Unpacking Forgiveness: The Way Up is Down

Few people like conflict. Oh, there are some who seek it out and thrive on it, but generally speaking, most human beings would like a stress-free life with smooth, enjoyable relationships.

Sadly, that is far from reality.

Conflict in every day relationships is common. It seems we can't escape it. But why?

Consider two scriptures from Matthew 18:

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.


 21 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?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[Or seventy times seven]23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him.25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[i] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Now compare the two stories. What trait would be present in a child that was not present in the servant who owed his master a lot of money?  

Humility. Does that surprise you or did you guess? 

In his book Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds, author Chris Brauns writes that children in the ancient Middle East were expected to "be seen and not heard". They did not seek status. Children had a humble position in society. They knew their place.  

This is not to say that the followers of Christ are to not try to succeed or achieve greatness for the kingdom. This means that in light of God, our Father, we are to know our place. We are to remember who gave us everything we have.  "Jesus encouraged the disciples to pursue greatness," Brauns writes, "and the way he taught them to pursue it was by serving one another, by being truly humble."

How this fits with forgiveness is evident in the second passage of scripture. If the servant who owed his master that huge amount of money had been humble (and truly grateful, I might add), he would have cancelled the debt, or would have been more patient with other servant who owed him such a small amount. After receiving forgiveness for so much, you would think that the smaller amount would mean nothing.

"True humility nips conflict in the bud. In one way or another, selfish pride causes all quarrels and fights (James 4: 1 -10; Matthew 7: 1-5). Second, if we are truly humble, then when we do have conflicts, they will be resolved far more quickly," Brauns writes.

Do you remember the last conflict you had? Were you humble or not? How did that go?

Being humble is not easy for anyone. At the base of humility is the absence of pride, but pride can take many forms. The thing to remember is that pride "is not just an inflated opinion of oneself," Brauns writes. "Pride is any way of putting self into the central focus."

Wow. Or should I say "ouch"?  Brauns says that people who are overly critical, insecure, shy, sensitive, presumptuous, impatient with others shortcomings, easily embarrassed or those who worry a lot are examples of those who struggle with pride. All of these shortcomings, plus more overt displays of pride, can cause conflicts and can prevent the resolution of conflicts (p. 82).

No wonder we struggle so much. Often, in the church, displays of humilty are shown by calling ourselves "wretches" or saying that we are nothing. This does not follow the Biblical definition of humility because it puts the focus right back on ourselves.

Although pride is difficult to overcome, it is possible. I believe that if Jesus did not mean for us to overcome sin he would not have told us to do so, but we first must give the Holy Spirit control of our hearts. I also like what Brauns recommends in this chapter: "The only way to grow in humility truly is to take our eyes off ourselves and meditate on the beauty and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ."

Brauns recommends reading and meditating upon Isaiah 40 as a way to help develop humilty. I also recommend the Psalms, any of the church canticles and Job 40 and 41.

"Biblical humility is increasingly seeing ourselves as completely dependent on God. It is serving others for God's glory. We achieve humility only by seeing and savoring Christ. The more we see Christ, the more we will be truly humble, the more conflicts we will avoid, and the more easily the ones we do encounter will be resolved," Brauns writes.

That is not bad advice.

Next week we will review chapter seven, "Unpack with Great Urgency."