“Correct me, O Lord, but in justice; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing.” Jeremiah 10:24 ESV
This is my cry today. At some level it is the cry of everyone, or should be the cry of everyone, because we are sinners. We are saved only by God’s grace.
Sometimes, like today for me, we are keenly aware of our sinfulness. Some days we aren’t.
Though I gave myself to God as my Lord and Savior many years ago, I still find myself climbing onto that throne in my heart and taking back control. I may be mindful and submissive in the morning. By evening, I have taken back that position I promised to God in the morning.
Like a bird caught in a snare, I find myself entangled by the old, sinful threads of my life that tangle easily around my feet. I gave them to God once for all time. Only I find myself going back to them, like a moth to a flame. Then, I must turn to God… once again… and again… and cede control again.
I am 61 years old. I have been a believer for 40 years. I know better.
Shouldn’t I be further along in the process of personal holiness and sanctification? Why am I so weak to deal with these things that have plagued me since I was young?
How many times will I fail? How many times will I repent? How many times will I fall? How many times will God forgive me?
I have been thinking lately about the phrase, “Do not go on sinning.” These were the words Jesus spoke to the woman caught in adultery after he rescued her from her accusers. We forget about them, perhaps, because of the force of the rest of the story.
The Pharisees brought her to Jesus one day and challenged him: “’Teacher,’ they said to Jesus [with a hint of affected deference, I imagine], ‘this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?’”
They were trying to trap Jesus into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus was not shaken or disturbed by the dilemma they posed him. He stooped to write in the dust with his finger.
The awkward silence was broken finally by a demand for an answer. Jesus obliged,
“Alright, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”
Significantly, Jesus didn’t deny what the Law says. His answer implied agreement with the judgment of the Law, but his answer turned the table on the accusers and focused attention on them.
His answer is reminiscent of apportion of the prayer that Jesus taught his followers to pray and of a segment of the Sermon on the Mount:
“And forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
“[I]n the same way you judge others, you will be judged….”
The pregnant silence continued again, as Jesus returned to writing in the dust with this finger. This time, the demands for an answer slipped away with the accusers, one by one, leaving alone with the accused woman.
The focus of the encounter had shifted dramatically from the adulterous woman to her accusers. Their self-righteous smugness turned to bitter disappointment and shame as Jesus put them in their place.
Now alone with the woman, Jesus asked her, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”; “No, Lord,” she replied. “Then, “Neither do I,” Jesus said.
This seems to be the perfect way for Jesus to end the story. The accusers of the adulterous woman were sinners too. When Jesus said, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone”, none of them could do it. They knew they would be condemning themselves. What Jesus wrote in the sand must have hit home with them.
The story would be perfect if it ended there, right? Jesus, the Lord and Savior of the world, says he doesn’t condemn the adulteress woman either!
But that isn’t the end of the story. The story ends with Jesus adding, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11)
Those words hang there now for me, as I imagine they did for the woman.
What wisdom and command of the situation Jesus had shown! The pompous self-righteousness of the religious leaders who used this poor woman as a ploy to back Jesus into a corner was deflated. The public humiliation and shame she must have felt was heaped back on her accusers in divine vindication. The gentleness with which he treated her and affirmed her value is beautiful.
But, when the men had left, and she was alone with Jesus, he left her with the instruction, “Go and sin no more.”
Jesus didn’t condemn her, but Jesus didn’t release her to go back to the lifestyle and choices she had made to that point. Why not?
The words, “go and sin no more”, haunt me as I think about myself and how easily I fall into sinful attitudes and stumble. It would so much easier if Jesus hadn’t tagged those five words on to the end of this story!
Solomon’s story is a tale of a wise and noble man, as far as men go. He was the wisest of men. (1 Kings 4:30) He had everything. He was handed the kingdom of Israel from his father, David, who had subdued all the warring nations around them.
Solomon had peace for the entire 40 years of his reign because of David’s prowess and provision. Solomon was also a great statesman in his own right, maintaining strong relationships with foreign leaders.
Without the ever-present threat of war, and with the help of favored nations, Solomon was able to build a stunning Temple for God and a magnificent house for himself.
Solomon was also called Jedidiah (beloved of the Lord).
When God offered him whatever he wanted, Solomon chose wisdom. The wisdom literature in the Bible, and possibly Ecclesiastes, were written by Solomon, along with some Psalms that remain with us today. Leaders from around the known world traveled to take counsel from Solomon.
Among the things Solomon wrote was Proverbs 5:1-4:
My son, pay attention to my wisdom, turn your ear to my words of insight, that you may maintain discretion and your lips may preserve knowledge. For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword.
In Proverbs 5:15-16, these famous poetic words were penned:
Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares?
Surely, Solomon was too smart and wise to be tripped up by lust, right?
Well… no. I am not sure that Solomon committed adultery (like his father David did, taking Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, who gave birth to Solomon). He didn’t need to, because he took for himself hundreds of wives and hundreds of concubines on top of that! (1 Kings 11:3)
God had spoken many years before to Moses about the conduct of kings. Solomon in his wisdom certainly would have known these words: “[The king] must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.” (Deut. 17:17)
Of course, Solomon did both. We learn in 1 Kings 11 that those hundreds of wives turned Solomon’s heart from God, which tarnished his legacy and led to the break up of the nation of Israel forever.
What does the story of Solomon tell us?
Some people might conclude (too easily) that the Bible is full of contradictions. Is this the lesson: don’t do as I do; do as I say? If Solomon, as wise as he was, got tripped up by common lust and greed, what does that mean for the rest of us?
The story begins with a prominent community leader inviting Jesus to a party at his house. (Luke 7:36) Jesus went, of course, because that’s what Jesus did. He didn’t refuse anyone who gave him an invitation.
Jesus was most often found on the streets, in parks or local cafes engaging in small groups with impromptu crowds, but he was equally comfortable in larger, more formal crowds at churches, colleges and public meeting halls with politicians, priests, academicians. Jesus wouldn’t refuse any request to meet and be with people wherever he went. So Jesus went to the party.
Jesus had risen quickly to popularity. No one really knew that much about him, where he came from or what his credentials were, but anyone who was anyone knew about him by now. Many people wanted to meet him. He would be a draw to Simon’s party.
Of course, people alternately loved him or hated him. Few people were neutral about Jesus. Some people hung on every word he spoke, while others questioned everything, wondering what his intentions were, skeptical of everything he said or did.
We don’t know much about the particular party to which Jesus was invited or the host of the party, other than this name, Simon, and the fact that he was a prominent man in the community. One of the few things we really know about the party is the scandal that took place there.
Simon was a well-known leader in his community. His home was open to friends and neighbors. He was generous with his prominence, wealth and lifestyle. He loved to entertain. Inviting Jesus would be a hip thing to do, given the grass roots popularity of Jesus.
Inviting Jesus might would be viewed as scandalous by some of Simon’s peers, but he considered himself to be different than them. He fancied himself more open-minded than that. He wasn’t afraid of a little controversy.
But Simon wasn’t at all ready for what would happen next. While his home was an open invitation to friends, colleagues and neighbors, no one who was not of a particular type would dare, surely, to enter those halls dedicated to showing off the influence, prominence and wealth to which Simon had attained. People who had not attained, or at least aspired to attain, a certain stature certainly wouldn’t think of it…. or would they?
I recently wrote about how our wounds provide a model for how we relate to God and understand Him, the hurts we receive from others. That post was inspired by Tim Keller who said, “The way we distribute mercy says a lot about how we relate to God.” Because God forgives us as we forgive others (Luke 11:4), our forgiveness is tied into how we see God, understand Him and relate to Him.
The two keys are 1) how we understand God’s love and 2) how we understand our own sinfulness. Both of these perspectives are measured best by the cross, by the example of God shedding all of His power and privilege to become human, and being found in human form, submitting Himself to His own plan by sacrificing Himself on the cross for our sake. (Phil. 2) We can understand our own sinfulness in relation to the cost of redemption – the life of God’s son (God in the flesh); and we can measure God’s love by the same standard.
God loved us to much that He gave His life for us. By the same token, the extreme cost of the life of Jesus is the measure of the depth of our sin. We have been forgiven much!
Our understanding of the greatness of God’s love for us, and the great depth of our sin, helps us in understanding why we need to forgive others. If God loved us so much, we are free to love – and compelled to love – others by the same measure. In more mundane terms, if our sin was so great that Christ had to die for us to redeem us, we can certainly forgive the lesser sins others have committed against us.
In fact, to bring this home, we can only be forgiven to the extent (by the measure which) we forgive others. Our forgiveness and our forgiveness toward others is inextricably linked. Perhaps, this is because Jesus and the Father (and the Spirit) are one, and Jesus calls us to be one with them (Him). (John 17:21) We can’t be one with God if we harbor unforgiveness toward others!
In some sense, then, forgiveness is formulaic. Jesus has stated for us a kind of “law of forgiveness”. Not much different, really, then a law of physics, He is telling us, “This is how it works.”
How do we, then, go from intellectual ascent and academic understanding to real life? I like the way NT Wright puts it when he says that the bit (part) of us that opens the door to forgive others opens the door to forgiveness for ourselves.