As we approach the highly anticipated day of Christmas we should be preparing our hearts for forgiveness. Perhaps you find that a strange thought but it is an appropriate one. There is no other day that carries with it such high anticipation of perfection. It is like everyone actually expects there to be "peace on earth", like every fault of every person is going to be suspended for the day. The children expect exactly what they asked for, regardless of the condition of the economy. Spouses look for perfection in their relationship. We have a fairy tale picture in our head of the Christmas meal. It is going to be the one perfect day of the year; magical. Reality bites on this day but it is reality nonetheless. Faults in people seem to be highlighted, stress brings out the worse in people, kids are grumpy from lack of sleep and too much candy and someone always thinks they are doing more than anyone else. We go into that day with wrong expectations and emphasize the wrong things.
Christmas day, like any other day, is about relationships. The Kingdom of God is about relationships; God with us, us with God and us with each other. It's not about gifts and turkey; it's about our time and kindnesses to each other. Even strained relationships are important and should never be given up on. Remember when Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone for an offense and Jesus basically answered "to infinity and beyond"? Okay, so he didn't give a Buzz Lightyear response but it was close. There is no end to forgiveness because there is no end to our Father's forgiveness. This is also why patience is so important to a believer. However, there are some believers who choose to misunderstand Jesus' teaching on forgiveness in Matthew 18 to mean that we can turn our back on people when they refuse to repent. Jesus taught:
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector." (Matthew 18:15-17)
Jesus taught that there is a method in dealing with people who have sinned against you. First, try to deal with it in person, one on one. If the matter is not resolved then bring a couple of people along who will act like witnesses, that you are trying to be fair and deal with this properly. This is also good because you might be wrong and have misunderstood and these people can help bring some balance in. If the matter is still not resolved it can be taken to the church where others can join in and help the person understand what they have done. It is here we come to the part people misunderstand. If the person refuses to listen to the church Jesus states that this person should be treated like a pagan or a tax collector. Some people take this to mean that we are to push them aside or to cut them off but they are wrong.
We need to stop and consider how Jesus treated the tax collectors and even the pagans. These are the people Jesus came to rescue. He spent time with them, including them, ministering to them, trying to reach out to them. He did not treat them as one of his disciples but instead as the object of his Father's affection and the purpose for which he had come. Jesus is not telling us to treat the person who refuses to repent as garbage, throwing them away. Instead he is saying that our perspective of them needs to change. A person who refuses to apologize, who refuses to repent knows nothing of God's forgiveness. He is not a believer who we can receive from but instead a sinner to whom we need to minister.
I hope we know there is a difference in relationship between a believer and a sinner. We can have friends who are sinners but we cannot receive from them in the same way we can receive from a believer. I trust that a believer will see me and love me from heaven's perspective but a sinner will always see from the world's perspective. There are things I will trust and accept from a believer that I must always treat as suspect from a sinner, such as council in all matters to do with my life. I cannot trust what I receive from a sinner in the same way I do with a believer. So when a believer refuses to respond as a believer should, with repentance and forgiveness, and we have followed the proper steps and given several opportunities, our eyes should be opened to the fact that this person cannot be treated as a believer. This person needs our love, our attention, to be ministered to, to be taught, to be brought back into fellowship with the Spirit but we should not expect to receive anything from him.
To those who are not accustomed to such things, this teaching may appear harsh but it is far from that. It is actually a thing of compassion because if a person does not know how to repent of sins committed against a person he sees every day how could he possibly understand the need of repentance with God who he cannot see? As important as his relationship is with others, the priority is his relationship with Jesus. So instead of wasting our time over reconciliation in a matter that is temporal, we need to spend time ministering to the person so he can come to understand the need of repentance in his relationship with Jesus. There is no place in any of this for turning our back on a person who has sinned against us. Such a thing looks too much like vengeance which is a very self-centered thing. Instead, we must set aside the hurt by forgiving the person and then allowing God's love for him to be our first desire to demonstrate to him. Our perspective of the person changes as does our approach but God's love still reigns. So shift your expectation and start ministering to those who refuse to acknowledge their sin.