Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, when my fellow believer sins against me, how many times must I forgive him? Should I forgive him as many as seven times?”Jesus answered, “I tell you, you must forgive him more than seven times. You must forgive him even if he wrongs you seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:21-22 NCV)
Extending Biblical Forgiveness
In the previous article I wrote about how God's grace overwhelms us and cleanses us and makes us whole, and I used the illustration of me knocking my orange juice into the hot tub. It made a big cloud in the water, and an aroma of citrus floated up, and my mistake was very apparent for a few minutes until the cloud of polluted water dissipated under the power of the jets and the filtering system. God's grace and love – demonstrated through Jesus dying on the cross so that our sins might be forgiven – washes away our sins and mistakes, making us whole again and setting things right as we confess our sins to God and ask Him to come and lead us into a healthy and happy life in Him.
What I didn't talk about last time but do want to talk about this time, is how our sins and mistakes do tend to leave a cloud hanging over our lives and even stink up our relationships with the people around us. Put simply, we are better off if we live according to His commands in the same way as a toddler is better off following the instructions of a loving parent – it is best for him to not eat the dirt or best for her to not play in the street. God, being the loving parent that He is, has set out similar guidelines for how we should live and our lives go better when we follow His instructions.
Most of us who have been Christians for any length of time have learned this to be true – we have experienced both the joy of being obedient and the misery of being disobedient. We have seen things go amazingly well when we are walking with God and communing with Him and following in His footsteps. And in like manner we have seen things go terribly wrong when we tells us to do things one way and we do them a different way.
We can all relate to this on a personal level, but what about when it comes to doing church? Are we careful to follow the church leadership patterns and organizational instructions in the New Testament? Or do we talk about them a bit and then look to the latest business models or marketing methods for successful church growth? Or maybe we don’t even take the time to look to the New Testament for church leadership principles at all?
Think about it for a minute. We have a heavenly Father who loves us and has given us clear instructions and guidelines for how we should do church – how we should organize ourselves, what kind of leaders we should have, what we should do in our meetings together, and how we should treat one another. His intentions and instructions towards us and how we do church are for own benefit – so that His children don’t wander off and eat dirt and play in the street.
Unfortunately, that is what has happened in many cases. We haven’t followed His instructions and we are wandering around eating the latest dirt on how to build a consumer-driven church that attracts attendees but fails to change lives. We have wandered in the streets and gotten run over by truckloads of man-centered agendas and super-sized egos. Churches in the United States are in decline, many closing their doors permanently with each day that goes by, and broken-hearted pastors and church leaders are quitting in record numbers.
It’s time that we search the Scriptures and ask God how we should do church and what it is that makes a church strong. It’s time for us to repent of exalting the wisdom of man and church tradition over the Biblical instructions on how to do church. And most of all, it is time for us to forgive one another. We have to forgive those who have hurt us in their pursuit of church growth, man-made goals, or lofty visions. And we have to forgive ourselves for those times that we have been so driven by our pursuit of success that we have run roughshod over the people who should have been most dear to us.
Let’s face up to the truth of the matter. Our mistakes, make that our sins – the sins of pastors, church leaders, and parishioners – have left a cloud over the church and colored the opinions of people everywhere, inside and outside of the church. As a result, many Christians – good people who love God and love their neighbor and try to follow Christ – have given up on belonging to a local church. It just hurts too much to be involved with all the expectations and agendas that often have nothing to do with following Jesus.
So let’s search our own hearts and think through how we do church and why we do what we do. Are we being followers of Jesus when it comes to doing church? Do we love as He loved? Do we seek first His kingdom and His will for the church as well as our own actions? Are we picking up our crosses and laying down our lives for the sake of Christ and that others might know Him? Are these priorities evident to everyone in our services, our leadership meetings, and our interactions with people inside and outside of the church?
If we are to convince people who are outside the church to become followers of Jesus, we must be followers of Him in everything we do, especially in the church.
Lord, forgive us for the times when we haven’t been Christ-like in how we treat others or how we do church. And help me to forgive my brothers and sisters in the church who have hurt me or held me back from being everything I can be in Christ Jesus.
Let’s Pray Together: Lord, I forgive those who have hurt me in my past and even in my current church experiences. Forgive us, Lord, for so often we wind up hurting those who should be the most dear to us – our brothers and sisters in Christ. We argue for our point of view to be heard or our plan of action to be followed without regard to the feelings of our brothers or sisters. Sometimes we don’t even care what You think, we just blindly contend for what we think will make the church successful. Forgive us Lord, and help me to forgive as I pray for these situations and people that I bring before You now… (continue praying as you feel led...)