Issue #172 -------
February 7, 2005
What is hateful to you don't do to
another. This is the whole Torah;
the rest is just commentary.
Rabbi Hillel (died c. 9 A.D.)
Love ... Mercy ... Compassion ... Forgiveness. These are godly manifestations of grace. We experience them from our heavenly Father on a daily basis. Indeed, we would all be lost without them. Should our God withhold any of them from us, we would have no hope. There is not a one of us who does not appreciate more than words can ever express the reality of our gracious acceptance by our merciful Father. How many of us realize, however, that we are also expected to manifest these same divine qualities toward others ... especially toward our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? I also wonder how many of us realize that if we don't, then these outpourings of grace will be withheld from us. What far too many "church folk" seem to forget is that the nature of our relationship with the Father is in large part determined by the nature of our relationship with His children.
"The one who says that he is in the light and yet hates his brother is still in the darkness" (1 John 2:9). "The one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes" (1 John 2:11). "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (1 John 3:14-16). Jesus is our great example, our divine pattern. As He related to others, so must we. "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philp. 2:5). "Therefore, accept one another, JUST AS Christ accepted you" (Rom. 15:7). The Lord has extended His grace to you; your obligation of love is to extend that same grace toward others.
I'm convinced that one of the greatest needs among members of the Family of God today is a better appreciation of the Principle of Reciprocity. This fundamental postulate of deity fills the pages of inspired Scripture. We have encountered it time and again in our journey through life; it surrounds us at every turn, both spiritually and secularly. Yet, how frequently we fail to live by this divine directive. It is perhaps one of the most critical concepts in Scripture with respect to our own right standing with the Lord. Nevertheless, it is easily one of the fundamental principles least practiced. Tragically, this failure will cost a great many people their very salvation. It is that serious!
What exactly is this principle that is so critical to our eternal well-being? Our word "reciprocity" comes from the Latin word "reciprocus," which simply means "a returning." It refers to something done or given in return; "corresponding, but reversed." In other words, it is the universal belief that what you give will eventually come back to you in similar fashion or form. Thus, the Principle of Reciprocity can be stated simply as: "You get what you give." This is stated proverbially as: "You reap what you sow." Social psychologists use the term "Idiosyncrasy Credits," referring to the concept that we reap personal benefits from the favorable impressions we leave in the hearts and minds of others. Our behavior toward others is "bankable" -- i.e., we build a reserve of "credit," a reserve from which we may later draw out acts of positive feedback. In business, science, mathematics, society, religion, and every other area of life, the Principle of Reciprocity is perceived and practiced on a daily basis. Even little children ... toddlers ... seem to understand the concept, and behave accordingly. How interesting, then, that those in the Family of God seem so woefully ignorant of it.
Perhaps it is time for a refresher course in this fundamental principle of godly living. Thus, in this current issue of my Reflections I would like for us to take a journey through the pages of God's Holy Word for the purpose of helping each of us perceive just a little better the way in which we should be conducting ourselves toward others. It is a vital journey, because some of you reading these words are in danger of forfeiting eternal life; a danger brought on by the way you are treating others in the Family of our Father. Our God does "not wish for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). This article is written in love with some precious, but misguided, brethren in mind. If you happen to be one of them, please know that you are loved, and that we are praying for your spiritual enlightenment and for the softening of your heart. The goal of this article is to help you perceive the need to treat others just as you would have them treat you (Luke 6:31). It is a golden rule that will bring a rich return to your life, both here and hereafter.
Jesus loved to present eternal truths to the people of earth in the form of parables. It was such a common teaching tool that His disciples even asked Him, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?" (Matt. 13:10). The answer of the Lord in the verses that follow is quite instructive, but we'll leave that discussion for a future issue of Reflections. Suffice it to say, "Jesus spoke to the multitudes in parables, and He did not speak to them without a parable, so that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, 'I will open My mouth in parables'" (Matt. 13:34-35). Thus, there is no better place to begin our journey through the Word in quest of a better perception of this Principle of Reciprocity than with one of our Lord's well-known parables -- specifically: The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.
We all know the story that Jesus told that day, but do we know what prompted it? This parable was presented specifically to help Peter better appreciate the importance of forgiving his brethren. Indeed, the "bottom line" of the parable is that Peter would receive the same degree of forgiveness (or lack thereof) from the Father that he extended toward his brethren who had wronged him. "Then Peter came and said to Him, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?'" (Matt. 18:21). Peter undoubtedly felt his offer to forgive a brother up to seven times to be a very magnanimous gesture on his part. Jesus informed him, however, that such a gesture didn't even begin to approach the spiritual standard set by our Father. Jesus said to Peter, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven!" (vs. 22). He then tells Peter the story of a servant who did not understand the Principle of Reciprocity.
Jesus gives us the moral of the story in verse 35 -- "So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart." Reciprocity. You get what you give. Those who refuse to forgive their brethren from their hearts can expect to receive nothing less than the wrath of God Almighty when they appear before him seeking mercy. "For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy" (James 2:13). If you expect to receive mercy one day, then you had better show mercy unto others. You will receive exactly what you gave! Jesus said it plainly in the Beatitudes -- "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy" (Matt. 5:7).
I wonder how many disciples of Christ are aware that the Principle of Reciprocity has been placed "smack dab in the middle" of the "Lord's Prayer." In fact, it is that particular part of the prayer our Lord taught His disciples to pray that He selected for further comment in the passage before us. In the prayer itself we find this well-known phrase: "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matt. 6:12). Men and women have been praying this prayer verbatim for centuries, and for centuries many have been choosing not to live by the principle it contains! Look at those words carefully. We are literally asking God to forgive US just as we have forgiven OTHERS!! "Lord, please treat me in exactly the same way that I have been treating Bro. Joe or Sis. Jane." Now, just how many of you are really willing to be eternally bound by that standard of measure?!! Well, the reality is -- you are bound by that standard of measure. "By your standard of measure, it will be measured to you" (Matt. 7:2). If you are not showing love, mercy, forgiveness, compassion and acceptance toward your brethren, don't expect to receive these from the Father on that great day of reckoning!
Jesus picks out this one statement from His model prayer, and about that statement He makes the following observation -- "For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions" (Matt. 6:14-15). Reciprocity. You get exactly what you give. That's a sobering thought, brethren! We all need to do some serious self-evaluation, because there are some of us who are treating some of God's other children pretty poorly. We have probably even rationalized our despicable behavior to some extent so that we can live with ourselves and sleep at night. The frightful reality, however, is that you will reap what you sow!
Brethren, it is time for some of us to make some immediate and dramatic modifications to our behavior. If we do not, we shall reap a harvest of inconceivable misery. "For they sow the wind, and they reap the whirlwind" (Hosea 8:7). "He who sows wickedness reaps trouble" (Prov. 22:8). The Principle of Reciprocity will come back to haunt many disciples of Christ one day. They perhaps thought they were serving the Lord, but they had no clue as to His true nature. They will one day cry out in anguish, "Lord, Lord" ... only to hear the frightful words, "I never knew you!" (Matt. 25:31-46). The whole message in that chapter dealing with the great day of separation is that it is not the externals of religious practice that will determine our fate, but rather how we treated one another. On that day we shall get just exactly what we gave.
There is much regarding this concept of reciprocity within the words of our Lord's Sermon on the Mount. It is a theme to which He returns more than once. For example -- "Do not judge lest you be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you" (Matt. 7:1-2). We are often very quick to judge the motives of our brethren, and our "standard of measure" is quite frequently quite severe. Jesus would have us to know that if we are severe in our evaluation of others, then we had better be prepared for just as severe an evaluation of ourselves when we appear before His throne! "Be merciful, JUST AS your Father is merciful. And do not judge and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned" (Luke 6:36-37).
In Matt. 7:3-5 Jesus follows up on this theme of reciprocity by suggesting a far better way to conduct ourselves. Rather than spending one's time "searching for slime" in another's life, devote that effort and energy to cleaning the filth out of your own!! It's rather ridiculous to be showcasing the specks of sawdust in a brother's eye while sporting a ceiling beam in your own! Are you a self-appointed speck hunter? Beware!! You will reap what you sow! Remember: the qualification for a stone-thrower is sinless perfection!! (John 8:7). Do you qualify?! If you think you do, then hurl away, brother! But don't expect to receive much sympathy when buried by the return volley!!
In this marvelous passage toward the end of the very first book written (49 A.D.) of the 27 books comprising the NT canon, the apostle Paul gives us much good advice regarding interpersonal relationships. We are to restore one another, bear one another's burdens, display a spirit of gentleness, and "do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith" (vs. 10). Placed within these very positive admonitions is a reference to the Principle of Reciprocity -- "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap" (vs. 7). Do you want good done to you? Then do good to others. When you slip and fall, do you want others to help lift you back up? Then lift them up. Do you want to be shown love and mercy and gentleness? Then show the same toward others. Reciprocity.
2 Corinthians 9:1-11
Paul has much to say about the grace of giving. There are a great many ways to give. We may give of time, talents and abilities, material goods (food, clothing, etc.), and we may even give of ourselves in loving service to others. Giving is not just monetary in nature. But, sometimes it is, and Paul speaks of such in the text before us, although he weaves in the spiritual aspects of such giving as well. In all of this teaching, however, we cannot fail to detect the Principle of Reciprocity. It permeates the passage! It is recorded that Jesus stated, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). Paul seeks to impress this principle upon his readers in the city of Corinth as he appeals to them on behalf of the suffering saints in Judea.
The divine Principle of Reciprocity is clearly perceived in verse 6 -- "Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully." A promise from God is added to this principle in verse 11 -- "You will be enriched in everything for all liberality." Those who give liberally, and from the heart, will receive bountiful blessings in return. Giving is a grace, and we are always enriched for such generosity. In our Lord's Sermon on the Plain, He declared, "Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return" (Luke 6:38). Reciprocity. "Test Me in this," declares our Father, "and see if I will not throw open the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows" (Malachi 3:10). We get what we give ... and where God is concerned, we most often get far more than we give! We can never out-give our God! However, the Principle of Reciprocity works both ways: "He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered" (Prov. 21:13).
As Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, a mob appeared to arrest Him. Peter drew a sword and sliced off the ear of a man named Malchus, who was the slave of the High Priest (John 18:10). Jesus told Peter, "Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword." This is very similar to the old proverb: He who lives by the sword, shall die by the sword. It is the Principle of Reciprocity. Men of violence often come to violent ends!
This is something a man by the name of Haman obviously failed to consider in his quest to destroy Mordecai. Haman did all in his power to bring misery to the life of Mordecai, and indeed to all of the people of Israel. He was so confident that he would prevail over his perceived enemy that he constructed a gallows upon which he intended to hang Mordecai. The tables were turned, however, and "they hanged Haman on the gallows which he had prepared for Mordecai" (Esther 7:10). Indeed, ten of his sons were also hanged (Esther 9:13-14). A plot had been formed against the Jews, but it was those who formed the plot who paid the ultimate price. That great manifestation of the Principle of Reciprocity is still remembered today in a Jewish celebration known as Purim (Esther 9:17f).
We could go on and on, but I think the principle has been sufficiently established and illustrated from God's inspired Word. Reciprocity .... You reap what you sow. There are perverse persons infesting the church of our Lord Jesus who "are sowing discord among brethren" (Prov. 6:19). They are finger-pointing, slandering, false, worthless men and women (Prov. 6:12-19) whom "the Lord hates" and regards as "an abomination" (vs. 16). The passage says their calamity shall befall them suddenly! Reciprocity. God is not pleased, to put it mildly, with those who promote separation within the Family of God. Such persons will reap exactly what they have sown -- separation from God, one which shall endure eternally.
There are disciples who refuse any dialogue with other disciples. They want no association with their brethren in Christ. They separate themselves into isolated communities of factionists, build walls of exclusion around their disciples, and castigate the other children of God as apostates and heretics. If you are within the walls of one of these sectarian fortresses, beware -- by your judgment against others, you may be preparing yourself for that same judgment by God. If you want nothing to do with His other children, He may just grant you that wish, and while the eternal celebration goes on within His heavenly home, you may find yourself standing outside in the darkness with the "elder brother" (Luke 15:25f).
There are men, women and young people in congregations who absolutely detest other members of the congregation. If you look their way they will give you "stink eye" (an expression used frequently in Hawaii to depict the glaring gaze of those who look upon others with disfavor). I have observed such people for years in countless churches, and they are some of the most miserable people one will find. What is sad is that their misery is self-inflicted. I have watched such persons practically flee from a room when the object of their scorn walks in. One woman actually turned and crashed into a wall in her haste to get away from her "sister in Christ." It would have been funny, if it were not so pathetic. I have had such people tell me, "Oh, I forgive Bro. Joe or Sis. Jane; I just don't ever want to have anything to do with them; keep them away from me!" Is that forgiveness?! If it is, are you willing to accept the same forgiveness from God? "Oh, I forgive you; I just have no desire for you to be here in heaven with Me!" Reciprocity. You will reap what you sow.
There are those reading this issue of Reflections who need to heed this message! Some of you are behaving in a ghastly and godless manner toward your brethren in Christ. It needs to stop. You are not only harming others for whom Christ died ... you are not only bringing shame upon the church ... you are fattening yourselves for a day of slaughter. It breaks my heart to know that some of you, unless you have a change of heart, will be banned from the joys of eternal life. Your behavior is not worth the price you must one day pay for your attitudes and actions. I plead with those of you who have placed yourselves in positions of peril: turn from this destructive path.
From a Minister in Kentucky:
My beloved brother, I am continuously uplifted, encouraged, and enlightened by your Reflections! Being a minister myself, I know that it must require an enormous amount of personal commitment. I just want to express once again my deepest gratitude for your dedication to challenging us to think! I'm convinced that one of the greatest needs of our time is for Christians (of all denominational backgrounds) To Think!! Stretching our minds and going deeper into the Word of the Living God should be one of our most earnest endeavors. Unfortunately, among those with a more "conservative" mindset there are so many who believe they already have it all figured out, so they lay their brains aside Sunday after Sunday. I know, because I used to be in that category myself. What a shame!
Anyway, what you had to say in your last Reflections to the minister from Washington I believe to be right on target. I've been preaching through Galatians the last two months, and I've become convicted of something that I'd never thought of before. I grew up in a fellowship that basically said the Holy Spirit ONLY speaks and works through the Word. However, unlike those with whom I grew up, I've come to believe Scripture over Tradition, and I believe in a personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Interestingly, the same congregations who deny the personal indwelling of the Spirit are also the ones most legalistic. They feel it is necessary to make people "conform" to Christ using laws, regulations and rules. Why? Because when one denies the Spirit His role and power in the sanctifying process, all one is left with is LAW. "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law" (Galatians 5:18). I'm convinced that any church which denies the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is destined to become legalistic and patternistic. May God continue to bless you with good health and a clear mind! May He continually fill you with His Spirit that you might continue to challenge us to think. I greatly appreciate you, brother!
From a Reader in Arkansas:
God bless you, brother Al. I love reading your Reflections articles and thinking along with you. You are a thoughtful Bible student. I know many scholars conclude Jesus appeared in the OT as "The Angel of the Lord," but I am not so sure this was the case. According to Hebrews, He is above the angels. Angels are ministering spirits to the people of God. Angels are messengers and representatives of God. The King's representative is thus closely associated with the King in purpose and authority. I see "The Angel of the Lord" in this light. Therefore, the first part of Hebrews (1:1-14) leads me in a different direction when contemplating the Lord Jesus.
From a Ph.D. in Mississippi:
Al, Thought I'd drop you a note to say hello from Athens, Greece. I'm here teaching for a month. We have completed the first week of class, and I have managed to learn how to ride the busses and subway system without getting totally lost! Food is great! I'm impressed with our students. They are eager, quick, sharp, and with a great desire to know God's Word. What a treat! Anyway, just wanted to say hello. Got your latest Reflections this morning, and while I had a minute wanted to get this email off to you. God bless!
From a New Reader in (Unknown):
Al, I received your Reflections from a friend in Seattle and love what you have to say. Could I please be added to your list of recipients in the future? God bless you in your ministry. I love your Reflections. We need more like you!
From a Reader in Wyoming:
Dear Al, Thank you so much for your book Down, But Not Out. I believe that the fruit of your efforts in searching out God's meaning will be put to a very good use. It is a point of view that is critically important and needed. I am divorced and planning on remarrying within the next few months to a woman who is also divorced and is a certified Christian counselor. Both of us are members of the American Association of Christian Counselors. I thank you so much and pray that God will bless you and your family and continue to speak through you to provide healing and a strong message of the power of God's grace. Thank you again, Al, and God's richest blessings on you and your family.
From a Reader in Canada:
Al, I read your book Down, But Not Out and could hardly believe what I was reading! For over 10 years I have struggled constantly with the guilt of not desiring a reconciliation with my ex-husband. It actually made me feel nauseated to consider returning to him. Some in the psychological field told me that I should talk to a psychiatrist to find out why I was causing myself all this guilt. Church people continually advised me to pray that my ex and I would restore our relationship. I even attended a little church briefly, and just as quickly departed from it, when a visiting preacher tried to cast out "the enemy" who was keeping me separate from my ex. I felt blamed, lost and totally frustrated. No one seemed to understand how scared and angry I felt all the time. I kept getting told, by the very ones I looked to for support, that my duty was to be back with him, and how it was wrong to divorce.
So today, when I happened upon your web site, I was staring slack-jawed at your words which you had written in your book. Somebody actually knows how I feel, and DOESN'T BLAME ME. Not only that, but you're saying that in the event I bond with someone for another marriage, I'm not sinning, nor am I doomed to remain celibate for life! Thank you so, so very, very much for offering me the first ray of hope I have felt. I had all but buried the flickering of that tiny spark that is still me. God bless you, Al.
From a Reader in California:
Al, Some articles encourage, some articles teach, and some articles correct. I would say that your latest article did all three for me. I feel truly edified by your examination of Paul's spirituality. It took me 2-3 readings, some prayer, and some study, but I believe I have a better understanding of Paul's love for the Jews and how I am called higher by it. Here is an analogy I came up with after reading your article. If I see a truck speeding toward my daughter, and I throw myself in front of the truck to save my daughter and die in the process, does that in some way lessen my love for my wife? The answer is, obviously, of course not. Especially since my wife would have done the same thing if she had been in that position. Paul was relating to Christ in that Christ gave His life for the Jews, as well as the Gentiles. Paul, in his effort to emulate Christ in all things, would gladly suffer for the Jews, just as Christ did. Does that lessen his love for Christ? Not at all. It just shows that he and Christ have the same goal and will go to the same lengths to achieve that goal. Paul, realizing his own inadequacy and Christ's superiority, realized that it was an impossible wish, but a heartfelt one, just the same. Just as Christ was cut off from God when He became sin for us, Paul would willingly be cut off from Christ to attain a greater good, as unpleasant as that would be to him personally. Paul's Christ-like spirit calls me higher, and gives me yet another level to attain. Thank you for taking the time to help me on my spiritual journey by answering my question in your last issue.
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