As I write this, the coming Sunday will be our celebration of Reformation. The Sunday after that is All Saints. At Reformation, we remember those who stood upon scripture alone, over against all the contrary opinions of men. On All Saints Day, we rejoice in God’s blessings upon the departed believers, who are made holy by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ.
Reformation Day reminds us that we live in the Church militant, still struggling against the devil, this evil world, and our own evil and worldly nature. All Saints Day reminds us that we are also made holy in God’s sight through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, our Savior.
We carry these two aspects of Christian life into the rest of the year, too. Usually, evil rears its ugly head within a Christian’s relationships with other people, sometimes originating in ourselves, and sometimes in others. It can happen in any season, and in any place. It even happens between Christians, and even within the same church. It is never more important to remember that we live in the Church militant, and that every Christian is a saint in God’s sight by faith alone, without having deserved it in the least.
Our God and Lord provides much guidance for dealing with life in the Church militant. He is not always gentle, because much of the time, we need to hear the Law. In Matthew 18, Jesus has several points to make. Verse 35 warns, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” That leaves two questions: (1) What will He do to us? and (2) What kind of forgiveness does He mean?
You can answer the first question by reading verses 23–35. You will see that anyone who refuses to forgive is not considered to be a Christian. That should make us all think back to any unanswered grievances we may have had with another person. Did I express my grievance to him, as a Christian should, or did I hold it in and savor its foulness, as a dog chews on an old bone? Perhaps my awkward conversations with someone today can be traced back to an unknown, unrepented, and/or unforgiven sin in the past.
You can answer the second question by reading Matthew 18:15. Don’t reveal your grievance to anyone else, until you have spoken to the offender. Why not? Because you would be asking another to break the 8th Commandment, and sit in judgment over the one who has offended you. Instead, let the offender hear your grievance in full, so that he might repent and ask for your forgiveness. We fail in this so often because even those who are offended have a sinful flesh, which likes to chew on a grievance so that sin may grow.
Jesus is so concerned about the way we deal with one another’s offenses that He even commands us to work them out as Christians instead of participating in worship. (See Matthew 5:23-24.) Worship can wait, because its benefit is easily spoiled when our hearts are poisoned and distracted by unforgiven sins. In the ancient Christian Church, it was even customary to demonstrate the mutual forgiveness between Christians at worship by pausing the service briefly so that those in attendance could bestow the “kiss of peace” upon one another.
Every group of Christians on earth will experience disagreements, and offenses. After all, though we are saints, we are also still sinners. Yet God commands us in His Word how to deal with it: individually, and personally. The greatest offense ever given was my sinfulness against God’s will. Yours too. Thanks be to God that Jesus Christ bore our sins in His body upon the cross. He paid that greatest price so that He could say to penitent sinners, “Your sins are forgiven.” No strings attached. No special merit required. In that knowledge, we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”