How Can I Do This?
17th Sunday after Pentecost
How Can I Do This?
Text: Ephesians 4:29-5:2
“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” The old proverb means that if you fool me or wrong me once, you got me. Shame on you for that. But if I let you do that to me twice, then it’s my fault for letting it happen again. Shame on me for that.
Usually our culture takes it to a third step after that. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me a third time, and I never want to see you again.” If someone is toxic and troublesome, and continues to bring that into my life or the lives of my children, I want nothing to do with that person. “I don’t need that in my life.”
But, we are Christians, right? Christians are different. Last week we were reminded by Jesus that we confront sin. We lovingly talk to people who sin against us to win them over. When they repent we forgive them. If they don’t listen you keep trying. We don’t give up after two or three or times. As God’s people we keep trying in love to win the sinner over.
Peter seemed to understand that some people are rather hard hearted. They might fool us or sin against us once, twice, or many more times. They might not listen and keep sinning. Maybe Peter was wondering how long this forgiveness business should keep on going. Maybe Peter was tossing out a number he thought was high to sound good. “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Perhaps he was expecting Jesus to say, “Oh no, that’s too many times. Only five or six.” Or on the other hand, maybe he was expecting Jesus to say, “Seven times? You would forgive seven times? Wow! You are so loving Peter!” Whatever he was expecting, Jesus certainly gave a response that he wasn’t ready for: “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Wait! Say what? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me seven times . . . Fool me seventy-seven times and I’m supposed to keep on forgiving? Jesus wants me to forgive someone seventy-seven times, which basically means to forgive without end? How Can I Do This?
What about the person that continues to bully me and belittle me and won’t listen to my begging to stop? What about the neighbor that keeps stealing my oranges and keeps walking his dog only to pause at my lawn every morning? I’ve told him to cut it out dozens of times! What about my ex? What about the drunk driver that killed my family member? What about the terrorist that wants my head on a stake? Jesus wants me to forgive those people? Not just once or twice but over and over and over again? How Can I Do This?
But it isn’t only that forgiveness that God wants from us. He wants a godly life in everything we do. That’s what Paul teaches us in the second lesson this morning. In the second paragraph he says in 5:1, “Be imitators of God.” As Christians, we should be mimicking and mirroring and modeling after God all the time.
In the first paragraph, Paul describes how we are to do that: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Instead of speaking words that are worthless, useless, rotten, and all around unwholesome, we should be speaking words that are helpful, useful, and productive that build up and benefit others.
Next in verse 30: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” The Holy Spirit has done so much for us—creating faith in our hearts, sealing us as God’s children, making our bodies temples where he dwells. We should not have words or actions that would sadden the Spirit who dwells within us.
There are more ways to be imitators of God. Verse 31: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” These are all things that have to do with a sour attitude, with anger and vengeance and hatred in the heart. We should be getting rid of all these kinds attitudes and actions. If we want to imitate God they shouldn’t be found in our lives at all.
And for all of the negative things to get rid of, there are positive ways to imitate God as well. Verse 32: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgive you.” And in verse 2 it says, “Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us.” If we are to imitate God we need to be kind and compassion and loving and forgiving like God.
Which brings us back to the beginning . . . So hold on here! God wants me to imitate him and be just like him? He wants me to guard every word that comes out of my life, every thought that pops into my head and make sure that they are godly and productive and positive? He wants me to love like he does? He wants me to forgive like he does—not once, not twice, but seventy-seven times and beyond? How Can I Do This?
You see, I know the battle that rages within me. I know that I am God’s child and I know that when I hear these words, I want to do them. They sound great! I would love to be an imitator of God! But I also know how much I struggle with this.
I can’t seem to let go of what my sister said to me. I could never forgive what my ex-friend did to my reputation. And anger? I get pretty hot when people talk bad about me. Or if any would ever mess with my children or my wife—watch out! Kindness and compassion? How do you act kindly to maniac drivers that run you off the road? How do you show compassion to crooks that want to cheat you out of money? How do you love a whole world full of people that could care less about loving you back? How Can I Do This?
There’s another reason I ask this question though. I ask How Can I Do This? because I know how great the struggle is. I know how difficult it is to be an imitator of God and how much I’ve failed to do so. But there’s another reason I ask that question. I’m asking How Can I Do This? because I know that buried deep down inside is a sinner that doesn’t even want to do this.
My sinful flesh doesn’t even want to try. It doesn’t want to imitate God. It doesn’t want to clean up my words or get rid of my anger. It doesn’t want to be kind or compassionate or loving, and it certainly doesn’t want to forgive anyone that ever crosses me—not seventy-seven times, not three times, not one time!
God says, “Imitate me. Be pure. Be holy. Love. Forgive. Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” And I say back to God, “But I haven’t, Lord. I’ve failed, Lord. It’s hard, Lord. I can’t, Lord. How Can I Do This?”
The apostle Paul understands our struggle. He knew it. He lived it. And he lost the fight with sin many times himself. But he also knew the answer for how he could overcome his sinful flesh, and he shares that information with us today, too. It’s in the last three verses of the day: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
“How can I forgive, Lord? How can I love, Lord? How Can I Do This, Lord? I’m a sinner!” Yes, you are a sinner. And so am I. But did you hear what God calls us in those verses? Dearly loved children.
Me? A dearly loved child? After all kinds of unwholesome talk has come out of my mouth and all kinds of anger has come out of my heart? After I’ve been reluctant to love and hesitant to forgive? After all those failures? I’m a child of God? Absolutely! Yes!
We are God’s children because of what God has done for us. Look at the end of verse 32: “In Christ God forgave you.” Look also at the end of verse 2: “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
My guilty heart is right. I shouldn’t be a child of God. But yet I am because of Christ. Jesus loved us and gave himself up for us. God demands that the price for sin be death. So Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice to God, a fragrant and pleasing sacrifice that was perfect in every way. The aroma and fragrance of his righteousness and his love rose before God and satisfied his demands for our sin. That’s why Paul can say, “In Christ God forgave you.” By his sacrifice, my sins have been paid for. I’m forgiven.
So I say “How Can I Do This? How can I love? How can I forgive? How can I imitate you, Lord?” And the first thing God replies is, “You already have.” You see, we have been baptized into Christ. That means we have been clothed with his life and draped in his death. We sport the spotless clothes of the resurrection, meaning that when our heavenly Father looks at us, he doesn’t see our failure to love or forgive. He looks at us and sees his Son. The Father sees us clothed in Christ’s love, in Christ’s kindness and compassion, in Christ’s forgiveness. Because we are clothed with the fragrance of Christ’s life and death, God sees us as being his imitators. That’s why he can look at you and be pleased to say, “You are my dearly loved child.”
What a difference that makes in my life. It reminds me of the story Jesus told today. That one servant was to be sold with all his family to pay off a debt he could never pay back. But the master had mercy on him and cancelled the debt. However, that same servant then went and had a different servant thrown into prison for a much, much smaller debt. What an ungrateful servant he was!
But that’s not the kind of servant I will be, and not the kind of servant you will be. We know how big our debt was. We know we could never be able to pay off, nor would we ever want to pay off the debt of death and hell we owe. But our master Jesus has had mercy on us. He gave himself as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to cancel my debt. That makes me a most grateful and thankful servant!
So can I forgive my boss who keeps cursing at me? Can I forgive my coworker who keeps belittling me? Can I forgive my friend who keeps betraying me? Can I even forgive the terrorist that wants to destroy me? How Can I Do This?
I can do this and I will do this. I am a dearly loved child of God. I can and I will forgive just as in Christ God forgave me. I can and I will imitate God and love God just as Christ loved me and gave himself up for me.
In Jesus I have the ultimate motivation and model for love and forgiveness. The debts of sin that others owe to me—no matter how bad their sin against me could ever be—that debt of sin isn’t even close to my total debt of sin I owed to God. So if Christ could love and forgive me, I can and I will forgive others.
This last week a couple in Cedar Rapids, Iowa made the news. They were out for dinner on their sixth anniversary and had terrible service. They had to wait 20 minutes for water, 40 minutes for an appetizer, and over an hour more for dinner. The server was very overworked in the understaffed restaurant and some diners were becoming rather surly. But instead of joining in the frustration and complaints, the couple decided to “pay it forward” to the server who was trying his best. They left a note on the bill that set, “We’ve been in your shoes. Paying it forward.” Then they left a tip of $100 for their $66 bill. The server was nearly in tears because he didn’t expect such a generous gift. I’m sure their generosity will leave a lasting impression on the server and how he acts towards others the rest of his life.
Jesus knows what it’s like to be in your shoes, too. He was for quite a while when he lived in this world. He experienced every struggle against sin and Satan that we experience today. But Jesus won all those battles. Then he he offered his own life as the ultimate “pay it forward” for all people. He paid our bill of sin and death and completely cancelled our debt. Then he even left a pretty hefty tip on top of that—eternal life with him.
That kind of generosity leaves a lasting impression, completely changing the way we act toward others. We are now God’s dearly loved children who are his little imitators, mimicking and mirroring and modeling his love throughout the world and with everyone we meet.
Today Jesus teaches us to do something very difficult—to forgive and love as God has done. It seems challenging, at times even impossible. But Christ has forgiven me. Christ has loved me. I am God’s child. With Christ’s love as my motivation and my model, I can do this and I will do this.
Posted on October 6, 2014, in Church, Sermons and tagged Anger, Bitterness, Church, Compassion, Ephesians, Ephesians 4, Ephesians 5, Forgiveness, Grudges, Hatred, Imitate God, Imitators, Kindness, Love, Pay It Forward, Rage, Revenge, Sermons, Seventy-Seven Times, Strength, Vengeance. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.