If you have sinned against someone, you do not need to wait for them to hunt you down. If a brother comes to talk to you, tells you your fault, and if you have sinned, then you ought to acknowledge it, seek his forgiveness, and be restored to fellowship. But confession of sin is not only a reaction when caught or confronted.
Jesus preached in Matthew 5 that a man shouldn’t even give money if he remembers that he’s sinned against someone else.
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23–24)
I read an article about winnowing the givers recently, and it’s certainly not the typical approach of many ministries, or of persons who think that they can deal with guilt by giving money. Neither cash or check can cover a sinful heart. God doesn’t want even an offering unless we’ve done what we can to make it right.
Our God is a God who deals with sin and enables reconciliation. He desires worship from those who deal with sin and pursue reconciliation.
What sorts of offenses might our brother have against us? The preceding verse talks about being angry, about insulting, and ridiculing (verse 22). The list isn’t exhaustive, but it does represent hateful heart attitudes that separate us. Sin separates, and we are to pursue reconciliation with other persons before we worship, including our offering.
In the third book of his space trilogy, That Hideous Strength, C.S. Lewis relates a turning point for one of the main characters. Taken into custody, Mark Studdock began to consider that he had been resolutely wrong about almost everything in and for his entire life. Even as he contemplated his possible death it seemed better not to think about all of the things he would need to change if he acknowledged the first crack in the wall.
Was there no beginning to his folly? Had he been utter fool all through from the very day of his birth?…The indistinct mass of problems which would have to be faced if he admitted such thoughts, the innumerable “something” about which “something” would have to be done, had deterred him from ever raising these questions. (243)
I share those sentences because it is easy for us to have similar feelings. We don’t want to open the door to the sin’s storage closet because we’re afraid of what we’ll find. We won’t know where to start or how long it might take to get through it all. If we pull off one board, the whole house might come down.
For an unbeliever, this is the wrong argument. If he won’t acknowledge his sin, even if he doesn’t know how deep the sin goes, which he almost certainly does not, he will still take it all with him to hell. Denial of the “something” is something, but not an effective something. If nothing is done, there will be an eternity of penalty from God. A lifetime of unraveling the consequences would at least be a lifetime.
For a believer, this is also the wrong approach. If you have been justified, then your sanctification is no more difficult, or at least no less promised or grace-enabled. If you were dead but are now alive, if you were guilty but now declared righteous, then there is no reason to give up hope that He will deal with all of the sin, through and through. We may have a lot of work to do, but it is the sort of work we do because peace has been made, not in order to make peace. That changes something. We shouldn’t try to fix anything in the flesh, but we could never fix our sin in the flesh anyway.
Is it overwhelming to think about dealing with your sin? Are there innumerable “somethings” about which “something” must be done? This is why we have a Savior. He has, is, and will do something with it for sake of our blessing.
God does not command His people to read the Bible anywhere in the Bible. That’s probably for two reasons. First, most people didn’t have their own copies of God’s Word to read. They depended on hearing the Word read in corporate worship, and pastors were commanded to read the Word publicly for the people (see passages such as 1 Thessalonians 5:27 and 1 Timothy 4:13).1
A second reason why personal reading of the Bible isn’t an imperative is because reading, in and of itself, is much too undemanding. God commands believers to crave the Word like a newborn baby craves milk (1 Peter 2:2). He commands us to mediate on it day and night (Psalm 1:2). Noble believers examine the Scriptures daily (Acts 17:11). Wanting it, always thinking about it, and investigating it are much higher callings.
That said, reading helps. Having our own complete copies of the inspired canon in our own language in a portable format to read anytime we want is a thick blessing that we ought not take for granted.
I’ve used the same plan to read through the Bible in a year a few years in a row. I love it. The Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan has four separate readings, two from the Old Testament and two from the New. It also has only 25 readings each month leaving room for catch-up days if needed.
This new year I’m switching to try a new-for-me plan and I’m also switching to a new copy. I’m going to follow the M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan. It also has four readings every day, but it completes the New Testament and Psalms twice and the rest of the Old Testament once. Even though I’m studying for my Bible class at school and to preach on Sundays, I still want more of the Word.
I’ll also be using an ESV Reader’s Bible. This edition has no verse numbers and zero cross-references or notes. It does have paragraphs, and paragraphs make me happy. I got it a few months ago and tried it with the Discipleship Journal plan, but it wasn’t as easy to use because the New Testament readings are usually only certain verses and the Reader’s Bible doesn’t show the verse numbers. The M’Cheyne plan usually includes entire chapters.
It doesn’t matter what reading plan you use. I didn’t write this to persuade anyone to switch. I wrote this to say that I’m thankful for the grace that keeps me hungry for the Word. I’m thankful for the variety and access to resources to choose from. And I’m glad to give something even more challenging a shot. Maybe you will, too.
- Israel’s kings were commanded to read and to write a copy of the law for themselves, see Deuteronomy 17:19. ↩