Every Offense is an Opportunity to Preach the Gospel

Monday, August 01, 2005

I posted last weekend about a wonderful illustration on the gospel I ended up using in yesterday morning's message on Philemon 8-13. I wisely placed it as a concluding illustration of the "Six Foundations of Forgiveness," something I hope to turn into a series of post later this week.

As I shared the illustration, it struck me what Black was doing. He was using the offense as an opportunity to share the gospel. And the gospel was shared in two ways: by forgiving the debt (sharing in action), and communicating the meaning of the action (sharing in word).

The parallel to Philemon is striking. The point of the letter from Paul is that when Onesimus walks up to the front door of Philemon's house, carrying that very personal letter, the response is to be one of open-armed, welcoming forgiveness. Paul wants Philemon to use Onesimus' offense (of stealing from his master and running away) as an opportunity to share the gospel in action (for the rest of the local house-church body to observe) and to share the gospel in word (with Onesimus and others).
A couple of thoughts based on this.

First, it strikes me that here is another means of sharing the gospel with each other, especially with other believers. How often do we sin against each other? How often do we unintentionally or purposefully hurt each other with our words and actions? Think of just a few times in which our immaturity has rubbed others the wrong way. Recall a couple of events, for a moment, in which we responded in sinful anger to someone, or in irritation or frustration.

If the wonderful news of the gospel is that these sins have been covered and wiped away by the blood of Jesus, why can't our offenses become a time of confession, repentance, and celebration!? Shouldn't we make our offenses an opportunity to celebrate the good news of the gospel together? The offended has an opportunity not only to forgive the offender (sharing the gospel in action, just like Paul illustrated in Philemon 18-19), but he also has an opportunity to exposit his action with word by preaching the glorious good news of the gospel (yes, one on one!).

Further, the offended has the opportunity to share the gospel in action even further by simply going to the offender to reconcile. Is this not what God has done for us? Was He the offender? And yet strangely, He is the one who pursued us to reconcile us to Himself! So Matthew 18:10-15 should be enacted with a gospel (redemptive, reconciliatory) mindset, for it reflects that those who act in this way are acting just like God (see Romans 5:6, 8, 10).

Conversely, the offender, if he knows that he has offended someone, he has the opportunity to share the gospel in action by going to the one whom he offended and confessing it, repenting of it. When this happens, a gospel celebration can take place for the one who has sinned has said they have repented (Luke 17:3,4). And in this light, Matthew 5:23,24 can also be viewed and enacted through a gospel-lens.

Second, why do we allow faults, offenses, sins and other ungodly words and actions to separate us from each other when Christ died to put away our sins and unite us to each other and to Himself? This is perhaps the biggest mystery in Christianity, isn't it? We are united, yet we choose to remain separated. And we choose this path for the sake of small and insignificant things that simply make us feel too uncomfortable to be around so and so. Yet when we compare what they have done to us with what we have done to God, is there any real comparison? (And strangely enough, I write this particular sentence while minding to two separate instances of my children sinning against me and each other...back to back!). Who are we to hold out another's sin against us (through bitterness, grudges, resentment, etc.) when God has never once, and never will once, hold out any of our sin against us? If God will eternally apply the merits of Jesus Christ to our account, why should we withold those same merits from the one who has sinned against us?

So then, sin against each other, regardless of whether it is between us and an unbeliever or us and another believer....sin against each other must become, and indeed can become, an opportunity to celebrate the goodness of God in the work of Jesus Christ. When He becomes the focus of our confession and repentance with each other, Jesus will remain at the center of our relationships and not our petty differences (however significant they may seem). I'm afraid I focus too often on the offenses themselves when it comes to dealing with sin, rather than on the merits of Jesus Christ. In other words, I'm afraid the subject of their (or my) sin takes up more of my focus in these kinds of interchanges than the work of Jesus Christ for us does. And I think this is largely the reason why offenses generally don't get cleared up permanently, but rather tend to linger and build, causing relationships to grow stagnant even to the point of separation. When Christ and the glorious good news of what He has done for us becomes the subject of all interchanges between offender and offended, the gospel is celebrated and we are all renewed in Christ and reunited to each other.

May God grant us the grace to utilize every offense others have with us, or which we commit against others as an opportunity to relish the good news of the gospel and thereby encourage ourselves and each other.

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