Feelings run high when we feel we've been wronged. We tend to forget the party we're pursuing is family, part of our body in Christ. [Romans 12:5] We cannot hurt them without hurting ourselves. [Gal 5 :15]
Amazing how quickly we forget all that when we think somebody 'owes' us.
Then we usually think in terms of checks and balances, of Ma'at's balance , the judge's bench. Surely one side's case outweighs the other?
Its not an unusual feeling.
Ringing through so many of the Psalms and prophet's pleas is a cry for justice, for God's judgement on those who have oppressed them. As C.S. Lewis put it "In the Psalms judgement is not something that the conscience-stricken believer fears but something the downtrodden believer hopes for. " Their plea is ours, and their hope in the faith of their Fathers to shield them from a similar judgement exists in us also, through Christ. It is Jesus who shields us from the accusations of the world and the devil, who atones for our sin with His own sacrifice.
But Christ's covering came with a price. He paid for the sins of these erring brothers and sisters just as he paid for ours. [Isa 53:6] He loves them, just as He loves us, and He says that we must forgive as we were forgiven [Matt 18: 20-35, Col 3:13] 'til seventy times seven' [Matt 18:21-22]
So... do we want judgment or mercy? Do we want to be judged or forgiven? Can we arbitrate the differences and truly let the matter be? Can we promise never to go past that rock of offence with any hurtful plan?
And does our forgiving those who unrepentantly war and sin against us save them from God's judgement as well? Does our blessed hope for eternal salvation mean we have to put up with injustice until we get to heaven? How can we balance 'normal' Christian living with evil neighbors who pick on us night after night - and still keep to the walk demanded of us in scripture?
We have a long list of questions when these things come up, and, sadly, its a rare church where they could be asked aloud. The jockeying for social prominence in many gatherings have squelched anyone voicing any thoughts that might weaken their position in the flock, or even get them driven out, rather than answered, loved, shepherded, treated like the family the Bible says we all are in Christ. Goats are bad for trying to horn in and butt away other flock members, demanding as much of the shepherd's time as possible. Even other real sheep can be a tad on the cranky, stinky, needy, or greedy side (everybody wants that green grass!). & Its a flat fact that snakes love warmth, but will bite the bodies that radiate it if they are allowed to snuggle in too close. What's snuggling up to you? Do you dare ask?
Its hard to know what sort of fruit your pew-mates bear in their lives when you only see them once or twice a week.
Thankfully God saw our need and gave His answers where we can see them, in His Word, as revealed through the Holy Spirit. Its there, though we don't always see it until we've read as led, studied on it, and prayed awhile. He can tell us, if we'll stick around long enough to learn to hear His voice. This is a grace Christ wants all us to learn.
Unfortunately, many people are unconfident of being able to hear directly. I think the explosion of teaching materials and multimedia missions (and even blogs like this one) in these last days has been an answer to the prayers of many saints like these. Those who have ears to hear can get a lot of help now, though we must still pray for discernment to choose the teachings that are solidly in scripture, instead of the 'itching ears' stuff.
& Sometimes it just helps to hear the answer again from another, even when we think we know the answer.
So.... What does Mizpah mean to the redeemed? What does the requirement to forgive add or take from it? The answer, as near as I can tell, is grace- dependent on our own ability to forgive/repent.
Carnal Laban cannot easily forgive, but can we? Can we truly forgive as believers should? Can we keep our Mizpah with Christ - our rock - who covers not only our sin, but the sin of brothers and sisters who acted evilly to us? Yes, with the Holy Spirit's help. We may have to fight to do this right, though, especially the first few times we've really been wronged by someone, and even more if they are not at all repentant about it. Again and again the enemy & our flesh will bring it back to mind, as well as the ugly complications that came from that sin. We may have to forgive the same offence 70 x 7, but it must be done if we would have victory in our life as believers in Christ!
I am not going to kid you that this is an easy path to take. Our carnal self is crucified with Christ, but he's a persistent ghost in this life. Thank God the Comforter is stronger in us when we seek Him, and the reward is worth the effort. If ever we strive for a crown of righteousness in this life, it will be against our own flesh in tests like this.
Mizpah within the church is called for when Paul says we should be willing to be defrauded by each other rather than disgrace the church in civil courts [1 Cor 6]. Mizpah is the warning from God who judges between the shepherds and the flocks, the goats and the sheep, AND between sheep and sheep [Ezekiel 34]. God deals with His flock first. [1 Peter 4:17, Hebrews 10:30-31] Mizpah is the coals of fire that are heaped on the heads of those who flaunt the forgiveness and the grace you give in Christ's name and continue to lie about, abuse, and otherwise mistreat you[ Prov 25:22, Prov 26: 17-28, Rom 12:20]. God calls us to give way to HIM in matters of vengeance [Rom 12;19]. He doesn't say there won't be any, a thought that should make us tremble - for in many things we ALL offend. [James 3:2] . Both now and later, it is God who keeps the covenants [Deut 7:9-12, Dan 9:4], gains our victories [1 Cor 15:57, 1 John 5:4, Rev 15:2] and deals with His & our enemies [Psa 1, 2, 3, 4, 5...17, 18, 19, 20....] He is our salvation in THIS life, as well as the world to come. (Which doesn't mean we are never allowed to act in self-defense or that of our family. This is another area of discernment.)
One of the hardest parts is that fear that your requirement to forgive just gives 'them' license to hurt you more, and without rebuke. Nobody with the dignity God gave a squirrel can stand to be a doormat indefinitely. We naturally want to either be defended, or defend ourselves. Are we required to do as St Stephen did and ask that God not hold his unbelieving murderers accountable for their stoning him to death? [Acts 6:8 - 8:2]
This is the complicated bit. Are you ready for this? As long as you do things God's way - you win! You are required to forgive but you are NOT required to do as St Stephen did (unless specially asked by God). God would indeed have held that crowd accountable for St Stephen's death without such a request. Stephen's life was/is precious to God (and so is yours). But Stephen didn't lose out for showing them extra grace. Indeed, he saw heaven early. Such a reward was only granted to one of those in the crowd against him, and then only with much pain - Paul, who was then Saul, paid dearly to take up Stephen's mantle on Earth. Stephen won with God, and he won big. No one would have believed it that day, or even that week, but Paul would eventually walk in that same grace.
It is an advanced position of grace and faith to understand that those who would hate you as a child of God are already in such miserable trouble that your releasing them from what burden you can, by complete forgiveness of what they've done to you on Earth AND in Heaven, is an act of love, of compassion, such as comes from the sacred heart of Christ himself. They still aren't off the hook, especially if they fail to receive the forgiveness Messiah has offered them. You can't release them from what they've done to others or to God himself. All you can do you have done in such forgiveness, a real (but comparatively) small gift, your own two mites, but it makes the angels sing and lightens the heart of God himself.
If all that just sounds like, 'yep! they get away with it' - then don't even try it. You are NOT ready. Stephen's walk is about loving the lost, about seeing into heaven's heart and desiring to further God's call for their salvation, desiring this more than even saving his own life - or his sense of justice - down here. I said it was an ADVANCED step for the saints. That's serious. By the work of the Holy Spirit in His life and mouth, as his last act, Stephen extended the grace of his own full forgiveness. He showing great mercy to these unbelievers in asking that they also be forgiven by God for what they were doing to him this one time. Few of us are up to that level, especially on a day to day basis.
And not all the saints prayed this sort of prayer, even in the days of the apostles. I can't always manage it either, though I admire it as a state of grace to which I should aspire. Hey, maybe one of these days! Right now I am only too aware on how badly I want God to win for me, and I know God would take me seriously if I prayed Stephen's prayer. Best I can do at the moment is pray for their repentance & mercy on them as God deals with them. I pray to see all God's children through the love of Christ, and that they will see me similarly. I can forgive, with Jesus' help, but haven't quite got to the state of '...and don't even worry about what they are doing to me, Lord. Please forgive them for the sin against you they've committed in attacking me unjustly.' & I still want God to stop them!
Forgiving unbelievers (which is also important) is generally unrewarding in a fleshly sense, since they rarely care about being forgiven! (You can see the usual fleshly response in Stephen's story as well. They went into a hate-filled, tooth-gnashing frenzy!)
But Stephen's gift is the sort of grace believers already have in Christ. They are already forgiven by God. Thereafter, God may chastise them as sons, but still he sees them as white through the atoning work of Jesus. Forgiving sins within the body ought to be easier than with those outside it.A real believer walking in the Holy Spirit ought to care that they may have harmed another, and possibly impaired their own walk & blessings in Christ Jesus until the matter is dealt with. We don't get many favorable hearings in heaven when we are slapping our church sibs around here on Earth. True repentance and forgiveness restores us to each other - and to God's wonderful presence. That's a very happy way for all offenses to end, when it happens.
So, how do we go about getting this happy ending?
The Bible tells us to speak privately to our brothers (and sisters) when we have a matter that needs to be cleared up 'that we may gain our brother.' [Matt 18: 15-17, Prov 25:8-9] The point of such a quiet confrontation is to prevent obstacles to our freely walking & working with our beloved companion. It is to clear the air, not look for excuses for further warfare, and you must speak with all the love and respect you can find (or borrow from Jesus). Unfortunately, in actual practice, this is sometimes when you find out (by their response) that they weren't walking in Christ at all!
The next steps are even more crucial. You said you forgave them. You've said all that can be said. Now you have to step back and let the matter drop from between you. Then give it time. Sometimes you gotta let go and give them back to God to be healed in time. Sometimes you gotta let go and let God work on you for awhile. Sometimes you have to do the 2 & 3 witnesses thing and let them go...period.
God's immediate responses will depend on a number of things -within you, within your brother, and within His plans. His ultimate answer will be perfect, as He is perfect. You have to trust that. You have to trust Him.
It is important to remember (while waiting) that God will see down the innermost thoughts of our heart - whether we were good to our neighbor or not. Did we truly care about him/her? Did we forgive him? Did we quietly gloat when they had a bad time after we were angry with them? [Prov 24: 16-18] Be careful. Gloating (or abiding in resentment toward the other) displeases God and may result in more discipline for you!
Do you remember the examples given at the beginning of this section? They are all drawn from life, from things I have heard. I don't know (and neither do you) whether the offenses were 'real' from the other side or not. Was Uncle Kenny being as fair as he knew how and still being blamed because they thought there was more to the estate even after all the medical expenses or did he have some Laban-esque ideas about how things should go once he was in charge? Was Lori just being insensitive or is she one of those who play off attacks as humor? Did Dan tell them about the exclusions or kid himself that these things are 'just business' & God understands a few white lies? We don't know where their hearts were. What we DO know is that we would be wise to make sure we do the right thing when similarly tried - and be quick to forgive those who 'owe' us as we would be forgiven. [Col 3:13] God shows himself merciful with the merciful! [Psa 18:25-26]
So while we are curious & would want to act differently depending on the answer, the responses we are given are the same. We are to forgive them, trust God to guide our steps, go before us with the favor we need with the people He has for us, and provide all we need.
The biggest stumbling blocks in forgiving others comes from carnal desires and our fears. [1 Cor3:3] As it says in James
"James 4:1 ¶From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?
2 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.
3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
4 Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.
5 Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?
6 But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.
7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.
9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.
10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
11 ¶Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.
12 There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?" James 4 KJV
So we must give God our desires and let them be purified. We must let God end our fears by placing our hopes and faith in Him.
The biggest thing is to remember that Mizpah works both ways. Our God walks both sides of his wonderful covenant/promises with us so that we can keep them, but will also discipline us if we use our license in Him as liberty against others! [Gal 5:13]
Mizpah in the New Testament means we would be wise to avoid sinning against our brothers and sisters, or anyone else by choice, lest we be painfully chastened by the same just Father who defends & provides for us. [Phil 2:14, Heb 12: 6-7, 1 Cor 11:31-32]
Peace be unto you.