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We continue today our series on forgiveness and today I am preaching on Forgiving your Family Member. This was indeed a difficult task for me to tackle. I much rather prefer the reading and exegeting of a particular passage rather than actually putting into practice something difficult that the bible explicitly teaches. Imagine that. This topic was uncomfortable as I wrestled with my own relationships with both their sins and my own, within my immediate family, my wife and daughter, and with my extended family of brothers, parents, and so forth. Bold Love by Dr. Dan Allender and Dr. Tremper Longman III, as I stole extensively from their knowledge, experience, and direction to scripture. (Dan is on sabbatical and has travel blog as well as a website).I know my mom is most likely listening to or reading this sermon online, so don’t worry mom, all of the stories and examples I will share with you are from Dan Allender’s counseling experience rather than my personal experiences of family and are referenced by page number in this manuscript of the sermon. Before we dive into forgiving family members, the various types of conflict, and the war that this entails, let’s get on the same page by coming to a biblical understanding of forgiveness.
What is true forgiveness? Well, let’s take a look at what forgiveness is not and some common things we do to produce a counterfeit forgiveness. Then we’ll look at what forgiveness really is. Because biblical forgiveness is difficult, we, in our falleness, and I, myself the chief sinner among you, tend to gravitate towards an unbiblical view of forgiveness that is much easier to get through in the moment. We want the quick way out that often involves superficiality rather than the real work of forgiveness. True forgiveness is not forgetting. I know this is typically something we go to when we think about forgiveness. “Forgive and forget”, right?
So what is true forgiveness? True forgiveness is canceling a debt owed in order to provide an opportunity for a restored relationship.
True forgiveness is seeking restored relationship and true forgiveness requires repentance. There are actually two roles that require action in order for forgiveness to reach completion, in order for the goal, for restored relationship and reconciliation to take place. The first is that the party offended cancels the debt owed and refuses to exact vengeance or a price from the offender. We forgive our debtors as we have been forgiven. Forgiveness consummated, forgiveness completed, doesn’t end here. The second is that the party who is the offender repents from their action. Biblical forgiveness is always accompanied by repentance. Jesus says in Luke 17:3-4 “So watch yourselves.
The truth is friends, that we are enmeshed in a spiritual war with not only ourselves but also in our relationships that either lead to a taste of heaven or a taste of hell. Love and forgiveness are weapons that we have in this war, used to destroy evil and to see the reconciliation received in Jesus Christ spread throughout the earth. Ephesians 6:11-12 describes this state of war that we find ourselves in:
Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms
Indeed, every relationship that we have is strained by the burden of sin. Life involves struggle, and we find ourselves at war within ourselves and with others, even those in our families, well let’s be honest, especially those in our families and there are wounds from the battles. These wounds require forgiveness in order for us to continue forward together and often we must “take [our] stand” in this war of love and forgiveness rather than becoming a doormat. As we enter into this warfare, we realize that there are different types of wounds. There is friendly fire, there is enemy fire and there are different levels of damage. The greater the damage inflicted, the greater the difficulty to forgive. And the different degrees of damage, of emotional and spiritual hurt, require a different approach of love and forgiveness. There is a different type of spiritual warfare waged, depending on the type of person we are trying to find the ability to forgive and ultimately win a restored relationship. This is a spectrum, and obviously we can’t necessarily categorize each of our family members, but nonetheless categories help us to begin to get a handle on how our strategy for forgiveness and bringing someone back into relationship with us and more importantly with God, depends greatly on the type of person we’re engaging. The three types of warfare of love and forgiveness we’ll look at briefly this morning are siege warfare, guerilla warfare, and the last isn’t full out war but more like an athletic competition.
DAD: Hi, honey, I’m calling to see when you will be arriving.
JANE (chuckling out loud): Well, Dad, I can at least say it won’t be in this calendar year.
DAD: What?! You know your mom is counting on you helping with the big Fourth of July party. She won’t be able to do it without your help!
JANE: Oh, that’s too bad, Dad. You know, a lot of catering firms do holiday spreads, and I bet there are some in your area.
DAD: Don’t get cute with me. You know your mother wants you here, not a catering firm. Now let’s get serious. You will be coming home.
JANE: Dad, do you recall the conversation a few nights ago when you yelled and called me some terrible names? Well, I told you then I would no longer allow you to sin against me or yourself by enduring your use of rage and shame. Before you get too much more intense, let me make it clear again: I will not stay on the phone if that is your manner of relating to me. Dad, are you willing to think with me about the way you deal with me and, frankly, almost everyone else in our family?
DAD: Well, fine! I’ll tell your mother about your decision. And let me tell you I have no interest in being lectured by a kid who has no more sense than…
JANE: Dad, I will look forward to the day you do desire to interact, so I’ll be talking with you soon. Bye, Dad.
The phone call was a major first for Jane. She had never been able to stand firm with grace and dignity. After the call, she shook like a leaf for hours…Almost two years later, Jane has not given up. Her parents are no closer to repentance, but her love, witnessed in new parameters and consequences, and even more in her moments of genuine sorrow for them, has curtailed the extent of their damage…If forgiveness, fulfilled in reconciliation, is to occur, evil must repent with clarity and conviction” (248). Sometimes, especially in the cases of physical and sexual abuse, we realize that “it is not loving to continue an evil relationship with a person who consistently and perniciously sins against you without some sign of repentance and change” (252). This withholding of relationship, excommunication, described by Paul in 1 Corinthians and again in 2 Thessalonians has the purpose and hope of that person coming to their senses by using separation as a way to call them into repentance and eventually a restored relationship. Loving an evil family member is like siege warfare because “the primary good gift for an evil person is to limit their opportunity to damage. It is similar to putting an enemy city under siege…[it] is tedious because the soldiers are doing little other than waiting for surrender” (299).
KATHY: Honey, I am so sorry for how mean I’ve been to you while I’ve been working on this project. I hope you’re not too upset.
RALPH: Kathy, I am quite upset. Frankly, as much with me as with you. This has gone on for years, and I’ve failed you by ignoring it in the past. That is wrong. But I am encouraged, at least a little , by your willingness to admit that you have been mean. My question is, do you want to deal with this or are you looking for a quick absolution? If it is the latter, then I am far more upset than you can imagine.
KATHY (with slight disdain): Ralph! Do we have to get into one of these psychological discussions again?
RALPH: No, sweetheart, we don’t. You are mean. In fact, you can be cruel and contemptuous. But I feel no compulsion to deal with your heart if it is that hard and cold. I trust and pray that the woman who asked me to forgive her will one day come to the surface far more. What would you like for dinner? I know you’ll be busy with that project, but can I make anything in particular? (282)
“Loving a fool[ish family member] is like guerilla warfare – hiding, setting traps, exposing, and then waiting for the next best opportunity to come out of the forest to love [and forgive] again. It is less tedious than putting a city under siege, but it requires unusual commitment to the cause, a willingness to be constantly on the move, and a high degree of ‘good-intentioned’ craftiness” (299).
So where do your family members fit in the spectrum? Where do you fit? Where do I fit? This is something I had to wrestle with and think about. Where in my relationships have I acted as an evil, foolish or simple family member and in which category to I “hang out” the most? I sincerely advise you to not run out right away and start fighting and confronting with bold love, at least not until you get off the church grounds. No, but seriously, as Jesus advised, count the cost, whether it’s siege or guerilla warfare, or more simply an athletic competition. We should be as intentional about loving others and forgiving them as we seek restored relationships as we are strategic in any other area of life. I encourage you, if you feel led, to begin the journey not with a sprint, but slowly and deliberately by praying, speaking with a trusted pastor, counselor, or friend, and spending time alone in reflection.