by Rev David Ho
John 13: 3-5; 12-15
Philippians 2: 5-8
We are in the Season of Lent. It is a time for self-reflection. With reflection comes repentance. But repentance should be followed not only by restitution but also reconciliation.
“Have you been offended before?”
“Oh sure, many times!”
“Have you offended others before?”
“Oh sometimes. Well, I never had any intention to offend anyone. I can’t help if that person misinterpreted me and led him to feel offended. Too bad!”
Isn’t it interesting that we often judge ourselves by our intentions and everyone else by their actions? I have learnt that if I treasure a relationship, I must not give any excuses that my intentions are pure and that the other person has wrongly perceived my actions. When a person feels offended, he is offended! Even if the offence is unintentional, leaving things unresolved will lead to resentment and bitterness (Eph 4:31; Heb 12:15).
Reconciliation is far more important than offerings
The key to overcoming bitterness, is to forgive or to seek forgiveness (Col 3:13). But more than just seeking forgiveness or to forgive, Jesus commands us to seek reconciliation (Mt 6:23). For He considers reconciliation far more important than the offerings we bring Him. I know some of us may say, “Okay… I forgive, BUT DON’T TELL ME TO RECONCILE!” If that is the response, I am not so sure that one has truly forgiven!
Reconciliation is the mark of a Christian
You see, reconciliation is really the mark of a Christian. God has reconciled us to Him and He is calling us to be reconciled one to another.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:17-21, emphasis mine)
Reconciliation requires the laying down of our rights
Jesus has set an example for us to follow:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! (Phil 2: 5-8)
Jesus’ act on the cross was an act of reconciliation. He did it by laying down His rights as the Almighty God who could simply dispense justice and judgment on us who had offended Him by our rebelliousness and sins. But instead, He exercises grace by laying down His life to atone for our sins and reconcile us with the Father. Jesus laid down His right to reconcile us to Him. So, we too must also first lay down our rights when we seek reconciliation with one another.
What rights must we lay down?
1. We need to lay down our rights to our own passions and desires. (Gal 5:22-24)
All of us have passions and desires. Often, they are manifested through our personality traits. And these traits, when manifested selfishly, can stumble our relationships. For example, some of us tends to be straight-talking to a point of being blunt. “Sorry, this is my personality, I always talk like that. Too bad if I hurt you.” But we cannot use this as an excuse because, after all, God has given us His Holy Spirit to transform our character.
2. We need to lay down our rights to our freedom (Rom 14:15; Gal 5:13-14; 2Cor 5:14-15)
There are many things we are free to do, and they are not sinful. But if this will cause our brother or sister to stumble, then we should willingly forgo that freedom out of love. “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
3. We need to lay down our rights to be honored and to be served (Mk 10:42-45)
Jesus said, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” God has given us a position of authority so that we can love those below us, and to protect and to provide. We are called to serve and not to lord over those who are under our charge. When we wrong our subordinates as a superior in a company, we need to be humble to apologize. As the head of the home, we cannot say, “I am the father. I cannot lower myself to say sorry to my children.” As a pastor, as a lay-leader in the Church, are we willing to humble ourselves to seek reconciliation regardless of our being offended or are the offending one?
4. We need to lay down our rights to put our self-interest first (Phil 2:3-4)
To make a relationship work, we need to start by “valuing others above ourselves, not looking to our own interests but to the interests of the others.” Particularly n a marital relationship, we do not ask what we can get out of it but what we can bring to it. Relationships often fails when self-interest takes first place.
5. We need to lay down our rights to hate our enemy (Mat 5:43-46)
When someone offends us, when someone hurts us, our natural reaction is to hate that person. In fact, we think we have the right to hate that person for all the pain and hurt he or she has caused us. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” As children of the Father, we live by a standard of “higher righteousness” espoused by our Lord.
6. We need to lay down our rights to take revenge (Rom 12:19-20)
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil… Do not take revenge… (but) If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.”
You will probably protest, “What? Feed my enemies when he is hungry? Give him drink when he is thirsty? No way!” Often, in a conflict, our tendency is to self-justify and apportion blame. After all, the law says, “An eye for and eye; a tooth for a tooth?” We cry for justice! We yell for fairness! But we must remember that the greatest offender is ourselves when we offended the Most High and Holy God. To ask for justice and fairness is to ask for God’s judgment upon ourselves.
7. We need to lay down our rights to hold a grudge (Col 3:13; Heb 12:14-15)
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Col 3:13)
Forgiving someone is to set someone free from the prison of bitterness, only to realize that that someone is yourselves.
That is why Heb 12:14-15 says, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”
Don’t let the seed of bitterness take root and overtake you. Lay down that right to hold a grudge.
8. We need to lay down our rights to grumble and argue (Phil 2:14)
“I must lay down my rights to hate my enemies, lay down my rights to take revenge and lay down my rights to hold a grudge? But, but, but….”
We must also lay down our rights to grumble and argue! We need to lay down our rights even when we think we are right!
9. We need to lay down our rights even when we are actually right! (2 Cor 5:21)
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
God is right and we are wrong. God is the offended one and we are the offenders. Yet, He forgoes His right to punish us and took upon Himself our punishment. If God can lay down His right when He is actually right, shouldn’t we?
When we see relationships as precious and when it’s broken, the first step towards reconciliation must start with ourselves, laying down our rights.
This sermon was delivered at the CCMC on-site service on 13 March 2022. Following the sermon, David and his wife Chew Kheang shared their personal testimony with Loaves+Fishes. Read it here.
 Paul quoted this from Prov 25:21-22 but what does “Heaping burning coals on his head” mean?” It was said in the ancient Egyptian culture, when someone realize he has offended god, he needs to go to the temple to pick a tray of coal and carry it on his or her head as an act of repentance! This is why we must continue to do good to our enemies hoping that they will come to repentance. That is why the succeeding verse says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”