Formations lesson for July 29: Forgiving Others
July 6 2001 by F. Calvin Parker , Matthew 18:15-35

Formations lesson for July 29: Forgiving Others | Friday, July 6, 2001

Friday, July 6, 2001

Formations lesson for July 29: Forgiving Others

By F. Calvin Parker Matthew 18:15-35 Recently a colleague asked my forgiveness for a grudge he had held against me the past 10 years. Something I wrote in a book had offended him. It never occurred to me that my published comments might be taken as a personal slight and a negative criticism of his work. I never suspected he was hurt. If only he had told me at the time I would have apologized and tried to make things right. That would have spared him the burden of a long-term resentment.

Forgiving another Christian (Matthew 18:15-20) In this passage Jesus instructs the person who is wronged to initiate reconciliation with the wrongdoer. The latter may be unaware of his or her fault and the hurt it has caused. Even if the hurt was intended, the victim needs to act. This initiative is the first step in a four-step procedure outlined here for dealing with personal offenses among believers. I will show how the steps apply to a dispute recorded in the yellowed old minutes of a certain Baptist church.

Caroline Wixson was helping Mrs. Daily with some sewing. Caroline asked if she could have a piece of Mrs. Daily's ribbon and was told she could. She put it in her basket when Mrs. Daily was out of the room. At church the next Sunday, Mrs. Daily recognized a piece of her ribbon sewn on Caroline's bonnet. It was a wide ribbon, not the narrow one she had said Caroline could have. She pointed this out, but Caroline acknowledged no wrong. Whether the two were alone at the time of confrontation, as Jesus directed, is unclear.

In step two, Mrs. Daily's husband and Caroline's father became involved. As there were no witnesses to support the charge against Carolyn, the dispute dragged on.

In step three, the matter came before the church. At the first hearing, the church failed to resolve the contradiction in the testimonies of the two women but agreed it was wrong for Caroline to take the ribbon when no one was present. At the second hearing, Caroline apologized for taking the wide ribbon in addition to the narrow ribbon. Then "the minds of the brothers and sisters were taken." Of the brothers, 12 were satisfied, 1 not satisfied, 1 neutral. Of the sisters, 6 were satisfied, the rest neutral.

If Carolyn had not shown remorse, she probably would have been excluded from the fellowship of the church in accordance with Jesus' fourth step. Such discipline, for better or for worse, is now a relic of the past.

Forgive as you have been forgiven (Matthew 18:21-35) Forgive seven times? Peter probably thought he would be commended for making so liberal an offer. It sounds magnanimous. But Jesus permitted no calculated limit on our forgiving, just as there is none on God's. God is like the king in the parable who forgave a debt so enormous as to boggle the mind. We are like the pardoned slave, for we are recipients of God's infinite grace, and we have no excuse if we withhold pardon from others no matter how trifling or how great their debt.

Even so, forgiving can be difficult. Bible scholar William Barclay was mourning the loss of his daughter, Barbara, who had died in an accident at sea. He did a series of radio Bible talks as scheduled, and in the closing broadcast allowed himself to be interviewed about the tragic loss. Barclay used the opportunity to tell how Jesus Christ had brought him through the ordeal. Afterwards he received a letter: "Dear Dr. Barclay, I know now why God killed your daughter; it was to save her from being corrupted by your heresies ... ." The grief-stricken father was deeply hurt. He carried that hateful letter in his pocket for a long time, and it was found among his papers when he died.

How do we forgive a fellow Christian who, in the name of orthodoxy, slashes us and rubs salt in our wounds? We remember gratefully that God forgives us a whole lifetime of sins, big and small. This assurance enables us to forgive an assailant again and again and again.

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7/6/2001 12:00:00 AM by F. Calvin Parker , Matthew 18:15-35 | with 0 comments
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