Summary: Forgiving a torn artwork is trivial. What happens when the sin sears its way into your soul and brings devastation to your heart? All I know is that I have been forgiven more than I could hope for in my life and have been tested with offenses where only God’s help enabled me to forgive.
Matthew 18:15-20 – “CROSS ME AND YOU’LL REGRET IT?”
She came to me, tears streaming down her face and in obvious distress. It was Sunday and I was walking across from our house to our small Church building to take the service. The morning was beautiful, her confession was not.
For around three years she had been the bursar of the Christian School that our Church had started and that morning she blurted out that she had stolen money on a number of occasions and was not able to pay it back. She knew that eventually it would be discovered.
Thanking her for her courage in telling me, I encouraged her to wait until I was able to speak to our leaders and I went to the Sunday Service with my mind spinning and a heavy heart.
Jesus speaks about the importance of keeping Church relationships healthy in Matthew 18:15. He says “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.”
If our bursar had sinned against me the matter would have been easy to solve but the criminal act she had committed affected the whole Church. Matthew 18:15 encourages us to limit the interaction with only those involved in the offense.
“But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses” (Matthew 18:16 NLT).
Our leaders meeting that week was awash with prayer and a genuine desire to deal with the situation well. Could this matter that affected our whole Church be kept in-house and dealt with by the leaders alone? Would the whole Church in some way need to be involved? Did we need to let the police know? She would be charged and have a police record for the rest of her life. There are times when this is totally appropriate. Was this one of those times? What did the Bible say? …
Luke 17:3-4 (NLT) says “So watch yourselves! “If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.”
Galatians 6:1 (NLT) says, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.”
It seems that the Bible regards repairing a relationship with a person who has wronged you as being even more important than their sinful actions. Confront the person without malice with the view to repentance, forgiveness and a new start. There may be restitution and other consequences but restoring the broken relationship is the most important. It’s not “Cross me and you’ll regret it!” That’s a barbed wire threat that damages relationships. It’s “The Cross allows room for me to forgive!” Jesus with hands reached out said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NLT).
“If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector” (Matthew 18:17 NLT).
This sounds so prescriptive and legalistic at first. But to treat a person as someone who is not a follower of Christ is still an opportunity to show them the love of Christ. Fortunately for us the person hadn’t refused to listen. Just the opposite. She had admitted to me privately of a public sin. If it had just been against the leaders we could have dealt with the matter in-house, but we needed to deal with this as a Church.
As I remember it, the Church service the next week gave followers of Christ a reminder of the guts of forgiveness. We began our service with worship and praise but I informed our Church that we had a difficult situation to work through.
I had previously encouraged the lady to come and share with the Church, with my help, what had happened. I was amazed at her bravery.
That day we had an opportunity to show hard-hearted malice and unforgiveness, but as I remember it, each member came forward personally and putting their arms around her said, “I forgive you.” Each person expressed their love for her. There were many tears that day as we prayed for her and we knew the presence and approval of God. Followers of Christ have a responsibility to reconcile but it’s nice to see it in action. It doesn’t always happen that way.
Many could have withdrawn from this lady who stole money from us, gossipped to others about the wrong things she had done, or even tried to get revenge. Instead, because of her genuine admission and contrition for the wrong she had done against us as a Church, we took up an offering that morning for her. She had lost her job because of her theft and needed all the help she could get to re-establish herself.