Living Confidently in Christ - Week 5 - How can I forgive?
Sermon Date: May 13th
Readings Matthew 18 v. 12-39
Give each person a piece of paper with the word ‘FORGIVENESS’ written on it and ask your group to take each letter and write a word which for them represents what it means. So for instance F might stand for frustration, O for etc.
After a few moments, share with each other what has been written down.
Can you remember something from last Sunday’s sermon that struck you?
Read Matthew 18 v. 12-39 together
There are three sections to these notes: the passage; the issues; and putting it all together.
1. The Passage:
a) The dialogue between Jesus and Peter 21-22
b) The parable story. V23-34
c) The 'conclusion' v35
This conversation is recorded in the context of a number of incidents and teachings about status; inclusion of the lost, and dealing with behavioural problems in the church. The last issue ends with the famous quote about 'two or three being gathered together'.(note that it is the context of resolving differences and disputes, not how many turn up for the prayer meeting!)
Then Peter asks a very pertinent and practical question about how many times the Christian must forgive individual and personal offences against them?
This is about personal relationships, not necessarily about institutional issues such as capital punishment.
This is not an easy parable! There is no room here to explore its complexity, but we might just touch on some of the difficult questions it asks.
We are asked by Jesus [v23] to make a comparison. So where do we draw the parallels?
Q.1 The first obvious question is whether the king in the story depicts God and his way of behaving.
If so, then, by the end of the parable, what has happened to 'forgiving 70x7 times', [as in v 22]?
The king forgives initially, but then withdraws forgiveness and tortures his servant 'until the [totally unpayable] debt is paid', -i.e. for ever!! Surely God Himself is subject to his own standards?
Q. 2 is this our understanding of God?
Secondly, we are drawn in to the story such that we sympathise with the second servant, in the way he is treated by his fellow servant. The first servant, having had his debt cancelled, no longer needs his money back, but takes measures to bring cruel treatment to servant number two. But what about all those other fellow-servants who [v31], go to the king, and thus bring on cruel punishment to the first servant?
Q. 3 and we, the listeners/onlookers are also pleased that servant number one has had his 'come-upance'. So have we, too, lost the moral high ground in all this, as we delight in the everlasting torture of 'one of us'?
This story of human debt, forgiveness and intrigue is deliberately complex. Jesus' wonderful story-telling truly draws us in and makes us think.
Maybe the comparison is between all this mess, and the transcendent love and forgiveness which Jesus will show on the Cross and which he asks us to emulate 70x7, -i.e. endlessly?
Most of Jesus' parables are left open-ended so we have to grapple with the meaning in our own context. This concluding verse is unusual in that respect and, for the reasons expressed above, doesn't seem to fit with the teaching on forgiveness that is expressed in the dialogue with Peter. Some scholars therefore think it may be a later addition.
Though it demonstrates clearly the necessity for Christians to forgive, it gives an image of God as unforgiving torturer, which is at odds with so much other Christian teaching.
2. The Issues
Our title is ‘How can I forgive’? We all know we should, we must etc., but it can be so hard to DO.
Q. 4 how do I know when I have been successful at it?!
And, whilst we are thinking about how we can forgive, we must always bear in mind how we might be forgiven by others.
And this is VERY important: FORGIVENESS IS A PROCESS, NOT AN EVENT
Forgiving someone you love for a trivial offence takes but a moment, but forgiving someone for a deep and lasting wound may take a long time. The starting point is WANTING TO FORGIVE.
Firstly, here are a few things that may sound negative, but which might release us from a sense of failure in forgiving:-
Forgiveness has often been the start of a new friendship, but forgiveness of an offence by someone does not have to result in being best friends! If the offence has been between best friends, then one hopes it will, but we don't have to be 'burdened' with on-going [artificial] 'friendship' in order to forgive.
In the case of a broken relationship [of any sort], it is hoped that forgiveness will result in reconciliation between the parties. BUT sometimes this is neither possible, nor desirable. Someone who has been abused, traumatised or threatened by another, may wish to forgive but not have to see or meet the abuser ever again. In this sort of situation, the one who forgives has to do it 'unilaterally', before God.
Offences/sins carry consequences, so forgiveness may well occur alongside the offender's punishment under the law, or making of amends personally. This is perfectly Biblical.
Sometimes the person we wish to forgive, [or be forgiven by], has died. There are ways of expressing such feelings by someone else acting the part of the deceased, so our feelings can be resolved before God.
Forgiving does not always include forgetting. Sometimes remembering is important, as long as it is not fuelling our resentment.
Now some of the positives.
We are commanded, [not advised], to forgive those who sin against us.
Q. 5 what does forgiveness look like?
accepting an apology
being prepared to bear the cost of their actions if they are unable to [e.g. someone breaks something of yours but has no money to replace it]
showing graciousness when someone usurps your place/role by unscrupulous means
not retaliating when someone has said/done something that is deeply wounding to you
carrying on with courtesy and normality your outward interactions with someone who refuses to admit their fault
Being prepared to initiate a reconciliation process, or enter into one if they ask you.
Q. 6: What does forgiveness feel like?
wanting them to be forgiven by God
praying for/wanting the best for them in their lives
being happy for their successes
grieving for their losses
trying to understand what brought it all about
A willingness to communicate again if there has been a period of silence between you. Reconciliation is helped by a mediator who can help us listen to the other person, and then give us the opportunity to express our side of the story. [That's the 2 or 3 that are gathered together!]
Trying to see them as God does, -his wayward child whom he wants back.
3. Putting it all together
Forgiveness is not an option for a Christian, it is part of how we love Jesus, and we forgive for his sake, because he forgives us. But it may take time if it is to be genuine.
Lack of forgiveness can be emotionally and spiritually destructive at a personal level; and it dishonours the name of Jesus.
It starts with a desire to forgive, and asking God to help us do so.
We might be able to see it grow in us as we lose our harsh feelings towards the other person who hurt us, and really care what happens to them.
Practical actions to care for the person can help all this, if we are able to do them.
But some offences are of such a nature that we must forgive without any further contact.
Christine Bailey, 09/05/2018