WORD OF GOD SPEAK — MORE OR LESS
The producer of “Survivor” plans to enlist 12 men who will each be dropped in an unidentified suburb with a minivan, six kids (each of whom play two sports and take either a musical instrument or dance class) and no access to fast food. They must keep the house clean, correct all homework (receiving at least a “B+” on all papers), complete one science project, cook (they can bring one cookbook), do laundry, etc. They have access to television only when the kids are asleep and all chores are done, and none of the TVs have remotes. They also have to shave their legs and wear makeup which they must apply themselves while making six lunches. The competitions will consist of such things as attending a PTA meeting and accurately reporting the results; cleaning up after a sick child at 3 a.m; making an Indian hut model with six toothpicks, a tortilla and one marker; and getting a 4-year-old to eat a serving of peas. Together the kids get to vote them off one by one. The winner gets to go back to his real job. Just joking. That’s not an idea for a TV show. That I know of. But the folks following John the Baptist weren’t joking. They wanted Jesus to go back to his real job, which in their minds, was carpentry. They wanted to see less, not more of Jesus. If you don’t believe me, turn in your Bibles to John 3:22 and follow along with me. Did you guys bring those with you?
“22After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized.” The Judean countryside is sort of a vague term. But most folks think it refers to a part of Judea 2 to 2 ½ hours northeast of Jerusalem near the borders of Samaria. Where John’s next story in chapter 4 just so happens to be taking place. It was here that Jesus started baptizing. Or at least that’s what the reader would think if we stopped there. But if we skip down to John 4:2, we’ll notice a clarifying note. There it says, “2Although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.”
The question is why? Why would Jesus not also be baptizing? Isn’t He the one who said in Matthew 28 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you?” The answer I believe is implied in the context of today’s passage full of arguments and dissension and competition. Not wanting to add more fuel to that fire, so someone could later claim, “I got baptized by Jesus and you didn’t!” Jesus probably let his disciples do the baptizing. But even after taking precaution to guard against arguments and accusations, still verse 25 says...
“25An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew or Jews over the matter of ceremonial washing.” When I first read that, I thought the author of John meant that Nicodemus started the argument. That Nicodemus had to have been the “certain Jew” who at first had a problem with Jesus. And now had a problem with John the Baptist. But then the footnote in my Bible describes how verse 25 could also be read “certain Jews” had an argument with John over the matter of ceremonial washing. Which also makes sense in light of John 1:19-24. Where a bunch of Pharisees who had been sent by a bunch of Levites come to question slash interrogate John the Baptist about why he’s baptizing. So the Bible doesn’t say exactly who had a problem with Jesus or with John the Baptist and his followers. Just that they did.
Verse 26 continues, “26They came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” Don’t forget, this is a group of believers. Sincere followers. Radical repenters baptized by John just like Jesus. But instead of going to Jesus with their problems and questions and doubts. Like Nicodemus did. They circumvent Matthew 18. Not to mention common courtesy. And share their gripes with someone else first. And notice when they do, they don’t tell the whole truth. They tell John, sort of blaming him in the process, that the guy you testified about, that Jesus, well He is baptizing people. Which as we’ve seen wasn’t true. And then they added these telling words, “And everyone is going to him.” Which was true. Which tells me point number one. We must speak truth in love. Why? Because even sincere followers, radical repenters, and already baptized believers need to learn to speak the truth in love. We all tell tall tales from time to time. We don’t lie. We just exaggerate. We don’t deny the truth. We just play with the details of it. But Jesus doesn’t play that game. And neither do friends of the bridegroom. So how do we do speak truth in love? Well, you could call our friend Clarissa Worley and she could tell you. She’s great on this teaching of Jesus. Or you could just read Matthew 18. Which is much more convenient. So let’s just do that.
I’ll read what Jesus says there and then give you the mnemonic device that helps me remember it. Okay? Turn with me to Matthew 18. When sincere followers, radical repenters, and already baptized believers have an argument with someone else. Even in the church. Here’s how Jesus says we should handle it. Matthew 18 verse 15. “15If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.”
Now here is also where the argument often ends or escalates. Because how we speak truth in love and how we show our brother has sinned against us is often more significant that what the argument was all about in the first place. When you go to your brother in Christ or anyone for that matter, you don’t do that in public. The Bible says it should just be the two of you. So if your son or daughter or friend is there. You must ask them to leave so you can speak confidentially and privately. Don’t air your dirty laundry in front of impressionable minds or any mind for that matter. If you do, you’re outside the scope of Christian love. And I believe you will be held responsible by God for that. We’ll see from Romans 12 that He’s serious about that. So we should be too.
So you ask others to leave and when you’re alone, remember that questions always trump accusations. Did you know that? Did you know that Jesus asks more questions than anyone else in the New Testament? Ravi Zacharias counted them up and says there more than 150 questions Jesus asks. So questions trump accusations when you’re speaking truth in love. Then the questions always get boiled down to one of three sources of conflict. Fear. Hurt. Or Frustration. What are they? Fear. Hurt. Or Frustration. FHF is my memory device. I feel like making T-Shirts that say “Have you FHF’d today?” You think those would sell well? Or like the milk commercial, “Got FHF?” Now, in complicated arguments, each of these three sources of conflict could come into play. You could be fearful, hurt, and frustrated. But most of the time, it’s mostly just one. So start with one.
But in order to do so, make sure you know what that one thing is! When Jesus hung on the cross, he said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And the not so funny thing is, often we don’t either! And if we don’t know, how can we expect them to know? Are we hoping they’re going to read our mind? So before you have this private conversation, you need to memorize one statement which describes what happened and then ask one question. Yall still with me? Here’s the statement and question those folks who had a problem with Jesus should have shared personally and privately with Him instead of with John the Baptist.
“Jesus, the other day when you were baptizing, I mean, when your disciples were baptizing, that really frustrated me. Did you mean to frustrate me?” So that’s the statement. Bald as a baby. One statement. One question. One source of conflict at a time. Same thing with fear or hurt. “Jesus, the other day when you were baptizing, I mean, when your disciples were baptizing, that really hurt my feelings. Did you mean to do that?” Jesus, the other day when you were baptizing, I mean, when your disciples were baptizing, that really scared me. Did you mean to put fear in me?”
And when you make that one statement followed by that one question, they may ask you why you were frustrated or hurt or afraid. To which you’d have to honestly say, “Because that made me feel less important. Or not as needed.” Or whatever the answer really is. And in my experience, when you’re honest with them, they become honest with you Immediately apologize for contributing to your fear, hurt, or frustration. And often immediately do so even if they’re not Christian! I know this is true because I’ve tried this and done this with people inside and outside the church. And when I do, it’s so fun to see the ice melt and the tension fade and the smiles return to the faces of people who for the first time begin to realize how their actions or words have effected someone else. Which 99% of the, was never their intent. Speaking truth in love is risky. But it’s so worth the reward. So that’s stage one. FHF. Personally. Privately. One statement. One question. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me. You guys hug. Sing kum ba yah. And Jesus says, “If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”But what if that doesn’t work?
Here’s step two. Matthew 18:16. “16But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” Now the key word here is witnesses. Witnesses simply witness. They do not prosecute. They do not defend. Stage 2 doesn’t require previous body guard or bounty hunter skills. They don’t even have to be Christians. All they need to have is pair of eyes and ears. Because their job is to simply shut up and listen and confirm that stage one was repeated in their presence. So when some come to the church wanting to skip to stage 3 without doing stage 2, I can contact those witnesses and ask them if you’ve really done stage 2. If they can confirm it was resolved, I give them a hug too, say way to go, and sing kum ba yah with all of you. So those two witnesses are not there to mediate. Deviate. Hallucinate. Whatever. They are there to simply confirm that a private personal FHF statement was made. Followed by the simple question: Did you mean to do that? So that’s step two. And the cool thing about stage three is the 3 rd verse is the also the same as the first.
Matthew 18:17 [NIV] says, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Stage 3 is when both of those involved in the conflict mutually agree to allow church leaders to help resolve the conflict in their behalf (Matt.18:17). And when you do, guess what I’m going to do? After I contact the witnesses and confirm that stage 2 actually happened, I’m going to give you a piece of paper with a blank on it and ask you to fill in the one thing that you’re most afraid of, hurt by, or frustrated with. Then I’m going to ask you to read that statement aloud to the other person in the argument. Then I’m going to ask you to ask them if they meant to do that to you. And then I’m going to do the same thing with the other person. Jesus says if we do this, over and over, it will work over and over.
But what if we do all that, but it still doesn’t work? Doesn’t Matthew 18:17 says we should treat those unreconciled to us as “pagans” or “corrupt tax collectors?” Well, yes it does! But how did Jesus treat pagans and corrupt tax collectors? Answer: He continued loving, encouraging, and pursuing every one of them!!! It’s interesting. There are three corrupt tax collectors mentioned in the Bible. One is in Luke 18 with the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector. Remember how the Pharisee thanked God in his prayer that he wasn’t like that wicked tax collector? And how in that story Jesus said that the wicked tax collector stood at a distance from the temple not even looking up to heaven while banging on his chest and cried, “God have mercy on me a sinner”?
Then there’s Zaccheus in Luke 19. Whom Jesus pursued all the way to his house. Resulting in those famous words Jesus cries in verse 9-10 “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abrham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” And then there’s the disciple Matthew in Matthew 9. Who was sitting in his tax collector’s booth when Jesus came by and asked him to follow Jesus. Which he did. And was so happy to do so that he threw a party at his house for all his rowdy friends on Monday night. Just joking. I don’t know what day it was. But if it was on Monday, I’m sure they would’ve had the game on!!!
Three corrupt tax collectors. All pursued by Jesus. And as you may know, in all three of those situations, because Jesus spoke truth love to them, all three of them were won over to following Jesus. And the same thing can happen today. If we would simply speak truth in love. Which according to 1 Corinthians 13:5 does not keep a record of wrongs. Corinthian love is patient. Kind. Long suffering. So if stage one doesn’t work, do it again with two witnesses. If that doesn’t work, do it again with your pastor or elder or someone with a track record of faithfully and humbly following Jesus. And if that doesn’t work, start over with stage one! Keep pursuing them! Keep loving on them! Don’t give up on them! Never write them off! Keep sending them cards. Fresh baked bread. Encouraging notes. Pie is always good. But be sincere. Romans 12:9 says, “Love must be sincere.” If you’re not sincere, ask God to help you be sincere. Then pursue them by faith trusting that God will be at work even if it feels like He’s not.
Romans 12:18-21 [NIV] says, “18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Do your part! Don’t wait for them to do theirs! “19Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
After you do your part, God is the one who is taking responsibility for them. So let him! Romans 12:20 “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
So all of that is point number one this week. A couple more hours should get us through points 2 and 3. Just joking. These next 2 points are gonna fly by. So strap on your seatbelt. Point number one: Speak truth in love. And if you don’t know how, ask God to help you learn how and He’ll help you. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not too good at it right away. Because Jesus knew that even sincere followers. Radical repenters. And baptized believers would need to learn to speak truth in love. And so did John the Baptist.
Listen to what he said in John 3:27-30. “27To [all of] this John replied, ‘A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.” 28You yourselves can testify that I said, 'I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.' 29The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30He must become greater; I must become less.”
I love this response from John. It’s not sarcastic. Condescending. Or arrogant. It’s simple. Encouraging. And humble. When John replied that a man can receive only what is given him from heaven, what I think he was saying is we have to learn to be content with what God provides. Which is point number two. Point number one: Speak truth in love. Point number two: Be content with what God provides. I’m not gonna lie. That’s a whole easier said than done. But I think being content can become a whole lot easier if we remember that being content means doesn’t mean being complacent. Complacency is not what John was advocating. And neither was the great apostle Paul. Remember what he said in prison? Philippians 4:11 says, “1I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” So Paul learned to be content. Even in prison of all places. But what sent him to prison? Complacency? Sitting around moaning and groaning pulling an Eihor when people disagreed with him? No way! Paul was on fire for Jesus! He didn’t let their objections and arguments slow him down. He kept on talking about Jesus! Just a couple verses later he penned those famous words that I memorized in the King James, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” Do those sound like the words of a complacent man? I think not!
So we can learn to be content with what God provides—even in prison—without becoming petrified and complacent. And when we do, contentment brings unbridled joy! What did verse 29 say? “The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30He must become greater; I must become less.”
Point number one: Speak truth in love. And if you don’t know how. Ask God to help you learn how to speak truth in love. That is your responsibility. Not mine. Point number two: Be content with what God provides. But not complacent. Stay active. The devil still will be even if you aren’t. But Jesus is stronger than the devil so stay close to Him and you too will do all things through Christ who strengthens you. There is unbridled joy in that. And finally point number three: Put Jesus above all. Let’s close with verses 31-36.
“31The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. 34For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. 35The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. 36Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
I must admit when I read that last sentence on the wrath of God, I thought it seemed a little out of place. But all I’ve come up with in response to that is that must be my problem not God’s. Because His wrath is not something He ignores. Remember that entire section we quoted earlier from Romans 12? The part about love being sincere? Shortly after that in verse 19 it said, “19Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
Obviously, God has no problem coming straight out and talking about His love or His wrath. Both exist. And believe it or not, both are related to God’s love. They’re in the same paragraph of Romans 12 and John 3! But the good news about this is it’s His wrath not ours. He who loved the world so much that He sent His Son to die on the cross so that none should perish but that all would have everlasting life is the one who is also willing to take responsibility for those who say no to Him. Verse 35 says, “35The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. 36Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life.” And not seeing eternal life is apparently God’s wrath. Which God doesn’t want for them, but in love, will allow.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. And that’s the unsugarcoated Gospel truth. Our heavenly Father wants us to speak truth in love. But knows we’ll have to learn to do so. He wants us to be content with what God provides. But knows we’ll confuse contentment with complacency from time to time. He wants us to share His love, but not His wrath, but knows even sincere followers, radical repenters, and baptized believers will sometimes take vengeance into their own hands. Yet with all our hang ups and arguments and issues, He still loves us like crazy and wants to help us help others put Jesus above all. The question is: Will we let him? He must become greater. We must become less. Pastor Nathan is gonna come help us sing a song about that while we’re thinking about it. Our Father in Heaven, thank you for sending Jesus—and even the people who have a problem with Jesus—into our lives. Help them to help us learn to speak more truth in love this week. Forgive us when we choose to keep a record of wrongs instead. Help them to help us learn to be more content with whatever You provide. Forgive us for being complacent. Help them to help us want to put you above all. Forgive us when we steal your wrath and misrepresent your love. In Jesus’ joyful name we pray, amen.