This past weekend as part of our Lenten Sermon Series on Idolatry, Counterfeit Gods, I taught from Matthew 18. That’s the chapter where you’ll find Jesus’ double-dog dare command that we should forgive not once, not twice, not even seven times but just shy of 500 times.
Which is Jesus’ Jewish way of saying: forgive all the time.
The sermon’s subject elicited several dozen questions from folks who heard it or who’ve since read it online.
Questions about forgiveness.
Here’s one question I got:
‘I know Christians are supposed to forgive. I know Jesus wants us to ‘put the ledger down’ as you said on Sunday. What I never hear, have never heard, in church is exactly HOW I’m supposed to do it. How do you go about forgiving someone who’s wronged you?’
That is a very, very good question.
Greg Jones, in Forgiving as We’ve Been Forgiven, outlines six steps in the process of forgiveness. He likens them to a dance where each step is integrally related to the next, inseparable from what came before it. Forgiveness, like dancing, takes grace.
We become willing to speak truthfully and patiently about the conflicts that have arisen.
Appropriately, this is the lead in to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18. Jesus’ prescription of 70×7 forgiveness and his parable of the unmerciful servant are prompted by questions of confronting someone who’s wronged you.
2. Acknowledging Anger
Both people must acknowledge the existence of anger and bitterness as well as a desire to overcome them.
3. Concern for the Other
We summon up a concern for the well-being of the other as a child of God.
4. Recognizing, Remembering and Repenting
We truthfully acknowledge our own complicity in the conflict, remember that we have been forgiven in the past and take the step to repentance.
5. Commitment to Change
We make a commitment to work to change whatever caused and continues to perpetuate our conflicts.
6. Hope for the Future
We confess our yearning for the possibility of complete reconciliation.
Of course, these steps reveal how, like dancing, forgiveness doesn’t just take grace.
It takes two people.
You only get but so far in the Jones’ six steps if your partner prefers to remain a wallflower.