Posts Tagged ‘admonition’

In my title today I am echoing the form of some of the Proverbs, especially in chapter 30. And I do want to share some Scriptural wisdom with you today. I want to give us all some encouragement this morning to work at any relational tensions and conflicts we might have in our lives and in our congregation. And I am sharing this precisely at a time when I am not aware of any such concerns among us, so you can be sure that I have no particular situation in mind.

Working at good relationships is really important for any congregation, because when we don’t attend to our relationships it makes it quite difficult to be focused on doing the work of the Lord together. But when we do attend to these things and live in loving and healthy relationships with each other we can focus on doing the Lord’s work, and we will be the kind of people that God can use to do his work.

So here are 5 things in the area of conflict and broken relationships that amaze and bring joy, certainly to God and also to me as your pastor.

The first is –

Someone who truly confesses their wrong to another

If you have done wrong to someone, it is very tempting to be defensive. Maybe you think they have done worse to you before, or they deserved it – or whatever. And our culture would encourage you to make excuses and to evade responsibility. There is an epidemic of this. No one wants to admit their wrongs or take responsibility for them.

Instead of this, when you wrong someone, the Christian way is to freely and fully confess your wrong to the other person. Jesus said, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you (that is, you have wronged her or him), leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24

Jesus teaches us to go to the one we have wronged. Don’t wait for them to come to you, or for the situation to blow up. Go to the one you have wronged. And go with the goal of being reconciled; of making things right, as Jesus said in v 24.

And this can’t happen if you don’t confess your wrong. You have to take responsibility for your words and actions.

The example of the prodigal son is instructive. He had wronged his father terribly. And so he came and said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” – Luke 15:21. He took full responsibility for his actions. He humbled himself. And he was willing to accept the consequences of his behavior.

And as we see in this story, true and heartfelt confession has the power to heal people; and it has the power to heal relationships. The father forgave him and they were able once again to have a relationship. They were able to start off anew.

A second thing that amazes and bring joy is –

Someone who takes their concern to the person who wronged them

If in the first case you were the one who wronged another, in this case you have been wronged.

Jesus said in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.” (NIV) Go to them in private, so that they can hear you and you can hear them and you can sort through the issue.

Now there is no doubt that this is hard to do. We most often prefer not to do this because we are conflict avoiders. We prefer to let the relationship wither rather than work hard to keep things right. And what a shocking indictment of our lack of love for one another this is!

But not only this, our conflict avoidance becomes an idol for us because it is more important to us than doing what Jesus teaches us. So in reality, we love neither God nor our neighbor.

When we don’t deal with things face to face we end up harboring resentment in our hearts which is poison within us. Or we might also be more active by spreading gossip. That is, instead of going to the person who wronged us, we go to everyone else and tell them about the wrong and how bad the person is. So not only is your relationship with the person damaged or destroyed, other people’s relationships with the person are damaged or destroyed.

It may seem risky, and it may be hard, but there is no other way if you want to maintain the relationship and be faithful to God. Take your concern to the person who wronged you.

A third thing that amazes and brings joy is –

Someone who can deliver a good admonition

Admonition means “counsel or warning against fault or oversight.” In Matthew 18:15 it is translated – “point out their fault.” (NIV)

But how do we do this rightly so that its good admonition? Here are some keys:

Restoration is the goal. We go to “win them over” – Matthew 18:15 (NIV). Paul calls it “restoring” them in Galatians 6:1. We need to speak in a way that it can be received and have a positive outcome.

Mercy is necessary. We don’t go to condemn the person, judge them and put them down. As Jesus taught us in Luke 6:37-42 it is fine to take the speck out of someone else’s eye, but we must make sure we don’t have a log in ours; that is, a lack of mercy.

Humility is required. We have to be humble because we know that we are only forgiven sinners. We are not better than the person we go to. Paul says, “Take care that you yourselves are not tempted” Galatians 6:1 (NRSV). We too could fall into sin again, if we are not careful.

Gentleness is key. Paul says, “If anyone is caught in any trespass, you who have the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” – Galatians 6:1 (NRSV). There is no place for harshness.

When we do all this, we are giving what Proverbs 15:31 calls “life-giving reproof”; admonition that can truly bless and help someone.

A fourth thing that amazes and brings joy is –

Someone who can hear and receive admonition

If going to another person with an admonition is hard, I think it is equally or perhaps more hard to be admonished; to receive admonition. Its hard because we don’t like to admit that we have done wrong. And we don’t like it if someone else points this out.

That’s why the book of Proverbs makes the point that it is scoffers (those who mock, deride, show contempt to others) who do not receive reproof – Proverbs 9:8; 15:12. And we don’t want to be scoffers!

It tells us that “he who hates reproof is stupid” – Proverbs 12:1. And we don’t want to be stupid! And it says, “He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck (is stubborn or arrogant and won’t listen) will suddenly be broken beyond healing” – Proverbs 29:1. They will not receive the life-giving help that admonition can bring. And we don’t want to be in this position!

Proverbs also gives us positive encouragement to receive admonition, by pointing out that there are many benefits to it:

  • Proverbs 13:18 – “whoever heeds reproof is honored.”
  • Proverbs 15:5 – “whoever heeds reproof is prudent.”
  • Proverbs 10:17 – “whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life”
  • Proverbs 15:31 – “The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise”
  • Proverbs 15:32 – “he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.”

Receiving admonition is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of wisdom and maturity. That’s because the wise person wants to grow and be more faithful to God in every area of life, and so they are able to hear from another about their faults and any wrongs they may have done. And that’s why Proverbs 9:8 says, “Reprove a wise person and they will love you.” They will appreciate what you have done for them.

And so let’s be open to this, even if it is not done exactly correctly in your eyes (not tactfully or in a fully sensitive way). No, no. Listen for what God is saying to you through the person.

A fifth thing that amazes and brings joy is –

Someone who doesn’t judge by appearances

Jesus said to the Jewish leaders who wrongly judged him, “Do not judge by appearances, but with right judgment” – John 7:24. And we should not judge each other by appearances. That is, don’t come to conclusions about someone else when you don’t know all the facts, when you have just overheard something or seen something that could be interpreted in various ways, or heard a rumor from a third party.

Never come to conclusions about someone else based on these things. How many relationships have been damaged or destroyed in this way! If there is a rumor or a question – find out the truth. Go to the person.

Leaders are especially vulnerable to this. And sometimes when there are issues that must remain private we can’t even say fully why some decision are made. But don’t judge by appearances. Have some trust and then if you need to, ask leadership any questions you have.

So here are five things that amaze and bring joy. Someone who:

  1. truly confesses their wrong
  2. takes their concern to the offender
  3. delivers a good admonition
  4. receives admonition
  5. doesn’t judge by appearances

The reason these qualities are amazing and bring joy is that they don’t come naturally to us. These are not our natural inclinations. These are a sure sign of God’s love working in our heart. They come from the Spirit of God working in us so that we both love God and do what he tells us, and we love our brothers and sisters as well.

William Higgins

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We have come to the final letter in our series on the seven letters to the churches in Revelation. Today we look at what Jesus has to say by the Spirit to the church in Laodicea, and also to us.

Laodicea was situated on major north-south and east-west trade routes. It was a prosperous city, even able to rebuild after a devastating earthquake in 60 AD without imperial help. It was known for several things: its banking and financial industry, it textiles – including making clothes, and a medical school.

The situation in Laodicea

Something is seriously wrong. This letter is arguably the worst of the seven in tone and critique.

  • In v. 16 Jesus says, “I will spit (or vomit) you out of my mouth.” In other words, they make Jesus sick!
  • In v. 17 Jesus says, “You are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
  • They have shut Jesus out. v. 20 presents a picture of Jesus on the outside, knocking, hoping to get in.
  • They need to repent, as Jesus says in v. 19.

When we look at what’s going on, it isn’t exactly clear. They are doing well. In v. 17 Jesus has them say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.” And all this in a time of persecution, which raises some questions. We have already seen in other letters that persecution can bring economic hardship. But they are doing just fine. Perhaps they are using their wealth to keep them out of suffering, through bribes or calling in favors and otherwise using their influence.

In v. 17 Jesus tells them the truth, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” They think they are faithful. They haven’t denied Jesus (having used their wealth to escape persecution), but in reality they aren’t standing up for Jesus. If it is true that they have bought their way out of testing, they are avoiding true faithfulness to Jesus.

In vs. 15-16 Jesus says, “you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

The idea of this hot-cold contrast, with lukewarm in between seems to be that they are trying to be something in between two extremes. They are trying to have it both ways, being faithful to Jesus, but also not having to suffer for him. But the truth is they are neither standing up for Jesus (hot?), nor denying him (cold?), but are doing something in between (lukewarm).

The Laodiceans didn’t have good drinking water, so they would have understood Jesus’ image here of spitting out bad water. They would have gotten the message that Jesus doesn’t approve of their behavior.

Jesus’ message

v. 18 picks up on the last three words of v. 17 – “poor, blind and naked.” Jesus says, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.”

In this verse Jesus gives them the answers to their problems. 1. They are poor (even though their city is famous for its financial industry and wealth). The answer – “Buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich” – v. 18. Refining is a common metaphor for testing and persecution. Jesus is saying, gain true treasures that come through enduring testing.

2. They are naked (even thought their city is famous for its textiles and clothing industry). The answer – “Buy from me . . . white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen” – v. 18. In Revelation, white garments have to do with righteous deeds, including suffering (Revelation 19:8; 7:13-14). Jesus is saying, gain true righteousness through enduring testing.

3. They are blind (even though their city is famous for its medicine, including eye medicine). The answer – “Buy from me . . . salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see” – v. 18. Jesus is saying, gain true vision so that you can realize your situation of unfaithfulness.

Jesus’ call to change. Although judgment is threatened, Jesus says in v. 19, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” His warnings come from love, so that they will listen and have a change of heart and behavior.

In v. 20 Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Now this verse is popular and is often used to speak of becoming a Christian. But in context it is spoken to those who are already Christian, but need to repent because they are being disciplined by Jesus.) In this verse, Jesus is looking for those in the church in Laodicea that he can share fellowship with. This fellowship is pictured as eating a meal together. The path to this is repentance. They have shut him out, and so they must let him back in.

Jesus speaks to us

v. 22 – “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Jesus is speaking to all who will listen in his churches. And so, once again, we have to ask ourselves, ‘Do we have ears to hear what Jesus is saying to us in this letter?’

1. We often don’t see when we are failing. The Laodiceans thought they were faithful and were probably expecting a good word from Jesus. They were clueless having deceived themselves.

And we too can be unaware of our own faults. We too can be deceived and oblivious to reality. This is why we need to be in relationship with God and with others so that we can receive admonition and correction.

We need others. When we isolate by ourselves; when we stop coming to church and stop reading the Scriptures and praying, we cut ourselves off from God and other. And we are setting ourselves up for failure.

But we are Americans and we love our privacy! But we are called to love each other enough to help each other see our faults, so that we can repent and receive God’s blessing in our lives.

2. Even when we fail, Jesus still loves us and invites us to come back. In v. 19 Jesus admonishes us because he loves us and wants us to change. And in v. 20 he knocks on the door of our hearts because he wants to be in fellowship with us.

Even when we sin and are under threat of judgment, Jesus still wants us to hear him and respond with repentance so that we can be in relationship. We may shut Jesus out of our lives, but he still pursues us.

3. Beware the dangers of wealth. All through the New Testament wealth is seen as potentially dangerous. In Mark 4:18-19, the parable of the sower, the seed among the thorns represents – “those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”  Wealth can choke out and kill our Christian faithfulness.

In Luke 12:15 Jesus says, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Jesus is saying, don’t even desire an abundance of things.

When wealth is used to help those in need it is a blessing to all. But when it is used for personal comfort and security it becomes a stumbling block. This seems to be how the Laodiceans were using it.

4. Jesus wants us to be truly faithful to him. In v. 15 he says, “you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!” Like the Laodiceans, we try to have it both ways. We want to be faithful to Jesus, but we also want to be comfortable. We don’t want to experience the downside of faithfulness, you know, things like suffering and ridicule. And so we find ways to get out of this.

But you can’t have it both ways. To be faithful to Jesus means being faithful precisely when it is hard, and precisely when it takes away our comforts. We can’t be both hot (faithful) and cold (unfaithful) at the same time, that is, lukewarm. We have to be either hot or cold. Not just faithful on the surface.

As we end, lets remember Jesus’ words of encouragement for faithfulness: v. 21 – “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.”

William Higgins

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We are up to the fifth letter in our series on the seven letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3. Today we look at what Jesus has to say by the Spirit to the church in Sardis – and also to us.

Sardis was an important city, although more so in earlier centuries. It was known for its wealth centuries before, but was still doing well in Roman times. It was also a religious center. There was also a large Jewish community in Sardis – perhaps from the time of the Exile. Several from this community were wealthy and leaders in the city.

The situation in Sardis

Something is definitely wrong. It’s a very strong and negative letter. v. 2 – “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.” Not a lot of specifics, so let’s look closer.

First of all, they are asleep – v. 2. This metaphor is used in several places in scripture and never in a good way. It means that you are not spiritually alert. You are complacent, apathetic, lethargic or just coasting along.

The language of “sleep” and of Jesus coming as a “thief” is used in:

  • Matthew 24:36-44 – talks about people “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.” They are caught up in the routines of life and not ready for Jesus’ coming.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:1-7 – refers to people who say, “there is peace and security.” There is no need to worry, things will continue on as always. These are not ready for Jesus to return.

To be asleep is to live like things are normal, unaware of the spiritual reality of Jesus and his coming and our need to be serving him.

Another clue is the phrase “soiled garments” – v. 4. According to Revelation 19:8 “garments” have to do with the righteous deeds of the saints. This verse speaks of the bride of Christ dressed in “fine linen, bright and pure – for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”

Soiled garments, then, pictures that they have allowed sin and unfaithfulness in their lives.

So they are asleep and have dirty clothes. Is sounds like they are just going along with society around them, compromising in order to continue to fit in. This might be why there is no mention of persecution in this letter. It looks like they are doing well – “you have the reputation for being alive” – v. 1, but when you look closely, they are dead. They are complacent and unfaithful. Only a remnant among them is faithful and alert.

Jesus’ message

Change now!

  • “Wake up” from your slumber and get moving (v. 2).
  • “Strengthen what remains and is about to die” (v. 2). Whatever is left, tend to it before it’s too late.
  • “Remember, then, what you received and heard” (v. 3). Get back to where you were when you started, when you first believed.
  • “Repent” (v. 3). Have a change of heart and mind that leads to changed behavior.

And Jesus is saying, change now, or else. There are strong threats of judgment. v. 3 – “If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” Jesus will come, not referring to the second coming, but in a visitation of judgment. He will be against them.

And also in v. 5, the one who conquers, Jesus says, “I will never blot his name out of the book of life.” The message is clear. If you don’t overcome, your name will be blotted out. And as Revelation 20:15 says, “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Jesus doesn’t mince his words. He speaks the truth to them. You may think you are OK, but you aren’t. And if you don’t remedy things, you will be judged.

Finally, Jesus encourages the faithful. Some in Sardis are still faithful. They have not soiled their garments. “They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy” – v. 4. This is referring to the day of resurrection and eternal life.

Jesus speaks to us

v. 6 says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Notice again the plural. Jesus’ words to the church in Sardis are also words for us. And we need to have ears that hear his words.

1. Will we listen to Jesus when he speaks truth to us? These believers thought they were OK. But Jesus dealt directly and pointedly with them. He spoke the truth, you are dead!

We don’t know if they listened or not. But if Jesus comes to us and challenges us, when we think we are just fine, and he speaks the truth to us, will we listen? Will you listen?

2. Is our congregation dead or alive? Jesus says in v. 1, “You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” This means a church can look alive, but really be dead – or dying. What would Jesus say to us?

What do you look for in a church that is alive? A certain kind of lively music or worship style? Charismatic leaders? Lots of programs? A big crowd?

According to Jesus, its not about any of these things. It has to do with our works of love and service to God and others.

3. Are you asleep? Jesus rebuked the believers in Sardis for being caught up in the normal routines of life – eating, drinking and giving in marriage, enjoying peace and security.

What about you? What’s different about you from the world around you? Are you just the same in your attitudes and actions as everybody else? Just trying to fit in with the world around you?

Jesus calls us to wake up as well. To put aside our complacency and spiritual apathy and renew our commitment to him; to be busy at his work, and to be ready for him.

4. Sometimes we have to get back to the basics. Jesus said to these believers who were complacent and unfaithful, “remember, then what you have received and heard. Keep it and repent” – v.3.

And sometimes we get off track as well. We allow sin in our lives or we get distracted by the demands of life from our commitment to Jesus. And we need to remember as well what it was like when we first became a Christian. The freshness of our commitment and the basics of the gospel.


As we end lets remember Jesus’ words of encouragement for faithfulness: v. 5 – “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.”

May we be among those who are so blessed on the final day.

William Higgins

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We are beginning a series on the seven letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. I want us to see what Jesus says by the Spirit to these churches and also what he might be saying to us.

Today we begin with the church in Ephesus. But before we get to this, a bit of . . .


John the prophet is in exile on the island of Patmos, as a punishment for his faith. While he is there he has an amazing set of visions of Jesus and his return. And as a part of this revelation, he is told to write letters to seven churches, which is found in Revelation  2-3

Each letter has five sections: 1. the address; 2. a description of Jesus; 3. Jesus’ review of the church; 4. a call to hear; and 5. a description of the reward for faithfulness. We will be focusing on section 3 of each letter.

Ephesus was the most prominent city in the Roman province of Asia and it was the seat of Roman government in this area. It was a real commercial hub and a part of this was its prominent sea port. It was also known for its temple of Artemis, which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Ephesus was also one of the most important cities in early Christianity. Paul spent three years there and helped establish the church. Ephesians and I Timothy were written to this church. Paul also wrote 1 Corinthians while he was in Ephesus. Also, the gospel and letters of John are traditionally associated with Ephesus.

Coming to the message in these verses, first of all we see that . . .

Jesus encourages the church

Verses 2-3 form an inverted outline:

A. “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance”

B. “and how you cannot bear with those who are evil but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.”

`A. “I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.”

In the A sections the emphasis is on hard work and especially endurance. In the B section the focus is on opposing false teaching. Both sections seem to be talking about the same situation – opposing false teachers and enduring the conflicts this must have generated.

First of all, these verses tell us that they worked hard at exposing false teachers. Given their prominence as a church and as a city, with numerous travelers coming through, they would have had many itinerant teachers coming around looking for disciples. And they would also have had resident false teachers. V. 6 gives an example of their encounter with false teachers – “Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” We will encounter this group again in later letters.

Secondly, their opposition to false teachers may have caused much contention, which they had to endure. They may have been slandered as false by the false teachers, and so they experienced a measure of persecution for speaking up for the truth.

So Jesus commends them for enduring and holding on to right teaching. But next . . .

Jesus admonishes the church

v. 4 – “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” This doesn’t seem to be a problem with loving God. They have a zeal for the truth and have accepted persecution for the name of Jesus.

The focus seems to be on loving other people. They have abandoned their acts of love for others. They are not caring for the needs of others. Or perhaps they are not caring for each other’s needs, helping the weak among them.

1 John 3:16-18 talks about the necessity of this kind of love. “By this we know love, that he (Jesus) laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

Perhaps a part of this is that, because of their bad experiences with false apostles, they aren’t giving any support or hospitality to true teachers who come through. This is kind of support is called “love” in 3 John 5-6. (If this is the case, their strength – weeding out false teachers – also leads to their weakness – not receiving any teachers.)

Whatever the case, next comes . . .

Jesus’ strong call to repentance

v. 5 – “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.” They are to think back and remember how they used to love others, and then they are to have a change of heart and mind, and do what they used to do.

“If not, (Jesus says) I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” In Revelation 1:20 we see that the lampstand represents the church. So what this means is that Jesus will extinguish their life as a church. This is a powerful warning and certainly a motivation to repent and make things right.

Jesus speaks to us

V. 7 says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Notice the plural. Jesus’ words to the church in Ephesus go beyond just Ephesus. They are also words for us. And, as he says, we need to listen to his words.

1. It is good to test teachers (vs. 2, 6). Jesus was pleased that they did not bear with false teachers, but tested them and that they hated the works of the Nicolaitans.

Testing teachers is a common theme in Scripture:

  • We are to test their moral lives. Jesus says in Matthew 7:20, “you will recognize them by their fruit.” False teachers will act in wrong ways.
  • We are to test their words. Jesus says in Matthew 12:34 to the Pharisees, “How can you speak good, when you are evil?” False teachers will speak and teach wrong things.

The lesson here is that, just as with the Ephesian Christians, Jesus is also pleased with us when we test teachers and expose the false ones.

2. Jesus can be offended by our behavior (v. 4). Jesus had a serious concern with them. He said, “I have this against you.”

Do we recognize that Jesus can be upset with us? That Jesus can have a problem with us? That he can have something “against us” or against me?

This goes against the popular picture of Jesus as always being warm and fuzzy, and completely accepting. But the truth is that Jesus can be unhappy or angry with us.

And we are no better than these Ephesian believers. We too will be judged if we as a church or as individuals allow sin in our lives.

3. You can’t live off of yesterday’s faithfulness (vs. 4-5). They used to have acts of love. The phrase “at first,” is repeated two times. This is referring to when they first believed and were founded as a church. But they don’t practice such love anymore.

And the point is that their previous faithfulness doesn’t cancel out their current unfaithfulness, which is why they are warned to change or be judged.

The same is true with us. If we used to be faithful in an area, and then cease, our previous faithfulness will not cancel out our current unfaithfulness. We too will be subject to judgment from Jesus.

4. It’s not enough to have right teaching, you have to have love others (v. 4). They had a love for the truth, but not a love for others – which is to miss the point. I Corinthians 13 says, “If I have . . . all knowledge . . . but don’t have love I gain nothing.” Right knowledge or teaching is inadequate by itself. And besides, right teaching is supposed to lead us to love!

Do we love each other? Or do we focus on what is easier – thinking about truth, arguing about the Bible, things that are not connected to people. Jesus calls us to love one another, to care for one another, to sacrifice for one another, and also those who are not a part of our church. Do we love other people?


Lets end with Jesus’ words of encouragement for faithfulness in v. 7 – “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”

William Higgins

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Today we are looking at a very familiar text – Leviticus 19. This is where the commandment, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” comes from, which Jesus names as the second greatest commandment of all.

But how many of you know that the context of the giving of this commandment is – dealing with wrongdoing in relationships among God’s people? This is our title and focus for today.

Here is the text:

“You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of them. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 19:17-18 (NRSV modified)

Alright, we begin with . . .

Two initial considerations

. . . that will help us to make sense out of these verses.

1. This is talking about relationships among the people of God. There are actually several different terms used in these verses to talk about relationships, but all of them speak to fellow members of the covenant community.

The word “neighbor” used in the love command of v. 18, based on how it is used in the Old Testament, clearly means ‘fellow Israelite.’ [Leviticus 19:34, which repeats the love command, reinforces this point. It calls for love for “aliens” or “strangers” – those who immigrate and become to some degree a part of Israel. This wouldn’t need to clarified, if “neighbor” already covered everyone.]

So, we are dealing with relationships among God’s people.

2. Vs. 17 and 18 parallel each other (Jacob Milgrom). I share this because the two verses help fill out each other’s meaning; they give context to each other. There are three part to both verses, which speak to three themes:

v. 17 v. 18
What you shouldn’t do You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people

What you should do

you shall reprove your neighbor

but you shall love your neighbor as yourself


lest you incur sin because of them

I am the Lord

This will help us, as we now see what these verses teach us about what to do –

When you are wronged by a neighbor . . .

1. We learn what you shouldn’t do. V. 17 – You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin.” You can see the parallel and the expansion in v. 18, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your.”

The idea is that when you have hatred in your heart (v. 17)

  • You have wrong inner attitudes towards the person; you “bear a grudge” – (v. 18). And also,
  • It leads you to take wrong actions towards the person; you “take vengeance;” you do them wrong in return (v. 18).

We shouldn’t harbor hatred or grudges in our heart that lead us to wrong actions on our part.

2. We learn what you should do. V. 17 – “you shall reprove your neighbor.” The word reprove is similar to rebuke, admonish, censure, or correct. It means to point out a wrong, specifically here, a wrong done to you. The idea is that you do this, so that the wrong can be righted. Instead of trying to get them back, you go to them to work things out.

The parallel here is really important. V. 18 says, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” So, to reprove your neighbor (v. 17) is to love your neighbor as yourself (v. 18).

Let me say it this way. In context this is what neighbor love means. When wronged:

  • Don’t hate them or wrong them in return
  • Rather point out the wrong in order to work through it. Come to them with the issue so that things can be made right.

This is what it means to love your neighbor, when they have wronged you.

Now the way these verses are put together makes it clear that the call to reprove, is a call to love. So obviously this is not about venting anger, telling someone off, or saying mean things. It is about loving your neighbor as you love yourself. You are to act for their good, just like you act for your own good. This is what the phrase – “love your neighbor as you love yourself” means. And so it is to be an act of love, done in a loving way.

3. We learn why you should reprove/love instead of hate/take revenge. V. 17 says, “lest you incur sin because of them.” This most likely means, if you harbor hatred it will lead you to act in hatred toward the person; that is to harm them. This is not loving your neighbor. So in this way it leads you to sin.

V. 18 says, “I am the Lord.” This means, because God said so. And God is always right. And we should do what is right and not sin.

So this is the basic teaching. Now lets ask a practical question . . .

How wrong does the wrong have to be before we act to reprove?

Well, we are always going to do things that annoy each other. This even happens among happily married couples. How much more among us!

And there will always be people with different personality types, who most likely aren’t ever gonna be best friends. And this is OK. We are called to love one another, not all be “best friends forever.”

And we will always have misunderstandings or even disagreements and we can work on these.

But these don’t mean that you need to automatically move into “reproving mode.” What I am saying is there is an element of bearing with each other, and overlooking minor things in any community’s relationships.

  • As Colossians 3:12-13 says, – “Put on . . . compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another . . .”
  • As Proverbs 19:11 says, – “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is one’s glory to overlook an offense.” Some offenses can be overlooked.

But, how do you know when you should speak to the person? Well, if what was done is causing: resentment, bitterness, an unforgiving spirit, abiding anger, wrong words (like gossip or slander) or wrong actions on your part; in the language of our text – hatred in your heart, a grudge, or actions of vengeance – then you must act! Deal with the issue. Seek to work through it.

Now let me acknowledge that . . .

It can be hard to do deal with such issues in our relationships with each other

As Americans we just as soon break off the relationship, than to honestly deal with things. We are uncomfortable with this kind of stuff.

And as church people we think that we have failed if there is conflict, because we are supposed to be witnesses for love and peace to the world.

So we become conflict avoiders; we push everything under the rug. I mean some churches have so much stuff under the rug that when you walk around your head hurts from scraping the ceiling!

What we need to understand is that we are true witnesses when we work through issues in love, rather than just getting mad or walking away. The world already knows how to do this. When we have problems and pretend like we don’t – we just come off as hypocrites.

We will be true witnesses when they see us love each other enough to work through things in a loving way. This kind of deep love is new and different. This is our witness.

So no matter how hard it is, God calls us to have real relationships with each other. And this means dealing with problems that arise in love.

Let me just say that this is what God does with us. It’s because he loves us that he reproves us:

  • Hebrews 12:5-6 (quoting Proverbs 3:11-12) says, Don’t “be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves . . .”
  • In Revelation 3:19 Jesus said, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline . . .”

In the same way, if we love the person, we will deal with the issue.

Alright, we could also talk about receiving reproof, forgiveness and reconciliation – but we will stop here for today.

I hope you hear me this morning:

  • Let us not be a congregation where resentments build up, where relationships remain strained, where our love for one another is shallow, weak or cold.
  • Let us deal with our issues that arise – and is this way love each other as we love our own selves; and in this way live in peace with one another.

William Higgins

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In working with those who seek to join the church, I try to make a point of telling people, “You aren’t joining a group of angels. You most likely will have conflict, be wronged, or have cause to get angry at times.” I say this to get rid of any illusions to the contrary or false expectations

Church is real life, with real people and if we seek to be a close community, that is involved in each others’ lives this stuff will happen

And so I ask, “Are you committed to working through this kind of stuff?” Jesus calls us to live in peace, not just walk away from each other when there are problems – like the world does. We are to be a different kind of community; one empowered by God to live in peace with one another.

We are really looking once again at Luke 17:3 – “If a brother sins, tell him to stop; if he repents forgive him.” We have dealt with what repentance looks like. And we have dealt with what forgiveness looks like. So today we look at what it means, in the words of this verse, to “tell him or her to stop.”

I am also bringing in Matthew 18:15. It says, “If your brother (or sister) sins, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.

Here is a checklist of seven things to do if a fellow believer wrongs you:

1. Make sure that you really have been wronged

This may seen strange to say, but sometimes our feelings get hurt or we get annoyed and angry, but we haven’t been wronged – at least not seriously. So we need to be discerning.

Is it a misunderstanding?  When people don’t communicate well, or don’t know each other well, or don’t understand each other (maybe they come from different cultural backgrounds) this is always a real possibility. In some cases you may think you have been wronged, but really the different parties just aren’t able to communicate with each other.

Is it a personality clash? Some people just don’t get along! They annoy each other and set each other off. They will probably never be close friends. And that’s OK. God likes different kinds of people. We are not all the same or even similar. We have to love each other, but we don’t have to be best friends.

This is a part of life – just don’t read into the other’s actions the worst possible motive, or make the worst assumptions just because your personalities clash. Colossians 3:12-13 says, “Put on . . . compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another . . ..” We need to learn to bear with one another in love.


Also, when there is an offense, ask, “Is this a minor issue that can be overlooked? For example if someone agrees to help you to do some project, but they forget about it and don’t show up – well this made you work more and maybe messed up your plans, but how badly have you been wronged? Proverbs 19:11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is one’s glory to overlook an offense.”

How do you know if it needs to be dealt with? Check your anger level. Does it leave you feeling resentment or even a desire to get even? If there is abiding anger then deal with it.

2. Take the initiative and go

When there is a real wrong, Jesus tells us, “go” – Matthew 18:15.

I want us to notice first of all that if someone wrongs you, they should take the initiative to come to you and repent. This is what Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:23-24. Speaking to the person, he says, if you have offended someone – “.. . leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother . . ..” If you have done the wrong you are to go and make it right.

But if they don’t, don’t just let it slide. You are to go to them. In some cases, they may not be aware of what has happened or how you feel about it.

3. Go and deal with the person face to face

Jesus says, “between you and him alone” – Matthew 18:15. It needs to be a private conversation. In other words don’t go public with it at this point. Also, don’t go to someone else with gossip. Keep it between the two of you.

Now in some circumstances there has to be others involved. If the other person is intimidating or has power over the one who is wronged, for instance. But even here, when someone goes along, it is still to be seen as a private event, not a pubic one.

4. Go in order to make sure what happened

Jesus says, “go . . . between you and him” –  Matthew 18:15.

Don’t rely on hearsay, you know, when someone tells you that so and so did something or said something about you that was wrong.

Jesus tells us, “Do not judge by appearances, but with right judgment” – John 7:24. If you go to the person you may find that it ends up to be a misunderstanding or a minor issue. And then this becomes the opportunity to clear things up.

And even if it is obvious that you have been wronged (there is not hearsay involved), don’t reach a final verdict about all that has happened, or what they were thinking, or their motivation. Talk to the person that has wronged you to get the whole story, not just your side.

(In some cases this step may be unnecessary – when the wrong is great and the motivation is publicly known.)

5. Go in order to restore the person

In other words, go for the right reason. There is always the temptation to go off on them in anger. But the goal here is to “gain” your fellow believer. Jesus says, “go . . .. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother (sister)” – Matthew 18:15.

In the case of a personal wrong, it means personal reconciliation. But it also means on another level the restoration of someone caught in sin back to a right relationship with God

If this is our goal, we have to deal with our anger before we go. As Paul says about confronting people in general, “If anyone is caught in any trespass, you who have the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness – Galatians 6:1 (NRSV).

6. Lay out the wrong and call the person to account

Jesus says, “tell him his fault” – Matthew 18:15. This word means to admonish, chastise, reprove or call to account. In Luke 17:3 the word for “tell him to stop” means to rebuke, censure or chide.

You are to confront the person – this is what you did and it was wrong and you need to do something about it

7. If the person listens to you, accept their repentance

Jesus says, “If he listens to you, you have gained your brother (sister)” – Matthew 18:15. “Listen” here means they really hear you, with the implication that they act appropriately with repentance.

This is what we talked about last week. In the words of Luke 17:3, “If a brother sins, tell him to stop; if he repents (if he listens to you and repents) forgive him.”

Here is a summary of –

The seven steps

  1.     Make sure that you really have been wronged
  2.     Take the initiative and go
  3.     Go and deal with the person face to face
  4.     Go in order to make sure what happened
  5.     Go in order to restore the person
  6.     Lay out the wrong and call the person to account
  7.     If the person listens to you, accept their repentance

Finally there is the question you have all been thinking about –

“Do I have to?”

I don’t know anyone who wants to go and confront someone about a wrong. Our culture values privacy and conflict avoidance. In our culture we almost always choose not to deal with these kinds of issues. We afraid and we think it is all too messy. In fact, we are willing to sacrifice the relationship with each other, rather than to try to deal with the issues and find healing.

But Jesus values peace among his followers and not our desires for privacy or conflict avoidance. And so he tells us: Go to the one who has wronged you and seek peace.


It may be hard, but it is the only way the relationship can heal. Especially if the person hasn’t come to you, or isn’t even aware of the problem

So we need to set aside our fears, our cultural values, and whatever else stands in the way. We need to walk in faith, and do what Jesus tells us to do, even when it is difficult.

William Higgins

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