THE MOST FRUSTRATING TASK
The most frustrating task in your life is the one that others continually undo. For the beleaguered housewife, it’s cleaning up the same mess again and again because others in the household are too lazy and inconsiderate to clean up after themselves. For the peacemaker, it’s striving to reconcile people to each other while someone else keeps sowing discord. For the janitor, it’s wiping off or painting over vulgar graffiti that keeps reappearing on the bathroom stalls. For the financially-minded spouse, it’s scrimping to build a savings account while the other spouse racks up credit card debt. For the business owner, it’s trying to stay afloat under a government that threatens him if he opens his doors, then does nothing to stop looters from breaking them down.
Yes. I suspect that you all know the feeling. It comes when you work your butt off to get a job done and some careless person undoes everything you’ve slaved to accomplish. These are the most frustrating tasks in life.
I thought about this yesterday while reading in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 18. This chapter has the underlying theme of the great lengths God goes to in order to save us and to keep us. Yet there are many, particularly Christian believers, who by their own sins, undermine and undo God’s relentless redemptive efforts.
Among these sins are pride and selfish ambition. These sins created disunity and caused frequent arguments among the apostles. So Jesus expounds on humility – the critical human factor that gets us into God’s Kingdom and preserves unity in the church (Matthew 18:1-5). Humility and selflessness were exemplified by Jesus Himself who did not come to be served but to serve and give His life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). Humility and selflessness are the Christian’s only appropriate response to Christ’s own humility and sacrifice upon the cross (Philippians 2:3-11).
But the seriousness of our sins is not determined by how they offend the sensibilities of society. It’s determined by the harm they do to other believers or to one’s own relationship with God. Jesus uses the term “stumbling block” to describe those sins that injure the faith of fellow believers or of oneself (Matthew 18:6-10). Paul the apostle deals extensively with the subject of believers causing other believers to fall from the faith (e.g. Romans 14:1-15:7; 1 Corinthians 6; 8:1-9:23). Many of these sins may seem perfectly innocent to us. They might even seem to be good in themselves. Using hyperbole, Jesus explains that such things might seem as good and essential as having a hand, foot, or eye. But if that “good thing” causes you or someone else to fall away, then get rid of it.
Things that cause other believers to sin might be as socially acceptable as haughtiness, ruthlessness, and bitterness. But these have done untold harm to the faith of millions of believers. Thus, we destroy the faith of those for whom Jesus agonized and died to save. We undo the redemptive work of Jesus.
Things that cause us to stumble may be as innocent and good as television, the internet, and leisure time. But if they make us vulnerable to temptation, then we are undoing the redemptive work of Christ in our lives.
Jesus explains why this matter is so serious. If one believer strays from the faith, He values the erring believer so much that He will do anything to bring him back. He compares His efforts to that of a shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine in the mountains to pursue the one that is lost. Jesus emphatically states, “it is not the will of your Father in heaven that even the least of these should perish” (18:14).
Therefore, the church must join Christ in the effort to restore those who fall away (Matthew 18:15-20). If a brother or sister sins, then let another believer point out their error and seek to win them back. Let him deal with it individually and with humility (Galatians 6:1). He should only elevate the matter to other believers if the erring brother refuses to repent. And if, after the whole congregation has confronted the erring brother’s sins, he still remains unrepentant, then he should no longer be considered a fellow believer, but a sinner needing salvation.
But the church’s efforts to win back the erring brother are only effective if it speaks with one voice. If some in the congregation, who are perhaps guilty of the same sin, side with the erring brother, then disunity results and Christ’s redemptive efforts are further frustrated.
Perhaps the most devastating sin which undoes the work of our Savior is bitterness and unforgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35). One reason why so many believers struggle with forgiving others is because they haven’t yet come to grips with the greatness of their own debt to God. We’re like the slave who owed his master and king 10,000 talents of gold – the equivalent of between $21-23 billion. There was no way he could ever repay that debt. But what does he do? Does he ask forgiveness? No, he asks for more time to pay it back. He clearly has no conception of how deeply in debt he is. He’s trying to work his way out of his problem and earn his master’s favor. This robs him of all peace.
Another reason believers struggle to forgive is because they don’t understand God’s forgiveness of them. Rather than give this slave more time to pay back his enormous debt, the king forgives him and cancels the debt. The debt is deleted forever from the ledgers. He and his family will not be sold. His possessions will not be confiscated. He’s completely forgiven.
But the slave doesn’t seem to grasp this. He acts as if he’s still under pressure to repay the debt and win back the favor of his king. Therefore, he views every one of his debtors as an obstacle to him paying his own debt back. He sees them as keeping him from earning his king’s favor. So, when a fellow slave cannot pay back even a small debt, the slave ruthlessly has him thrown in jail.
When the king hears how this slave, whom he forgave, treated his fellow slave, he is enraged. The king imprisons him and orders him to be tortured. Jesus ends the parable with the stern warning, “So shall my heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from his heart” (Matthew 18:35).
Let us all beware of undoing the costly work God has done and continues to do to save humanity.
PRAYER: Dear Father in Heaven, please open my eyes to my own sinfulness and help me to grasp the greatness of Your love and forgiveness to me. Please grant that I will do nothing to undo Your redemptive efforts in my life or in the lives of others. Make me a fellow worker with You and an instrument of Your peace and salvation. Amen.