The dictionary defines "Paradise" as a place where one expects to find a perfect situation, perfect happiness. This is why heaven is referred to as Paradise in Luke 23:43 where Jesus promises the thief on the cross that his trouble and suffering in this world would soon be over because on that day he would be in Paradise.
I've noticed that a lot of people think of the church in these terms -that once they're in the church they've entered a perfect place; a place where there is no discord, no trouble or suffering -- (paradise on earth). This people become very discouraged and even quit when they discover:
All kinds of foolishness in the Lord's church.
The big surprise comes when we read the New Testament and discover that it always has been this way. The Apostles were constantly dealing with problems and people in the church. There has always been "trouble in Paradise" so to speak because people don't understand that:
- The Church on earth is forgiven for sin but still deals with the effects of it on a daily basis.
- Now, this same church in heaven will also be forgiven for sin but will no longer have to deal with its effects ever again.
Jesus understood this difference and for this reason left us with certain principles to help us deal with the trouble we experienced in Paradise here on earth while we wait to enter the Paradise prepared for us in heaven. In Matt.18: 1-35 we can recognize 5 of the principles He gave us for avoiding trouble in Paradise.
Dealing With Trouble in Paradise
Principle #1 - Humble Yourself
1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" 2 And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, 3 and said, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
10 "See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven. 11 [For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.]
12 "What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? 13 If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. 14 So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.
Ego is the big problem in the world and in the church. There's no room for you and your big ego in Paradise. Ego's are fragile
- They're easily bruised
- They want their own way
- They serve themselves only
- They'll compromise to preserve self.
Jesus says that the only way to be great, to be honored (by God cause that's the only way to receive honor in Paradise) is to be like a child - "let go your ego" Jesus also warns those who would destroy the innocent because they are easy to destroy (cause they're like children) - He warns these proud wolves that their judgement will be severe.
Principle #2 - Don't Ignore The Judgement
7 "Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!
8 "If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. 9 If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.
People do all kinds of things because they don't really believe that God will punish them. Jesus specifically and repeatedly warns us that judgement will be sure and terrible. How much more restraint we would have, what greater care we would take in the way we treat other people in and out of the church if we were sure that God will call us to account for what we've done. (Imagine having to answer for every mean and selfish comment?)
People who do things that disrupt and destroy the church don't realize that there will be a terrible price to pay for the trouble they cause in this earthy Paradise - They won't enter the heavenly one.
Principle #3 - Troublemakers Need To Be Dealt With
15 "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
19 "Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20 For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst."
Christians hate confrontation. They think forgetting about problems and ignoring troublemakers is an effective way of solving problems. This method usually creates bitterness and leads to more trouble because those who create problems are left to do more damage to other people. Peace doesn't' just "happen" you have to make it happen, you have to create it.
Jesus provides us with instructions (this is very rare in New Testament. that He gives a 1-2-3 step teaching on what to do). You very rarely see Jesus say do this first then…His teaching is not in that form. It's a parable, example, very rarely does He say #1, #2, #3. Like He does here.
Yet this is the most ignored teaching in the church today. When there are problems with people we seem to do everything else in place of what Jesus tell us to do:
- We hold a grudge
- We gossip or slander
- We plot revenge
The Lord not only tells us how to deal with trouble-makers, He guarantees us that if we do things His way in the Paradise on earth, He will honor and support these things in the Paradise when He rules in heaven.
Principle #4 - Forgiveness is the Standard
21 Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" 22 Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
In these verses Peter aspires to be the most gracious that the Law demanded of him, for the custom among devout Jews was that you forgave up to seven times. Jesus establishes a new standard for this Paradise and that is unlimited forgiveness. (70 x 7 is a way of saying this). In a place where there are offenses, mistakes, weakness, stupidity, sin and ignorance there is going to be trouble.
The only way to deal with unlimited sin is to provide unlimited opportunity for forgiveness. The feature that makes the church "Paradise on earth" is that it is the only place on earth where forgiveness is always available regardless of the sin or the number.
The most attractive thing about the church is not its building, its programs, the eloquence of its ministers but the fact that sinners can always find forgiveness here. Forgiveness is not only the standard, it's the goal of every dispute, every offense.
Principle #5 - No Mercy Without Mercy
23 "For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.
The key verse in this parable is verse 33:
Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?'
He should have had mercy not because he felt like it or because the other slave deserved it or because he could afford it -- all good reasons but not the correct one. He should have had mercy because he himself had received mercy.
- We think we deserve to be in Paradise and begin to wonder if others deserve to be here too.
- We think we belong in Paradise and start making rules about who belongs here too.
- We think we've earned our Paradise and start checking to make sure everyone else has paid their dues too.
Jesus has news for us with this parable, we are here because of mercy. Whether we grew up in Paradise. Whether we just arrived. The thing that got us here was God's mercy and the thing that keeps us here now and forever is the mercy we show towards others.
These principles help us to deal with the trouble we experience in the church, in this paradise on earth. It is so sad to see people quit the church, or criticize it because it's not in its heavenly state here on earth. (It will never be that) We can avoid this loss of brethren and get a handle on some of our own problems here by applying these principles to ourselves.
A - Let's check our pride at the door
The world is full of wars and trouble because people are proud. Let's remember that what pleases God is humility, gentleness, becoming less so others can become more.
B - Let's get a handle on our sins
If you realize that you're a liar, or a bully, or impure or stubborn or greedy or lazy, or a slave to something - do something about it! If God promises judgement and punishment, He means it, don't ignore His warning.
C - Let's get real with each other
If you have a problem with somebody, stop pretending everything is O.K. to their face while talking about them behind their backs. God doesn't guarantee that everybody will get along but He expects that we will try and be honest with each other when we don't.
D - Let's … let it go
Are you keeping a grudge? Are you nursing a bruised feeling? Are you saving up insults from other? What good is all this doing for you? The best satisfaction you will ever feel won't be from justice - it will be from forgiveness. Whatever it is - let it go.
E - Let's be a place of mercy
What do we want to be known for?
- Great singing?
- Great facility?
- Great programs?
These are all great and necessary but…I want us to be known for our mercy. Your church should be a place where sinners are welcome; because that's all you'll find here - sinners who have received mercy.
There will always be trouble in Paradise here on earth but our hope is that if we put these principles in action in our personal and congregational lives we will mitigate the trouble here and eventually go to that Paradise where no trouble or sorrow can ever touch us again. And especially now, as we experience growth, change, adaptation to different ways of doing things ---- we need to keep pursuing these basic principles more then ever!
When I was thirty years old and looking for meaning and direction in my life I saw a small ad in the local paper. It said, "Sinners are welcome at the Church of Christ". The ad told me that this church would welcome me - the sinner, so I went and a few months later was baptized. Sinners are not welcomed in many places but they are always welcome in the Lord's church. If you are a sinner and need to come to Jesus for forgiveness or restoration I encourage you to come forward now.