Thursday, August 28, 2014
4. WHY FORGIVE?
We can all probably come up with examples of extraordinary forgiveness, the kind that makes us say, “I could never do that!” Every day we hear about some horrible injustice done that forms a rock-hard ball in our heart that rejects the possibility of forgiveness—and those don’t include the personal hurts and injustices that have been done against US!
Sometimes we’d just like to walk away. It’s easier to avoid than to resolve. We kid ourselves into thinking that if we wait long enough, the pain will go away or if we simply try hard not to have anything to do with that other person, then everything will be okay.
The truth is unless we face the pain, acknowledge it and deal with it, rather than going away that pain tends to fester, and the anger, bitterness and frustration grows, often out of proportion to the original crime. The other truth is that if a relationship existed between us and the other person before the offence was committed, that relationship is now damaged and that damage has consequences. If husbands and wives, or parents and children, don’t sort out their conflicts, there are serious consequences. In the church, when two people are at odds and haven’t resolved the situation, there are consequences. The unity of the body is disturbed and the Spirit of God can’t operate as freely as He wants to. Paul urged two women in the Philippian church to get their act together: “I plead with Euodia and I please with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord” (Phil 4:2). And there seems to have been no question about this being “no body else’s business” because Paul goes on to say: “Yes, and I ask you, my true companions, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel...” (vs. 3). This idea fits with what we read in Corinthians about the nature of the community that is the church. We are a body and if two parts, like these two ladies, are at odds, then the rest of the body IS affected.
So in answering the “Why Forgive?” question we have to consider the effect a lack of forgiveness has on the body. Among Jesus’s last words to His disciples was that prayer recorded for us in John that the believers be united, that they show love for one another because otherwise no one would want to join them! One the attractions of the early church was the togetherness that characterized the believers, as we find recorded early in the Book of Acts. Love and togetherness don’t happen unless there is a spirit of forgiveness present. So we can’t just walk away and forget it, or avoid the person with whom we are at odds.
Let’s read Colossians 3:12, 13. We are going to “unpack” this verse a bit.
“Therefore,as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
When we see the word “therefore” in the Scriptures, it means that something that has been said before is important to what the writer is saying now. This particular “therefore”goes back to Paul’s explanation of salvation, summarized in Colossians 2:13-14: “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sin, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.”
Sound familiar? Then put those two verses together with what we have in 3:12, 13. Because Christ has taken away our sins, “therefore” this is how we should live now, as part of God’s community: We should be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient.
Then we have another phrase that follows: “Bear with each other” that directly connects with compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient. The King James version of this verse used the word “forbearing” which means basically to “put up with” something. The words that come before tell us how we should “put up with” each other—with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Then Paul adds that where there is a need to forgive, then forgiveness must be given.
Is “putting up with” something the same as forgiving something?
Eric Wright says in his book, Revolutionary Forgiveness, that “Forbearance is often confused with forgiveness. Sins require forgiveness but inadequacies due to human frailty, even oversights due to carelessness, call for forbearance.” (pg. 131, 132)
Examples would be:
—Fancied slights or imagined motives
—Human foibles, such as clumsiness, forgetfulness, carelessness etc.
—Physical infirmities such as hearing loss, poor eyesight, etc.
—Valid differences of opinion
—Differences of temperament and emphasis
—Differences in Christian maturity.
What do you think?
Whether it is a question of “putting up with” or a question of sin that needs forgiving, why are we to do either of these, according to these verses?
We have been forgiven for far more than we will ever have to forgive someone else for. As imitators of Christ, we are asked to follow His example understanding that when we look at someone else’s frailties and sins, we are looking in a mirror and the face looking back at us is our own.
Okay, let’s look at the rest of the passages given to us.
Matthew 18:21, 22:
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord. how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered. ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’”
Forgiveness is limitless.
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
In this parable we see a picture of the huge debt we owe to Christ who forgave us more than we could ever need to forgive anyone else.
2 Corinthians 2:5-11:
“If anyone has caused you grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him…If you forgive anyone, I will forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan will not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.”
Paul is writing to the Corinthian church to instruct them that the brother who was under church discipline and who has repented, must be forgiven and restored to fellowship.
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
This last statement has implications. We are told that we have unconfessed sin in our lives if we don’t forgive. That state causes a break in the relationship we have with God as well as causing a break in the relationship we have with the person who had hurt us.
NOTES FROM REVOLUTIONARY FORGIVENESS
Eric Wright shares the following observations from his book on forgiveness.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother; then come and offer your gift.”
Apparently, seeking forgiveness is synonymous with seeking reconciliation.
Since the reconciler needs to lay bare the murkiness of the sin involved, he must come equipped with the ability to discern between sin and human foibles....Nevertheless, these verses in Galatians [6:1-3] do warn us to use great care when the law of Christ calls us to step into a third-party dispute or to restore a fallen Christian. Mature Christians, including church leaders should shoulder the primary responsibility.
William Barclay gave three reasons why judging another can cause so many problems.
1. We never know the whole facts or the whole person. We cannot understand the circumstances or temptations.
2. It is almost impossible for anyone to be strictly impartial in judgement.
3. No one is good enough to judge another. Our own faults and our own inability to resolve them automatically disqualify us as fair critics.
The Bible not only commands us not to judge, but also commands us to discern (1 Corinthians 6:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; Ephesians 5:30). Although striking a balance between sinful tolerance and sinful judgement is very difficult it must be done.
Wherever sins or misunderstandings create breaches in human relationships, someone needs to step forward to initiate reconciliation. The Bible gives us a clear mandate for:
1. The innocent person to go to the one who has sinned and offer forgiveness and reconciliation;
2. The one who has sinned to make the first move by seeking forgiveness from those harmed;
3. A third party, a peacemaker, to carefully seek to reconcile those alienated — where both the offender and the one offended stall the process.
Misunderstandings develop when we do not listen, when we interrupt others in the middle of an explanation, when we finish their sentences for them, when we stop listening in a conversation to play our next verbal gambit, when we try to read between the lines. Attentive listeners who control their tongue gain insights that inhibit outbursts of anger.
To love is to listen. Those who listen to others are saying, non-verbally, ‘I think you’re important. I want to hear what you have to say. I want to understand your side of the story.’
Augsburger: Any human understanding of another human is tainted with our own evil. None of us is good enough to be entrusted with complete knowledge of another. That’s impossible to begin with... Where we cannot understand, it is still possible to be understanding...in being understanding we accept the complexity of human motivation, the contradictions in persons that are beyond our explanation.
Samuel Lopez De Victoria, pastor of Miami Grace Church...
I am so sorry that I did not understand your pain. Walking through the fire has opened my eyes.
I am so sorry that I hit you with God talk making you feel unspiritual. I misused God’s sword and hurt you instead of being an agent of release and healing.
I am so sorry that I did not pay the price to enter your world but blindly insisted mine as the only valid one. I have much to learn and appreciate.
I am so sorry that I recklessly assumed you had a bad attitude. I was masking my insecurities.
I am so sorry that I did not extend to you the same mercy and grace God has for me. Amazing grace I have not shared.
Please pray for me and if you find it in your heart to have mercy on me, a poor wretched soul...then I beg of you to please forgive me.
We must not wait until friendships lie in charred ruins at our feet before we pursue reconciliation. Whether we are the cause, the victim or a third party, we cannot afford to look the other way. You! I! Whoever we are, we must take the first step!
Among Christians this is the duty of love, a duty that calls for understanding born of an empathetic awareness of our shared humanity and a commitment to listen patiently to the parties in a dispute.
As we listen we may discover that the sin was no sin at all, but the result of a human foible, a mistake, an accident, a misunderstanding. If so, forbearance...is the salve we need to apply to the damaged relationship.
Individual Christians are called to demonstrate revolutionary grace. Churches must display the same radical grace, but — at times — this has to be balanced by actions of apparent severity. Otherwise the moral testimony of the church will be compromised.
On a personal level we need to show an openness to extend unlimited forgiveness. On a church level, Christ commands us to discipline the unrepentant, with a view to their restoration, by treating them ‘as you would a pagan or a tax collector’ (Matthew 18:17).
This distinction is hard to maintain in our hyperindividualistic societies. Biblical culture knew nothing of the kind of individualism we foster today.
There’s a Biblical concept of protecting, developing, rebuking and rejoicing with one another...If the church believes in repentance, it must provide a caring fellowship in which it is safe to repent.
...that which brings us together in any genuine local church is not only our faith in Jesus Christ but our shared experience of his grace. We are not theologians gathered together to debate weighty issues — although we may do that from time to time. No, we are wounded, forgiven sinners taking the cure. ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us’ (I John 1:8). When we see the church — our church — as a hospital for sinners, the conceit and self-righteousness that make restoring a fallen brother impossible dissipates. When all the members share this humble realization the church becomes open to hear confession and accept repentance.
A caring fellowship is a fragile flower. When the integrity of that fellowship is compromised by the actions of one member, the body must take action.
Undue delay in forgiving a person who has shown signs of repentance gives the devil an opportunity to insinuate that the church is a harsh, legalistic, unloving place.
...testing the sincerity of a person’s repentance requires the elapse of some time.
A sinner’s confession and repentance are prerequisites to healing and reconciliation but not to forgiveness. Forgiveness must be complete and instantaneous and unconditional.
The Biblical evidence comes down overwhelmingly on the side of lavish forgiveness.
Forgiving a person does not mean we do not confront that person [Luke 17:3].
Notorious or public sins committed by Christians can be done...Churches must withhold forgiveness until there is repentance...(Matthew 18:17). Individuals, however, do not have church authority.
...distinguishing between God’s prerogatives and our may help to clarify issues...judgement, in the sense of condemnation, is not ours to exercise...Only God know the true heart condition of those who appear repentant, or unrepentant. He alone knows the heart of a man. And thus, in a moral sense, we cannot offer a person the forgiveness that is only God’s to give. In the meantime he expects us to forgive ‘seventy times seven’, which seems to me to be an appeal for us to bend over backwards to forgive.
Dr. Archibald Hart has suggested that forgiveness is: ‘Giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me.’
...offering this kind of forgiveness does not mean that we are responsible for resurrecting a ruined relationship.
...this kind of ‘human forgiveness’ does not absolve the forgiven person from taking responsibility for his actions.
...offering abundant forgiveness to an unrepentant person may profoundly influence his subsequent attitude.
For a comprehensive study of the subject of forgiveness, I would recommend Eric Wright’s book. It can be purchased from the author at: http://countrywindow.ca/biblical-studies/revolutionary-forgiveness/ .