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Matthew 5:21-26, 43-48; Romans 12:9-21
CBS Affiliate KDKA Channel 3, in Pittsburgh, reports of an unusual Christmas disturbance that took place this past December 16 in Connellsville, PA. Their lead for the story was, “Motorist Tried to Run over Ex as He Put up Lights.” Local resident Alan McCutcheon was busy putting up outside Christmas lights when his ex-girlfriend, Mary Jo Smith, came barreling through his yard. She made several tours through the yard screaming, “Merry Christmas,” all the while Christmas carols blasted from her cranked radio. At one point, she even took aim to run McCutcheon over. When police arrived she told them, ‘I was just trying to get some peace.’ But that did not deter the police from arresting her. And then the newscaster ended the segment by saying, ‘So much for “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men!’ 1
Today as we conclude this series on peace, the message is simple; yet challenging. If we desire to experience the peace of God, our relationships with others need to be harmonious. Mary Jo was looking for peace; can’t blame her for that. We all want peace. But her method to find it was a little lacking.
The Apostle Paul writes, “Dear friends, never take revenge” (Romans 12:19). Rather, “Do all you can to live in peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). With who? With everyone!” This verse summarizes the words of Jesus we just read in the Sermon on Mount.
Let’s begin with a question . . . Has anyone ever wronged you?
If you answered in the affirmative, and you haven’t resolved the situation that person is disturbing your peace. We think about what they did to us; how they treated us poorly. We wake up in the middle of the night thinking about the situation that has caused division between us and that person. We cannot get through the day without thinking about how we have been wronged. And it only gets worse when we start to daydream about how to get even.
It may be someone at work who did something to meddle with our peace. It might have been a friend; a good one at that. Sadly it’s often a family member: a sibling, a spouse, a child, a parent.
Regardless of who it is that has wronged us, Jesus teaches those who wish to be His disciples to reconcile with that person.
You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! (Matthew 5:43)
The word ‘enemy’ does not refer to a military enemy but rather describes any person who has inflicted physical or emotional harm on us. The word ‘love’ is agape; which is not the love of affection but the determined love of the mind whereby we are to look out for the best interest of that other and do whatever we can to bring that about. William Barclay comments:
If we regard a person with agape (love), it means that no matter what that person does to us, no matter how he treats us, no matter if he insults us or injures us or grieves us, we will never allow any bitterness against him invade our hearts, but will regard him with unconquerable benevolence and goodwill which will seek nothing but his highest good. 2
How in the world does Jesus expect us to love others that have wronged us like that? He doesn’t even take a breath before he clues us: “Pray for those who persecute you!” (Matthew 5:44). Again William Barclay:
We are bidden to pray for them. No man can pray for another man and still hate him. When he takes himself and the man whom he is tempted to hate God, something happens. We cannot go on hating another man in the presence of God. The surest way of killing bitterness is to pray for the man we are tempted to hate. 3
Praying for them will lead us to the place where we will be ready to forgive them, and forgiving them is the key to our peace.
Has someone wronged you and therefore disturbed your peace? The path to peace is to love them, by praying and forgiving that other person.
What do you do if you try to reconcile a relationship, and the other party clearly does not wish to?
In order to have some peace, I would say that it important to give that person over to God. I didn’t say give up on the person. To give up is to say, “I don’t care what happens to you.” What I am saying in giving them up to God is to walk away thinking, “I have done all that I can do to fix this and so I’m entrusting that person to God from this point on.”
Giving that person over to God implies that we will continue to pray for that person. It implies we are not burning bridges, and leave open the chance that somewhere down the line we may have another chance to effect a reconciliation. Giving them to God helps us to walk away without anger or bitterness or placing blame.
The other side of the same coin involves when we have wronged someone else.
Now we are the one who causing someone else to lose sleep.
Jesus also addresses this issue in Matthew 5:25a
If you are standing at the altar in the Temple, offering a sacrifice to God (that is if you are worshiping), and suddenly remember that someone has something against you (you’ve somehow wronged them, you said something to them you shouldn’t have, you said something about them to someone else you shouldn’t have, you borrowed something of theirs and never returned it, you fill in the blank). Leave your sacrifice there beside the altar; go and be reconciled to that person, (that is, you do whatever you can to make it right and then ask for forgiveness) then (and only then Jesus continues) come and offer your sacrifice.
Again I turn to William Barclay:
Jesus is quite clear about this basic fact . . . we cannot be right with God until we are right with men; we cannot hope for forgiveness until we confess our sin, not only to God but also to men and until we have done our best to remove the practical consequences of it. We sometimes wonder why there is a barrier between us and God, we sometimes wonder why our prayers seem unavailing. The reason might well be that we ourselves have erected that barrier, through being at variance with our fellow-man, or because we have wronged someone and have done nothing to put things right. 4
And so, again the pathway to peace lies in doing whatever it takes to help improve the relationships with others regardless of whether we were wronged or we wronged someone else.
One more word of advice on this issue: there is a certain sense of urgency in the words of Jesus.
When you are on the way to court with your adversary, settle your differences quickly. Otherwise, your accuser may hand you over to the judge, who will hand you over to an officer, and you will be thrown into prison. (Matthew 5:25).
Allow me to read one last time from the master of devotional commentaries.
Again and again it is the experience of life that, if a quarrel, or a difference, or a dispute is not healed immediately, it can go on breeding worse trouble as time goes on. Bitterness breeds bitterness. It has often happened that a quarrel between two people has descended to their families, and has been inherited by future generations, and has in the end succeeded in splitting a church or society in two.
If at the very beginning one of the parties had had the grace to apologize or to admit fault, a grievous situation need never have arisen. If ever we are at variance with someone else, we must get the situation put right straight away. It may mean that we must be humble enough to confess that we were wrong and to make apology; it may mean that, even if we were in the right, that we must take the first step towards healing the breach. When personal relations go wrong, in the nine cases out of ten immediate action will mend them; but if that immediate action is not taken, they will continue to deteriorate, and the bitterness will spread in an ever-widening circle. 5
I’ll tell you about a case where prolonged bitterness led to tragedy.
Lindsay’s father was a distant yet demanding father who gave him extra chores on the family ranch around holidays and whipped Lindsay if he didn’t work hard enough. He lived in fear of these beatings which often drew blood. But even worse were the names and insults that were especially hard. Lindsay’s hatred for his father tormented him like demons for years. At age 51, he watched Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” one last time and then put a gun to his head and a bullet through his brain. “I hated Christmas because of Pop, and I always will,” he said. If I ever do myself in, it will be at Christmas. That will show the world what I think of Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.” You see; Lindsay was Bing’s son, Lindsay Crosby.
Dr. Henry Cloud wrote 9 Things You Must Do to Succeed in Love & Life. In one chapter, Dr. Cloud likens being at odds with someone to having a mild toothache. (I would add it can be like a terrible throbbing toothache.) And he counsels that unless and until you do something about it, it will keep gnawing away at you. And he urges his readers to decisively deal with these kinds of relationships.
PULL THE TOOTH. DEAL WITH WHATEVER IS WRONG. … UNRESOLVED NEGATIVE THINGS ARE A DRAIN AND TAKE AWAY FROM THAT WHICH HAS LIFE. THEY HAVE NO PLACE IN YOUR HEART. DO WAHTEVER YOU CAN TO FIX WHAT IS WRONG AND MAKE IT BETTER. FORGIVE AND RECONCILE. 6
Don’t let it reach the point of no return like Winston Churchill did with Nancy Astor. Nancy was so exasperated with Winston that she said, “If I were your wife, I would poison your coffee.” Whereupon Winston retorted, “If I were your husband, I would surely drink it.”
It’s not always easy; in fact, it can be very difficult.
But we are in Christ. We have been forgiven. We have been given the power of His Spirit to help us be the kind of people He desires. Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Reconciliation is one of those things we can do!
The small community where the McDowell family lived knew his father as the town alcoholic. Josh hated him for the abuse and the shame he brought them. He hated him each time the kids at school made fun of him because someone saw his dad downtown drunk again. He hated him each time he went to their barn and found his mother lying in a pile of manure beaten so badly by her husband she couldn’t get up. Josh was convinced that no one could hate anyone more than he hated his father.
About 5 months after Josh McDowell accepted Christ, the hate was replaced with love for his dad. He looked his father right in the eyes and told him he loved him. His dad didn’t say a word.
Sometime later, Josh was involved in a serious car accident and was placed in traction. His father came to see him and after pacing around the room for a while said, “Son, how could you love a father like me?” Josh answered, “Dad, six months ago I despised you. I have placed my trust in Christ and received God’s forgiveness. He has taken away my hate and now I love and accept you and other people just the way you and they are.” Josh’s dad said, “Son, if God can do in my life what I’ve seen Him do in yours, then I want to trust Him too.”
His father’s life changed right before his eyes; just as if God reached down and flipped on the light switch. 7
I challenge all of us to examine our lives to discover whether or not our peace has been trifled with as a result of poor relationships with other. And if it has, then to take the steps necessary to effect a reconciliation. Allow God to work in our lives so that He can do in all of our lives what He did in Josh McDowell and his father’s lives! Amen!!
1 “Police: Motorist Tried To Run Over Ex As He Put Up Lights,” by CBS/AP,
published Philadelphia CBS Affiliate KDKA, Channel 3, December 7, 2016
2 Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1; The Daily Bible Study Series.
[Philadelphia: The Westminster Press © 1975] pages 173-174.
3 Ibid. page 175.
4 Ibid. page 143.
5 Ibid. page 144-145.
6 Cloud, Dr. Henry Cloud. 9 Things You Must Do to Succeed in Love & Life. [ ] page 67.
7 Cathy Miller and D. Larry Miller. God’s Chicken Soup for the Spirit. [Lancaster, Pa. Starburst publishers, © 1996] pages 178-179.