Receive

17 If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. 18 But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay—not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides. 20 Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord. (Philemon 17-20; NKJV)

The good deed and importance is found in Philemon receiving Onesimus.  Before I start with Philemon, please recognize the Onesimus is returning.  He is determined to reconcile with Philemon though the worst outcome for him could be that Philemon doesn’t reconcile and he lose his life…a punishment that was given to slaves who were disobedient.  This was in the realm of possibility but Onesimus had a heart to go and to reconcile.  As much as Philemon had to receive him, Onesimus had to go.  This cannot be overstated.

Paul urges Philemon to receive him like he would receive Paul.  It seems they shared a close relationship so the picture here is of two dear friends reuniting.  That is what Paul is expecting for Onesimus despite the fact that he had caused Philemon harm.  This shows us what reconciliation looks like.  Forgiveness is not just a lack of retaliation but restoration.  It is about how we receive one another in all circumstances and how we build and develop relationships with one another.

This is how God receives us when we are forgiven.  We do not simply escape the wrath we deserve but He FULLY restores us into a relationship with Him.  Paul paints a clear picture of what this looks like for Philemon and we can glean what it needs to look like in our lives.  Receive one who has wronged you the same way that you would receive one of your closest and dearest brothers or sister.

Paul is a catalyst in this restoration and we can be too.  Philemon might have had a long list of grievances or wrongs and it might have caused him a great internal struggle with what Paul was asking.  But Paul steps in and offers himself to take that debt on.  He doesn’t stop there though.  He doesn’t want a list of wrongs from Philemon that are now a debt on Paul.  What Paul wants Philemon to remember is that we are all indebted to our Lord Jesus and in this case to the one who taught and led us to Him.  Paul simply wants to bring to mind how desperately Philemon needed salvation at one point in time and to return the same offering of grace and forgiveness and restoration to Onesimus which Paul offered to him.  Again, we all can understand what that looks like and at different points play our part as a Paul (catalyst for restoration), Onesimus (willing to go and restored), and Philemon (willing to receive and to restore).

We forgive because we are forgiven.  We erase other’s debts because we have a record of debts that others have against us and a debt we can never repay our God and Father.  We owe our eternal spiritual life to God.  We understand that, then it will be easier to forgive.  We forgive because we are forgiven and we work for restoration in whatever role or situation we find ourselves in.  We work because that is the action we must take in our faith and love for Jesus and each other.

 

Importance of the Good Deed

10 I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, 11 who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me.  12 I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel. 14 But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary.  15 For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. (Philemon 10-16; NKJV)

The good deed that is presented before Philemon is to forgive and there is no good deed without reconciliation.  Without reconciliation, the opportunity for a negative attitude is a snare for Philemon.  He could have thought “Paul can keep that useless slave” even if it meant financial loss.  It would be worth it not to deal with him anymore.  That doesn’t sound like a good deed to me…even if it made him feel “better”.

If Philemon forgives and reconciles, then all three men are free to work together and Onesimus can be with Philemon and Paul.  Consider our own lives.  We have no problem staying away from people that we have problems with…steering clear of those who have wronged us and harmed us. The hard part is to come face to face with that person and do what is good for the other and not for self. This is what Paul is asking Philemon to do and where the value of the deed lies.

Paul can’t reconcile with Onesimus…there is no reason.  In fact, Paul is excited about how Onesimus has come into his life and the result through the working of God.  Paul offers that just might be the point.  Maybe the reason Onesimus didn’t remain with Philemon for a short period of time was so that they could be together forever.  Not as a useless or unprofitable slave but a brother and fellow worker in Christ.  Paul is offering a heavenly perspective and calling attention to God’s hand in our lives.  We see troubles and hardships, but God sees opportunity.  Many times, our own hardships must be endured for the benefit of others in a way we can’t see. We can, however, trust God’s hand in all of it if we keep a heavenly perspective.

Here, a relationship that was broken and a trust that was violated could be overcome and give way to a new and different relationship in Christ.  How often do our own desires, ambitions, or insecurities in the flesh hold back another?  How often do we act on what we think is right rather than consider God’s way?  Are we withholding spiritual forgiveness, blessings, and love to the detriment of others?  Paul is demonstrating that we can trust God’s hand and to be careful not to hinder His work.

Paul is providing both sides of the case.  Yes, Onesimus has wronged Philemon and that needs to be reconciled.  Paul also calls Onesimus a beloved brother and that much good has happened since Onesimus left and the potential for so much more if they are all reconciled and working together.  Paul has had much joy from Philemon’s love and faith and is encouraged that Philemon will do much more in reconciling with Onesimus.

As you consider this relationship in the context of your life, look to Joseph as well.  How did Joseph come to a point that he could forgive and reconcile with his brothers after all the betrayal?  Joseph recognized that evil done to him was used by God for good.  I am sure this was not an easy thing to come to terms with and it might have been tough for Philemon to reconcile with Onesimus.  We may have the same challenge facing us today.  Can we take a heavenly perspective?  Can we trust God’s hand in our lives?  Will we not give Satan an opportunity to drive a wedge further into the most important relationships we have with our brethren and with our Father?

The bottom-line is this.  We can confidently forgive and reconcile because we know the great power of God in our lives to accomplish good through our hardship. Further, we must forgive and reconcile any chance we get because we have been forgiven and reconciled to God through Jesus every time we needed it and asked for it.  Finally, let’s not ever forget that we are all Onesimus in some way.  We are not perfect. We all sin.  We all hurt others and violate our relationships.  We need forgiveness and we need others to be willing to reconcile.  Therefore, lets open that door with our own attitude and with our willingness to forgive and reconcile.  Have a love and a faith like that.  Be confident that this will bring joy and refreshing to your brethren whether you know it or not.  Stomp on the devil’s head and forgive.  God is doing the heavy lifting…just look up and within and let Him.  Let go and let Him reconcile your life.  How important is that?  It is profoundly and eternally imperative!

Good Deed

Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you—being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ— 10 I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, 11 who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me. 12 I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel. 14 But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary. (Philemon 8-14; NKJV)

In considering this text, do you see the awesome and powerful demonstration of leadership by Paul and made possible by the tremendous followership of Philemon?

We have established this is a tough ask Paul is making of Philemon in receiving Onesimus…a slave of Philemon who has run away and is not profitable.  With that in mind, consider the fact that Paul does not command Philemon and he never uses the words “forgive” or “reconcile”.  What Paul does is “appeal” to Philemon’s character to “receive” Onesimus as a brother in Christ.  Paul knows that Philemon understands this is only possible if he forgives and they are reconciled.  Paul is encouraging Philemon to put his faith and love into action and to further refresh the hearts of the saints.

Why didn’t Paul command him?  I cannot say for certain but I understand the power and joy in others doing the right thing because they choose to rather than because they are told or command to.  I understand the tremendous catalyst of choice.  I have responsibility of leadership in my life whether it is with a colleague, an employee, a child, a spouse, a brother/sister…God has given me specific commands and responsibilities to lead.  Do you see that?  God has given me a work to do (responsibility) and I am accountable to the outcomes of that leadership work…and though the authority is implied…the focus is on the responsibility and the expectation is that I fulfill that responsibility as a Christian who emulates Christ Who is love!  Love in the case of Christ is “choice”!  The catalyst!

Leadership is a result of a cultivated relationship of trust, understanding, and mutual respect which provides the foundation for leading or influencing others towards a common purpose and work.  Paul cultivated this relationship with Philemon.  Philemon demonstrated his heart through his fruit.  Paul trusted the faith and love of Philemon and Philemon trusted Paul’s leadership.

This is what is so awesome in this scenario.  No barking orders.  No insecurity.  No resentment.  All of these are opportunities for Satan to place a wedge and start working a relationship apart.  The more people involved, the more opportunity and this is why leadership is so very important!  Choosing the assume the best of another provides the opportunity for them to exceed your expectations and reduces the opportunity for Satan to divide.

Paul’s letter is all about the need to forgive and how to go about forgiveness.  Paul’s approach is all about trust in Philemon’s character because of Philemon’s actions and fruit.  This is a pattern worth evaluating in our own lives.  If a brother or sister has demonstrated love and faith then we can assume the best of them and that they will demonstrate love and faith now and in the future.  This should provide us with a confidence in each other and relieve the need for “orders” or “commands” but rather open opportunity for encouragement, increased opportunity to serve, and growth.

Forgiveness and reconciliation is a hard work that has to be voluntary for everyone.  We can lead others through forgiveness and reconciliation if we first trust and provide opportunity for reconciliation rather than command that we forgive.  Jesus chose us.  Lets choose each other!

Christian Character

1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer, 2 to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  4 I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, 5 hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, 6 that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. 7 For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother. (Philemon 1-7; NKJV)

In Paul’s letter to Philemon that was intended for the church with him, there are two central points:  the need to forgive and how to forgive.  This teaching is profitable to us as well.  We live in a selfish, me-first society with grace and true forgiveness being overtaken with ambition and competition.   This influences us and impacts our Christians families, but this letter equips us to better forgive and in modeling that behavior we have opportunity to teach Jesus.

Remember, Paul is writing Philemon because he wants him to forgive and accept Onesimus.  Paul lays the groundwork for his request of Philemon by acknowledging Philemon’s Christian character.  Paul is thankful for Philemon because of his faith and love towards Jesus and all the saints.

This is Philemon’s reputation because he is doing what Christians should do in having and demonstrating love and faith toward brethren.  Further, this is a shared faith between Paul and Philemon which gives us more insight into  Philemon’s work.  He is an extension of Paul in some regards and the work Philemon is doing brings Paul joy and comfort because Paul knows the hearts of God’s people have been refreshed.

We often think that sharing our faith is about teaching the lost, but we  see in the point of this letter that we share our faith with brethren through forgiveness.  Paul is praying that Philemon’s faith will be more effective and to say it another way that Philemon’s faith will be put into action through forgiveness.

I envision this first section of the letter as being very encouraging to Philemon and those around him.  It is good to be part of a work bigger than ourselves and to be recognized and valued for our part in it.  Paul isn’t writing these things to inflate Philemon’s ego but rather to call to mind the intimate and collaborative work Paul and Philemon are doing for the sake of the gospel and God’s people and to bolster Philemon’s spirit.

Encouragement and recognition are a powerful influences.  This is true with our children, spouses, friends, and especially our brethren.  Taking the time to recognize the work already done and the heart demonstrated will encourage and provide opportunity for even more work to be done no matter how hard the task is.  This letter is about the need to forgive and how to forgive and Paul recognizes this is tough stuff.  Paul doesn’t just jump into that rather he center’s Philemon’s heart and mind on the work and the relationship to bolster Philemon for the work that needs to be done.

Forgiveness is hard spiritual, mental, and emotional work.  Just like any other hard labor, if we do not exercise the muscles necessary to do the work before we need them, we will tire quickly, get hurt or be unable to complete the task.  In looking at this first section of the letter, we can see that continual practice of love and faith for Jesus and the saints will prepare us for more and more difficult challenges and opportunity for even greater positive influence for the sake of Christians.

Practice love and faith.  Be encouraged in that work.  Encourage others in their love and faith.  Together we will be quipped to put our faith into action through forgiveness just like Paul and Philemon.

A Little Bit of Alzheimer’s

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
(Ephesians 4:31-32)

Watching someone you love dearly being taken by Alzheimer’s is a very hard thing. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on that, but those of you who understand…you understand.

The other day I was talking to someone about how my mother at times will be really upset about something or get agitated at one of us, but then just a short time later she is fine, happy, pleasant and doesn’t even remember what she was upset about. That’s when I said, maybe we all need a little Alzheimer’s.

Grudges can last for decades. We hold on to things that should have been let go a long time ago. Maybe we need a little bit of Alzheimer’s. Instead of fuming about something and refusing to let it go, let’s ask God to help us to be more forgiving. Release it. Stop holding on to it.

Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
(Matthew 18:32-35)

Request. Response. Resolution.

20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. 21 And He said to her, “What do you wish?“  She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.”  22 But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with”  They said to Him, “We are able.”  23 So He said to them, “You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.”  24 And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said…   (Matt 20:20-25; NKJV)

Right after Jesus reveals His betrayal and death to the disciples, He is asked that seats of honor would be granted to two of them when Jesus comes into His kingdom.  As I said earlier, I don’t want to be too hard on these guys as we all find ourselves putting our foot in our mouths when we start thinking of ourselves first.  They were asking for the “chief seats” and I think we can get into this trap too.  It is not hard to understand why.  They see what it looks like with Roman and Jewish leadership…what the trappings of power look like.  They have been on the wrong end of things for their entire lives and now they have an opportunity to be on top.  So, through their own selfish lens, they (or should I say their mother) asks for what they want.  It is selfish and it is misguided but it is what they “wanted”.  We can make the same mistake.

Jesus responds by qualifying what they are asking.  Per the previous statement, He asks if they can endure the cup (signifying God’s wrath) and baptism He will have.  Of course, they are certain they can…though they don’t really know what they are saying.  Jesus knows and He tells them what will come to pass in the future as a result of their faithfulness but right now they can’t see past the “chief seats”.  James will drink the cup of martyrdom (Acts 12:2) and we know that many disciples of Jesus suffered a lot (even death) because of their faith.  In the moment, however, the brothers can’t see that and only want to be in a place of honor with the King…even if they don’t yet fully understand it.

The result within the immediate family (of the 12) was the other 10 becoming very displeased with the brothers.  I don’t know if they are upset because they didn’t think to ask first, because they understood what Jesus was saying of betrayal and death and were hurt these two would be so selfish or what exactly got under their skin.  The bottom line is, the brothers’ selfish behavior created division within the group and it is starting to boil over.  This is not uncommon even today.  If there is a brother who is acting selfishly or in a way that is not unifying the group, we can get upset and then we can start talking among ourselves and then we can let it boil over and great division takes place.  What we should do, however, is do what Jesus does.

This is one of my favorite images in the Bible.  As this disagreement begins to take place within the 12, what does Jesus do?  He calls them to Himself.  I picture a huddle and maybe even a group hug eventually.  But here, Jesus calls them together and He teaches for them all to learn.  That is the case with us…we all need to learn from our own and from others shortfalls and mistakes.  None of us are perfect and when another hurts us or wrongs us due to their selfish behavior…call them near and bring Jesus with you.  Talk about it, pray about it, love one another.  We all get off track and take our eye off the ball.  This will hurt when the consequence of this is against us.  But it will hurt a whole lot more if we lose a brother and we have a great example in our Savior of how to call each other close, learn from each other and love one another…God is glorified in that!

There is a lot going on in these verses but the visual in my mind from God’s word of Jesus putting His arms around His disciples, pulling them near and teaching them…redeeming them…loving them is one that brings joy, hope and peace to my heart today.  I hope it does the same for you and if you need to repent and draw someone close that you might have pushed away…do that today.  Ask for someone to help in that.  Jesus is waiting and will go too.

Don’t Be Afraid to Share

1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. 5 For each one shall bear his own load. (Galatians 6:1-5; NKJV)

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.  (James 5:13-16; NKJV)

These two passages came to mind as I thought about fear and how it affects our ability to come to one another with our burdens and with our sins.  I was thinking about how hard Satan works to convince us we are supposed to be perfect and how often we fall into that snare.  Our Heavenly Father, however, through His inspired and eternally true word tells us that we have all sinned and fallen short.  He tells us that it is this very thing that He purposed to remedy through sending His Son so that He could offer Himself as payment for our sins.  God does not expect us to be perfect…so if we are feeling like that we are called to perfection then we need to turn to Satan and tell him to get lost.

Because if we think we have to be perfect, then we are going to be afraid to go to the very people who we need the most in this world with our imperfection…our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Have you been afraid to confess your sins to a brother because you were certain they couldn’t possibly forgive you or somehow your relationship with them would be forever changed?  I have.  And how unfair is that to my brother…because if I am afraid to be honest, open and vulnerable with him…how hard is going to be for him to do the same with me or am I causing him to question his worthiness as a brother.  There are a lot of scenarios that could play you but the bottom line is that the one scenario that should play out is very clearly described above.  God’s word says go to your brother.  God says bear another’s burden.  God says pray!  God assures us that we will be forgive, healed, and that the fervent prayers of a righteous man avails much.

We so very much need each other, and we cannot be afraid to share the hard stuff.  There are no secrets.  God sees it all.  He wants us to share it not so that we can be open with Him but with one another.  That we can be encouraged when we are down and when we are the encourager we can know there will be someone for us when we find ourselves in need of a brother to lean on.

I believe Satan works to confuse us with what is expected and drives a wedge between us.  A lot of time he uses fear as that tool.  Don’t be afraid.  Trust God…He will be with you when you trust a brother and share.

Don’t be Afraid to Forgive Your Kids

Did you ask God yesterday or today to forgive you for something you knew you shouldn’t have done or have been admonished for doing in the past?  Did you really mean it?  Were your really sorry for what you did and committed to not doing it again?  I know I did.  I know we all find ourselves before our loving, merciful, longsuffering Father knowing we have violated His rules, hurt Him, or strayed from the straight path He has laid out for us.  So what?  Why start here?

I start here because I am not providing this same blessing to my children.  There are probably a lot of reasons for that but as we have been talking about…a lot of times my own insecurity or fear of the trajectory of my kids’ life is taking when considering their actions or decisions.  I want them to be safe…first and foremost spiritually and when I see them going or catch them in the far country, I am guilty of going straight to angry and sometimes that takes away any opportunity for them to say “I’m sorry” or ask for my help.  Certainly, I am expected to discipline my children, but I am not talking about constructively leading my children.  I am talking about being for them what I find in my Abba Father and Elder Brother…graceful, merciful, longsuffering, forgiving, loving, providing security, help…all of the tremendous blessings I have in Jesus.

So that is the thought for today.  How can we better forgive our children so that we can be a positive part of the solution?  Again, we should all endeavor to get ahead of trouble and teach our children to avoid it…but when they don’t…can we forgive them, love them, and take them by the hand as they stand up and get themselves back on the path they should be on?

Jesus demonstrated it.   (I Pet. 2:21; Phil. 2:3-5; Luke 23:34).  Jesus gave us the example.  Our Father forgives us daily.  We have our examples and they are worth following for our own sake and the sake of our children.

We have been forgiven. God, in Christ, has forgiven the sins of the Christian (Eph. 4:32). As Christ has forgiven us, then we should forgive others (Col. 3:13) and our kids need it so that they can feel safe and we might find opportunity to teach them and model a forgiving heart.

We must pattern our forgiveness after the forgiveness God has granted to us. It must be accompanied by actions which befit true forgiveness.  Forgiveness involves a kind attitude—abandoning all animosity and hatred. All bitterness, anger, wrath, clamor and evil speaking should be put away (Eph. 4:31). We can’t hold grudges.  We are the adult.  We have to act it.

We are going to have to forget.  Of course, we are not able to just erase it from our mind, but we can avoid holding our children accountable to something if they have come to use for forgiveness and with a true heart toward not doing it again.  Our forgiveness granted should be the end of the matter and we should assume the best of our kids to do their best moving forward.  God is for us.   He is for them.  We are in this together with our kids and I know forgiving isn’t always the first thing I think to do but when I can get that right I see a softened heart looking for my leadership and that is an awesome opportunity.

Like you, I have spent my children’s entire lives protecting them and providing them every advantage.  In the end, the best advantage they have is a life lived with Jesus.  That is our best advantage and if we are freed up in that security we can stand to forgive and love…just like our Abba Father forgives and loves us.

Son Your Sins Are Forgiven

And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
(Mark 2:5-7)

In Mark 2, we read of a paralytic man that four friends let down through the roof to get to Jesus. Jesus saw their faith and said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” This statement sent shock waves through the religious elite in the crowd. They knew their Bibles.

Who can forgive sins but God alone? Great question. I have another question, who can forgive sins but the one offended?

So let’s say my brother comes up to me and punches me in the face and breaks a few teeth, leaving me on the ground bloody and toothless. A stranger then comes by and looks at my brother and says, “I forgive you.” I’m going to say, “What? You forgive him? I’m the one with blood and teeth coming out!” That person was not the one offended, I was.

Jesus was the one offended. He is God. It was the sins of the paralytic that hurt Jesus. Jesus was the one with blood and teeth coming out. Whatever sins that paralyzed man committed were directly against Jesus, and only Jesus could be the one to release him from that debt.

…But you have burdened me with your sins; you have wearied me with your iniquities. “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
(Isaiah 43:24-25)

The Lord God (Jesus) is speaking here in Isaiah saying that the sins have burdened Him. God was the one offended, beaten up and saddened by what we have done.

So think about what happened in Mark 2 with this paralytic man. This man had a problem bigger than not being able to walk. He had sinned against the Lord Jesus Christ. But look at the mercy of the Lord, Jesus could have said, “You deserve not to walk for what you did to Me.” Jesus gave him two incredible gifts that day, but one was infinitely more valuable. That day the man walked, and that is great, but that day his sins against Jesus were released by Jesus.

What a merciful and amazing Lord we serve!

Rend Your Heart and Not Your Garments

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments.” Now return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of evil.
(Joel 2:12-13)

The book of Joel begins with the discussion of a devastating locust plague sent by God as a destroying army to punish His people and to bring them to repentance. Those were dark days, literally (Joel 2:2).

God’s wrath comes slowly, but when it comes it is an overwhelming flood of devastation. When God brings His punishment it is thorough, but it is also done it the right way and at the right time. You know when God brings down the hammer of judgment He has exhausted all other avenues and given all opportunities for someone to come to repentance.

But after all this devastation which was left in the wake of God’s wrath, He calls them in love and grace to fast, call an assembly, and to return to Him.

But what kind of return does God want? Does He want them merely to feel sorry that they ended up in such a bad situation? Is He looking for them to have guilt just because things turned out so poorly?

It was clear throughout Scripture and certainly in our lives today that we do not always have “godly sorrow” which “leads to repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10). We may be sorry we lost something important. It may be we are sorry we got caught. It may be we are sad because of the consequences, but that is not the sorrow God is looking for, is it?

The people of God could have torn their garments, fasted (it was not like they had much food at that point anyway), thrown ashes and dust on their heads and wailed and mourned. Was this what God was looking for? Not if their hearts weren’t in it.

“Rend your heart and not your garments…” Don’t tear your clothes, tear your hearts. God wants us to be heartbroken because of the broken relationship we have with Him, not merely sad because we are being punished for our sins.

Men, does God have our hearts? Are we on the surface trying to fix / avoid the consequences of our sins or are we truly getting down to the “heart” of the matter?

Rend your heart and not your garments.