What is going to be MBM Parramatta’s biggest challenge? It will be each other? The hardest thing about being a human is other humans. We each have a natural difference, when fuelled by a spirit of demandingness it quickly leads to conflict. Which would ok except we either ignore it or ignite it, but we can do better.
This term we are going to look at resolving everyday conflict.
As the series title suggests: "Worth fighting for". Our Lord Jesus is the prince of peace and fought for that peace. At the cross, he waved the surrender flag and said I don’t want to fight anymore.
If you want to kill me then kill me and let's get it over with so that we can be friends. And He then gives us his Spirit and commands us “Be at peace with all people as much as it depends on you.” But there can be no peace unless we go for higher ground, there will be no peace unless we understand, unless we get that unforgiveness is not an option.
Deep down we each have a quota of pain, sinned against by someone in our family, in our church or in the world. It could have been a one-off event or ongoing. It could have been done thoughtlessly or maliciously, but however, it got there, it's there. At some point, we all have put a fence around our pain and have said to ourselves, to others and even to God “… this is so bad, what was done to me so wrong, the wounds so deep that not even God would ask me to ever consider forgiving the one who wounded me.”
Let me say up front
The apostle Peter is aware that sin happens both inside and outside the church and so he ask Jesus a question...how often?
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” ~Matthew 18:21 (NIV)
Peter is trying to out-grace Jesus. Rabbis required people to forgive only 3 times, Peter offers the perfect number 7 times.
But I would have asked Jesus another question with it, not just how many times? But how bad does the sin have to get before? before I can say: "that's it".
Jesus answer haunts us in our pain even today.
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. ~Matthew 18:22 (NIV)
Or 70x 7, you can almost feel abandoned by God in your pain, the word is don't ever stop forgiving, there is to be no limit, don’t stop striving to be at peace with others. Jesus reverses the vengeful language of Lamech, reminding us, the opposite to revenge is forgiveness, the opposite to forgiveness is payback!
Forgiveness is choosing to absorb the sin and not retaliate.
We have twice interviewed Gladys Staines at MBM, her husband and 2 sons were burnt alive in India by radical Hindu extremists. They were Medics in India helping the poor and the Lepers. She said “I have no anger, I have no hatred.” I asked Gladys how she was able to forgive and so quickly. She said, “I think it was because I learnt to forgive the little things.” What wise words. We are either cancelling debts or holding on to them.
There are 2 reasons given by Jesus in his story, the first is tied to the amount of forgiveness we have received and the second is tied to the amount of judgment that will fall on us if we don’t.
We live in light of breathtaking forgiveness.
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. ~Matthew 18:23-25 (NIV)
The man's debt to the king was enormous. Some say it's a national debt, about 15 billion, others say it was the wages of 60,000 working days. This was a time when you couldn’t file for bankruptcy, you (and your family) were personally responsible for your debt. Like this man you and I face a debt to God we could not pay; a punishment we cant bear. We were standing on the edge of hell, facing our own hopeless eternity; staring into the place of utter darkness. With the enormous debt before him the man cries out.
At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ ~Matthew 18:26 (NIV)
He has no idea how much he owes, he thinks he can pay the king off, like so many who think they can buy God off with good works. And yet in a God like way the king had mercy on him.
The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go. ~Matthew 18:27 (NIV)
Can you feel the relief? This is a picture of God's forgiveness. The whole debt is gone. The king does not postpone the payment of the debt, the king does not ask for 10 cents in the dollar, the king wipes the slate clean. It's why Paul says love keeps no record of wrongs. To forgive is to release one from a debt.
I once read in the newspaper (Telegraph) “Australia forgave Egypt a 200 million dollar debt” (1991). Australia said to Egypt you don’t ever have to pay it back.
So why does Jesus put no limit on how many times we ought to forgive? I will tell you why: because God puts no limit on the amount of sins that he forgives us. Every day we grieve his Spirit and every day he forgives them.
By not forgiving, we show that we have absolutely no idea what it cost Jesus the innocent Son of God to enter the horror of the cross. That we have no idea how bad hell is that we have been delivered from. No idea how bad we all are and we have no idea that unforgiveness is not an option.
“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. ~Matthew 18:28-30 (NIV)
This guy is often called the unmerciful servant, he also is the ungrateful servant, forgiven so much, now refusing to forgive so little. It was just loose change compared to what he had been forgiven.
Albert Tetzler won the lottery a while back in the US, the amount pocketed was 7 million dollars, a lot of money. Two years later he was sent to prison because he had failed to pay child support which totalled just $35,000, he got 7 million but couldn’t pay $35,000.
You reckon that is bad, try telling God why you don’t have to forgive when he has forgiven so much. He is the ungrateful servant and so are we when you allow our pain to swamp the grace of God. Freely you have received, freely forgiven.
This is not saying that you have not been sinned against and it was not wrong. This is not saying that the pain is not real or that God doesn’t care. This is not to say that church discipline should not be applied or in some cases, the cops should be called. This is not saying that comfort can't be found, knowing that God will punish those who refuse to repent. What it is saying is that when you set limits on forgiveness you deny the full extent of your own sin against God and the full extent of Gods kindness to you.
Too often revenge conquers us instead of us conquering revenge by the grace of God. We must stop playing God, who alone says “Vengeance is mine says the lord I will repay” The King acts when he finds out that the man he forgave, refused to forgive another so little, he is angry
“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. ~Matthew 18:32-34 (NIV)
Do you understand what Jesus is saying? Unforgiveness is not an option for those who follow Christ. Think back to the Lord's Prayer..
"Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us"
Jesus has thrown us a curve ball, when we pray we are asking God to treat us in the way that we treat others, by not forgiving others you are inviting God to not forgive you. So both Grace and judgment demands forgiveness. Jesus ends the story with the stinging warning...
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” ~Matthew 18:35 (NIV)
Take the grace of God lightly and you will end up taking his judgment severely. If the grace of God won't move you to forgive then maybe the fear of God will. It's as clear as a bell, isn’t it? Don't wallow in the pain, now is the time to start to forgive, seize the moment and conquer the urge to punish, let the Spirit do its work in you right now.
Do you know why I think unforgiveness is not an option? It's because God loves us, He is saying: “I don’t want you to waste your life filled with bitterness; where you spend your days re-playing those stories over and over to feed your rage." Jesus says: "I don’t want you to let those who sinned against you to keep punishing you. I want you to know the freedom of forgiveness, but that won't happen unless you forgive from the heart." It is not a 'pretend' forgiveness when we play games and say 'I don’t care' or 'it doesn’t bother me' or just laughing it off. Living in denial is not forgiveness.
The journey may begin further back, you may need to pray, to want to pray, to even want to forgive. At some point, you have to get on that peace train, even if it's last carriage. Are you not tired? I know you are.
There was a year I held something against Sandy. I noticed I was sulking for longer periods of time. On one occasion I sulked for 5 long weeks but Sandy barely noticed. No eye contact, a slight shift in tone, for 5 weeks I was aloof. It went so long I forgot why I was sulking. Then I had to make myself remember, I was exhausted and ashamed. When I eventually did forgive, I was so relieved. My refusal to forgive caused me to have a growing bitter heart. Has it not weighed you down long enough.
One of the messages to Australia from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
"It's my choice to be a victim or a survivor. It's my choice to forgive or hate. It's my choice to look forward or back. So I have chosen to love the life I have. I have chosen to forgive those who hurt me, because I don't know who hurt them. My 'Message to Australia': I ask you to do the same. The action of hate fixes nothing."
I have been in awe of so many at MBM who have endured so much suffering and who eventually decide to forgive and enjoy the freedom it brings.
We start a new series and we will take our time and think hard about how we can be at peace with all people. It's risky, its not an option and it's worth it. We are reminded yet again that God’s way is the best way.