Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Question of Forgiveness

Have you ever had times when the same topic has been highlighted over numerous days and in various situations, so much so you’re convinced God is trying to tell you something? For me, that topic has recently been forgiveness. One morning in my devotions I read the following passage.

"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
Matthew 18:15-17.

Wow. How many of us actually follow this model of confrontation when we are offended by a brother or sister? If another Christian hurt you, would you actually be willing to take the issue all the way “to the church” and would you feel right treating an unconfessing brother or sister as a pagan or a tax collector (tax collectors were not looked upon highly in Jesus’ day)? What confuses me are the following verses in this passage which seem to contradict the above method of restitution.

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Matthew 18:21-22.

How can we forgive our brother seventy times seven times (indefinitely, as I’ve heard this interpreted) if we are to ultimately treat an unrepentant brother as a pagan or tax collector? If grace is be indefinite and forgiveness limitless, how can there be a breaking point when the offending party is no longer fit for association?

Is it Christlike to forgive another, yet choose to avoid that person for spiritual reasons (if they “will not listen”)? Maybe. That’s at least what this passage seems to imply...specifically when it comes to relationships between believers (as the verses consistently uses the word “brother.”) We all hope no relationship will come to this...and just to clarify, there are no people in my life who I am thinking about not associating with because “they will not listen.” I am simply asking these questions for the purpose of better understanding a “straight forward” passage which I’ve read for years, a passage which has for me recently sprouted branches of strange complexity.

Any Bible scholars out there have any thoughts on this topic?

Christmas 2008

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Singlehood in the Rear View: Chapter 3

From Veteran to Rookie
I’ve been meaning to compose a new “Singlehood in the Rear View” blog for quite some time, but I’ve wrestled with what to write about. I will begin by saying that blogging about married life is a much more complex undertaking than writing about singlehood. For one, suddenly, I am no longer an expert in the subject. Thirty three years of being alone provided a wealth of experiences and material. Being married for just over three months puts me in a completely new category. I am now a beginner. I am just leaving the starting blocks.

Speaking in Variables

As newlyweds, it’s imperative to have older couples around you who can mentor and direct you as you first flap your wings through the uncharted skies of matrimony. In addition, there are a lot of excellent resources out there to help you navigate your new life together, be it books, sermons, etc. (Obviously, the Bible would be the first place to look). However, what we’re discovering as a new couple is this. Couples can be as random as the chemical reactions in a science room. In other words, our experiences as a husband and wife may be quite distinct from the next man and woman. There are of course common components between all relationships, and key principles which we should all adhere to as Christians. For example, Christ commanded a husband to love His wife as the church. This is something which every Christian husband should strive for. However, mixed in with the fundamentals is personality, upbringing, and a plethora of other variables. This is one reason why I find it difficult to vocalize my personal thoughts about marriage (especially in a blog). I feel like I may come across as arrogant to say “we don’t struggle with that” and I’m afraid that I will appear insensitive by speaking about certain marriage issues and “how it should be” when I am only fresh into marriage, and may not understand what it is to be in someone else’s shoes. When I used to speak on singlehood, I felt like I was voicing the struggles of many singles abroad (as I had numerous conversations with lots of people over a good chunk of years). As a married man, I am trying to listen more, and I am seeking to be more careful with my writing, which in turn means I’ve lessened my transparency in this blog (however, I believe I’m just as open in person).

More Than You Wanted To Know
I do admit that I’ve probably been a little too open here in the past. I now have to think about the reputation of my family (and how words could be misinterpreted) and honestly, I just don’t feel the same need I once felt to express my emotions publicly. There were times a while back when I would write blogs hoping that someone, anyone, would hear me and say that he/she related to me. That was a really lonely time in my life when I felt like I couldn’t truly be intimate with anyone. My defense mechanism was to candidly hang my struggles on the clothes line of cyberspace (the good, bad, and ugly) for the purpose of seeing if anyone could love me inspite of my weaknesses and insecurities. Now my wife and I have a closeness that I have not experienced with any other individual, and the really deep feelings and lofty dreams are discussed and embraced between us in private. I believe this is a much healthier place to be.

The Shelf Life of Words
With this said, I don’t want to give the impression that I am now a closed book when it comes to writing. I’m just trying to figure out how to “write responsibly.” This may take some time. I saw a good sign in a middle school class room not long ago which read, “Think...think... think...think some more... before you speak.” That is a great lesson for both the 6th grader and the 33 year old. I pray that God is teaching me (just as He is hopefully teaching you) that words are powerful, and the little “accidentals” that slip out of our mouths can shape our relationships for a lifetime.

“Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison...with the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” James 3:5-10

To read chapter 4 of Singlehood in the Rear View, click here.