The Best Construction or the Worst
Monday of Pentecost 14
22 August 2016
If we point out each other's weaknesses we will spend a great deal of time doing it, because our weaknesses are many. We all have our foibles. Others know them better than we ourselves do. There is much about us that can give offense to others and we too easily take offense over the smallest trifles. We assume the worst from what others say and do. A certain forbearance is necessary to our life together. This begins with the humility that says that others are more significant than me (Phil 2:3). We must presume that others are not attempting to insult or offend us and that they are not trying to "get a leg up" on us.
There are people so hardened in their anger against others for whom nothing can be seen in its proper light. Everything is an offense or an insult against their person. 

The most reasonable measures of church government become a matter of outrage. Today's secular politics of grievance and outrage, which are used to bludgeon political opponents, have crept into the church's life. I grieve for people who are constantly able to be whipped up into offense and who lash out (especially on social media) against the ghosts of oppression. They seem to be blind to how they are being manipulated by others.

The Apostle says, "To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled" (Ti 1:15). It is to our shame (and I include myself here!) that we have acted like the defiled and unbelieving by seeing only the worst in others. We see only their lack of purity; what could be easier? It's like shooting fish in a barrel. Moral faults are easily pointed out and attacked. But what good does it do either us or those whom we attack? Worse yet, we stir up others about it by venting our outrage on social media: "Ah, now I feel better. I got that off my chest!" Where in the Word of God does our Father in heaven encourage this kind of venting?

People who don't have the capacity to see through your outrage and discount it are hurt, perhaps irretrievably. About thirty years ago, I left an edition of a gossipy church tabloid committed to outing everybody about everything in my family room when my in-laws came to visit. One evening, when I arrived home I found my pious, faithful Lutheran mother-in-law clinging to the ceiling of our family room. She had spent the day reading this tabloid. I spent the rest of the evening trying to peel her off the ceiling. She had found the gossip in this tabloid so shocking that she couldn't digest what was being reported: "I can't believe any Lutheran minister would say (or do!) what it says here." I learned my lesson; the tabloid was never found in my home again. Unfortunately, I can't do the same thing with the gossipy social media today.

Following Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions obligate us to cover the faults of others with love (1Pt 4:8). Melanchthon's dry humor jumps off the page of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession: "When it says that 'love covers a multitude of sins,' it means those of others" (Ap 4.242). However, it is not at all humorous when people demand: "You must tolerate and put up with my bad behavior because we are all Christians and "love covers a multitude of sins." This passage is not a catch-all permission for bad behavior, but an exhortation to be patient with others by putting the best construction on everything. Do we doubt the size of love? Do we doubt its ability to cover, not merely a few sins, but a multitude? Christ has overlooked our sin in the article of justification on account of His blood. Why shouldn't we be patient with our dear brothers and sisters bought by that precious blood by practicing the virtue of leniency?

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Philip Melanchthon
 "'Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses' (Pro 10:12). This verse teaches precisely the same thing as Paul does in Colossians: if any dissensions would occur, they should be moderated and settled by our fair and patient conduct (Col 3:14). Dissensions, it says, increase by means of hatred. We often see that tragedies arise from the most trifling offenses. Certain petty offenses occurred between Gaius Caesar and Pompey. If one had yielded a very little to the other, civil war would not have arisen. But while each gave in to his own hatred, the greatest commotions arose from a matter of no importance. Many heresies have also arisen in the Church only from the hatred of the teachers. Therefore, this verse does not refer to a person's own faults, but to the faults of others. When it says that 'love covers a multitude of sins,' it means those of others.

"Even though these offenses occur, love overlooks, forgives, and yields to them, not carrying all things to the extremity of justice. Peter, therefore, does not mean that love merits the forgiveness of sins in God's sight or that it is an atoning sacrifice excluding Christ as Mediator (1Pt 4:8). He also does not mean that such love regenerates and justifies, but that it is not gloomy, harsh, and uncooperative toward people. It overlooks the mistakes of its friends, while it deplores the harsher manners of others. A well-known saying puts it this way: Know, but do not hate, the manners of a friend. Nor did the apostle thoughtlessly teach so often about this office what the philosophers call leniency (epieikeia). For this virtue is necessary for keeping public harmony in the Church and the civil government. Harmony in the Church cannot last unless pastors and churches mutually overlook and pardon many things."

Apology, 4.240-243
1 Peter 4:7-16

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies-in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.  (ESV)
Lord Jesus Christ, You have borne with us sinners overlooking our weaknesses and foibles on account of Your suffering and death. Help us to regard in love our fellow confessors of Your name, that we too might overlook their moral faults. Give us the strength to look upon them as more significant than ourselves and humbly take the lesser part and over our own sins to weep with loathing. Free us from anger and hatred, that we might always honor Your love by loving others, bringing harmony where there had been strife and love where there had been hatred; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

For all those who are traveling to vacation destinations, that the holy angels would watch over them

For all who have become addicted to prescription medication and descended into the drug-induced haze, that those who are around them would have the courage to lead them back to themselves and to freedom from bondage

For all first responders, that those whom they serve would honor and respect them as is their due and that they would also respect and honor those whom they serve in their line of duty
Art: Durer, Albrecht   The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 
Memorial Lutheran Church
©  Scott Murray 2016