April 12, 2022, 10:30 AM

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. Matthew 18:20 

Anyone who has had a toddler, babysat a toddler, or watched a toddler in action has probably heard the phrase, "I can do it myself!" All of a sudden, these little people who have been, up to this point, entirely dependent for every little thing realize, "Hey, I am a whole separate person! Will you look at me!" So we painstakingly watch as they insist on putting on their socks and shoes, combing their hair, and feeding themselves. And as parents, wanting to encourage strong self-esteem and independence, we accept running late for whatever event we are rushing to attend, just to let them try and try again.

For many of us, this trait continues into adulthood. We wrestle with autonomy and independence because we crave control. We think if we do it all ourselves, we can favorably shape the outcomes to suit our desires. The more in control we feel, the more confident we are about achieving the desired result, and this sense of competence provide a feeling of well-being, even though, unfortunately, it will likely be short-lived.

Now I'm not downing self-reliance. On the contrary, there are many positive outcomes of feeling confident and competent. But I want to clarify that self-reliance does not mean doing everything on your own or shouldering life's hardships solo. It's not about being so controlling as to lose our ability to "roll with the punches" or lean on others. Many psychologists remind us that when our need for control spreads to an attempt to control others, it will be at the detriment of the relationship. We can have control, or we can have love; we cannot have both. 

Self-reliance is about self-acceptance - about knowing oneself, being kind to oneself, and trusting our choices. What better place to learn these vital skills than within the church? And what better company to understand and grow with than the body of believers we call our church family? It is in these relationships that we can flourish and mature.

Today's scripture helps us understand both the gift and the responsibility of this calling. To do this, we have to look at this single verse in context. Matthew 18 calls believers to display the humility of children. Humility before God, to be sure, but also before others. For the redemption and righteousness of all God's children is the concern of all believers. The parables of Matthew 18 call us to forgive as we have been forgiven, and to help each other understand how sin pulls us away from the person we are meant to be, the life we are meant to live. When we gather in the name of Jesus, we have the privilege and the responsibility of reflecting His heart, following His example, and hopefully pointing others to Jesus with love.

Matthew 18-20 is about handling correction and conflict in a Godly fashion. It's a beautiful illustration of how Jesus restates Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 19:15) with a loving refresher of how we ought to behave in service to one another. He has reminded us to humble ourselves with gratitude and reflect His Grace to others lovingly. The Lord's Holy Spirit is in all believers, in all situations, whether alone or gatherings. As image-bearers, let us not condemn but rather be a reflection of His Love, His Grace, and His forgiveness, helping others overcome what for them may feel insurmountable alone. We stand by others, for others, with others, with the goal of restoration and strengthening the unity of His Church, reaching everyone no matter what point in their faith walk they may be. As we grow our spiritual maturity, this interdependence reflects the strength and beauty of the church. Do you feel an inward condemnation from something you are struggling with? Perhaps sharing it with a fellow believer could help relieve this burden. Is there someone you have judged that, in retrospect, you feel could have benefited from your understanding instead?

Prayer: Father God, You are so generous and gracious with Your forgiveness and love. Help me live from a gratitude posture, remembering all You've done for me that I did not deserve. Shape my heart, and grow my faith so that I may reflect the nature of Your Son to my fellow believers. Lord help us rejoice in our salvation and embrace the purifying work You do faithfully so that we may lift and light others on their journey. Help me understand that sanctification is not a solitary journey. That You will use my circumstances and my relationships to wean me from my sinful patterns and show me how to be more like Jesus in how I think and how I live. In Jesus' name. Amen.

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