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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Forgiveness and Gratitude

Jesus gives His disciples a parable in Matthew 18 (interestingly, right after He tells them how to carry out church discipline). In response to Jesus's instructions on correcting people in church, Peter asks, "How often do I have to forgive my brother?" Jesus tells them the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt 18:22-35). You know the one.

A servant owes the Master a large sum, an amount he could never in his entire life repay. The Master asks for repayment. The servant begs for a chance to repay. The Master forgives the vast sum. So the servant goes out, finds another servant who owes him a much smaller sum and demands payment. This servant begs for more time. The first refuses and throws him into prison. Others tell the Master and he calls this unmerciful servant before him, chides him for his lack of mercy, and hands him over to the torturers. Jesus concludes, "My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart." (Matt 18:35)

In this parable there are two sides of one message. One side is "This is the right thing to do" and the other is "This is what will happen if you don't." Can you guess what those are? Sure! The right thing to do is forgive and the consequences of failing to do so is ... how did Jesus put it? Oh, yes ... torture.

In truth, we ought to be the most generous forgivers on the planet. The world was amazed when the church in South Carolina offered forgiveness to the young man who walked into the Bible study and killed nine people including their pastor. But it shouldn't be so amazing, at least, not among us. Because we are the most forgiven people on the planet. We who originally shook our fists in the face of God, who stood guilty of Cosmic Treason, were forgiven a debt that could not be repaid. How could we not forgive the much smaller violations others offer us?

The basis of salvation in Christianity is grace through faith. You know, "not of works" (Eph 2:8-9). The basis of Christian living, however, is gratitude. Because of what He has done for me, how can I refuse to do for Him anything He would want? So when I hear, either from me or someone else, "I won't forgive that", I have to wonder, "Are you paying attention at all to what you were forgiven?" Because it is our tendency to both diminish God and enlarge Man with special attention to ourselves. "What they did to me was horrible, but what God forgave me wasn't nearly as bad." Perhaps, then, a little dose of awareness swallowed with a nice round of gratitude would go a long way toward diminishing self and teaching us to forgive others as we have been forgiven (Eph 4:32). Some gratitude can go a long way (Luke 7:47).

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