By Allen White
How many times do you forgive a group member who’s offended you or outrightly sinned against you? When do you cut them off? Should there be limits on forgiveness, especially for repeat offenders?
In the Bible, Peter asks this question of Jesus: “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22
Peter was willing to forgive. He just wanted to make sure that he didn’t lose count and over-forgive. After all, everything seems to have its limit. Why offer forgiveness when it’s undeserved?
Some translations use “seventy times seven,” while others use “seventy-seven” times. More often than not, the numbers in the Bible are figurative.
I had a professor in seminary who often said, “I wouldn’t bet my life on the numbers in the Bible.” He believed the Bible was the inspired word of God. He just understood the symbolic nature of numbers in Scripture.
So if we’re not to forgive literally 77 times or 490 times (70 x 7), then what is Jesus saying here? Some have interpreted what 70 and 7 represent. Seven is the Divine number in Scripture. Ten or a multiple of ten points to the exponential, if not infinite, nature of the point.
By using these numbers, Jesus pointed out how forgiveness is both Divine and unending. There is no cutoff at the 78th or 491st offense. Forgiveness should go on and on.
Now, there is a difference between forgiveness and co-dependency. Forgiveness is costly. Co-dependency is a burden. Forgiveness doesn’t guarantee reconciliation. Forgiveness isn’t an immediate pathway to trust. There are consequences beyond forgiveness. Yes, we are to turn the other cheek, but as my friend Paul says, “We only have two cheeks.”
How do we know when we’ve forgiven? Well, when we no longer hope the offender gets run over by a bus. When we can actually wish them well, then we know we’ve forgiven.
While the actual act of forgiveness doesn’t take much time, getting to the place where we’re willing to forgive might take a little longer. God is a genius at forgiveness. He will help you forgive even the unforgiveable.
Who do you need to forgive (again)? What’s keeping you from forgiving them?
Our family started attending NewSpring Church a few months ago. My kids were instantly hooked. They cry if they can’t go. I am amazed by all that God is doing through NewSpring and Pastor Perry Noble. Here are a few important numbers for 2011:
3,034 Decisions for Christ
2,695 Baptisms (1,442 baptisms on one day)
3,038 New “Owners” (Members)
274 Small Groups with 2,108 people (Boy, I could help them here).
5,659 First time visitors (Jan 8 – Dec 18, 2011)
590 Fuse Student Ministry Salvations
6,303 Volunteers (31% increase from 2010)
2,609 children in KidSpring (26.5% increase from 2010)
1,139 Turkeys & Hams donated
35,850 lbs of Groceries donated
2,971 pairs of Shoes given to local school children
25,670 Christmas Eve Services Attendance
This is not something that any person could orchestrate. God is moving in a mighty way. I’m grateful to be a part of it.
by Allen White
Q: Where are eating next? When are we going?
A: I gather groups of small group leaders once a month, typically around the middle of the month, for lunch or dinner. We meet for one hour and limit the meetings to five leaders. This gives us time to catch up on what’s going on with your groups, learn about what’s coming next, and encourage each other. If you haven’t attended a lunch this Fall, look for an email in the next few days.
Q: Why are there so many surveys???
A: I have found in the South that most people would rather “bless my heart” than tell me what they think. Now, there are some who are not shy with their opinions. I hear you. But, for many, they are just too polite to tell it to me straight. Surveys are a useful tool to hear from everybody and get the “straight stuff.” Ken Blanchard says, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” By responding to surveys, you are helping to make our small groups ministry even better.
Q: Why is it important to invite new people to the group?
A: I have answered this question in other places on this blog, so I will try not to repeat myself.
1. People need small group connection. While about two-thirds of Brookwood Church is connected to a small group, we’ve still got 30% without a group. If we don’t invite them, where will they go? We’ve also got a world full of lost people who need connection with caring people and with their Savior.
2. Groups tend to shrink over time. I look at my own group. I started with about twelve guys. Half of the group quit immediately. It wasn’t exactly what they were looking for. One moved out of state. One started his own group. One changed jobs and his new schedule conflicted with the group schedule. One didn’t care for the restaurants we chose to meet in. If my group hadn’t continued to invite new people, I would be down to one group member.
3. Groups tend to get way too comfortable. Now, small group is the place to connect with other people at a deeper level and to develop life-giving relationships. But, over time we become too understanding of each other. The group can lose its edge. Instead of speaking the truth in love, we just love. We understand each other. We understand why group members do what they do. But, we’re comfortable. Who wants to make things uncomfortable? Adding a new member or a few tends to shake things up a bit, and that’s not always a bad thing.
4. New members bring new life to the group. New members tend to upset things just enough to keep the group fresh. The last thing we want is for our group to become a cul-de-sac (or the Dead Sea to be spiritual). Every group needs an outlet for ministry. Attracting new members is a big part of the group’s ministry.
Who do you invite? Ask God, and then pay attention to who crosses your path.