In this fourth and final instalment, taken from ‘Making Disciples: How did Jesus do it?‘, Tony Pullin continues to explore seven elements that help us develop faithful relationships within our small groups, which, in turn, provide a secure environment for discipleship. To catch up on the first three blogs click here.
‘Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times”’ (Matt. 18:21–22).
‘Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you’ (Eph. 4:32).
When Jesus answered Peter’s question about forgiveness, I don’t think he meant that my brother is safe, sinning against me up to seventy-seven times, but seventy-eight and its POW! Got you! You thought I wasn’t counting! I think he was saying, ‘Peter, when it comes to forgiveness, you just keep going, the way I do – over and over and over’. I, for one, am glad that Jesus’ forgiving grace never comes to an end. When we set out to share our lives together as a community of disciples, we find friendships at various levels. Because we all make mistakes it is inevitable that forgiveness is going to be a frequent part of the equation. We won’t always measure up to expectations; sometimes we will misunderstand; sometimes, consciously or unconsciously, we will offend, we will be responsible for another’s hurt. The closer the relationships we desire to have, the more important it is that we keep our hearts open to forgiving grace – inbound and outbound! ‘Bear with each other’, said Paul, ‘and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you’ (Col. 3:13).
Forgiveness is not only important to maintaining ongoing relationships; it is also the key to receiving healing where we have been damaged in the past. It may be someone who hurt us but who has never faced the truth or asked for forgiveness, or who may not even be alive today. It may be someone with whom I have attempted to be reconciled but the door has remained closed. On the cross, Jesus forgave those who neither knew what they were doing nor were remotely interested in forgiveness. Forgiveness is part of the process of our being set free from hurt or bitterness. The day I forgave my father changed the way I felt about him and it was part of a process of healing. When I truly forgive another I release them – they owe me nothing. But the first person to be released by my act of forgiveness is me.
‘Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and of people’ (Prov. 3:3–4, NRSV).
In today’s society of betrayal, serial relationships, broken marriages and broken families, the church of Jesus has a wonderful opportunity to display in high relief the values of the kingdom of God. Faithful relationships are characterised by loyalty. Instead of scuppering a friendship, an offence becomes the occasion of fresh vulnerability and renewed commitment. Gossip dies where loyalty is at the heart of a community. Illegitimate rumour runs into a brick wall and collapses; the rumour mill itself coughs, splutters and expires for lack of oxygen.
Loyalty is when my name is safe in another’s presence, whether I am present or absent. Loyalty looks after the interests of others. Loyalty chooses to believe the best and will do so through thick and thin, unless and until honourable process reveals otherwise. Promises are kept, relationships are not abandoned because they are no longer convenient. Loyalty is that aspect of love which ‘always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres’ (1 Cor. 13:7). It was, perhaps, the best piece of advice in the whole of Proverbs: ‘Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart’. It belongs on page one of the disciple’s handbook.