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Who’s To Fill That Cup O’ Trust

January 7, 2013

The question still looms:  “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

And this question comes in to play with a side study that I’m doing on forgiveness …  regarding the limits of forgiveness (if there are any) and if my brother offends me, how long am I to “keep him?”

My mind reels with the recollection of such passages as “turn the other cheek” and “go the extra mile” and forgive until “seventy-times-seven (490 times).” 

Maybe these two topics are not really that “kin.”  Maybe the responsibility that comes with “keeping your brother” has nothing to do with forgiveness.  But, as I have been studying both, I have been met with a crisis of belief that connects the two.

As I have posted and expressed, I am approaching my “Year of Jubilee” (50th year), and prior to that year of celebration, there is a year of redemption and forgiving past debts.  I’m all for that … hurt feelings and past pains are just too heavy to carry around, especially for a jubilation.

I started off this year “shaking dust” and “turning cheeks” and letting by-gones be by-gones … when out of the blue an “opportunity” presented itself with a whopping, in-your-face smack that said, “REALLY?  Let’s just see how forgiving you are willing to be.”

An acquaintance from the past, who caused a few trifling challenges in my life and even went as far to call me a few names and express great disdain for my existence,  recently contacted me “like nothing ill had ever transpired” and asked to be allowed back in.  Certainly the contact alone surprised me, but I had a harder time dealing with the idea that this person must think I’m stupid.

I sat there a few minutes and then realized it for what it is … WARFARE.  OK … behold the devil IS prowling around seeking who he may devour.  So I say to the Lord, “Lord, what do You think?”   I certainly want to honor my intentions of forgiving past debts, but at the same time, I’m wondering if that means setting myself up for more pain and sorrow and suffering.  That doesn’t sound like a very good JUBILEE!

So … here I am … trying to discern the “boundaries” of love and forgiveness and when to draw a line in the sand.

On the one hand, love accepts and forgives folks just as they are.   On the other hand, love also recognizes truth and expects/requires righteous behavior.

I once read a book by Max Lucado, titled “A Love Worth Giving,” that explains that if you love and care for someone, then you must love them enough to tell them the truth … even if it stings, disciplines or turns them away from you.  Just like God cares enough about us and His relationship with us that He will not allow destructive behavior to hurt us or to destroy the relationship, we also need to learn to love others this way.

God and HIS NATURE,  IS the ULTIMATE EXAMPLE OF LOVE … it is PATIENT, KIND and FORGIVING.  HIS LOVE and HIS NATURE is also JUST and RIGHT, which have expectations or requirements for behavior in relationships. He loves us enough to help in problem or challenging situations AND HE requires change to take place. There are limits to what He will put up with.   He will discipline us, in love, knowing full well that we may turn away from Him, but He also knows that this same discipline is necessary to help us become better and draw us back to Him.

There should not be a competition between TRUTH and LOVE … they should go hand in hand.    And while I sit here studying on this matter, and fully recognize that God wants me to become more and more like His Son, more like Him … in order to do that, I have to come to a clear understanding of what it means to freely forgive, and practice responsible living through boundaries in my own heart and life, and in relationship to others.

A boundary is a property line, defining where someone’s property ends and where someone else’s begins. The owner of the property has control over it and the boundaries.   The owner of the property is responsible for what goes on within the confines of the property.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything else flows from it.”

Solomon was a wise man … the wisest … and he knew that boundaries were necessary, especially when it comes to one’s heart.   When your heart gets hurt, it creates a scar that does not easily heal and is carried a long time.  It can even cause damage to other organs and areas of life. 

Still … forgive?  I reckon so.

But allow yourself to be hurt again?  Is that really required?

A preacher friend of mine used to use this analogy:

            When we first became acquainted, we each had a full cup of trust for each other.  But life happens and I end up dumping out my cup of trust by offending you in some way.  Now, I can apologize, and you can forgive me.  But it’s up to me to re-fill that cup of trust.  If it is important to me, then I will do whatever it takes to restore that trust.  But you cannot restore it for me, or else, there will be no true value to what’s in the cup.


When someone hurts another person, the one in the wrong has a responsibility to confess/apologize and make amends. 

Matthew 5:23-24  New International Version (NIV)

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

When a “mature” person is in the wrong, and wants to make amends or change behaviors, he or she will take the necessary steps to make that happen. However, it is not easy and requires some humility.  The easier route is to pretend nothing ever happened and hope any ill feelings will eventually go away.  This DOES NOT fill up that cup of trust …  there is no restoration to the relationship, much less any responsibility being taken.

That’s where the person wronged must step in an employ his own boundaries as an act of love AND FORGIVENESS and TRUTH (and discipline) with this person.  The person who has been offended has the responsibility to communicate and help their friend or loved one understand … and have opportunity for restoration. 

Galatians 6:1New International Version (NIV)

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.

This IS TRULY an act of LOVE.  But unfortunately, it is not carried out too often.

A good question to ponder is “WHY?”  Why would we, when offended but trying to be forgiving and following God’s lead, not follow through on this directive?

1)      We don’t want to appear to be judgmental?

2)      We don’t want to be susceptible to scrutiny?

3)      We don’t want to offend the person?

4)      We would rather just stay mad?

5)      We would rather pretend it didn’t happen and hope for the best.

6)      Other??

There is a chance that the other person truly does not know they have offended you.  Are you doing them any favors by sulking about it or carrying the hurt?  By communicating you might actually help them grow, mature and otherwise benefit from this understanding. 

But even when some people are told about an offense, they may still refuse to listen or accept responsibility. This is where the need for boundaries gets stronger.  We are each (and all) accountable for our actions and inactions. Allowing ungodly behavior (sin) to flourish in the life of someone you know/love/care about, is also ungodly.

As with Cain, we know that God set forth boundaries for him to live by, and to protect him.  Cain said, “The punishment is more than I can bear.”  He wasn’t happy about the situation, and yet, in time, life went on and he lived out his responsibility.

In the case of Joseph, there was an incredible offense committed by his brothers.  Outright responsibility was not taken until the very end, and it’s plain to see that there was MUCH unhappiness in the lives of all the brothers and their father.  Even when they came to Joseph for assistance, while they did not know him, he did know them. Joseph didn’t lie down and let them bind him up and sell him into slavery again. Instead, he practiced discipline and boundaries, allowing them to fill their cup of trust and accept responsibility for the ungodly behavior they demonstrated in the past. 

We owe it to each other to love correctly by disciplining each other:

“Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed” (Hebrews 12:12,13).

Even though it may be painful, it is the best thing for us in the long run.  You can forgive someone for an offense, and “guard your heart at the same time” without further compromise to the relationship.

There are numerous principles and means of setting boundaries that will help us develop godly and righteous character.  For example:

Limits:  require us to live within one’s own limits and to enforce limits/consequences with others.

Truth- Just being able and willing to be honest, and speak truth diminishes many problems with setting boundaries.

Respect- Having self-respect and respecting others’ rights/freedoms and boundaries are absolute.

Reaping what you sow –  Choices and behavior always have consequences.  There are REAL circumstances that come about because of how and what we choose to do. We must allow these circumstances to take place. It’s a part of loving discipline. It doesn’t mean we can stand beside someone in their accountability, but “fixing” things is not always the right thing to do.  

Activity vs Passivity – Boundaries require action.  You can’t be passive and be responsible with boundaries.  Passivity is a form of enabling, and can lead to even more ungodly behavior.

God loves us. HE DOES. 

He loves us so much that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him, will not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16).

If we want to claim this promise, and please the God who loves us so very much, we need to understand the “live by the principle” that God requires righteous behavior from us and will intervene in our lives to make sure it happens.

One of the ways that He effectively intervenes is showing us how to help each other grow.   We need each other … we are called to “community” and to represent Christ to each other and this world. We are called to forgive, just as we have been forgiven. 

I do believe that the answer to that ever pending question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is an overwhelming “YES.”   But I think it is necessary for each of us to come to grips with what “keeping my brother” truly means.    In this “keeping”  it is imperative that we integrate love and limits … grace and righteousness … so that we are living out the true nature of God.

The ultimate goal of forgiveness, and boundaries and restoration … is to ensure stronger, more productive relationships, deeper spiritual growth, and more abundant living as the salt and light needed to transform and lead our brothers/sisters of this world to the limitless love and mercy of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Truly, this IS the kind of “brother’s keeper” we need to be.

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