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. Matthew 18:21-22
If you want to be successful as a church you must be willing and able to Forgive. And… real forgiveness takes us beyond our hurts!
This section flows right on the heels of storing up resentment. Stubbornness is human nature; we don't like to admit we are wrong and when someone wrongs us, we naturally don't want him or her to forget it. Having spent years working with teenagers as well as dysfunctional churches (pretty much the same), a week would not go by without at least one teen coming to me explaining what their friend did to them and how they can never forgive that person. I tried my best to explain that Christ tells us to forgive our enemies regardless of what they do to us because nothing done to us can ever match the debt that we owe Christ for what He forgave us for. So, since Christ forgives us, it should naturally be our duty to forgive others. After that short explanation, I would get all kinds of "but, but, but, you don't understand, but, why should I forgive him, he never admitted that he's wrong, I should only forgive someone if they admit that they're wrong." I would go on to explain that it's not our obligation or concern that they admit that they're wrong; they're accountable to the Lord for that, not us. It's just our duty to forgive, whether we like it not.
Forgiveness requires maturity, patience, and tact. Forgiveness is also a mandate from our Lord. God desires us to seek forgiveness because God is a God of forgiveness; He is centered upon and committed to relationships. God knows our human weaknesses, our self-destructive nature, and that our relationships tend to be fragile. Broken relationships come out of our sin nature and our fallen world, which seeks self over others. God's desire is to show the world our potential because of what Christ has done for us, and that we should not take pleasure in destructive situations that divide and draw relationships apart.
Relationships are what life is all about. Satan's desire is to destroy relationships as he first attempted to do in the Garden of Eden, where our relationship with God and one another were nearly defeated. God's plan is to prove Satan wrong, and our call is to build one another up, not to destroy. When we have the knowledge of God's mercy, then we have the responsibility of acting with mercy to one another. (Ephesians 4:29-32) How can we go through our Christian life experience, rationalizing our actions and deeds only to face our Lord later on in judgment?
Ask yourself this question; how do I handle forgiveness? How do you respond when others forgive you? What do you do with opportunities that our Lord has for you? We must realize the generosity of grace, and that by being in Christ we have what we do not deserve. Our Lord does not want us to forgive begrudgingly, because He did not forgive us with conditions or strings attached.
We as Christians must extend ourselves to other people with love; and what flows out of love is forgiveness (John 13:34-35). This should be clear to us. A healthy Christian is one who puts aside the malicious traits of the evil sin nature and in their place model kindness, love, caring, and compassion. Out of these will flow forgiveness. God wants us to get with it, to wake up and seize the opportunities He gives us.
When we are unforgiving, playing the blame game, being intolerant, or callous or bitter, we are doing the very opposite of what a Church should and must do! When we refuse to forgive or refuse to repent, then we are concealing ourselves from God's precepts and His best for us and rationalizing the reality of the infection of sin and its destructive nature to our being as well as to those around us. We create a wall to shut ourselves off from God and one another. In so doing, we turn on ourselves with the consequence of our actions or inactions and then we receive no reprieve or comfort. After that come the guilt and bitterness as our personal lives dissolve and our impact on the community becomes a hindrance instead of a blessing. Take a serious look at Psalm 32; meditate over it carefully, and then surrender yourselves to the love of Christ. Allow the sin to be forgiven and released. Be courageous to seek out forgiveness, public confession, and reconciliation. Allow yourself to grow and mature to become the best whole person that Christ wants you to be. There is simply no better way to heal a hurting church.
Forgiveness can be tough, especially for a teenager. It takes discipline and maturity to admit that we're wrong, and it takes someone rooted in Christ, modeling what Christ did for us, to truly forgive. We must have a grasp of the magnitude of what Christ forgave us for, of what Christ did on the cross on our behalf. Then we must realize that there's nothing in all of creation that we can do to right the wrong of sin that separates us from God the Father. Only Christ's death on the cross bridged that gap for us. So, because of the ultimate forgiveness that Christ gave us, it should be our tendency, our natural inclination, to forgive others. It comes down to this: has the realization of how much we have been forgiven by Christ hit us? It enables us to forgive the insignificant things that are done to us. It involves not being resentful to others, and ignoring the wrongs that we have received so we can heal relationships through expressing Christ's love.
(There is much more on how to understand and handle and dispense forgiveness in my book, The Field Guide to Healthy Relationships.)The Call is Clear
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Colossians 4:5
This is practical wisdom that needs to be applied daily-both to those who are in the Church and those who are not. Every situation we face holds the opportunity to be a positive, tactful witness. We must take careful note: a church that does not practice forgiveness cannot function, and it will fail. The people will leave, visitors will stop coming and definitely will not return, and its people will wither away spiritually, accomplishing nothing for the Kingdom of God.
We are to live in such a way as to attract, not repel; we are to impress, not depress. We are to accept and wholeheartedly buy into God's call with our will, thoughts, and actions. It can be that a Christian in China is persecuted for his faith, or events such as the Littleton Colorado tragedy of Cassie Barnard who lost her young life because she said yes to her belief in God as her fellow student shot and killed her can happen. Most likely, our situation is that someone is gossiping and we are unable to realize the situation from God's perspective and our call to forgive and move on. We must always see beyond our immediate situation to the hope that Christ gives us. Our human nature will not avail when confronted with bitterness, but through Christ we will prevail.
Scripture commands us to be patient with the wrongdoer and show grace to him/her. Yes, forgiveness is difficult because it denies our perceived rights as Americans. Forgiveness also may cost us greatly and may even ruin our reputation with our peers. Forgiveness does not mean looking the other way when a wrong is being committed. Forgiveness is not winking at sin. Forgiveness is not a license to do evil, nor is forgiveness just being polite and tactful. When someone steals something from you, you are to forgive the person who stole it; but it doesn't nullify the law that was broken or the restitution that needs to be made.
The goal of forgiveness is overcoming the evil with good, and surrendering our rights of getting "even" over to God, because He is sovereign and the vengeance belongs to Him. In this way, relationships prosper and the Church succeeds. We are freed from the trap of shame and guilt that burns like those "heaps of coals." The world's thinking is that we need to get revenge; and when we do not, their own actions can turn against them. A fellow student of mine in Junior High School teased me relentlessly for years, to the point that I would get in fights with him. At the start of High School, I decided not to let him bother me, but rather be nice to him (advice from my pastor). So, when he started his teasing, I retaliated with kindness, and soon we became friends. Oh, how I hated doing that. It was a tough lesson for me to learn and do, but it worked out better than my own plan of vengeance would have-a lesson it seems I keep having to learn. The passage in Matthew 18 ends with the pronouncement that the Lord will reward you. My reward was gaining a friend who was once my enemy.
This subject of forgiveness is paramount in the life of a healthy church. We cannot be adequately used by God to further His kingdom unless we learn what forgiveness is all about. We need to take the responsibility to live in peace, and take the responsibility to resolve the conflicts that come up to destroy the church. We may not be able to personally resolve it, but we can refuse to participate in its continuance and spread. God wants us to be the peacemakers, as the Sermon on the Mount urges us to do. Yes, people will take advantage of us, but that too can be a witness. Our call is clear; are you able and willing? Forgiveness as Christ forgave is true forgiveness; that is how we are urged to forgive one another.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29
© 1999, 2007, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, www.churchleadership.org