“Serving Each Other Through Forgiveness” from Tim Keller

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SERVING EACH OTHER THROUGH FORGIVENESS AND RECONCILIATION by TIM KELLER

On both a theological and a practical level, forgiveness is at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian. True forgiveness comes at a cost and is pursued intentionally within a community of believers. The new human community that the Bible requires cuts across all cultures and temperaments. Put another way, it doesn’t fit any culture but challenges them all at some point.

Christians from more individualistic cultures love the Bible’s emphasis on affirming one another and sharing hurts and problems—but hate the idea of accountability and discipline. Christians from more traditional communal cultures love the emphasis on accountability for morals and beliefs but often chafe at the emphasis on racial reconciliation and being open about one’s personal hurts and financial needs.

But one could argue that the biblical teaching on forgiveness and reconciliation is so radical that there are no cultures or societies that are in accord with it. It may be here most of all that we see the truth of Bonhoeffer’s statement, “Our community with one another [in Christ] consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us. Christian brotherhood is a spiritual and not a human reality. In this, it differs from all other communities.”1

In its most basic and simple form, this teaching is that Christians in community are to never give up on one another, never give up on a relationship, and never write off another believer. We must never tire of forgiving (and repenting!) and seeking to repair our relationships. Matthew 5:23–26 tells us we should go to someone if we know they have something against us. Matthew 18:15–20 says we should approach someone if we have something against them. In short, if any relationship has cooled off or has weakened in any way, it is always your move. It doesn’t matter “who started it:” God always holds you responsible to reach out to repair a tattered relationship. A Christian is responsible to begin the process of reconciliation, regardless of how the distance or the alienation began.

WHAT FORGIVENESS IS

When speaking of forgiveness, Jesus uses the image of debts to describe the nature of sins (Matt. 6:12; 18:21–35). When someone seriously wrongs you, there is an absolutely unavoidable sense that the wrongdoer owes you. The wrong has incurred an obligation, a liability, a debt. Anyone who has been wronged feels a compulsion to make the other person pay down that debt. We do that by hurting them, yelling at them, making them
feel bad in some way, or just waiting and watching and hoping that something bad happens to them. Only after we see them suffer in some commensurate way do we sense that the debt has been paid and the sense of obligation is gone.

This sense of debt/liability and obligation is impossible to escape. Anyone who denies it exists has simply not been wronged or sinned against in any serious way.

What then is forgiveness? Forgiveness means giving up the right to seek repayment from the one who harmed you. But it must be recognized that forgiveness is a form of voluntary suffering.

What does that mean? Think about how monetary debts work. If a friend breaks my lamp, and if the lamp costs fifty dollars to replace, then the act of lamp-breaking incurs a debt of fifty dollars. If I let him pay for and replace the lamp, I get my lamp back and he’s out fifty dollars. But if I forgive him for what he did, the debt does not somehow vanish into thin air. When I forgive him, I absorb the cost and payment for the lamp: either I will pay the fifty dollars to replace it or I will lose the lighting in that room.

To forgive is to cancel a debt by paying it or absorbing it yourself. Someone always pays every debt.

This is the case in all situations of wrongdoing, even when no money is involved. When you are sinned against, you lose something—perhaps happiness, reputation, peace of mind, a relationship, or an opportunity. There are two things to do about a sin. Imagine for example that someone has hurt your reputation. You can try to restore it by paying the other person back, voicing public criticisms and ruining his or her reputation. Or you can forgive the one who wronged you, refuse payback, and absorb the damage to your reputation. (You will have to restore it over time.)

In all cases when wrong is done there is a debt, and there is no way to deal with it without suffering: either you make the perpetrator suffer for it or you forgive and suffer for it yourself. Forgiveness is always extremely costly. It is emotionally very expensive—it takes much blood, sweat, and tears. When you forgive, you pay the debt yourself in several ways.

  1. First, you refuse to hurt the person directly; you refuse vengeance, payback, or the infliction of pain. Instead, you are as cordial as possible. When forgiving you must beware of subtle ways to try to exact payment while
    assuring yourself that you aren’t. Here are specific things to avoid:
  • making cutting remarks and dragging out past injuries repeatedly
  • being far more demanding and controlling with the person than you are with others, all because you feel
    deep down that they still owe you
  • punishing them with self-righteous “mercy” that is really a way to make them feel small and to justify yourself
  • avoiding them or being cold toward them
  1. Second, you refuse to employ innuendo or “spin” or hint or gossip or direct slander to diminish those who have hurt you in the eyes of others. You don’t run them down under the guise of warning people about them or under the guise of seeking sympathy and support and sharing your hurt.
  2. Third, when forgiving you refuse to indulge in ill-will in your heart. That is, don’t continually replay the tapes of the wrong in your imagination, in order to keep the sense of loss and hurt fresh so you can stay actively hostile toward the person and feel virtuous by contrast. Don’t vilify or demonize the offender in your imagination. Rather, recognize the common sinful humanity you share with him or her. Don’t root for them to fail,
    don’t hope for their pain. Instead, pray positively for their growth.

Forgiveness, then, is granted before it is felt. It is a promise to refrain from the three things above and pray for the perpetrator as you remind yourself of God’s grace to you. Though it is extremely difficult and painful (you are bearing the cost of the sin yourself!), forgiveness will deepen your character, free you to talk to and help the person, and lead to love and peace rather than bitterness. Further, by bearing the cost of the sin, you are walking in the path of your Master (Matt. 18:21–35; Col. 3:13).

It is typical for non-Christians today to say that the cross of Christ makes no sense. “Why did Jesus have to die? Why couldn’t God just forgive us?” Actually, no one who has been deeply wronged “just forgives”! If someone wrongs you, there are only two options: (1) you make them suffer, or (2) you refuse revenge and forgive them and then you suffer.

And if we can’t forgive without suffering, how much more must God suffer in order to forgive us? If we unavoidably sense the obligation and debt and injustice of sin in our soul, how much more does God know it? On the cross we see God forgiving us, and that was possible only if God suffered. On the cross God’s love satisfied his own justice by suffering, bearing the penalty for sin. There is never forgiveness without suffering, nails, thorns, sweat, blood. Never.

WHAT WE NEED TO FORGIVE

The experience of the gospel gives us the two prerequisites for a life of forgiveness: emotional humility and emotional wealth. You can remain bitter toward someone only if you feel superior if you are sure that you “would never do anything like that!” To remain unforgiving means you are unaware of your own sinfulness and need for forgiveness. When Paul says he is the worst among sinners (1 Tim. 1:15), he is not exaggerating. He is saying that he is as capable of sin as the worst criminals are. The gospel has equipped him with emotional humility.

At the same time, you can’t be gracious to someone if you are too needy and insecure. If you know God’s love and forgiveness, then there is a limit to how deeply another person can hurt you. He or she can’t touch your real identity, wealth, and significance. The more you rejoice in your own forgiveness, the quicker you will be to forgive others. You are rooted in emotional wealth.

Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners. But no one can be in the presence of the God of the crucified Messiah for long without overcoming this double exclusion—without transposing the enemy from the sphere of monstrous inhumanity into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness. When one knows that the torturer will not eternally triumph over the victim, one is free to rediscover that person’s humanity and imitate God’s love for him. And when one knows that God’s love is greater than all sin, one is free to see oneself . . . and so rediscover one’s own sinfulness. 

Jesus says, “If you do not forgive men their sins, your heavenly Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt. 6:15). This does not mean we can earn God’s forgiveness through our own forgiving but that we can disqualify ourselves from it. No heart that is truly repentant toward God could be unforgiving toward others. A lack of forgiveness
toward others is the direct result of a lack of repentance toward God. And as we know, you must repent in order to be saved (Acts 2:38).

GOD’S FORGIVENESS AND OURS

When God reveals his glory to Moses, he says he forgives wickedness yet “does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Exod. 34:6–7). Not until the coming of Jesus do we see how God can be both completely just and forgiving through his atonement (1 John 1:7–9). In the cross, God satisfies both justice and love.

God was so just and desirous to judge sin that Jesus had to die, but he was so loving and desirous of our salvation that Jesus was glad to die.

We too are commanded to forgive (“bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another,” Col 3:13–14) on the basis of Jesus’ atonement for our sins (“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. . . . If you do not forgive men their sins, your heavenly Father will not forgive your sins,”
Matt. 6:14–15; cf. Luke 6:37).

But we are also required to forgive in a way that honors justice, just as God’s forgiveness does. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). “Christians are called to abandon bitterness, to be forbearing, to have a forgiving stance even where the repentance of the offending party is conspicuous by its absence; on the other hand, their God-centered passion for justice, their concern for God’s glory, ensure that the awful odium of sin is not glossed over.”

PURSUING TRUTH, LOVE, AND RELATIONSHIP

The gospel calls us, then, to keep an equal concern (a) to speak the truth and honor what is right, yet (b) to be endlessly forgiving as we do so and (c) to never give up on the goal of a reconciled, warm relationship.

First, God requires forgiveness whether or not the offender has repented and has asked for forgiveness. “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him” (Mark 11:25). This does not say “forgive him if he repents” but rather “forgive him right there—as you are praying.”

Second, God requires speaking the truth. That is why Jesus tells his disciples in Luke 17:3 to “rebuke” the wrongdoer and “if he repents, forgive him.” Is Jesus saying that we can hold a grudge if the person doesn’t repent? No, we must not read Luke 17 to contradict Mark 11. Jesus is calling us here both to practice inner forgiveness and to rebuke and correct.

We must completely surrender the right to pay back or get even, yet at
the same time, we must never overlook injustice and must require serious wrongdoings to be redressed. This is almost the very opposite of how we ordinarily operate. Ordinarily, we do not seek justice on the outside (we don’t confront or call people to change and make restitution), but we stay hateful and bitter on the inside. The Bible calls us to turn this completely around. We are to deeply forgive on the inside so as to have no desire for vengeance, but then we are to speak openly about what has happened with a desire to help the person see what was done wrong.

In reality, inner forgiveness and outward correction work well together. Only if you have forgiven inside can you correct unabusively—without trying to make the person feel terrible. Only if you have forgiven already can your motive be to correct the person for God’s sake, for justice’s sake, for the community’s sake, and for the person’s sake. And only if you forgive on the inside will your words have any hope of changing the perpetrator’s heart. Otherwise, your speech will be so filled with disdain and hostility that he or she will not listen to you. Ultimately, to forgive on the inside and to rebuke/correct on the outside are not incompatible, because they are both acts of love. It is never loving to let a person just get away with sin. It is not loving to the perpetrator, who continues in the grip of the habit, nor to those who will be wronged in the future, nor to God, who is grieved.

This is difficult, for the line is very thin between a moral outrage for God’s sake and a self-righteous outrage because of hurt pride. Still, to refuse to confront is not loving but just selfish.

Third, as we “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), we are to pursue justice gently and humbly, in order to redress wrongs and yet maintain or restore the relationship (Gal. 6:1–5). There is a great deal of tension between these three things!

Almost always one is much more easily attained if you simply drop any concern for the other two. For example, it is easy to “speak the truth” if you’ve given up on any desire to maintain a warm relationship. But if you want both, you will have to be extremely careful with how you speak the truth!

Another example: it is possible to convince yourself that you have forgiven someone, but if afterward you still want nothing to do with them (you don’t pursue an ongoing relationship), then that is a sign that you spoke the truth without truly forgiving.
Of course, it is possible that you do keep these three things together in your heart and mind but the other person simply cannot.

There is no culture or personality type that holds these together. People tend to believe that if you are confronting me you don’t forgive or love me, or if you really loved me you wouldn’t be rebuking me. God recognizes that many people simply won’t let you pursue all these things together, and so tells us, “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18). That is, do your part and have as good and peaceful a relationship with people as they will let you have.

Copyright © 2005 by Timothy Keller, © 2009 by Redeemer City to City. This article first appeared in The Gospel and Life conferences
of 2004 and 2005.

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“The Rapture Of”, a poem from L.Willows

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The Rapture Of

This moment pours,
and falls into
a river filled
with sweetened roars.
Home to roam
throughout all time
they rest, sublime
and weep no more.

Calling all,
called they~
come bear beside
heart stay; heart stay.
Sunlight runs
to speak, to say
“here is love,
the rapture of,
come live, live free
in God’s away.”

© 2018 Linda Willows

Psalm 86:4-5 Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.

Forgiveness; Scripture to Inspire with commentary by Paul Tautges

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We cannot approach God without discovering the might of His power of Forgiveness. It is at the heart of the character of God, with a depth so great and loving that it is sometimes difficult for us to fathom. Yet this eternal kindness reaches to us. 

Isaiah 43:25
I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.

Matthew 6:14-15
For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Mark 11:25
And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.

6 Qualities of the Posture of Forgiveness
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The Holy Spirit was kind to include the very personal letter of Philemon in our Bible, as a case study in forgiveness practiced the way Jesus commanded.

1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Three Main Characters

There are three main characters in this true story of redemption and forgiveness: Paul, the apostle, who was in prison; Philemon, a brother in the Lord and slave owner; and Onesimus, Philemon’s slave who had run away to Rome and, while there, experienced salvation in Christ. At the time the letter was written, Paul was returning Onesimus to his master for the purpose of receiving earthly forgiveness. Having already received vertical forgiveness from God, through believing the gospel, Onesimus now needed horizontal forgiveness from his master.

What Is Forgiveness?

In a nutshell, to forgive means to let go, or even better, to send away. It refers to the remission of the punishment due to sinful conduct. Each time we are wronged, we have a choice. We can either hold on to the wrong committed against us, or let it go; i.e., send it away. Sending it away is the complete opposite of holding on to the offense. To hold on to an offense is to keep a record of sins committed against you, and stand in God’s place. What has God done by forgiving us? He sent our sin away as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). Biblical love forgives, rather than keeping a list of the ways people have sinned against us (1 Corinthians 13:5O).

The Purpose of the Letter

Paul sent this letter to Philemon to explain what had happened in the heart of Onesimus. He wanted him to know that his runaway slave had received the gospel, and was now a new creature in Christ. He also wrote to appeal to Philemon to receive his slave back, not as a runaway who should be condemned, but as a brother in the Lord who needed to be received in fellowship, restoration, and forgiveness. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ was a common way for Paul to begin his letters, since he continually reminded his readers of God’s grace. The order is very important here. Grace comes before peace, and it is genuine grace that Philemon will be called upon to give.

Six Qualities of the Heart that Maintain a Posture of Forgiveness

In the first seven verses, we catch a glimpse of Philemon’s heart, which maintained a posture of forgiveness. Here we see six qualities of the heart that is ready to forgive, characteristics that enabled Philemon to readily receive his runaway slave. Because Philemon was a new creature in Christ, his heart was being transformed by the grace of God. It was expected that this grace would overflow into his relationships. In order to maintain a posture of forgiveness, which is consistent with the gospel, you must cultivate the following disciplines of the heart.

You must discipline yourself to love fellow believers (v. 5a). First, the heart that is ready to forgive is a heart that loves believers. Paul thanked God for Philemon always and he let him know it. Paul thanked God for him because he heard of his love…for all the saints. Believers are set apart by God, for God, to God. Believers are saints, and saints are holy ones. Now, the problem is that though believers are holy in their standing before God, we are not always holy in our thoughts, speech, and behavior. Therefore, there will be countless times we will need to be ready to forgive one another. Brotherly love will prepare us for those times.
You must discipline yourself to be obedient in faith toward the Lord Jesus (v. 5a). The second quality of the posture of forgiveness is the exercise of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus. Paul is referring here to the daily exercise of trusting God. It is in the present tense, meaning Philemon continually possessed true faith. True faith in God leads to the ability to trust God with your hurts and the proper judgment of those who sin against you (See 1 Peter 2:20-23), and Genesis 50).

You must discipline yourself to preserve the unity of fellowship (v. 6a). Third, the posture of forgiveness includes a heart that makes every effort to preserve unity. Verse six speaks of the sharing of faith. This is fellowship. Fellowship speaks of the relationship that believers enjoy with one another because of our unity in Christ. Paul is calling Philemon to demonstrate Christian fellowship through forgiving and receiving his runaway slave. By doing so the fellowship of his faith would become effective, or powerful (see the admonition in Ephesians 4:3).

You must discipline yourself to seek knowledge and understanding (v. 6b). Fourth, the heart that has the posture of forgiveness will seek understanding. Paul prayed that Philemon’s faith would become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing. The knowledge that Paul was referring to was “knowledge upon knowledge.” The word describes full knowledge and understanding. Having been in gospel ministry for over 25 years, I regularly see one simple biblical principle ignored on a regular basis. People are quick to take offense and then form a judgment against another person without acting in love by getting the other side of the story.

Proverbs repeatedly says it is the wise person who seeks out knowledge and understanding before forming judgments against someone (Proverbs 18:15). The person who seeks this kind of understanding demonstrates humility.

You must discipline yourself to do all for the sake of Christ (v. 6c). Fifthly, the posture of forgiveness is maintained in the heart that is properly motivated. Paul says he prays for Philemon for the sake of Christ (v. 6), which refers to the glory of God. When the glory of God is the motivating factor in your life then how God acted toward your sin will become the standard by which you act toward the sin of others. This naturally leads to forgiveness.

You must discipline yourself to refresh other believers (v. 7). Lastly, the sixth quality of heart in the person who maintains the posture of forgiveness is a concern for the encouragement of others. The word refreshed is a wonderful word. It means to be refreshed from the innermost being, to give rest from labor. It’s the same word Jesus used in Matthew 11:28 when he said, Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will refresh you. Believers who demonstrate the grace of forgiveness are like a refreshing spring in the dry and weary desert of constant criticism.

© 2018 Paul Tartges Counseling One Another.com

“Lift my son to You, Lord”…prayer poem from LWillows

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“Lord, lift my son to You”

I lost and found him throughout the years,
In stories that wound and then tangled with tears.
There I lay soaked in a hive of mother fears,
Caught in the crossfire of life’s inner spheres.

I surrendered, bent forth, in soliloquy bared,
And all of my words left your heart undeclared.
You are loved, my son. My soul pours without end.
Nothing could sever or hinder soul’s blend.

Your eyes shine blue like faraway doors,
Yet I wander through the decades of horizons, yours.
More cherished than anything that words could hide;
Inscribed are the visions that love wrote inside.

Lord, carry what I am powerless to hold.
Lift my son’s heart to Yours in Love’s mercy bold.
Be His Father, stir the miracles – the ones that were born
When you formed him in me, your own Spirit’s dwelling sworn.

© 2017 Linda Willows, 2018