Here are the questions from this week's message. Remember, if you have questions after a message, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q - In light of the command to forgive unceasingly I have 2 questions: (1) When is it appropriate for the Christian to establish healthy boundaries? Thinking of the abusive situations, the cheating spouse, the parents who are dysfunctional even when their child is an adult, or even a friend at school that bring down the high schooler and starts to pull them away from staying strong in their faith when I ask this. In my situation, with many unbelieving, unrepentant family members, a parent who beat and verbally abused all of us kids at various levels and continues to deny harm.....I had to work through this with a Christian counselor. Forgiving this was the hardest thing I have ever done and, unlike God it wasn't something I could instantly do. It was a process for me to work through it. Does that fact mean the inability to instantly forgive again and again like God mean that is sin? Forgive and forget makes me cringe because I believe God forgets in such a way he no longer holds it against us, yet he is all-knowing and doesn't really forget where we came from and we shouldn't either. I had to surrender the revenge towards my mom to God, who knows her heart and her reasons for what all she did. (2) Do you recommend a solid book about forgiveness and how to live it out unceasingly? I know I still have a layer in my forgiveness onion to unfold, ripe off, and throw away.
A - This is precisely the type of question I hoped to get. Thanks for sending it in. It was simply impossible to deal with this topic in any kind of depth, and to broach the topics you raise would have added another 20 minutes (minimum) to the message.
Here’s my answer to part 1: Take all you stated as a question and turn it into statements and that’s the answer. I agree with everything you wrote about forgiveness, how hard it is, boundaries, forgetting, etc. And, as I’m sure you know because you’ve dealt with this personally in such depth, it is not a sin to be in the process of forgiveness as long as you don’t act on feelings of revenge and seeking to hurt the people you’re learning to forgive.
Two books I recommend on this whole topic are Boundaries: When to Say YES, When to Say NO, To Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend and The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande.
Q - Wondering about the context/scope of the message, especially when it comes to “rebuking”. The passage mentions “brothers”, is it correct to interpret that as “fellow believers”? If not, it seems like my approach would need to be different for a fellow believer vs a non-believer (two different frames of reference).
Also, I struggle with the line between rebuking and holding my brother accountable, and the idea that I’m judging them, when judging is not really my duty. There are certainly times when sin is clear, but often the situations are not so clear, and a “judgment” about what’s right and what’s wrong needs to be made.
I’d appreciate any words of wisdom and direction…
A - Yes, this has to do only with fellow disciples for the reason you give—it’s between “brothers.” I also agree that the line between seeking to restore an unrepentant brother and being judgmental is hard to distinguish. I think that’s why the Bible addresses this in many places and gives so many qualifiers (e.g., gently, with patience and teaching, humbly). Humility, love, a spirit of forgiveness, a caring brotherly relationship and spiritual discernment have to be applied. It’s so tempting not to act at all, out of fear of being judgmental or off-base, not to mention how uncomfortable this can be. But if we understand what Jesus is talking about, it would be selfish to let those fears predominate in our lives.
Let me say that I’m chief of avoidance. I hate “rebuking.” But as I was answering your question it occurred to me that if I would approach these kinds of situations tentatively—leading with questions and avoiding accusation—and humbly, even admitting my fears to the “brother,” I might not only be more willing to act, I might also avoid many of the potential pitfalls.
Q - I’ve gotten a new view of verses 7-10 that I’d like to get your opinion on: Most people have interpreted this passage as you have and even my Bible publisher titles it as ‘Faith and Duty’. However, I’ve heard someone tie 7-10 more closely (I believe) to the disciples request for faith rather than assuming Christ went in a completely different direction to talk about humility and duty.
For instance, could it be that Christ was talking about the ‘unprofitable servant’ in a derogatory way and as a contrast of true faith, as Christ so often did use contrasts? Maybe this is kind of a retelling of the idea of the fearful and unfaithful servant who hid his talent; i.e., the one who has to be told every move to make and who considers the work of God as a tedious duty? The opposite of the unprofitable servant is the person who has the attitude/faith of a son and is invested in the family business (so to speak). Such an individual doesn’t need to be supervised in their every step and they understand that they've been given the keys/authority to advance the Kingdom of God on earth just as Christ had been doing…..
I really liked it when I heard this explanation of this passage so I thought I’d give it to you to kick around.
A - Very interesting, and possible. I haven’t seen this interpretation in all my research, but I think it’s possible. I’d have to look more into it, but it would tie quite closely to the whole idea of faith risking more, to the parable you mention and to the parable of the Prodigal Son from chapter 15 (especially the elder brother who “slaved” for his dad, doing his duty, but missing the boat altogether). Yes, very interesting!
The reality is that while only one of these interpretations is right, both are true in terms of what the Scriptures teach. A very important principle for biblical interpretation that was emphasized by Luther and the Reformers is that all interpretation need to jive with the rest of Scripture. It's common sense and keeps people from going off the deep end with bad interpretations.