If I had to sum up the meaning of Christmas in one word, I would choose RECONCILIATION. ‘To reconcile’ is to settle a quarrel or a dispute, although my favorite definition is ‘to make friends again’.
Galatians 4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
Colossians 1:19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
2 Corinthians 5:18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
Christmas time brings families together and sad but true, there are often family members that we have not reconciled with. We are willing to carry hurts for decades, (though I can think of nothing more exhausting), and we grin and bear the tension during the holidays. I wanted to write about forgiveness for a while and this time of year seems to be an extremely appropriate time.
Someone has said, “never trust your emotions, they lie!” The prophet Jeremiah received the word of God regarding our inner core,
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9
Apart from Christ, our emotions are consummate liars but even after conversion the emotional life is a complicated phenomena. Our desires and inclinations seem to be in a near constant state of struggle against our old nature (Romans 7).
Read in Matthew 18:15-35, our Lords teaching on forgiving our brother (or sister). The teaching and the following parable give us a very strong and straight forward OUGHT. You are probably already very familiar with this scripture and you live in guilt because you just feel stuck in unforgiveness – you can’t do it! Here are just a few thoughts to consider and I mean to comfort you rather that increase your feelings of guilt:
It may seem strange, but the best way to get your mind around forgiveness is to think of the offense in terms of a financial debt. Money is tangible and so our Lord used a financial debt to help us to understand forgiveness.
Let's say you loan me 1000 dollars and then I don't pay you back. After a long awkward relationship I go to you and say, "please, forgive my debt because I can't pay it." You do. Now, my debt is forgiven and you no longer hold me accountable for the money. I am relieved and I thank you profusely. We hug and have coffee together - we've been reconciled.
What happened to the debt, did it evaporate? No, YOU absorbed it. YOU took the pain, the hurt, the inconvenience. When you forgave me it cost YOU something. Someone had to pay the debt and it was YOU. You forgave my financial debt because you had the financial and intestinal means to do so. It was an act of mercy but it cost you something.
When someone hurts you emotionally it's no different. You just can't pretend it never happened because someone has to absorb the pain. Forgiveness requires prayer and a full understanding of what Christ has done for us. Christ has taken all debts upon himself so that if a brother or sister hurts you, then you ought to forgive that brother or sister. Nevertheless, though we OUGHT to forgive, we still must be aware that we will have to take the hurt upon ourselves and THAT requires emotional strength and spiritual maturity.
Forgiveness is the willingness to absorb the hurt and pain in order to free the offender from any further debt to you. Trust, is the willingness to risk being hurt AGAIN and having to absorb the pain AGAIN.
You OUGHT to forgive but let’s follow the Lords teaching from a sermon on discipleship in Luke 14,
28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?
Reconciliation is like the rebuilding of a tower. You ought to build it but you ALSO ought to count the cost. If you don’t consider the amount of hurt or loss that you must absorb then you may find the whole attempt crumbling and even more pain will come to all involved.
Forgiveness? Trust? Can you afford these emotionally? Maybe not! You may not be ready, but it should be your goal and Christ’s forgiveness of us is the foundation that we need to work from. Trust doesn't mean that you should be foolish but it does mean that you are willing to risk being hurt for the sake of the Gospel and the furthering of the Kingdom. In all things, may God be glorified.