Discerning Church Learning to discern the movement of God's Spirit

Radical Forgiveness

Churches are not perfect places, as many suppose. Just because we love God and do our best to follow the teachings of Jesus does not mean that we always get it right. Having served in church leadership for over 25 years, I have found relational difficulties a key hindrance to healthy church dynamics.

This week, I am preaching from a key passage on forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35). It is a story that shocks us and leaves us bewildered. Yet as we allow this story to impact our relationships, we are confronted with a new understanding of forgiveness.

The story is prefaced with a conversation between Jesus and Peter. Peter wants to know how many times we are required to forgive our brothers who have wronged us. The rabbis of Jesus’ day demanded three times.

“If a man commits a transgression, the first, second and third time he is forgiven, the fourth time he is not forgiven” (Yoma 86b)

Peter is generous in suggesting seven times. Yet Jesus’ response demonstrates a different approach to forgiveness. The story (beginning in verse 23) reveals an extraordinary posture in relating to those who have hurt us. Jesus illustrates a servant who is extravagantly forgiven of his debt. In turn, he goes to one who owes him money and is unwilling to extend mercy. I would encourage to you to take a few minutes to read the story (Matthew 18:23-34). We are drawn in by the tremendous inequity that is portrayed. A servant who has received remarkable generosity from the king is unwilling to show the same sympathy toward his subordinate. We find ourselves stunned.

Parables have a way of doing this. We think the story is about someone else; we then find ourselves looking into a mirror. We read in verse 35,

(Matthew 18:35 NIV) “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

How might our churches be changed if we all understood and accepted this teaching? Too often, we fail to remember the excessive grace we have received. Might we learn to live out radical forgiveness in our churches.