I once heard a godly man preach a sermon that helped give me a new perspective on relationships. He said: "If you hit me on the head with a brick, I'll forgive you. If you do it again, I'll forgive you a second time. But if you continue to do it, I'm going to keep my distance from you because of all the lumps on my head!" This is a good illustration of how God expects us to respond to others whose continual sin is somehow harmful to us. It's true that the Bible commands us to forgive those who sin against us. But it's also true that it warns us against tolerating sin. God does not want His people treated or behaving like doormats. We are to lovingly but firmly confront sinners as we are directed by God. If they choose to continue their destructive behavior toward us, we must forgive them for past sins and take a stand against future sins. Usually, that means distancing ourselves emotionally and/or physically from the offender. Jesus illustrates this principle beautifully when He speaks of fraternal correction in Matthew 18:15-17. He even goes so far as to say that some of these people may be our closest loved ones. (Luke 12:51-53)
Proverbs 4:23 (NIV) says, "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." God makes it clear that it's our responsibility to protect ourselves from those people and things that would be destructive to us, and that would prevent us from living the abundant life that Jesus died to give us. (John 10:10) When we open our hearts to people who are not being led by God's Spirit, we can make ourselves vulnerable to Satanic attack. For example, if we are in close relationship with someone who is easily angered, Satan can use this person to intimidate, manipulate, and control us through fear. When that's the case, we are not obeying God's command to be led by His Spirit. (Romans 8:14) Also, if we associate long enough with someone who loses his temper easily, we will eventually begin to imitate his destructive behavior. That's why Proverbs 22:24 (NLT) says, "Keep away from angry, short-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul." The apostle Paul had some stern warnings about associating with those who walk in disobedience. In Second Thessalonians 3:14-15 (NLT), he says: "Stay away from them so they will be ashamed. Don’t think of them as enemies, but warn them as you would a brother or sister." Here, Paul teaches that while we are to distance ourselves from these people, we are not to have a bitter or resentful attitude toward them.
The truth is that no matter how we try, we can't change other people. Only God can change someone's heart. We can pray for them and ask God to put pressure on them to change, but it's still up to them to turn to the Lord in repentance, and to turn away from their sin. The sad fact is that some people choose to continue in their sin, even after God deals severely with them. That's why it's important for us to concentrate on our own behavior, and to leave others to Him. God doesn't want us spending our lives waiting on others; He wants us to spend our lives waiting on Him. Over the years, the Lord has led me to distance myself from many people--some of them being my closest friends and loved ones. I have stood in faith for them to change, praying faithfully and fervently. And many times, God has intervened and restored these relationships. But I have also seen some people stubbornly refuse to turn to God, and I have had to maintain my distance from them. These are the times that are the most heartbreaking.
If you are in close relationship with someone who is constantly negative, critical, manipulative, rebellious, selfish, bitter or angry, you need to seek God about distancing yourself from them emotionally and/or physically. The Lord will show you how, if you ask Him. It's my prayer today that you will make the decision to take a stand against sin, and to distance yourself from danger.
Prayer: Lord, reveal to me any people in my life who I need to distance myself from at this time. Show me how to do it in a way that pleases You. Help me to resist becoming bitter or resentful toward them. If it's Your will for me to confront them, give me the right words at the right time. (Matthew 10:19-20 TLB) I commit myself to pray for them faithfully, and I ask that You deal with them about their sinful behavior. Thank You for helping me to guard my heart with all diligence! (Proverbs 4:23 NASB)
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