Some Christian clichés are passed around in our circle of churches because they sound nice. They may not always be theologically air-tight. Take this one, for instance: When God closes a door, He opens a window. Climbing through windows is becoming of a burglar, perhaps not a follower of Christ. However, some Christian clichés are passed around in our circle of churches because they have been proven by experience to be true. I would place this cliché in that category: You cannot expect to lead your people to a place you have never been.
The pastor is the spiritual leader of the church; he sets the tone of the church in a variety of areas. This is no less true when it comes to the matter of forgiveness. In the book The Pastor as Public Theologian, Kevin J. Vanhoozer writes that part of the pastoral ministry is to aid the congregation in aligning “their own lives in relation to God’s great work of redemption summed up in Christ.”Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan, The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015), 112. (emphasis original) This means that the theological realities that are true of believers when united to Christ must be taught to the people of God. Part of what is included in Christ is the ever-growing and sanctified ability to forgive others as we have been forgiven.
But why forgiveness specifically? You may have no problem accepting the fact that pastors must lead their people in the area of evangelism or in a love for the Word of God. But why must the pastor lead in the matter of forgiveness?
- We are commanded to forgive.
The New Testament is replete with (explicit and implicit) commands to believers, commands that if obeyed lead to a fruitful and holy life unto God. So when Jesus commands His disciples to make more disciples in Matthew 28:28–30, the pastor understands this to be a command that he must faithfully shepherd his people into obeying.
When asked by Peter how many times he should forgive his brother, Jesus’ answer was understood to be an unlimited amount (Matt 18:21–22). Forgiveness is an activity that is supposed to be ingrained into the disciple. The very entryway into right relationship with the Father is asking to be forgiven. No wonder our Lord expects His followers to extend forgiveness to others. As a follower of Christ himself, the pastor must be ready to forgive others. And as an implicit command in Scripture, he must be ready to shepherd the same in his people.
- We are in the ministry of reconciliation.
In 2 Corinthians 5:18 Paul speaks of the ministry of reconciliation, specifically the reconciliation that can exist between God and those who repent of their sins and trust in Christ. From 2:12–5:10 he has been unpacking theological truths and implications of the gospel: its victory, its superiority to the law, its triumph in adversity, its promise of glorification. Because of this “we persuade others” (2 Cor 5:11) to trust in this gospel that can reconcile sinners to a holy God.
But what precedes this section? The call to restore the repentant excommunicated member in 2:5–11. This section ends with Paul insinuating that not forgiving and restoring this church member would be succumbing to the wiles of Satan. This is what leads into the section beginning in 2:12 that speaks of the triumph in Christ over dark forces, which then leads through the implications of the gospel listed above and then to our call to reconcile sinners to God.
Our reconciliation with God spills over into our relationships with others. Reconciliation with God leads inevitably to reconciliation with those who have wronged us.
- We are not forgiven if we do not forgive.
After Peter asks Jesus about how many times he should forgive in Matthew 18, Jesus tells a parable. In this parable a servant begs his master for forgiveness, is forgiven his debt, and then chokes a fellow servant who owes him. When the master finds out, he calls this servant a “wicked servant” (Matt 18:32) and throws him into a jail to pay off the very debt he wanted forgiven.The very same words used of the servant in Matthew 18:32 is used of the servant in Matthew 25:26, whose fate is to be thrown into outer darkness. Jesus’ parable ends with sobering words, “So also my heavenly father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Mt 18:35).
C.S. Lewis explains poignantly, “We believe that God forgives us our sins; but also that He will not do so unless we forgive other people their sins against us. There is no doubt about the second part of this statement…If you don’t forgive you will not be forgiven. Not part of His teaching is clearer, and there are no exceptions to it.”C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses (New York: HarperOne, 2001), 178.
Pastor, the mandate is clear. There are no exceptions. You are called to forgive and shepherd others to do the same. As with all your other assignments, the Spirit of God is empowering you to do the work of the ministry, the ministry of reconciliation, the ministry of forgiveness.
Aaron S. Halstead is the Content Manager and Editor for Preaching Source, the Research Assistant for the Dean of the School of Preaching, and the Library Technician for the Center for Text-Driven Preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
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|1.||↑||Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan, The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015), 112. (emphasis original)|
|2.||↑||The very same words used of the servant in Matthew 18:32 is used of the servant in Matthew 25:26, whose fate is to be thrown into outer darkness.|
|3.||↑||C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses (New York: HarperOne, 2001), 178.|