This sermon is part of the sermon series "Restoration Hardware". See series.
In our series called Restoration Hardware, last week we learned that the Cross of Jesus Christ is the hardware or the instrument that God uses not only to reconcile our relationship with him, but it's what he uses to reconcile us in our relationships with other people. The cross reminds us who we once were apart from Christ and who we are now because of what he's done for us. Those two things together become the motivation and the liberation for us to look at other people who have wounded us and be willing to move toward forgiveness and reconciliation with them.
In Galatians 6:1, Paul says, "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, then you who are spiritual should restore him gently." The word restore in the Greek language is a medical term. It can mean to reset a bone. So if there is discord or dysfunction, or if somebody has done something wrong, you go and you restore them. You reset that bone. I've never had a broken bone, but there are a couple things I know about them. First, it takes two to reset it. Very few people can reset their own bones. Second, resetting a bone is quite painful. The reality is that some of us here today have relationships that are broken, relationships that are out of joint and need to be reset. Knowing that resetting brings pain, many of us just choose to anesthetize our hearts to the emotional and relational pain that comes with conflict.
Some of you are avoiding conflict right now. Some of us negotiate the pain of conflict by escaping. We run. We get hurt by our parents or our friends or our ex-friends, and we escape. I'm sure that our church is filled with people who ran from another church and came here. And there are other churches nearby that are filled with people that used to go here, but they got hurt. There was a disturbance, something they didn't feel like that they could work out, and so they packed their bags and left their church, their home group, and their relationships. Some people even left their marriages.
Some people practice deflection in the face of pain. Remember getting a flu shot as a kid? You would pinch your other arm in order to deflect the pain of the shot. You traded one kind of pain for another. Some of us have been wounded so deeply that you practice a different kind of pain in order to deal with the pain that you carry in your heart. You've traded the pain of betrayal or abuse for addictions and anger.
Some of us deal with pain through rationalization. We just think positive thoughts in the face of pain. We're like children who just close their eyes and wish the world away. You learn a kind of pain management—if you change your thoughts, the pain doesn't bother you anymore.
We all have ways of avoiding the pain and conflict we have in our lives. We'll do anything before dealing with the pain head on. But today I want to tell you that the pain of moving towards restoration with other people is always better than the pain of just letting broken relationships be what they are. I have a principle that I want to teach you today from Scripture—that brokenness and reconciliation both bring a kind of pain. You simply have to choose which pain you're willing to live with. The apostle Paul does a great job in Romans 5 of helping us understand our options.
Let's read today's passage:
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, while we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Here Paul is speaking about how it is that we have been given peace by being reconciled in our relationship with God. In these verses, he takes us right to the foot of the cross of Jesus and shows us what Jesus did for each one of us.
I want you to view this passage in three movements, like in a symphony. The first movement in this passage is the movement of violation. This topic of reconciliation would really be unnecessary if it were not for the violations that take place in life. The reason that bones need to be reset and restored is because they get broken. Paul tells us that the relationship of peace designed by God between us and him has become broken because of sin. In fact, in verse 10, Paul writes that because of sin "we were God's enemies." The word enemies here means more than just third-grade rivals. It means instead that we were hostile, hateful adversaries against God. Because of sin—and all of us are born into life with sin—we stand at war against God. We shake our fist in the face of God. We are haters of God. We are against God's character, and we're against God's standard. As a result, Paul tells us in verse 9, we are under God's wrath.
It's important for us to hear this morning: God is not an enemy of us; we are an enemy of God. This is a one-sided conflict, and it's because of what we have done. It is because of our sin that we stand in opposition to God. That's where conflict begins between us and God, and that's where conflict begins between us and others. The conflict that you have had in your life was because someone violated you. They violated your character. They violated whatever standard that you had set up for yourself. They presumed against you. They've robbed you of something. They've taken advantage of you. And as a result, because of that violation, there is now conflict between you and this other individual, just as there is violation between us and God. It begins with violation.
It's because of violation that there's a second movement Paul talks about: confrontation. Hateful violation leads to hurtful confrontation. This is an important life principle as it relates to reconciliation. How in the world did God justify us, reconcile us? How in the world did God draw us back into a right relationship with himself? Notice verses 9 and 10. Paul writes that "Since now we have been justified"—brought into a right relationship with God—"by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him. For if, while we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son …." Reconciliation happens through the blood and through Jesus' death. In fact, Paul writes in verse 8: "While we were still sinners Christ died for us."
Imagine this for a just a moment. Let's take a trip back to Calvary, to the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross is the instrument, the hardware, of personal reconciliation between us and God and between us and other people. As we stand at the cross of Jesus Christ and behold it, we see it is a terrible place. It is a bloody place, a savage place, a lonely place, a horrific place, an undignified place. It is an exposing place, a dark place, a taunting place. And all of what happens on the cross of Jesus Christ is the pain and the death that God, the innocent party in this conflict, assumes on himself for the reconciliation of us to him. God, who has done no harm, chooses to reconcile us to himself through his own blood, his own death, his own darkness, his own alienation. The God of the universe sends his Son to die so that I might be reconciled to him. Do you see that? This sets up a great expectation of what it means for me to be reconciled to you when we have conflict.
Every moment of reconciliation has a necessary death. There is pain in reconciliation. If you offend me, and we set a time to have a conversation, even if I'm innocent, there's going to be pain involved for me—the pain of misunderstanding, the pain of fear, the pain of humiliation, the pain of discovering that I'm not as innocent as I thought I was, the pain of just having to humble myself in being patient, the pain of accusation from you, the pain of retaliation, and, potentially, the pain of my reputation. I have never had conflict with somebody, whether my fault or theirs, that I've looked forward to. I've never thought, This is going to be wonderful. I am so excited to go and confront this person and tell him I was offended when he did that, when he said that. I loathe those meetings. There's so much anxiety and fear inside of me: I'm unsure of what I'm doing and how to do it; I'm afraid of discovering where I might be in the wrong. There is a necessary death or pain that comes with reconciling relationships with other people.
Soon after I got here to Pantego, folks started trying to figure out what my leadership role was. I was trying to figure out what my leadership role was, too. Some things happened that were misunderstood, and one couple sent out a seething e-mail about me. They had jumped to some conclusions and sent this email out to 40 of their friends. It was venomous gossip, and it was a mess. As the senior pastor, everything in me told me I needed to go confront this head on—to help figure out a solution to it. At the same time, everything inside of me didn't want to do it. What if they misunderstand more? What if this gets worse? What if they leave the church? What if the confrontation looks like a power trip? I wanted to escape. I wanted to deflect. I wanted to rationalize it. I wanted to ignore it in hopes that everything would just resolve on its own.
The reality is that to go that direction—to ignore it, to escape it, to rationalize it, to deflect it—is simply trading one kind of pain in my life for another. It's avoiding the fear. It's avoiding the presumption. It's avoiding the confrontation. It's avoiding the exposure. It's avoiding all of those things. It's choosing to live with a different kind of pain: bitterness. Someone once said that bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Bitterness turns into anger welling up in your soul because you know you've been violated and offended. And now you've got this anger issue that you're dealing with in your life. Ignoring pain also leads to skepticism and cynicism. You don't trust the other party anymore. You start living with that pain.
In this situation, I had the pain of wondering, Will this hurt my ministry? What about all the people who were offended by this email? If I do nothing, what kind of witness do they see in me?
When we don't confront conflict, we will always be trading one kind of pain for another. Many of us choose to live with those coordinate pains because we're not willing to deal head on with the momentary pain that comes from being reconciled in our relationship to one another.
I weighed my option and drove over to this couple's house. I actually knew they would appreciate it, and they did. They were godly people. We had a hard conversation. They acknowledged they were wrong, and I said, "I think I was misunderstood." We worked through it, and it was the right thing to do. Did I want to do it? No, absolutely not. Was it fun? No, it was hard. Was it good on the other side? You bet. It was a better pain than the pain of living with bitterness and anger and frustration.
As we follow the pattern of God in reconciliation, we must chose the way of truth—a way that often brings more pain initially but is infinitely better in the long run. Truth is always better. It's always better. What I submit to you today is that we have the choice of which pain we want to live with in life. We either try to live with the anesthetizing pain of bitterness and escape, the pain of disfigured relationships, the pain of anger and skepticism, or we choose the way of truth that will be hard but in the end yields an incredible blessing.
Let me say that the most painful part of confrontation is forgiveness. Forgiveness is my willingness to accept a debt that you owe me—my willingness to accept it and not require you to pay that debt yourself. Forgiveness is being willing to absorb and assume the woundedness that people have done to you and say to them, "I release you. I free you." That's exactly what Jesus did for us. He absorbed in himself all of the pain, the misery, the darkness, the blood, the death, the scars, and the holes of our sin. He received it into himself and absolved us of all unrighteousness. That was excruciating for him. Forgiveness is hard business.
There is violation, there is confrontation, but there is also great expectation. I love this passage in Romans, because Paul tells us that not only are we reconciled, but we will be reconciled to God. He speaks not only about a present tense experience, but he talks about a future expectation. We have been saved through his blood, and through his life we've been freed from wrath with God. The reconciled status we have through Christ's death on the cross will be one day fulfilled. Whatever our experience with God is today is small in comparison to the promise that's going to come in the future. And we have that promise because of the blood of Jesus Christ—because of the death and the pain and the misery and all of what God assumed upon himself. In the confronting of sin, Jesus gives us a great hope that through his blood and the darkness of the cross is the incredible expectation of the Resurrection and a new life with God to come. Just as I have never looked forward to a confrontation with somebody, I can't remember a time when I've walked away from having one of those difficult meetings with someone and not thought, God, this was good. I'm better. They're better. We're better. Life's better. This was the right thing to do. We have the expectation that Christ, who reconciles all things to himself, who has done the work of reconciliation between me and God, will be at work in my relationships with other people, reconciling me to others.
Moving towards reconciliation
I want to help you to move toward reconciliation in your marriage relationship, in your children's relationships, in your estranged working relationship. Let me highlight a few biblical principles to always remember.
Number one: Go to God first. Talk to God. Listen to God. Go to the Cross. Be reminded of who you were. Be reminded of who you are. Tell him that you're hurt, angry, and misunderstood. Romans 12:19 says, "Leave room for God's wrath." That means when you go to someone for reconciliation, you may not get justice, but you can talk to God and be sure that in his eternal perspective, he will always administer the right justice in the right time. Go to God first.
Number two: Take inventory of yourself. Jesus said that before you start flicking sawdust out of other people's eyes, you might check to see if you have planks hanging out of your own. It's so important for me to stand back and think, Perhaps I have contributed to this conflict. Maybe I could have said something differently. Maybe I should not have sent that email. I need to take responsibility and take inventory of my own life.
Number three: Avoid assumptions. If I could change one way of how people relate to one another in the church, I would try to get people to be less presumptuous, to stop pulling triggers on things about which they have only half the picture. I see so much conflict in the body of Christ involving people who do not have the whole story, who jump to conclusions and form assumptions, and then they act on that. They run away, taking their families with them. If they only knew the whole story, they would realize things aren't as they seem. So be careful. Avoid those assumptions.
Number four: Get face-to-face. When God decided to reconcile the world to himself, he came near. He came to us. Email is the worst way to confront and the weakest way to apologize. Don't use it. If you ever feel compelled in the midst of your frustration to carbon copy, I think I can tell you that 99.9 percent of the time you are sinning. Don't do it. Conflict becomes much more difficult as you send that stuff into cyberspace. Go face-to-face.
Number five: Ask for and extend forgiveness. Sometimes when we have meetings to resolve conflict, we each tell our side of the story, and we may apologize, but we leave it at that. No one says, "Will you forgive me for what I've done?" or "I forgive you. I was hurt, but I really appreciate your coming to me, and I love you, I bless you, and I forgive you." Ask for and extend that forgiveness.
And lastly: Celebrate what's new. When you see that God is doing a work of reconciliation, tell one another about it and tell others. That's the joy of community. One of the things that I do whenever I have conflict with somebody else and we reconcile is I try to make sure that I follow up within 24 hours with an email or phone call and just say, "You know what? I loved yesterday's meeting. I am so refreshed right now." That is my way of celebrating this thing that is new—the thing that God is doing.
You've got to choose which pain you're willing to live with, either the pain of conflict or the pain of reconciliation. But if you who have been violated choose to confront, there is an expectation of God's blessing. All the way through the bloodshed and the pain and the death, there's an expectation that God, the reconciler of all things, will do a tremendous work.
David Daniels is the lead pastor of Central Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas.