Read Philippians 4:2-5; Colossians 3:12; Ephesians 4:1-6
We're thankful here in Western South Dakota because, unlike many years in recent memory, we are not dealing with drought. In fact, we have had a great deal of rain this late spring and early summer. Thank You Lord for how this good gift gives everything a greater opportunity to grow and thrive. Yet, as with most good things, there is one small down side. Mosquitoes. Usually we don't have very many here, but we are dealing with copious amounts of them, as well as other biting bugs this year. Simply typing that statement caused me to scratch my arm, in the place where I was bitten by one of these unwanted pests. I know. Even when we feel like scratching, we aren't supposed to give into the urge to do so. Instead, I need to put something topical on any annoying bite, or sometimes simply averting my thoughts to something else keeps me from "just one more scratch". The problem is that scratching the itch feels good at the time, even though I know, that in the long run, it only slows down the healing process. In truth, this bit of unpleasantness is a small price to pay, contrasted with the sweetness that has been ours, the result of having received the rain.
When we have the privilege of being a part of the fellowship with others who belong to Jesus, we have a sweet unity with both our local church family and also all who are in God's family, Ephesians 4:4-6. The Holy Spirit Who indwells each of us Romans 8:9 gives us the strength and enables us to grow and thrive together. Yet, we are not without enemies. We fight against the world system which often opposes God, our own natural flesh patterns and the Evil One. We cannot at this time, look at every possible pitfall that could trip us up; so, let's limit it to one possibility. Disagreements that cause offense. They are like the biting of insects. They come, and if not dealt with, they keep irritating us. Every time such an offense comes to mind, we are tempted to scratch it or point out the place to someone else. Why? Truthfully, it feels good to scratch the itch. Let's look at one example from the scriptures. The helpful thing about this tiny vignette from Philippians 4:3-5, is that since we don't learn the details about the issues that caused the problem, we can easily plug it into our own situations.
In Paul's letter to the Philippians, we read about a fruit-bearing church. Their sweetness and unity wasn't the result of replenishing rain but rather the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and the way this congregation was growing as they obeyed His leading. Here was a thriving fellowship, one the apostle didn't have to rebuke as a whole. These were folks who had supported Paul on more than one occasion during his ministry and who would have even given more, if they had not lacked the opportunity to do so, Philippians 4:10; Philippians 4:15-16. He rejoiced and thanked God for them and their partnership with him in the sharing of the gospel, Philippians 1:3-5. Yet, along with and probably because of, the sweetness of the Holy Spirit's work, there was an attack on the fruitfulness of this thriving church. There were two ladies who had previously worked together who now were separated. This couldn't be left untreated by Paul. So, without going into the details and unnecessarily opening the raw areas of the disagreement, the apostle reminded these precious women that they had labored side by side, having been his helpers in ministry. I think it is also telling that Paul tucked in the reminder that those who disagreed as well as the one he asked to help solve the problem, all had something wonderful in common. Their names were in the Book of Life. What a precious truth to apply. It could be used like a salve that could soothe this festering issue. This truth is so awesome that Jesus reminded His disciples that it was more noteworthy than the healing of sickness and the casting out of demons. This one amazing fact was more precious than that good work He had allowed them to do, when He sent them out two by two, Luke 10:20. These women, no matter the basis for their not getting along, shared the most important thing. They belonged to Jesus and were on their way to heaven, where their names had already been written, Philippians 4:3. What a healing balm to apply to the irritation they felt toward each other.
Ephesians 4:4-6 reminds us that Jesus has placed us in a unified family, with God is our Father. He has not only chosen us, but He also loves us, Colossians 3:12. Such precious truth quenches our thirst like a rain after a 100-degree day. However, this life-giving refreshment can be marred by what is much worse than biting insects. It can be invaded by back biting, unwillingness to forgive one another, as well as bitterness, Galatians 5:15; Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 4:31-32. When we are bitten by these attitudes, we have a choice to make. Will we scratch the itch in order to receive temporary relief? Will we point out where we have been bitten to others? How about when we know of one of these noxious wounds, whether small or large? Will we do as Paul did and seek healing, reminding ourselves that we all are in the family together because we share the same Holy Spirit indwelling us, 1 Corinthians 12:13.
Let's look back for a moment at the folks at Philippi. The two women who were at odds hopefully were reconciled and enjoyed fruitful ministry and fun fellowship after the church members carried out Paul's instructions. I would like to believe that, even though we are never told how everything turned out. Yet, we can learn from this scripture. If there is the beginning of a misunderstanding that Satan would like us to scratch into a full-blown problem, let's apply God's truth right away. That believer is His loved child, just as I am. Jesus has forgiven myriads of sin in my life, and He will never bring up against me what He has cleansed from my account, 1 John 1:7. How can I keep a record of wrongs against someone else when Jesus displays His love by never doing that to me, 1 Corinthians 13:5? What ointment to lavish on the irritation that tries to swell up, threatening the unity the Holy Spirit has already secured in Jesus' family.
Father, Help us really know Your love for us, and please help us extend it freely to others.