In Part One, we saw that sin is not necessarily the breaking of a law—although that is often what we do when we sin—but in relation to the Greek word's meaning (hamartia, describing the missing of a target), our transgressions are failures to reach a goal or standard. During His ministry, our Savior Jesus Christ taught, not just the letter of the law as did the Old Testament, but the spirit of the law, which includes the law's broader intent and our attitudes toward God and our neighbors. So, for example, Jesus teaches that a person transgresses the commandment against murder when he unjustifiably unloads his anger on a brother (Matthew 5:21-22).
We also saw that I John 3:15 reinforces this: "Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." No scripture spells out the breadth of this commandment as clearly as John does here. Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 10:1, "Dead flies putrefy the perfumer's ointment, and cause it to give off a foul odor; so does a little folly to one respected for wisdom and honor." Putting this together with I John 3:15, we could say that a Christian becomes a stench in God's nose when he or she hates or holds a grudge against a fellow Christian.
We will consider a few Bible verses that show us the mark or target for which we should be aiming, beginning with a nearby passage, I John 3:17-18: "But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in Him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth." James Moffatt's version renders this last phrase, "but into deeds, and make it real."
Notice that the apostle never mentions that we are supposed to wait until our brother asks for help. All we need to do is observe a brother undergoing hardship, and at that point, we should be weighing and planning how we can fulfill his or her need. If we do not live up to this description of a Christian's duty to his brethren, we have missed the mark and remain unprofitable servants (see Matthew 25:30).
Paul, in II Timothy 2:24, provides another view of our target: "And the servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome (fighting and contending). Instead, he must be kindly to everyone and mild-tempered [preserving the bond of peace]; he must be a skilled and suitable teacher, patient and forbearing and willing to suffer wrong" (Amplified Bible).
"Servant" (Strong's #1401) translates the Greek word doulos, "a slave, one who is in a permanent relationship of servitude to another, his will being altogether in the will of the other" (Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary). As a servant of the Lord, totally bound to perform the will of God, we are required to reach for this standard of behavior. This obligation is reinforced by the next word, "must," which implies "necessary, binding, and inevitable." To reveal the full, intended impact, this verse could be better rendered:
And it is absolutely binding upon the bondslave of the Eternal that he not be quarrelsome (fighting and contending). Instead, it is absolutely binding that he behave kindly toward everyone and with a mild temper [preserving the bond of peace]; it is absolutely binding upon him that he be a skilled and suitable teacher, patient and forbearing and willing to suffer wrong. (Author's paraphrase.)
Again, if this verse does not describe us, we have missed the mark and remain unprofitable servants.
Scripture is replete with instructions that take a bit of focused thought to understand. There are plenty of instructions outside the lists of commandments. For these reasons, we need to search the Bible for the details of divine instruction hidden by incomplete or improper translations or by the contexts in which they appear. However, some scriptures get right to the point. Notice I Corinthians 6:7-8:
Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated? No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren!
Paul upbraids the members of the congregation in Corinth because they were unwilling to suffer wrong from their brethren. Instead, they took their own brethren to the city magistrates to receive judgment on their disputes! He writes in the same context that, not only should these kinds of matters stay within the bounds of the church, but also that we should be wise enough to be able to settle these matters amicably. True Christians should be humble enough to take the wrong done to them so that such situations never reach this stage (see Psalm 15:3-4; Matthew 5:38-42). Once again, if these verses describe us and our behaviors, we have missed the mark and remain unprofitable servants.
The apostle James describes a person who practices godly wisdom, the kind we are to be learning and implementing in our lives: "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy" (James 3:17). If our wisdom is nowhere near this level, we are missing the mark and remain unprofitable servants.
The translation of I Peter 3:9 leaves a little to be desired: ". . . not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing." "Inherit" is not referring to the payout of a will but God's gift of eternal life. This Greek word (klēronomeō, Strong's #2816) is "spoken only of the friends of God as receiving admission to the kingdom of heaven and its attendant privileges" (Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary). Perhaps this verse should have been translated to make plain that our reactions to others can affect our inheritance of eternal life. So, again, if our actions do not live up to this standard, we have missed the mark and remain unprofitable servants.
The apostle Peter writes in I Peter 4:18, "Now ‘If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?'" If we fail to understand and practice how to treat the brethren as Scripture instructs, we are on the wrong side of the knife edge of being "scarcely saved." Jesus warns that "many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14). Perhaps now we realize why! How we interact with our brethren matters to God! The many miss the mark. It is our job to make sure that we are among the few hitting it.
- Mike Fuhrer
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