Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Last month I started going through the four promises that we make in forgiveness. The promises came from a pamphlet that I found on a pamphlet in my office called “Peacemaking Principles.” Those principles, to remind you are: 1) I will not dwell on this incident, 2) I will not bring this incident up and use it against you, 3) I will not talk to others about this incident, and 4) I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship. Last month I went through the first two promises, this month we’ll be talking about the last two.
3) I will not talk to others about this incident. This promise is very closely related to promise number 2. If we have forgiven the sins of our neighbour and we’re not going to use it against them to their face, we’re also not to use it against them with other people. This shows two things about us: 1) We’ve never forgiven in the first place. If we’re going to count how many times we’ve forgiven someone, we’ve never forgiven them. Instead, we show that 2) we despise them and spurn the unlimited forgiveness that God has for us. In the same way, if we’re going to gossip, if we’re going to speak about what that other person to people around us, we again show that we’ve never forgiven them, but instead despise them. Now there may be times when you have to speak about an incident to someone who has the authority to help, to facilitate reconciliation, or in extreme cases to make a judgment, such as a judge, councillor, therapist, police, or pastor. But that’s it. Our talk ends there. No one else hears about it. Instead, the eighth commandment teaches us that we are to defend our neighbours and put the best construction on their words and actions and even admonish our neighbours to do the same thing. Even when that neighbour that everyone’s talking about has hurt us and as much as we’d love to join in, God calls us to forgive and break the cycle of sin.
4) I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship. This might be the hardest of all the four promises. I know I struggle with it, too. It’s so difficult to see that one person and feel all those feelings of pain, anger, guilt, and shame. And then, you just want to run away. You don’t want to talk to that person, you don’t want to be around them, you don’t want to be in the same church, or in the same worship service. In this way, this is very much related to the first promise of forgiveness: 1) I will not dwell on this incident. The sins people commit against us hurt. It brings pain and anger. It breaks our trust. And the relationship that was created is broken. At times offences between people can be overlooked and we can move on. At times we might need to share forgiveness with each other, and speak those words “I forgive you.” In the most extreme of cases, we might need to bring someone else in to negotiate or mediate between the two towards the goal of restoration. The goal is never justice or punishment, or to shake the finger and heap shame on the other party. The goal is always to restore. And yes, this is difficult. This is hard. It is impossible apart from Christ. Only Christ can move us to this love that seeks only to restore. Because that’s the only thing that Jesus sought in His life on this earth. He came seeking to restore the world to Himself. He came seeking to restore sinners to God by the payment of His own blood. And when He had to speak the Law to people, and sometimes harshly so, it was for those who sought to stand before God on their own agenda, on their own merit, on the purity of their own piety. But for the one who came seeking His mercy, the one who came poor in spirit, the one who came to Him with nothing but a cry, Jesus has abundant mercy. To them, Jesus gives His life, that He might restore them from their sin with His own life and love. Jesus gives His life to you. He has restored you to God with the payment of His own life. And He has restored in you His love for Himself and His love for the people that He died for. Your love for others, especially those who have sinned against you, comes from Jesus. Any anger, or despising you might feel toward your neighbour doesn’t come from Jesus. It comes from your sin. Sin kills. So your anger is going to kill you. Give it to Jesus. Give it to Jesus so that He might save you from your own anger. Give it to Jesus so you can receive His love that doesn’t let sin stand between you and the relationships around you.
These promises are not easy. They’re hard. They’re hard because we don’t naturally operate that way, being sinners by birth. It is only in Christ that we are given the grace to make these promises, and lift one another up from our sins with those beautiful words: “I forgive you.”
Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Tim Schneider