by J.C. Metcalfe
LIVING WITH OTHERS
"Love worketh no ill to his neighbor" - Romans 13:10
Once years ago I heard a series of Bible-readings given on Peter's first epistle, and I have never forgotten the literal translation given from the Greek New Testament of the last part of 1Peter 4:15 - "Let none of you suffer as a ... bishop over other men's affairs". The man here, who meddles with the private lives of others is classed with thieves and murderers, and we shall do well to bear this in mind. The tendency with all of us when we experience spiritual blessing in our lives is immediately to want to put everyone else right. We are inclined then to forget the warning given on this point by the Lord Jesus - "Judge not, that ye be not judged ... First cast out the beam out of thine own eye ..." (Matthew 7:1-5).
The teaching given by the Lord Jesus recorded in the gospels is very clear regarding relations between Christians. Let us take first Matthew 18:15-35. "If thy brother shall trespass against thee," begins this passage, "go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother." Many Christians if they think that their fellow Christian has wronged them go and tell someone else first, and endless trouble and suspicion is caused. Only when you have approached your brother direct, and he has refused to have anything to do with you, may you tell others of the affair, and then in this way: "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." Even then you do not discuss your brother behind his back, but take some responsible Christians with you, and again lovingly approach him about the matter in question. "And if he 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." Peter thinking this teaching over asks a very natural question - "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, until seven times: but until seventy times seven". This command is followed, as is so often the case, by one of the Lord's parables. He tells of a servant who, after being forgiven a large debt by His Lord, refuses to forgive one of his fellow servants a trifling debt. The story ends with a warning that shows clearly why so many professing Christians live barren lives, hedged in by difficulties and trouble with those about them. "His Lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not everyone his brother their trespasses." In this way the Lord Jesus sought to guide us clear of the danger of being hard, legal, and unforgiving with our fellow Christians; and ensure that even if we have a real grievance against our brother we treat him with loving consideration, and in a gentle, forgiving spirit.
Once after a meeting an elderly man came to speak to me, telling me that he had left his Church, because he was hurt by one of his fellow members, and was unhappy. "Well!" I said, "why not go back, and ask them to forgive you for taking offence so quickly?" He drew himself up, and asnwered - "It is their place to apologize to me", and no amount of persuasion was sufficient to soften his attitude. He was making himself wretched, and hindering the work of God by his pride, and unwillingness even to try and meet his brother half way.
Matthew 5:23,24 puts a case that is far more likely to happen in your life and mine, than that our brother should say or do anything against us which would mean that we should take the action described in Matthew 18. "If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift." Supposing for instance you owe your brother money which should have been paid; or you have been quarrelsome, and left him in anger; or perhaps you have slandered him behind his back. It is no good expecting God to bless you, and use your work for or witness to Him, until you have put this thing right with your brother for which you are to blame.
Our chief concern must always be to keep our own life and attitude right, and in so doing we shall be doing the greatest possible service to our fellow Christians. I often think of some advice I once saw in a book written for those who were learning to drive a motor car in places where there were a great many other cars on the road. It was this - "The car you want to watch is the car behind the one in front of you". In other words, "Never mind about the other man's bad driving, if you wish to be safe you must attend to your own driving". The Bible tells us almost exactly the same. "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep His commandments" (1John 5:2). If you and I would prove that we love our fellow Christians, we should make sure that our daily lives are lived in harmony with, and obedience to, God.
The epistles are full of plain, simple instructions as to how to live with our fellow men. The great doctrinal teachings, and witness to all that God has done for us in the Lord Jesus, are always followed by practical teaching. Take for example the epistle to the Romans. In the early chapters God's plan of salvation is carefully traced out, and the later chapters tell us how we should live in the light of His mercies. Shall we look at some verses picked at random out of these chapters, by which we may judge whether we are beginning to learn what it is to live a Christian life, and are finding the true path of a right relationship with those amongst whom we live, work, or worship?
"Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another" (Romans 12:10).
"Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men" (Romans 12:17).
"If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink" (Romans 12:20)
"Owe no man anything, but to love one another ... love worketh no ill to his neighbor..." (Romans 13:8-10).
"Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations ... Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth, yea, he shall be holden up; for God is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:1-4).
"Let us not, therefore, judge one another any more; but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother's way" (Romans 14:13).
"Let us ... follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith we may edify another" (Romans 14:19).
"We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let us every one please his neighbor for his good to edification" (Romans 15:1,2).
There is much more in these chapters, but if you and I take these verses quoted above, and use them as we should use a mirror, looking carefully to see if they are a true picture of our heart attitude to our fellow men, whether Christians or unbelievers, we shall learn much. I think that as we go on using the Word of God in this way, we shall find so many beams in our own eye, that we shall be very gentle and forbearing if we happen to observe a mote in that of our brother.
In our chapter dealing with the work of the Holy Spirit we saw that one central reason for which He has come to us is to equip us to witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. We must always keep this purpose before us. If our lives lived in the light of His Word are made beautiful by His presence, and our lips are always ready to show forth His praises, then we shall see God's work going on in the lives of others. We shall not always be wanting to put them right, to see that they use the same phraseology that we use, or that they do everything just as we do. We shall in fact avoid the snare of being "bishops in other men's matters", but shall carry life and blessing to all around.
The passage of Scripture known as, "The Sermon on the Mount" - Matthew 5, 6 and 7, is another passage intended to be used as we have already sought to use the three chapters in Romans. We have here not simply a code of laws to be obeyed as best we can, but a picture of what the life we received at our new birth is like. As we study this picture we can check on our relationship with God and with our fellow men; and can prove His power to change us into His own likeness.
Do you remember how James described this attitude to Scripture, which we have been trying to emphasize? "Be ye doers of the Word," he writes, "and not hearers only deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the Word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass, for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was" (James 1:23,24). Here is a man, who treats the Word of God as something out of which to develop rules and doctrines, which he then seeks to impose on others. He forgets, however, about himself. Then James continues, "But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty (see Romans 8:2) and continueth therein" (making this his basis of daily living - seeing and admitting the places of bondage he sees in himself, but laying hold of his liberty in Christ) - "he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed" (doing - m.) (James 1:25). Always remember such blessing must also bring blessing to others.
This is a lesson never fully learned in this life, but you will find this. The more you pray and desire to be useful to God, and a blessing to others, the more God will show you the need to keep the deep places of your own life in harmony with His Word, and your daily conduct such that your light may "so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, which is in Heaven" (Matthew 5:16).
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