God’s estranged children to return to Him. God wants us to be with Him! He wants everyone to be with Him! He is on our side! So much so that He would not only overlook our sins against Him, but that He even sent His own Son to die at our hands, who even then prayed “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

God is pulling for us. His invitation to life still stands. In the words of Jesus, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

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Representing Christ

The final words of Jesus that are recorded by Matthew are instructions for His followers to carry out while He is away: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The idea of spreading out all over the world is itself a daunting task, but for many of the early missionaries for Christ, travel and culture shock were only the beginning of their troubles. People were going to HATE them for being Christians: “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)

This posed a real problem for the early church. Hatred can often lead to violence, and the Roman government had very little tolerance for troublemakers whose religion led to violence. So what could the church do, to maintain its credibility and its political freedom while also standing up for Christ? The book of 1 Peter appears to have been written as an answer to that question.

Peter writes the book specifically to the “aliens” who have been scattered all over the known world for the sake of Christ, and he addresses all kinds of difficult situations that they may encounter.

What if Christ’s people find themselves disagreeing with the governing authorities?
What if a Christian servant finds himself serving an unjust master?
What if a Christian wife finds herself with an unbelieving husband?
What if a Christian finds himself in an argument in which his faith is called into question?
What if there are arguments within the church itself?

All of these situations must have been common for the early church, and any of them could have ended badly for everyone involved, but Peter’s instructions contain a steady theme that runs throughout the book:

Stand up for Jesus Christ, but do so in a way that is above reproach. Do not give them any reason whatsoever to slander your character. Be respectful. Be gentle. Be humble. Demonstrate through your behavior just how beautiful and beneficial your religion really is.

As Jesus said in Matthew 7: “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

The world will judge our message not simply by what we say, but also by how we say it, and what we do to demonstrate it. When we argue on behalf of Christ, let us do it, as Peter says “with gentleness and reverence.”

After all, Jesus Himself is our ultimate example. He was unjustly nailed to a cross.   He could have called ten thousand angels. But instead He responded by praying for our forgiveness and entrusting Himself to the Father.