God will treat us the way we treat others by Max Lucado
All the passages below are taken from Max Lucado’s book “The Great House of God,” published in 1997 by W Publishing Group.
I’d LIKE TO TALK to you about bounty hunters, nitro around the neck, one of the greatest principles in the Bible, and okra and anchovy sandwiches. But before I do, let’s start with a thought about hit men.
Living in the cross hairs of a hit man is no treat. I should know. I had one after me for three months. He wasn’t a Mafia member, nor was he a gang member. He didn’t carry a gun with a scope; his weapons were even deadlier. He had a phone number and a commission—track me down and make me pay.
His job? Collect past-due payments for a credit card company.
I hope you’ll believe me when I say I had paid my bill. He certainly didn’t believe me. I knew I’d paid the bill—I had the canceled check to prove it. The only problem was that the check was on a boat with all our other belongings somewhere between Miami and Rio. We had just moved to Brazil and our possessions were in transit. I wouldn’t have access to my bank statement for three months. He wasn’t about to wait that long.
He threatened to ruin my credit, sue the travel agency and call the police; he even said he would tell my mother (the big tattletale). After weeks of calling me collect, he suddenly quit bugging me. No explanation. All I can figure is that he traced the error to north of the equator rather than south, and he left me alone. He also left me amazed. I remember asking Denalyn, “What kind of person would enjoy such a job? His profession is aggravation.”
A good day for him means a bad day for everyone he contacts. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why such an occupation is necessary. I just wonder what kind of person would want such a job? Who wants to be a missionary of misery? Collectors spend the day making people feel bad. No one wants to take their calls. No one is happy to see them at the door. No one wants to read their letters. Can you imagine what their spouse says as they go to work? “Make ‘em squirm, honey.” Do their bosses motivate them with the “blood out of a turnip” award? Who is their hero? Godzilla? What a job. Their payday is in your paycheck, and they are out to get it. Can you imagine spending your days like that
Perhaps you can. Perhaps all of us can. Even the best among us spend time demanding payment. Doesn’t someone owe you something? An apology? A second chance? A fresh start? An explanation? A thank you? A childhood? A marriage? Stop and think about it (which I don’t encourage you to do for long), and you can make a list of a lot of folks who are in your debt. Your parents should have been more protective. Your children should have been more appreciative. Your spouse should be more sensitive. Your preacher should have been more attentive.
What are you going to do with those in your debt? People in your past have dipped their hands in your purse and taken what was yours. What are you going to do? Few questions are more important. Dealing with debt is at the heart of your happiness. It’s also at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer.
Having reminded us of the grace we have received, Jesus now speaks of the grace we should share.
Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. . . . For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:12,14—15 NIV)
Through the center of the Great House of God runs a large hallway. You can’t get from one room to another without using it. Want to leave the kitchen and go to the study? Use the corridor. Want to take the stairs to the chapel? Use the corridor. You can’t go anywhere without walking the hallway. And you can’t walk the hallway without bumping into people.
Jesus does not question the reality of your wounds. He does not doubt that you have been sinned against. The issue is not the existence of pain, the issue is the treatment of pain. What are you going to do with your debts?
Dale Carnegie tells about a visit to Yellowstone Park where he saw a grizzly bear. The huge animal was in the center of a clearing, feeding on some discarded camp food. For several minutes he feasted alone; no other creature dared draw near. After a few moments a skunk walked through the meadow toward the food and took his place next to the grizzly. The bear didn’t object and Carnegie knew why. “The grizzly,” he said, “knew the high cost of getting even.”
We’d be wise to learn the same. Settling the score is done at great expense.
THE HIGH COST OF GETTING EVEN
For one thing, you pay a price relationally.
Have you ever noticed in the western movies how the bounty hunter travels alone? It’s not hard to see why. Who wants to hang out with a guy who settles scores for a living? Who wants to risk getting on his bad side? More than once I’ve heard a person spew his anger. He thought I was listening, when really I was thinking, I hope I never get on his list. Cantankerous sorts, these bounty hunters. Best leave them alone. Hang out with the angry and you might catch a stray bullet. Debt-settling is a lonely occupation. It’s also an unhealthy occupation.
You pay a high price physically
The Bible says it best. “Resentment kills a fool” (Job 5:2 NIV). It reminds me of an old Amos and Andy routine. Amos asks Andy what that little bottle is he’s wearing around his neck. “Nitroglycerine,” he answers. Amos is stunned that Andy would be wearing a necklace of nitro, so he asks for an explanation. Andy tells him about a fellow who has a bad habit of poking people in the chest while he’s speaking. “It drives me crazy,” Andy says. “I’m wearing this nitro so the next time he pokes me, I’ll blow his finger off.”
Andy’s not the first to forget that when you try to get even, you get hurt. Job was right when he said, “You tear yourself to pieces in your anger” (Job 18:4 NCV). Ever notice that we describe the people who bug us as a “pain in the neck”? Whose neck are we referring to? Certainly not theirs. We are the ones who suffer.
Sometime ago I was speaking about anger at a men’s gathering. I described resentment as a prison and pointed out that when we put someone in our jail cell of hatred, we are stuck guarding the door. After the message a man introduced himself as a former prison inmate. He described how the guard at the gate of a prison is even more confined than a prisoner. The guard spends his day in a four- by-five-foot house. The prisoner has a ten-by-twelve-foot cell. The guard can’t leave, the prisoner gets to walk around. The prisoner can relax, but the guard has to be constantly alert. You might object and say, “Yes, but the guard of the prison gets to go home at night.” True, but the guard of the prison of resentment doesn’t.
If you’re out to settle the score, you’ll never rest. How can you? For one thing, your enemy may never pay up. As much as you think you deserve an apology, your debtor may not agree. The racist may never repent. The chauvinist may never change. As justified as you are in your quest for vengeance, you may never get a penny’s worth of justice. And if you do, will it be enough?
Let’s really think about this one. How much justice is enough? Picture your enemy for a moment. Picture him tied to the whipping post. The strong-armed man with the whip turns to you and asks, “How many lashes?” And you give a number. The whip cracks and the blood flows and the punishment is inflicted. Your foe slumps to the ground and you walk away.
Are you happy now? Do you feel better? Are you at peace? Perhaps for a while, but soon another memory will surface and another lash will be needed and . . . when does it all stop?
It stops when you take seriously the words of Jesus. Read them again: “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. . . . For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Through this verse we learn the greatest cost of getting even. I’ve suggested that you pay a high price relationally and physically, but Jesus has a far more important reason for you to forgive. If you don’t, you pay a high price spiritually.
Before we discuss what these verses mean, it would be wise to point out what they do not mean. The text does no suggest that we earn God’s grace by giving grace. At first blush, the phrase appears to present a type of triangular peace treaty. “If I forgive my enemy, then God will forgive me.” A casual reading suggests we earn our forgiveness by offering forgiveness to others. Mercy is a merit which saves me. Such an interpretation is impossible for the simple reason that it conflicts with the rest of Scripture. If we can attain forgiveness by forgiving others (or any other good work), then why do we need a Savior? If we can pay for our sins through our mercy, why did Jesus die for our sins? If salvation is a result of our effort, then why did Paul insist, “You have been saved by grace through believing. You did not save yourselves. It was a gift from God” (Ephesians 2:8 NCV).
Salvation is a free gift.
The question from the last chapter surfaces again. If we are already forgiven, then why does Jesus teach us to pray, “Forgive us our debts”?
The very reason you would want your children to do the same. If my children violate one of my standards or disobey a rule, I don’t disown them. I don’t kick them out of the house or tell them to change their last name. But I do expect them to be honest and apologize. And until they do, the tenderness of our relationship will suffer. The nature of the relationship won’t be altered, but the intimacy will.
The same happens in our walk with God. Confession does not create a relationship with God, it simply nourishes it. If you are a believer, admission of sins does not alter your position before God, but it does enhance your peace with God. When you confess, you agree; you quit arguing with God and agree with him about your sin. Unconfessed sin leads to a state of disagreement. You may be God’s child, but you don’t want to talk to him. He still loves you, but until you admit what you’ve done, there’s going to be tension in the house.
But just as unconfessed sin hinders joy, confessed sin releases it. When we admit sin we are like a first grader standing before the teacher with a messy paper. “I colored outside the lines too many times. Could I start over on a clean sheet?” “Of course,” says the teacher. Happy is the first grader who gets a second chance, or as David wrote, “Happy is the person whose sin is forgiven, whose wrongs are pardoned” (Psalms. 32:1 NCV). So we dash back to our seat and start over.
Would there ever be a case when the teacher would leave you to draw on your soiled paper? There might be. I can think of one example when the teacher might refuse to give you a second chance. Suppose she witnesses your mistreatment of the kid in the next desk. A few minutes earlier she saw him ask you for a piece of paper out of your tablet, and you refused. Though you had plenty to give, you clutched your Big Chief with both hands and refused to share. And now here you are making the same request of her?
Who would blame her if she said, “I tell you what, I’m going to grant you the same kindness you gave your classmate. The way you treat Harry is the way I’ll treat you. You’re still my student, and I’m still your teacher. I’m not kicking you out of class, but I am going to give you a chance to learn a lesson.” Now we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty of the verse, for this is exactly what the phrase means: “Forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors.”
ONE OF THE GREATEST PRINCIPLES IN THE BIBLE
“Treat me as I treat my neighbor.” Are you aware that this is what you are saying to your Father? Give me what I give them. Grant me the same peace I grant others. Let me enjoy the same tolerance I offer. God will treat you the way you treat others.
In any given Christian community there are two groups: those who are contagious in their joy and those who are cranky in their faith. They’ve accepted Christ and are seeking him, but their balloon has no helium. One is grateful, the other is grumpy. Both are saved. Both are heaven bound. But one sees the rainbow and the other sees the rain.
Could this principle explain the difference? Could it be that they are experiencing the same joy they have given their offenders? One says, “I forgive you,” and feels forgiven. The other says, “I’m ticked off,” and lives ticked off at the world.
Elsewhere Jesus said:
Don’t judge other people, and you will not be judged. Don’t accuse others of being guilty and you will not be accused of being guilty. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and you will receive. You will be given much. Pressed down, shaken together, and running over, it will spill into your lap. The way you give to others is the way God will give to you. (Luke 6:37—38 NCV, emphasis mine)
It’s as if God sends you to the market to purchase your neighbor’s groceries saying, “Whatever you get your neighbor, get also for yourself. For whatever you give him is what you receive.”
Pretty simple system. I’m not too bright, but I can figure this one out. I love thick, juicy hamburger meat, so I buy my neighbor thick juicy hamburger meat. I’m crazy about double-chocolate ice cream, so I buy my neighbor double-chocolate ice cream. And when I drink milk, I don’t want the skimpy skim stuff that Denalyn makes me drink. I want Christian milk, just like God made it. So what do I buy my neighbor? Christian milk, just like God made it.
Let’s take this a step further. Suppose your neighbor’s trash blows into your yard. You mention the mess to him, and he says he’ll get to it sometime next week. You inform him that you’ve got company coming and couldn’t he get out of that chair and do some work? He tells you not to be so picky, that the garbage fertilizes your garden. You’re just about to walk across the lawn to have a talk when God reminds you, “Time to go to the market and buy your neighbor’s groceries.” So you grumble and mumble your way to the store, and then it hits you, “I’ll get even with the old bum.” You go straight to the skim milk. Then you make a beeline to the anchovies and sardines. You march right past the double-chocolate ice cream and head toward the okra and rice. You make a final stop in the day-old bread section and pick up a crusty loaf with green spots on the edge.
Chuckling, you drive back to the house and drop the sack in the lap of your lazy, good-for-nothing neighbor. “Have a good dinner.” And you walk away.
All your brilliant scheming left you hungry, so you go to your refrigerator to fix a sandwich, but guess what you find. Your pantry is full of what you gave your enemy. All you have to eat is exactly what you just bought. We get what we give.
Some of you have been eating sardines for a long time. Your diet ain’t gonna change until you change. You look around at other Christians. They aren’t as sour as you are. They’re enjoying the delicacies of God, and you’re stuck with okra and anchovies on moldy bread. You’ve always wondered why they look so happy and you feel so cranky. Maybe now you know. Could it be God is giving you exactly what you’re giving someone else?
Would you like a change of menu? Earlier I referred to a men’s conference where I spoke on the topic of anger. A couple of weeks after I returned home I received this letter from a man named Harold Staub.
Thank you so much for speaking on forgiveness at Promise Keepers in Syracuse, NY, on June 7 and 8. I was there. Just want you to know I went home, talked to my wife on many subjects about forgiveness—the best two weeks of my life. You see, she went home to be with the Lord on June 24, totally forgiven. How wonderful is his love. Thank you so very much.
When we called Harold to ask his permission to print his letter, he shared the touching details of his final days with his wife. He didn’t know she was near death, nor did she. He did know, however, that some unresolved issues lay between them. Upon arriving home, he went to her, knelt before her and asked forgiveness for anything he’d ever done. The gesture opened a floodgate of emotions and the two talked late into the night. The initial effort at reconciliation continued for two weeks. The marriage enjoyed a depth not yet known. When Harold’s wife died suddenly of an embolism, he was shocked. But he was ready and now he is at peace.
What about you? Would you like some peace? Then quit giving your neighbor such a hassle. Want to enjoy God’s generosity? Then let others enjoy yours. Would you like assurance that God forgives you? I think you know what you need to do.
So, what will you be eating? Chocolate ice cream or okra? It’s up to you. (119-129)