Sunday, November 18, 2007
Jesus, by His teaching and example, revealed a threefold plan for transforming sincere inquirers into His authentic followers and passionate church members. Life is all about relationships. Healthy ones are required to live life with passion and conviction. Jesus illustrated the necessity for healthy relationships in the church by telling a story recorded in Matthew 18:21-35. It began with the disciple Peter, perhaps thinking that he was really compassionate, asking: “Lord, how often should I forgive my brother – seven times?” This was considerably more than the traditional teaching of the rabbis to forgive three times. Jesus must have shocked Peter by replying: “No, not seven times but seventy times seven.” In other words, “Peter, you keep on forgiving!” Why? Because god your heavenly Father keeps on forgiving you. Jesus reinforces this truth by telling about a man hopelessly in debt. In our currency today, it would be millions of dollars. Knowing and admitting his desperate need, the man seeks the mercy of his master, promising to repay the debt. Knowing that the man can never repay, the master was moved with compassion (27). This is the same word found in Matthew 9:36 where Jesus says the people are like sheep without a shepherd. Forgiveness is a central theme here – central to our relationship with Christ and with one another. Forgiveness in this Mathew passage has three shades of meaning:
1. Forgiveness means to cancel the debt of another and then pay the cost yourself. This is what the master did and, of course, what god the Father has done for us in Christ his Son.
2. Forgiveness can mean to lift up and carry away. If we are abiding in Jesus, He will enable us to lift one another’s burdens and carry them away.
3. Forgiveness can also refer to release from bondage. Many Christians are living in various forms of bondage – to resentment, jealousy, lust, alcohol, fears and insecurities. Open your life to receive the full forgiveness of god. Fully released and forgiven Christians like you will radically change your church to attract newcomers who will become passionate participants touching the world! All three meanings ought to be lived out of our lives in relation to others. In this story, the indebted man did not allow God’s forgiveness to transform his own life. Therefore, he had no forgiveness to offer others. He could not welcome and embrace others as true friends. John and Mary Smith (not their real names, although this is a true story.) lost their only son when he was killed by a drunk driver. They became angry and bitter toward the drunk driver. John and Mary were professing believers in Jesus and members of a local church. Yet, they pursued Ken at every court appearance. Ken was sentenced to prison but was released after a short time. After he was released, John and Mary realized that their bitterness toward Ken and their lack of forgiveness was not helping Ken and was destroying them. After restoring their relationship with God, they decided to forgive the man who killed their only son. First, they invited him to their church. Then, they began inviting him to meals at their home. Eventually, Ken became a regular in their home. This act of love and forgiveness transformed Ken until he himself made a commitment to God and regularly worshipped with them. It takes such costly forgiveness to restore and cultivate healthy relationships in your family, in your church and, ultimately, in your community. You must see the other person as God sees him. You need to experience the heart of God for the person whom you find difficult to love.
The above is an excerpt from Stewart's new book, Feeling at Home in God's Family, pp. 7-9. If you wish the book, ask your local bookstore to order it in.
Posted by Stewart Brown at 2:03 PM