If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:18)
Isn’t that wonderfully realistic? Many of you are walking into situations tonight, or you already have, or you will tomorrow morning or tomorrow night, of wider family that don’t always get together, and it’s just going to be hard. There’s one or two or maybe everybody is awkward, and it’s just so unhelpful to be here. “I have to be here, but I wish I could be with all my friends.”
God is calling you to that. Don’t walk away from that. Don’t do that. You’ve got enough problems with the people, you don’t need yourself to be the problem. And the key here again is believing — as one justified by faith — the promises that God will give you the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
“The secret of being kind and tenderhearted and forgiving is being amazed that you are a forgiven sinner.”
And now I’m going to give you one more text and say that believing is the key as you navigate Christmas with family. And I don’t want to make it sound bleak. Some of you are just totally thrilled with the people you are going to be with, and it’s just going to be as sweet as it can possibly be, and that’s wonderful. I am thankful for that, and you should be too.
I’ll just bear witness that this text, over the last two years, has been probably the dominant indictment of me and the dominant help to me. So, I think it’s what most marriages need. I think it’s what most parents need. I think it’s what most uncles and aunts and grandmothers and brothers and sisters — all the dynamics — this is what we need, and it’s a miracle, but let’s look at it.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31–32)
So, what’s needed tomorrow? Kindness, tenderheartedness, forgiveness: at least that half of the forgiveness is what you’re responsible for. And if I’m on track with Paul, the reason he ended verse 32 the way he did, “as God in Christ forgave you” — as you’re enjoying this sweet, undeserved peace here, be amazed. I really believe it. If I could wave a wand and make anything happen, it would be this: I really believe the secret of being kind and tenderhearted and forgiving is being amazed that you are a forgiven sinner. And I don’t just mean knowledge. I mean, are you more amazed that, in spite of all your wrongs, he has forgiven you; or are you more amazed that you continually be wronged?
If the dominant emotion is, “I feel like I shouldn’t be wronged again. They shouldn’t have said what they said or brought it up again. They shouldn’t have” — well, of course, they shouldn’t have. What good is that? A feeling of vindication, a feeling of justification? Well, everything falls apart. That’s not what this text is saying. How do you feel tender if you’ve been pounded?
I only know one possible answer: be amazed that you’re forgiven. Self-righteousness is another way of describing the non-amazement at being forgiven. That’s what self-righteousness says: “Well, of course, I’ve been forgiven.” No, it’s not “of course.” That’s what self-righteousness says, and it’s the most dangerous thing in the world.
It’s seeing that God sent his Son, his only Son, and didn’t spare him from spitting, beard-pulling, and piercing, and shame for his enemies — us. It’s being amazed. It’s being amazed that enables you not to be embittered forty years after the grievance. I’ve walked into relationships where the grievances are forty years old, and they won’t let them go. How does that come about? You’re not amazed. I’ve sat with Noël and talked about some of the dynamics out there. All we can say is that they’re not amazed that they’re forgiven. They’re not.
“Keep walking into situations ready to reconcile, ready to forgive, ready to love.”
So, in conclusion, keep trusting God. He knows what he’s doing. Keep his glory — not your success or your effectiveness in peacemaking — supreme. Keep his glory supreme. You will not prove effective in every peacemaking situation. Keep his glory and your sweet relationship with him a friendship. Keep it clear. Keep it clean, and wash your feet.
Know and own a peace that passes all understanding by continually rolling your anxieties over onto him and letting him become the guard around your attacked mind and heart. And then just keep walking into situations ready to reconcile, ready to forgive, ready to love seventy times seven, year after year after year, for forty years if necessary.
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