Forgiveness: The Foundation of Community is a thirteen part series on one of the most important issues that Christians will ever have to deal with during their journey through life. The first study, File Deleted, addresses the most basic of all of the aspects of forgiveness: embracing the forgiveness that God offers us through Jesus Christ. Click on the button below to access Lesson One. Below you will find my notes on the lesson.
SESSION ONE
FILE DELETED

FROM THE BEGINNING
Sin didn’t take God by surprise. He who created man not only knew man’s capacity for sin, but allowed him to exercise that capacity. It is possible to force obedience, but it is not possible to force love and God wanted a relationship of love between Himself and the humans He had created. Love has to be voluntary and for something to be voluntary there has to be the freedom to choose. Man chose and here we are today.

Have you ever wondered why God is a Trinity? It would be so much simpler if the statement “The Lord our God, the Lord is one” period, was all we had to consider. But then we have this seeming contradiction. We have one God, but He is Father. Son and Holy Spirit: three distinct identities, but “so related to one another that one can’t be known without the other” (Notes, page 3). Right from the beginning we are introduced to this in Genesis 1:26 and this is followed up in the New Testament in places like John 10:30, 38. I can’t explain why there is a Trinity, but think about this: Right from the beginning, before there was sin that broke the relationship between God and man, and man and his fellow man, God demonstrated relationship, He showed us what community in its perfect state looks like.

How would you describe what the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity is like?

It is the restoration to that perfect relationship that has been God’s mission since the fall of man. And that restoration of relationship involves forgiveness, first and foremost.

The title for this study is FILE DELETED. The first thing we need to review is how forgiveness relates to us personally. We might think we have this all figured out, but there is a strong connection between what we believe personally about our own forgiveness and how we live out that forgiveness in community.

On the right hand side of the second page of your notes, you find this question: “What does the word ‘forgiveness’ mean to you?” So let’s talk about that for a few moments.

My online dictionary expresses it this way:
forgive |fərˈgiv|
verb ( past -gave ; past part. -given ) [ trans. ]
stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake : I don't think I'll ever forgive David for the way he treated her. See note at absolve .
• (usu. be forgiven) stop feeling angry or resentful toward someone for (an offense, flaw, or mistake) : they are not going to pat my head and say all is forgiven | [ intrans. ] he was not a man who found it easy to forgive and forget.
• used in polite expressions as a request to excuse or regard indulgently one's foibles, ignorance, or impoliteness : you will have to forgive my suspicious mind.
cancel (a debt) : he proposed that their debts should not be forgiven.

In the Old Testament, the root word “forgive” that is most commonly used (nasa) means:

1) to lift, bear up, carry, take
a) (Qal)
1) to lift, lift up
2) to bear, carry, support, sustain, endure
3) to take, take away, carry off, forgive
b) (Niphal)
1) to be lifted up, be exalted
2) to lift oneself up, rise up
3) to be borne, be carried
4) to be taken away, be carried off, be swept away
c) (Piel)
1) to lift up, exalt, support, aid, assist
2) to desire, long (fig.)
3) to carry, bear continuously
4) to take, take away
d) (Hithpael) to lift oneself up, exalt oneself
e) (Hiphil)
1) to cause one to bear (iniquity)
2) to cause to bring, have brought

In the New Testament, the word for ‘forgive’ most commonly used (afemame) means:

1) to send away
a) to bid going away or depart
1) of a husband divorcing his wife
b) to send forth, yield up, to expire
c) to let go, let alone, let be
1) to disregard
2) to leave, not to discuss now, (a topic)
a) of teachers, writers and speakers
3) to omit, neglect
d) to let go, give up a debt, forgive, to remit
e) to give up, keep no longer
2) to permit, allow, not to hinder, to give up a thing to a person
3) to leave, go way from one
a) in order to go to another place
b) to depart from any one
c) to depart from one and leave him to himself so that all mutual claims are abandoned
d) to desert wrongfully
e) to go away leaving something behind
f) to leave one by not taking him as a companion
g) to leave on dying, leave behind one
h) to leave so that what is left may remain, leave remaining
i) abandon, leave destitute

Another word, charizonmai, is from the root work charis, which means grace.

1) to do something pleasant or agreeable (to one), to do a favour to, gratify
a) to show one's self gracious, kind, benevolent
b) to grant forgiveness, to pardon
c) to give graciously, give freely, bestow
1) to forgive
2) graciously to restore one to another
3) to preserve for one a person in peril
 
There are others but these will take us where we want to go.

I’ve emphasized certain specific elements of the words that are used in Scripture to describe “forgive” because they connect perfectly with the passage of Scripture that is listed on page 2 from Leviticus 16. The Old Testament is full of pictures of what Christ would come to do thousands of years later in order to provide a way for us to be forgiven. This illustration is one of the most fascinating. Read the story from Leviticus 16.

Note the word “atonement” and check the meaning on your list. In the Old Testament, before Christ, there was a place where God’s justice was satisfied by a payment made by the sinner. This place was to be treated with respect.

The question? Describe the steps to be taken in the process that led to forgiveness in the Old Testament?

Several of the meanings of the word "forgive" have to do with carrying something away or sending something away—perfectly illustrated by the scapegoat (a person who is blamed for the wrongdoings, mistakes, or faults of others, esp. for reasons of expediency) that is sent into the wilderness. The atonement, the price to be paid for sin, had already been made by the blood of bull and the first goat. The Hebrews weren’t allowed into the holy places so they only had the high priest’s word than anything had happened on the inside, that the animal had been sacrificed and the blood spattered over the altar. However, the presence of the scapegoat was an up-close-and-personal picture that atonement really had taken place, that forgiveness had been obtained.

Now, slip over to Hebrews 9:22. Hebrews describes how Christ perfectly became all the elements that we find in the Old Testament pictures of atonement. He was the perfect High Priest, the perfect sacrifice. Though the means of atonement may have changed from the Old Testament to the New, what hasn’t changed according to this verse?

A blood sacrifice was still required. That was the price God the Son paid so that we wouldn’t have to. That was the price God paid so that we could be forgiven.

Now let’s look at our theological terms on page 3. At the bottom of the center column there are four passages of Scripture. Let’s read them and then decide which of the words in our dictionary best describes them. The first one is a giveaway. Romans 3:25: “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—” The NIV used the word atonement, the KJV uses the word propitiation as does the ESV. The Amplified uses a whole bunch of good words and The Message says it this way: “God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public—to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured.”

I particularly like the two phrases: on the altar of the world and in full view of the public because they remind me of the scapegoat. What is declared in heaven can’t be seen by man, but it is physically demonstrated on earth can’t be denied.

Romans 4:4-8: “Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. David speaks the same things when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose transgressions are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”

Notice the word covered. What does that remind you of from our illustration in Leviticus? Our sin is covered by blood, Christ’s blood spilled when He took our place on the altar to pay for our sins.

Ephesians 1:7: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace...”

Short verse but loaded with theology. Remember that one of the New Testament words used for forgiveness bears with it the idea of grace. To forgive is to be gracious and to restore what had been damaged by sin. That will be important when we talk about how forgiveness effects community.

1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Jesus was both the goat that was sacrificed on the altar whose blood covered our sin and the scapegoat that illustrated the carrying away of our sin. Notice that this verse says all sin. That’s important to know when we, or someone else, thinks that there is some sin that is so bad it cannot be forgiven. Actually there is one sin that cannot be forgiven and that is the sin of unbelief. It’s called the sin unto death in 1 John 5:16.

So all through the Scripture these theological ideas and words appear that describe what forgiveness from our sins involves.

But what happens to these sins when Christ forgives us? This is where the idea of the “delete” button comes in.

Let’s read the passages that illustrate what happens when God forgives us. Explain what the illustration means.

Psalm 103:12: ...as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Micah 7:19: You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

Jeremiah 31:34: No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to on another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least to the greatest, declares the Lord, For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.

Psalm 51:9: Hide your face from my sins and blot out my iniquity.

Isaiah 44:22: I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.

God has a “delete” button. The question is that if God pushes the button and deletes the file that contains that list of my sins, why do I search the cyberspace of my mind and retrieve the file? Why can’t I delete the file permanently just like God does? We'll talk about that later.
Our second session in this study deals with just how expensive forgiveness was from God's perspective. The Old Testament is full of examples. God's people, Israel, were surrounded with reminders that the removal of sin meant that something had to die, that blood had to be spilled, that death was the ultimate consequence even when that death became the penalty someone other than the guilty party had to pay. Click on the button for the worksheet for Forgiveness Isn't Cheap.
SESSION TWO
FORGIVENESS ISN'T CHEAP

For many of us a discussion about the cross is old hat. We know all about it and can recite the story frontwards, backwards and in our sleep.

I remember hearing about a congregation that was annoyed at their pastor. They wanted him to stop preaching the Gospel every Sunday. The trouble is, it seems to me, that most of the time the cross is seldom mentioned from our pulpits except when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper and then a briefly as possible so that we aren’t late for whatever we have planned for the rest of the day.

Am I being unnecessarily critical?

What I do know is that I know the story frontwards, backwards and I could probably recite it in my sleep. Most of the time, it ceases to move me when I hear it told, or when I think about it myself.

That’s not good. What Christ did to provide for my forgiveness is something that should always move me. As I worked on this study I struggled with how to make it move you. That’s a struggle I might have lost because if it doesn’t move me it will not move anyone I share it with. If it doesn’t move me, I probably won’t bother to share it.

If it doesn’t move you, neither will you share it.

But God is greater than me. He can move me again to understand in a fresh way what forgiving me cost God. He can move you to understand in a fresh way what it cost God to forgive you. I hope He moves all of us, despite me and despite our familiarity with the story.

But this is the heart of forgiveness. Without this there is nothing. John Stott wrote: “...we have much more to receive, but God has no more to give than he has given in Jesus Christ.”

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“It is finished” John 19:30

James Kennedy tells this story: “I remember a story about some people who moved into a new house, and they had a good friend who was a German woodworker, a master craftsman. He was invited to see the house, and as he looked around it he noticed that there was no coffee table in the living room. He never said anything, but after he left he started to work in his workshop, and he worked for two months. He built the most magnificent coffee table imaginable, with the most gorgeous curved legs and all kinds of various designs in it. He put sixteen coats of varnish on the surface until it became a veritable mirror. Finally, he wrapped it in a soft cloth and brought it over to their house, sat it down in the living room, threw off the cloth and said, ‘Voila!’ There it was. ‘Ahhhhhh...beautiful!’ It was, without a doubt, the most beautiful table they had ever seen in their lives. Then the craftsman said, ‘You are my dearest friends, and I present this to you as a gift.’ The man of the house stepped out of the living room and came back in a moment with a piece of coarse sandpaper in his hand. He said to the craftsman, ‘Oh, thank you for your gift. And now I must do my part.’ ‘Don’t touch that!’ the craftsman said. ‘If you touch it, you’ll ruin it. It is already finished. It is complete. It is done!’”

We are going to talk about the cost of forgiveness as it relates to Christ. Later as we develop the forgiveness theme we will talk about the human cost, but as part of our foundation we need to think about about what it cost God to restore the relationship that we damaged through our rebellion.

First of all, before we turn to all the verses we are going to look at, I want you to go back to the very first record we have of sacrifice in Scripture. What was that?

Genesis 4:1-5. We have to make a lot of assumptions here because the story by itself doesn’t tell us much, but when you think about all that the rest of Scripture teaches, what do you know about the sacrifice?

Something had to die, to spill its blood, in order to make the sacrifice acceptable to God. This particular story becomes even more important to us later when we look at one of the verses for tonight.

But let’s proceed.

...

SESSION THREE
THE MISSING INGREDIENT

It really makes little difference to understand what God promises to do with the sin of the forgiven sinner or how much providing for that forgiveness cost God is we don’t provide the missing part of the equation, the missing ingredient in the recipe for forgiveness. And this part is the one and only part we can actually contribute to our forgiveness.

And this is the aspect of forgiveness that we are going to look at tonight.

The story of the little boy on page two perfectly illustrates the missing ingredient.

Read the story.

KNOWING all the we know isn’t enough. We have to do something about what we know. And what we do has to be GENUINE. Keep that word in mind.

First of all, let’s look at the Seven Great Truths about Salvation on page 2. We talked a little last week about our own spiritual journeys and what it was the first impacted us and make us realize that we needed the forgiveness that God was offering through Jesus Christ. These seven great truths take those big words that many people today don’t understand and break them down into phrases that are a little easier to deal with. All of them are important and like facets in a diamond all are necessary. At different times in our lives, different facets become more important to us. When I told my story, I said that at 11 years old I was only a little conscious of sin, but I was ver conscious of avoiding hell, so probably number 6 was the biggie then: Accepting Christ saved me from the hell that I deserved as a sinner. Today, the aspect of salvation that is the most meaningful to me is probably number 4: I am loved by God as a member of His family because of what Christ did for me on the cross.

Each of us might answer the questions differently depending on where our spiritual journey has taken us.

But the point of tonight’s study is this—everyone needs to take that first step of genuine repentance. Otherwise none of these seven great truths about salvation applies. And this isn’t a “ho-hum” moment. Perhaps the greatest danger we face today is our reluctance to talk about genuine repentance. If we talk about repentance we have to talk about sin, and sin is something strangely avoided. We talk about getting our lives on track, turning over a new leaf, becoming more spiritual, etc. etc. I am concerned because I’ve read too many stories of how people came to know Christ that never once mention repentance from sin.

However we package the message of Gospel somewhere in there we have to talk about  “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief” as Paul wrote 1 Timothy 1:15, and what needs to happen then.

So let’s go.

Genuineness is everything when it comes to repentance. It’s easy to mumble the words when we get caught, or if its to our advantage to do so, but to really mean what we say is the “cut above.”

Acts 3:19, 14:15, 26:20

In the first two of these verses the genuineness of the repentance is characterized by that word “turn.” For repentance to be genuine, there must be a commitment to stop the sinful behaviour. When John the Baptist preached repentance, there was always this aspect of “turning.” In Luke 3:8, he tells his audience: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” If they were really repentant, their commitment to change comes as part of the package. This isn’t “fire insurance.” In the last verse Paul repeats this: “...and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.” This isn’t a works theology, this is a “show-me-the-proof” theology.

When we come to the next set of verses we add some more valuable ingredients to genuine repentance.

Acts 10:43, 26:18, 20:21.

Believe means, in the general sense: to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in

In the religious sense, it means:
in a moral or religious reference
1) used in the NT of the conviction and trust to which a man is impelled by a certain inner and higher prerogative and law of soul
2) to trust in Jesus or God as able to aid either in obtaining or in doing something: saving faith
3) mere acknowledgment of some fact or event: intellectual faith

So when that word appears it can have a variety of meanings and we can usually figure out from the context which one is being referred to. In this case Acts 26 and 20 enlightens us. We are talking about saving faith, the accepting of the means that God has provided for us to be saved, that of repentance and trust in what Jesus did on the cross.

Even in the Old Testament, and even before the moment of salvation, there was a commitment to turning away from evil, i.e. Isaiah 55:6,7.

BELIEVING AND REALLY BELIEVING

James 2:19: Believing is much more than head knowledge without a response needed.

John 1:12: The word “believe” is often connected with the name of Jesus. Why? Because the name “Jesus” had a significance in Bible times that is doesn’t have today or in our culture. Matthew 1:21: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” “Jesus” means “the Lord saves.”

John 3:16-18, 5:24: The results of saving faith are no condemnation, no judgment, eternal life. And once again it is believe in the fact that IT IS THE LORD WHO SAVES.

The opposite end is found for us in John 3:36. You can accept everything about Jesus as an intellectual fact, but not have saving faith. You can believe without REALLY believing (chair) and the result will be the judgment of God.

Psalm 32:1-5

The whole psalm is really beautiful. From verse 6 on we are given some details on what being forgiven means as far as the confidence in daily living that a person who is forgiven can have in the God who has done the forgiving. But we are only going to look at the first five verses for our discussion tonight.

We have here an example of the “godly sorrow” that is referred to at the beginning in that little story, the genuine repentance that Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 7. The whole chapter is neat but remember these three verses: “yet now I am happy, not because your were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us [note to the shrinks who say that we should lay guilt trips on people!]. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regrets, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.” (vss 9-11).

I listened to a video by James MacDonald called “Have a Funeral.” The subject was forgiveness and the first video was on forgiving others. He said that a believer cannot NOT forgive. His unforgiving attitude will cause him so much grief that he will have to deal with it. Because it is sin, we will be driven crazy by it until we confess it and until we deal with it. That goes for any sin—as we find described for us here. David was sick, depressed, weak.

Eric Wright in Revolutionary Forgiveness says:

“David Seamands, a counsellor, writes: ‘Many years ago I was driven to the conclusion that the two major causes of most emotional problems among evangelical Christians are these: the failure to understand, receive, and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness; and the failure to give out that unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace to other people.’ In prison, Paul knelt before the Father and prayed for the Ephesians: ‘that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ...that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God’ (3:17-19).”

David was unhappy.

The only solution to his problem was to acknowledge his sin to himself (that’s always a first step) and then to confess it to God.

The result was the forgiveness and hence the happiness and all the things that came as a blessed relief described for us in the rest of the chapter.
SESSION FOUR
WHY FORGIVE?

We can all probably come up with examples of extraordinary forgiveness, the kind that makes us say, “I could never do that!” Every day we hear about some horrible injustice done that forms a rock-hard ball in our heart that rejects the possibility of forgiveness—and those aren’t the personal hurts and injustices that have been done against US!

Sometimes we’d just like to walk away. It’s easier to avoid than to resolve. We kid ourselves into thinking that if we wait long enough, the pain will go away or if we simply try hard not to have anything to do with that other person, then everything will be okay.

The truth is unless we face the pain, acknowledge it and deal with it, rather than going away it tends to fester and the anger, bitterness and frustrations grows, often out of proportion to the original crime. The other truth is that if a relationship existed between us and the other person before the offense was committed, that relationship in now damaged and that damage has consequences. If husbands and wives, or parents and children, don’t sort out their conflicts, there are serious consequences. In the church, when two people are at odds and haven’t resolved the situation, there are consequences. The unity of the body is disturbed and the Spirit of God can’t operate as freely as He wants to. Paul urged two women in the Philippian church to get their act together: “I plead with Euodia and I please with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord” (Phil 4:2). And there seems to have been no question about this being “no body else’s business” because Paul goes on to say: “Yes, and I ask you, my true companions, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel...” (vs. 3). This idea fits with what we read in Corinthians about the nature of the community that is the church. We are a body and if two parts, like these two ladies, are at odds, then the rest of the body IS affected.

HOW?

So in answering the Why Forgive? question we have to consider the effect a lack of forgiveness has on the body. Among Jesus last words to His disciples was that prayer in John that the believers be united, that they show love for one another because otherwise no one would want to join them! One the attractions of the early church was the togetherness that characterized the believers, as we find recorded early in the Book of Acts. Love and togetherness don’t happen unless there is a spirit of forgiveness present. So we can’t just walk away and forget it, or avoid the person with whom we are at odds.

Let’s go over to page 3 of your notes and look up the first verse given to us there, found in Colossians 3:12, 13. We are going to “unpack” this verse a bit.

“Therefore,as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
When we see the word “therefore” in the Scriptures, it means that something that has been said before is important to what the writer is saying now. This particular “therefore”goes back to Paul’s explanation of salvation in this book, summarized in 2:13-14: “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sin, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.”

Sound familiar? Then put those two verses together with what we have in 3:12, 13. Because Christ has taken away our sins, “therefore” this is how we should live now as part of God’s community: compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient.

Then we have another phrase that follows: “Bear with each other” that directly connects with compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient. The King James version of this verse used the word “forbearing” which means basically to “put up with” something. The words that come before tell us how we should “put up with” each other—with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Then Paul adds that where there is a need to forgive, then forgiveness must be given.

Is “putting up with” something the same as forgiving something?

Eric Wright says in his book, Revolutionary Forgiveness, that “Forbearance is often confused with forgiveness. Sins require forgiveness but inadequacies due to human frailty, even oversights due to carelessness, call for forbearance.”4

Examples would be:
Unintentional mistakes
Accidents
Fancied slights or imagined motives
Human foibles, such as clumsiness, forgetfulness, carelessness etc.
Physical infirmities such as hearing loss, poor eyesight, etc.
Valid differences of opinion
Cultural differences
Differences of temperament and emphasis
Differences in Christian maturity.

What do you think?

Whether it is a question of “putting up with” or a question of sin that needs forgiving, why are we to do either of these, according to these verses?

We have been forgiven far more than we will ever have to forgive someone else for. As imitators of Christ, we are asked to follow His example understanding that when we look at someone else’s frailties and sins, we are looking in a mirror and the face looking back at us is our own.

Okay, let’s look at the rest of the passages given to us.

Matthew 18:21, 22.

Matthew 18:23-35.

2 Corinthians 2:10, 11

Matthew 6:9-15

This last statement has implications. We are told that we have unconfessed sin in our lives if we don’t forgive. That state causes a break in the relationship we have with God as well as causing a break in the relationship we have with the person who had hurt us.

NOTES FROM REVOLUTIONARY FORGIVENESS

Matthew 5:23-24: Apparently, seeking forgiveness is synonymous with seeking reconciliation.

Matthew 18:15 (page 172ff)

Since the reconciler needs to lay bare the murkiness of the sin involved, he must come equipped with the ability to discern between sin and human foibles....Nevertheless, these verses in Galatians [6:1-3] do warn us to use great care when the law of Christ calls us to step into a third-party dispute or to restore a fallen Christian. Mature Christians, including church leaders should shoulder the primary responsibility.

William Barclay gave three reasons why judging another can cause so many problems.

We never know the whole facts or the whole person. We cannot understand the circumstances or temptations.
It is almost impossible for anyone to be strictly impartial in judgement.
No one is good enough to judge another. Our own faults and our own inability to resolve them automatically disqualify us as fair critics.

The Bible not only commands us not to judge, but also commands us to discern (1 Corinthians 6:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; Ephesians 5:300. Although striking a balance between sinful tolerance and sinful judgement is very difficult it must be done.

Wherever sins or misunderstandings create breaches in human relationships, someone needs to step forward to initiate reconciliation. The Bible gives us a clear mandate for:

The innocent person to go to the one who has sinned and offer forgiveness and reconciliation;
The one who has sinned to make the first move by seeking forgiveness from those harmed;
A third party, a peacemaker, to carefully seek to reconcile those alienated — where both the offender and the one offended stall the process.

Misunderstandings develop when we do not listen, when we interrupt others in the middle of an explanation, when we finish their sentences for them, when we stop listening in a conversation to play our next verbal gambit, when we try to read between the lines. Attentive listeners who control their tongue gain insights that inhibit outbursts of anger.

To love is to listen. Those who listen to others are saying, non-verbally, ‘I think you’re important. I want to hear what you have to say. I want to understand your side of the story.’

Augsburger: Any human understanding of another human is tainted with our own evil. None of us is good enough to be entrusted with complete knowledge of another. That’s impossible to begin with... Where we cannot understand, it is still possible to be understanding...in being understanding we accept the complexity of human motivation, the contradictions in persons that are beyond our explanation.

Samuel Lopez De Victoria, pastor of Miami Grace Church...

I am so sorry that I did not understand your pain. Walking through the fire has opened my eyes.

I am so sorry that I hit you with God talk making you feel unspiritual. I misused God’s sword and hurt you instead of being an agent of release and healing.

I am so sorry that I did not pay the price to enter your world but blindly insisted mine as the only valid one. I have much to learn and appreciate.

I am so sorry that I recklessly assumed you had a bad attitude. I was masking my insecurities.

I am so sorry that I did not extend to you the same mercy and grace God has for me. Amazing grace I have not shared.

Please pray for me and if you find it in your heart to have mercy on me, a poor wretched soul...then I beg of you to please forgive me.

We must not wait until friendships lie in charred ruins at our feet before we pursue reconciliation. Whether we are the cause, the victim or a third party, we cannot afford to look the other way. You! I! Whoever we are, we must take the first step!

Among Christians this is the duty of love, a duty that calls for understanding born of an empathetic awareness of our shared humanity and a commitment to listen patiently to the parties in a dispute.

As we listen we may discover that the sin was no sin at all, but the result of a human foible, a mistake, an accident, a misunderstanding. If so, forbearance...is the salve we need to apply to the damaged relationship.

Individual Christians are called to demonstrate revolutionary grace. Churches must display the same radical grace, but — at times — this has to be balanced by actions of apparent severity. Otherwise the moral testimony of the church will be compromised.

On a personal level we need to show an openness to extend unlimited forgiveness. On a church level, Christ commands us to discipline the unrepentant, with a view to their restoration, by treating them ‘as you would a pagan or a tax collector’ (Matthew 18:17).

This distinction is hard to maintain in our hyperindividualistic societies. Biblical culture knew nothing of the kind of individualism we foster today.

There’s a Biblical concept of protecting, developing, rebuking and rejoicing with one another...If the church believes in repentance, it must provide a caring fellowship in which it is safe to repent.

...that which brings us together in any genuine local church is not only our faith in Jesus Christ but our shared experience of his grace. We are not theologians gathered together to debate weighty issues — although we may do that from time to time. No, we are wounded, forgiven sinners taking the cure. ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us’ (I John 1:8). When we see the church — our church — as a hospital for sinners, the conceit and self-righteousness that make restoring a fallen brother impossible dissipates. When all the members share this humble realization the church becomes open to hear confession and accept repentance.

A caring fellowship is a fragile flower. When the integrity of that fellowship is compromised by the actions of one member, the body must take action.

Undue delay in forgiving a person who has shown signs of repentance gives the devil an opportunity to insinuate that the church is a harsh, legalistic, unloving place.

...testing the sincerity of a person’s repentance requires the elapse of some time.

A sinner’s confession and repentance are prerequisites to healing and reconciliation but not to forgiveness. Forgiveness must be complete and instantaneous and unconditional.

The Biblical evidence comes down overwhelmingly on the side of lavish forgiveness.

Forgiving a person does not mean we do not confront that person [Luke 17:3].

Notorious or public sins committed by Christians can be done...Churches must withhold forgiveness until there is repentance...(Matthew 18:17). Individuals, however, do not have church authority.

...distinguishing between God’s prerogatives and our may help to clarify issues...judgement, in the sense of condemnation, is not ours to exercise...Only God know the true heart condition of those who appear repentant, or unrepentant. He alone knows the heart of a man. And thus, in a moral sense, we cannot offer a person the forgiveness that is only God’s to give. In the meantime he expects us to forgive ‘seventy times seven’, which seems to me to be an appeal for us to bend over backwards to forgive.

Dr. Archibald Hart has suggested that forgiveness is: ‘Giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me.’

...offering this kind of forgiveness does not mean that we are responsible for resurrecting a ruined relationship.

...this kind of ‘human forgiveness’ does not absolve the forgiven person from taking responsibility for his actions.

...offering abundant forgiveness to an unrepentant person may profoundly influence his subsequent attitude.