Today’s selected reading continues in the first New Testament epistle of the apostle Paul unto the saints which were at Corinth, and more specifically, is found in verses ten through seventeen. It is beginning with the tenth verse of the first chapter of this epistle that we notice the first of a series of rebukes and corrections found within the epistle. Before even going into the actual words which the apostle Paul spoke, I find it first necessary to ask a very pointed question—first of myself, and then of you, the reader. The question—simply put—is whether or not we have the willingness to hear and to receive correction. Are you and I able to not only hear, but to also receive correction when it is presented us? Within each of the seven letters written unto the churches in Asia mentioned in the book of the Revelation or Jesus Christ we find Jesus declaring unto those who have ears to hear to hear what the Spirit is speaking unto the churches. Now, we would read these words and consider that which the Spirit is speaking unto the churches as that which is desirable and perhaps even pleasant to hear. When we think of the Spirit speaking unto the churches we envision the Spirit imparting some supernatural revelation concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, and perhaps even about the Father in heaven. What happens when the Spirit does not desire to speak unto us a revelation concerning our Lord, or even concerning our Father, but concerning ourselves? What happens when the voice of the Spirit comes with a mirror that is held up to us inviting us to take a careful look at ourselves?
As I am sitting here this morning, I can’t help but be gripped with the incredible thought of whether or not I myself can not only hear, but also receive the correction of the Spirit. What happens when the voice of the Lord speaks unto my heart and instead of revealing truth concerning our slots or concerning our Father, He desires to reveal truth concerning myself. CAN YOU HANDLE THE TRUTH CONCERNING YOURSELF? CAN YOU HANDLE LOOKING INTO THE MIRROR? When I begin reading the words of the apostle Paul unto the saints which were at Corinth I can’t help but wonder whether or not many churches within, across and throughout this nation in which we live can hear and receive correction and rebuke. It was the apostle Peter who in his first epistle wrote that judgment must begin in the House of the Lord. If we believe this statement to be true then we must understand that there will be times—particularly and especially in these Last Days—when the Spirit will speak unto the churches, and will bring a message of rebuke and correction. The question I am finding myself asking is whether or not anyone can handle correction anymore. Are the churches we worship in and the churches present within our neighborhoods, within our communities, within our towns, within our cities, and within our nation able to be corrected by the holy and living God? How many men and women are much like the ancient kind of Judah who upon hearing the words of the prophet Jeremiah read from the scroll take a pen knife, and not only cut off pieces and portions of the scroll one at a time, but proceed to cast it into the fire?
One of the true marks of a disciple and follower of Jesus the Christ is being able to hear correction when it is released, and to not simply hear it, but to actually receive it. One question I can’t help but wonder right now is what the Spirit truly is saying unto the churches in this generation. We know what the Spirit was speaking unto the churches through, from and with the own of the apostle Paul. We know what the Spirit was speaking unto the church through the writings of the apostles Peter and John. We know what the Spirit was speaking unto the seven churches in Asia mentioned within the prophetic book of the Revelation or Jesus Christ. We know what the Spirit even spoke through Jude, and even through the epistle unto the Hebrews, yet the underlying question we must ask ourselves is what the Spirit is speaking unto the churches within this generation. It isn’t enough to understand what the Spirit spoke unto the churches during the days of the apostles, but what the Spirit is speaking unto the churches in this generation. With that being said, it must be recognized and understood that within the various epistles and writings that were written unto the churches that were in the days of the apostles are truths which the Spirit is speaking unto the churches which are present within our generation. It must be understood that while the words contained within the epistles of Paul, Peter, John, James, Jude, and even the epistle of the Hebrews were written unto the audience of that generation, the words contained contained within those same epistles are timeless and transcend the days of the apostles. We must not for one single moment think and consider the words written and contained within these epistles to be written solely for the early church and for those churches which existed within the earth after the ascension of Jesus the Christ. In short, we must understand that the Spirit has never stopped, nor has He ceased speaking to the churches throughout the generations. There was a teaching that arose within the churches that the gifts of the Spirit were only for the days and generation of the apostles and somehow ceased with the apostles. The reason I mention this erroneous teaching is because there would be those who would choose to be naïve enough to think that the words and message written and recorded in the epistles of the apostles and church leaders no longer have any application for us within this generation.
I cannot escape the tremendous question concerning whether or not we have the ability to hear the correction of the Spirit, and of Jesus the Christ. There is a growing part within me that continues rise, and challenges whether or not I am able to receive the correction, the discipline, and the rebuke of the Spirit. Perhaps one of the greatest examples of being able to hear and receive the correction of our Lord is found within the eighteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew. If you begin reading with the third verse of this particular chapter you will find a tremendous challenge issued to us as the saints and disciples of Jesus. Consider if you will the words which our Lord spoke unto His disciples when they came unto Him asking who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven:
“Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But who’s shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offenses! For it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh! Wherefore if thy hand of thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. How think ye? If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish. Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them…I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven…So likewise shall my Heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (Matthew 18:3-20, 22, 35).
As you read the words which Jesus spoke unto His disciples on this particular occasion, you must be immediately struck by the words which He speaks concerning a brother trespassing against you. Beginning with the fifteenth verse we find Jesus speaking of that instance when our brother, and/or our sister trespasses against us, and then instructing us to go and tell them their fault between us and they alone. The second half of the fifteenth verse, as well as the first part of the sixteenth verse are actually quite challenging when you take them into consideration. In the latter part of the fifteenth verse Jesus references our brother hearing us when we reveal their fault between they and us alone. The first portion of the sixteenth verse, however, reveals and speaks of an alternative to this reality, which is our brother not hearing us when we come unto them and reveal their fault. Moreover, as you continue reading this particular portion within this chapter you will find that should your brother or your sister be unable, and perhaps even unwilling to hear when you approach them alone and reveal their fault, you are then to take with you one or two more to express and reveal the fault which was committed. What is actually quite challenging within this passage is when you find that the purpose of two or three witnesses is that every word might be established, yet Jesus also presented the possibility that it is possible that our brother and/or our sister cannot and will not hear—even when we bring unto them one or two more. Continuing along these very same lines, Jesus also speaks of a third attempt to bring your brother or sister to the place where they will hear of the fault they have committed, for Jesus would proceed to suggest that if your brother and/or sister still will not hear—even after you have brought one or two with you—you are to tell the matter unto the church. It is this bringing the matter and fault before and unto the church that is the final attempt to “gain thy brother,” and/or to “gain thy sister.” If there is one thing I find to be absolutely and incredibly challenging, it’s the overwhelming pursuit of gaining our brother and/or our sister—even if they have committed a trespass against us.
DO YOU GIVE UP TOO EASILY? HAVE YOU GIVEN UP TOO EASILY? The more I read this passage of Scripture, the more I am gripped by the overwhelming need for persistence when it comes to gaining a brother who has sinned and trespassed against us, and when it comes to forgiving that brother or that sister who has trespassed against us. If we are being honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that we give up far too easily and far too quickly when it comes to gaining that brother or that sister who has trespassed against us. There are many of us who would just assume write those who have trespassed against us off, and to make absolutely no attempt to gain them as a brother or as a sister. It’s worth noting and pointing out that Jesus speaking of gaining our brother, which is actually quite remarkable and astounding. When Jesus begins speaking of being trespassed against, Jesus speaks not of an enemy or adversary sinning and trespassing against us, but of our own brother or sister trespassing against us. It was David within the Old Testament book of the Psalms who spoke of being sinned and trespassed against, as he was betrayed by one who was closest to him. David would go on to declare that if it were an enemy or an adversary who had trespassed against him it would have been easier to handle and easier to bear. That one, however, who trespassed against him was not an enemy, nor was it an adversary, but was one who he enjoyed communion and fellowship with. This is actually quite remarkable to consider, for we would assume that once a brother or sister sins and trespasses against us, they are able to be written off. OH, there is a point within this passage when Jesus instructs His disciples to regard their brother or sister who has trespassed against them as a heathen, but that was only when all other means and methods have been exhausted. If we are being honest with ourselves, and with the Lord of hosts, we have to admit that we are far too quick to write off those who have trespassed and sinned against us. There are many of us who allow only one fault to be committed against us, and once that fault has been committed, we write the individual off. What’s more, is that not only do we write off the individual, but we also proceed to harbor a grudge, and offense, as well as bitterness toward that individual. If we are being honest with ourselves, we have to admit that it is far easier to write that brother or that sister off who has trespassed against us, and to hold a grudge against them rather than seeking to gain them as our brother.
HOW MANY BROTHERS HAVE YOU GAINED? HOW MANY SISTERS HAVE YOU GAINED? Jesus speaks of gaining our brother when we are able to tell them their fault between the two of us, and they both hear and receive it. With that being said, however, Jesus does allow for, and even suggest the reality and possibility that even when we tell our brother their fault between the two of us, they choose not to hear us. It is at this point—that moment when we recognize and understand that they cannot and will not hear us—that we write them off and make no further attempt to gain them as a brother or sister. There is a part of me that can’t help but wonder how many brothers or sisters I could have gained within my own life if I had not given up when they refused to hear of their fault when it is spoken of between the two of us. How many brothers or sisters have I written off because they would and could not hear and receive me when I attempted to reveal their fault unto them? What’s more, is that I can’t help but wonder how many of us even have the courage to approach our brother or sister and confront them with the fault and/or trespass they have committed against us. We must recognize two distinct factors that are found within this portion of Scripture—the first is that the one who committed the trespass and offense was not an enemy, but a brother, and the second is that the offense and trespass wasn’t committed against another individual, or even committed within that individual’s life alone, but was committed against us. These are two incredibly important realities to read and consider when seeking to understand this passage of Scripture, for it was not only a brother who trespassed, but it was a brother who trespassed against us. We might be a little more lenient and lax when a brother or sister trespasses against another, or even trespasses in general, yet when it comes to our brother trespassing, and doing so against us, we make no attempt or effort to confront them in order that we might gain them. The question I am finding myself asking right now is how many brothers or sisters we have written off when we should have made every effort and attempt to gain them.
Within this passage of Scripture we find three distinct attempts being made to gain that brother who has trespassed against us, and to be quite frank and quite honest—there are very few of us who are even willing to put in that type of time, effort and energy. If we are being honest with ourselves, we have to admit that once our brother sins and trespasses against us, we have absolutely no interest in confronting them with their trespass, and have absolutely no interest in gaining them as a brother. I find it to be absolutely challenging to read the words which Jesus spoke within this passage, for not only does He speak of three distinct and three different attempts to be made to gain that brother or sister who has trespassed against us, but He also speaks of forgiving seventy times seven. In all reality, not only do we perhaps make no attempt to gain that brother back who has trespassed against us, but we also might not even have it within us the ability and/or the willingness to forgive our brother seven times. It must be noted that even after Jesus spoke of making every attempt to gain that brother who has trespassed against us, Peter proceeded to ask the question of how often his brother could sin against him, and he forgive him. In other words, what Peter was really asking was whether or not forgiveness has limits and limitations. FORGIVENESS WITHOUT LIMITS! FORGIVENESS WITHOUT LIMITATIONS! I am sitting here right now and I am finding myself being confronted with the tremendous reality that I must take and remove any and all limits and limitations I have placed on forgiveness within my heart and life. It would be very easy for me to forgive once, maybe twice, perhaps even three times, but to forgive seven times—that is absolutely unheard of. What is incredibly challenging is when we find Jesus not agreeing with Peter concerning forgiving seven times alone, but forgiving seventy times seven. IN other words, that which Jesus was doing was taking the limits and limitations off forgiveness, and to allow ourselves to be defrauded and trespassed against. We must admit that two of the greatest challenges we face in our Christian living is taking the limitations off our forgiveness and making every attempt to gain that brother who has sinned and trespassed against us.
There are two distinct passages found within this particular epistle which not only speak to the reality of our brother hearing and receiving correction, but also of our willingness to allow ourselves to be defrauded and trespassed against. If you turn and direct your attention to the fifth chapter you will find the apostle Paul correcting—not the church as a whole, but rather a specific individual within the church. If you begin reading the first verse of the fifth chapter of this particular epistle you will find the apostle Paul speaking unto the church concerning an individual among them who was guilty of fornication before and in the sight of the Lord. Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul wrote concerning this particular individual and his sin within the church: “IT is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolaters, or a raider, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? Do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (1 Corinthians 5:1-13).
If you turn and direct your attention to the sixth chapter—specifically the first eleven verses of the chapter—you will find something else the apostle Paul needed to address unto this congregation at Corinth. Consider if you will that which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Corinth in the sixth chapter of this epistle: “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are your unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? How much more things that pertain to this life? If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church. I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? No, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren. Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revivers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:1-11).
Within these two chapters we not only find an account of revealing unto our brother their fault and trespass—even when it is not committed against us—but also a willingness to take wrong, and to suffer ourselves to be defrauded. There is within these two chapters two incredibly powerful challenges which we must allow ourselves to be confronted with. The first challenge is whether or not we ourselves have the ability to hear when we are rebuked and to hear when we are corrected. There is a tremendous challenge each and every one of us faces when it comes to whether or not we are able to hear correction and rebuke when it is presented unto us. There is a passage found within the sixth chapter of the New Testament epistle which Paul wrote unto the Galatians which I feel helps to illustrate this point even further. Beginning with the first verse of the sixth chapter of the epistle written unto the Galatians we find these words—“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden. Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:1-10). It is quite clear and quite obvious that correction and rebuke are necessary elements and practices within the church, yet if we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we have an incredibly difficult time dealing with and handling correction when it takes place within our lives.
When we come to the tenth verse of the first chapter of this first epistle written unto the Corinthian congregation we find the apostle Paul setting forth one of the many corrections and rebukes that are found within the epistle. As you read the first epistle of the apostle Paul unto the saints which were at Corinth, you will find that there was much which needed to be corrected among them, for while it was true they were called to be saints, and while it was true that they called on the name of the Lord with saints everywhere, there were areas among them which needed to be dealt with and confronted. Within this particular set of verses we find the first correction being set forth, for we find the apostle Paul addressing the contentions and divisions that were present among them. When beginning to write this epistle, the very first area the apostle Paul sought to correct among this congregation was pertaining to matters of the unity of the brethren. Before addressing the contentions and divisions which were among them, he first appeals to them by the name of their Lord Jesus Christ that they all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among them. That which the apostle Paul sought to address and confront within this epistle was that of unity, and I can’t help but wonder if the unity of the church isn’t perhaps the single greatest need which is at the heart and foundation of all other issues which are present within them. I am convinced that loving the Lord our God with all our heart, and loving our neighbors as ourselves is the fulfillment of the law of God which was given unto Moses, and I am convinced that the unity of the brethren, and unity within the church fulfills much of what is necessary among us within the churches. IF love fulfills the law of God which was given unto Moses, and if love fulfills the law of Christ, then I am convinced that unity stands at the very heart of much of what churches—regardless of denominations—face within and throughout history. I am convinced that one of the single greatest needs within and throughout and across all churches in this generation is that of unity, for division is perhaps one of the single greatest threats to the church(es) of Jesus Christ.
If division and contentions are found to be present within an individual church, I would dare say that strife, and envying, and so much more can and will most certainly be present. I would dare say that if there is division and contention within the church, bitterness, offense, malice, anger and hatred are most certainly found to be present among the body. We must recognize that as surely as a house divided within and against itself cannot stand, so also a church divided within itself cannot and will not stand. What the apostle Paul sets forth within this passage of Scripture is one such practice which is the source of much division within the body of Christ—division regarding personalities. I am throughly convinced that as we read this epistle which was written unto the Corinthian congregation, we will come to the understanding that not only must we be willing to hear and receive correction, but the unity of the body of Christ is the single greatest need any church faces. In all reality, the apostle Paul was a huge proponent of unity within the body of Christ among the saints of God, and wrote much concerning this. I can’t help but be reminded of the words which he wrote unto the saints which were at Philippi, as well as the saints which were at Rome. I leave you with the words of this apostle in each of these epistles, and with a challenge to do whatever is necessary within yourself to not only be a promoter and proponent of unity within the church, but to also strive to live at peace with all men. Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Philippi—“If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled Himself, became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:1-8). In the twelfth chapter of the epistle unto the Romans we find these words—“Let love be without dissimulations. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; distrusting to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Bless them which persecute you: bless and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:9-21).