Lesson 12

Reformation: Healing Broken Relationships

(Matthew 18)
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Introduction: Sometimes unity is hard work! Many years ago, I was at a meeting where our local church leadership was meeting the new conference president and our new pastor. As Lay Pastor, I was the leader of the local church. The new conference president asked each of the local elders their thoughts about the church. A newly elected elder said things were fine, except their was something wrong with my theology and the church leadership had a problem with racism. My immediate thought was that unity would be best preserved if I walked over and strangled him! The two of us had never had a personal discussion about theology. He had just transferred to our church, and although he was of a minority race, within a year we had elected him an elder - unlikely actions for a group of racists! This unexpected and unwarranted attack on my reputation and the church leadership created hard feelings in my heart. What should we do when things like that happen? Let's dive into our Bibles and see what we can learn!

  1. Conflict Resolution


    1. Read Matthew 18:15. Let's go back to the story in my introduction. Racism is a sin. If this new elder thought that the other leaders and I had shown prejudice towards him because of his race, what was his responsibility? (According to this text, to go to me. Or, he could have brought it up at an elders' meeting.)


      1. What is the reason for going personally to the other person with your concern? (So often we simply have different perceptions. Sometimes we do not know the whole story. This text says that sharing your concerns allows you to win over your fellow church member.)


    2. Read Matthew 18:16. What does this suggest is the nature of the underlying problem? (This suggests that after the initial meeting, you have a different opinion about the facts.)


      1. What is the advantage of bringing a few others? (If other members of my church said, "Bruce, we see a problem," I would have taken them seriously. On the other hand, if this new elder looked for others who shared his opinion, I doubt he could have found any.)


      2. What was the disadvantage to me (the target of the complaint) of bringing it up for the first time before the new conference president and the new pastor? (How do you defend against such an attack? "I'm not a racist and we agree on theology?" What I said instead was, "I've not heard these complaints before, and I think they may arise from a difference in perception.")


    3. Read Matthew 18:17. What is the final step in reconciliation? (Having the church decide the matter.)


      1. Let's look at this from the new elder's perspective. Why does the church get to decide? Would such a vote be fair? (Read Matthew 18:18. This tells us that the church bears the authority of God. If these charges were true, God would take care of them. If the charges were false, then God would take care of that, too.)


    4. Read Matthew 18:19-20. Is Jesus off on another topic? (No. The idea of talking with others and praying with others about a problem is very important. I never did understand how this new elder's theology differed from mine. To my knowledge, no one else ever accused the church leadership of being racist. Perhaps forty percent of our church came from minority races, and racial harmony was an important part of our reflection of God's love.)


  2. Forgiveness


    1. Read Matthew 18:21. This event happened many years ago, but the fact that I still remember it shows that it hurt and that I might have a problem with forgiveness. Do you think that Jesus has changed subjects? (No. Jesus is still talking about how Christians get along.)


      1. This young elder never asked me for forgiveness. Does that matter? (Notice that Peter asks about forgiveness for those who sin against you, not for those who request forgiveness.)


    2. Read Matthew 18:22. Should we keep a little book and mark off how many times we forgive someone? I would have a hard time keeping count to 77.


      1. Are Jesus and Peter in agreement that there is a limit on the number of times we should forgive, they just differ on the right number?


    3. Read Matthew 18:23-25. Is this related to the prior discussion? Does forgiveness apply even to money?


    4. Read Matthew 18:26-27. Notice the difference between the request for mercy and the king's response. What does that suggest? (The king gave him more than he requested. It was not just mercy, it was forgiveness.)


      1. Notice that the debtor did not ask for forgiveness, yet he still received it. Why?


    5. Read Matthew 18:28. Is this a reasonable reaction? The debtor had come very close to having his whole family sold into slavery because bums like this had not been paying what they owed him!


    6. Read Matthew 18:29-33. What is the proper answer to the king's question? (Yes, he should have had mercy.)


      1. Let's stop a minute and think about everything we have discussed so far. I am embarrassed by a young elder who questions my theology and calls me a racist in front of a new church official I do not know. What should I remember? (That Jesus was called names and was taunted because of my sin. If Jesus can forgive me, how can I fail to forgive such a minor offense?)


        1. What additional light does this cast on the discussion between Jesus and Peter about the number of times we should forgive? (Jesus is not talking about specific numbers. What person reading this lesson has been asked to forgive more than Jesus forgave us?)


    7. Read Matthew 18:34-35. Wow! Did the unforgiving debtor end up on a worse position? (He was going to be sold into slavery. Now he is sent to jail and torture.)


      1. Does this mean that our loving heavenly Father will torture us if we do not forgive? (Read 1 John 4:19-21. This text is just one of many which say that the essence of being a Christian is showing love towards others. If we do not reflect love we have not accepted Jesus' love and we are lost.)


      2. Does this "send him to the torturers" teach us that this King had one forgiveness in him, and not seventy times seven, or even seven? (Something we need to know about parables is that not every part is intended to teach a lesson. The point of the parable is that we should show forgiveness to others because of God's great forgiveness to us. The point is not that God has us tortured when we sin twice.)


  3. Discerning Love


    1. Read Revelation 3:19. What we have studied so far might lead us to think that our obligation of love causes us to simply forgive. What does this text bring to the discussion? (Sometimes love rebukes and disciplines. We must forgive, but love is not just a silly "that's okay" when serious problems are not properly addressed.)


    2. Read Philemon 1:1. Let me give you a little background. Philemon is a slave owner who was converted to Christianity by Paul. Philemon owned a slave named Onesimus who ran away and lived with Paul to help Paul.


    3. Read Philemon 1:8-11. What is Paul's request to Philemon? (To forgive Onesimus for running away.)


      1. Why should Philemon forgive Onesimus? ("I appeal to you on the basis of love.")


    4. Read Philemon 1:12-16. What does Paul want? (For Philemon to send Onesimus back to help Paul.)


      1. Aren't some major issues lurking here? Shouldn't Philemon forgive Onesimus because of love? Isn't slavery against the law of love? What if you just said, "Everyone should love each other: so love ends slavery, love forgives Onesimus, and love leaves Onesimus helping Paul when Paul is in prison?" (Philemon had a property interest in Onesimus. Love is not theft. The matter is complicated and Paul's approach teaches us that we must be discerning in the way we apply forgiveness and reconciliation.)


    5. Friend, how about you? Are you a quart low on love? Is your failure to grasp God's incredible love causing you to fail to forgive others? Why not ask God to forgive you for your lack of love, give you more love, and open your heart to those who have sinned against you?


  4. Next week: The Promised Revival: God's Mission Completed.

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Lessons on Reformation and Revival

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