One of the great musical anthems from my early childhood is the song, “Respect”, performed by Aretha Franklin. This carefully crafted song shouts its message in distinctive ways that as soon as you hear the opening notes being played, you know exactly what the song is!
One novel detail in this song is the way the subject of Respect, something not being adequately experienced by Ms. Franklin, is spelled out letter by letter with the admonition: “find out what it means to me!” Apparently Aretha was not feeling as if she was being respected and to cut to the chase. Maybe the other person doesn’t really know what the word even means!
The funny thing about words is that they change meaning over time. Often the shift is slow, as the changing culture incrementally moves in this direction or that. Even during my journey so far on this planet, I have seen many words change in small and even large ways, imagine how the meaning of words has changed over centuries. This is why studying the Bible from its original languages and with the extra scrutiny of finding the meanings of words at the time they were used to write the Bible is so important. If we are not careful, we could end up with an understanding of an idea from God’s Word that actually is very different than our understanding of what a particular word might mean. This could be a huge problem, especially for the Church as we try to faithfully live out the Scriptures in a way that is accurate.
What if I told you that one of the most common words or concepts found within the Church has been stripped of its original meaning and is now commonly viewed, not through the lens of God’s Word but through the world’s new culture meaning? The word I am thinking of is “FORGIVE”. Forgiveness is a huge concept in the mind of God, for Christians, and for the effective work of the Church. You could almost say God or Christians are “in the Forgiveness business”!
The way I know that Christians have lost their way with respect to forgiveness can be seen in an indisputable fact: what many in the Church call forgiveness doesn’t look very much like what is described in the Bible. If you study the actions of Jesus, particularly on the cross, which are well understood by Christians to be the actions whereby we receive Forgiveness, you will notice qualities that His death demonstrated that are noticeably absent from the actions fellow Christians extend to others who they are supposedly “forgiving”.
Don’t take my word for it. Check it out yourself. The 3 most familiar passages in the New Testament that illustrate forgiveness are: Matthew 18:21-35, Matthew 6:12-15, and Luke 17:3-4. There are many more that speak of forgiveness but these 3 serve as kind of a primer of what it means and how it looks. And this is where the problem is: what forgiveness means today and how it is practiced doesn’t match the Bible pattern.
Today, we say we have forgiven someone and yet secretly or not so secretly harbor anger, resentment, and even the desire for revenge. Today, we often “make excuses” for the destruction actions of others towards us instead of dealing with the matter directly with them and sorting it out so it won’t happen again to us or to someone else. These parodies of true Forgiveness create confusion and permit us to live as the children of God in often estranged relationships where we can say critical things of a brother or sister who has in the past wronged us when they can’t hear us, but when they can hear us, we treat them like a close friend.
I would encourage you to read the passages listed above and see if what I am observing is what you are seeing as well. I intend to delve into the subject of Forgiveness in a series of sermons after Easter. My hope is that we can recapture the biblical framework of forgiveness so that we can have more confidence in the forgiveness we have in Christ as well as create a warmer fellowship of Christ-followers who from time to time offend each other and need to practice biblical forgiveness.
Maybe we could call the series: “F-O-R-G-I-V-E, Find out what it means to God!