Preparing for a new chapter in our church's life
“As we forgive those who are in debt to us / have sinned against us”
“Words of faith are too well known to believers for their meaning to be knowable.”
The notes for this week’s session are very short. Hopefully this means that there will be plenty of time to talk, reflect and pray, as we deal with what is a difficult and challenging topic.
I’d encourage you to be open and honest in your groups as you talk through forgiveness. Be vulnerable with each other, admit to failings, celebrate triumphs. Pray for one another and for specific situations.
As far as possible try to connect what we’re talking about this week with real situations and even real people – this session is not about forgiveness in the abstract, but rather the practice of forgiveness in the day to day.
Very briefly let’s recap from last week. As we explored Matthew’s use of the word ‘debt’ in the Lord’s Prayer we looked at some of the teaching of the Torah with regards debt. It is likely that this teaching would have been brought to mind for Jesus early hearers (and certainly Matthew’s early Jewish readers). The teaching of the Torah on debt gives us a window into the way in which God called his community to live and in turn it also gives us a window into the nature and character of God.
So to summarise the Torah teaching on debt we can say:
Firstly – every 7th year unpaid debt between Hebrews was to be cancelled, even if an amount was still outstanding
Secondly – every 7th year debt slaves were to be released and sent back to their home land and family
Thirdly – when debt slaves were released in the 7th year they should be sent out from the household with a share of the material wealth of the householder – they should not be sent out empty handed.
In this I think we see something profound, something that gives us a picture of the character of God and in particular how he forgives. After all, Israel was called to live in such a way that gave tangible and practical expression to the nature and character of God.
We ended the last session with the following:
Looking at our church with a fresh perspective
It must surely be true for each and every one of us that as we look at our church we are able to identify those who we feel owe us a debt or who have sinned against us, and those to whom we owe a debt and against whom we have sinned.
What will we do? As we pray this prayer, conscious of what we ask from God, are we willing to offer the same to our brothers and sisters in Christ?
Perhaps it is helpful to be specific.
To whom do you owe a ‘debt’ – perhaps it’s to someone that you have sinned against. Or maybe someone to whom you’ve not done something you should?
What are you going to do to play a part in the enacting the radical forgiveness that we’ve spoken about so far? In what ways might you be sent out with blessing?
Who owes you a ‘debt’ – perhaps it’s to someone that has sinned against you. Or maybe someone who has not done something for you that they should have?
What are you going to do to play part in enacting the radical forgiveness that we’ve spoken about so far? In what ways will you send those who are in your debt out with blessing?
Of course this isn’t easy, but then the Christian life is seldom easy and anyone who’s said that it is has told a porky-pie. But, the effect of enacting this sort of forgiveness is mind-blowing. Can you imagine if this was our default pattern of forgiveness? Can you imagine if instead of holding a grudge, we forgave and blessed?
Forgiveness and Justice
Usually as we talk about forgiveness the conversation turns to matters of justice too. Sometimes it is suggested that in being so ready to forgive the Christian can effectively be saying ‘injustice can carry on it doesn’t matter – I’ll forgive anyway’. But of course this is not the case.
As we practice a radical sort of forgiveness towards those who are in our debt, we find that the struggle for justice is not lessened, but rather changed in nature. If, with a commitment to justice, we are able to forgive those against whom we struggle, we can let go of anger, bitterness, hatred and revenge and instead cultivate compassion towards those whom we must forgive and against whom we struggle for justice. This transforms the struggle for justice.
Simon Butler, 06/10/2014