GCI Update

Forgiveness: a vital relationship key

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Joseph and Tammy Tkach
Joseph and Tammy Tkach

Wanting to give her only the best, I took Tammy to Burger King for lunch (“Be Your Way”), then to Dairy Queen for dessert (“Something Different”). You’d think I’d be embarrassed by this tacky use of corporate slogans, but as McDonalds says, “I’m Lovin’ It.” And now I must beg your forgiveness (and Tammy’s!). But kidding aside, forgiveness is a key in building and maintaining relationships that are long-lasting and life-giving. This is true in relationships between leaders and followers, husbands and wives, and parents and children—human relationships of all kinds.

Forgiveness is also a vital component in the relationship that God has with us. God, being love, has covered humanity with a blanket of forgiveness, which he has extended to us unconditionally (meaning that this forgiveness is unmerited and unearned by us). As we, by the Spirit, embrace and live into that forgiveness, we understand more and more how magnificent and glorious God’s love, exhibited in his forgiveness, truly is. In meditating on God’s love for humankind, David wrote this: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-4). I too marvel when considering the great power and lavish generosity of God in creating and upholding our immense universe, which includes a world he knew would require the death of his Son on behalf of seemingly insignificant and certainly sinful creatures like you and me.

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

In Galatians 2:20, the apostle Paul rejoiced that Jesus Christ, in love, gave himself for us. Yet this glorious truth of the gospel often is drowned out by the “noise” of our fast-paced world. If we’re not careful, we can fail to pay attention to what Scripture says about God’s love, exhibited in his lavish forgiveness. One of the most powerful lessons about God’s forgiving love and grace in the Bible is Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son. Theologian Henry Nouwen said he learned much about it by carefully studying Rembrandt’s painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son (see above), which portrays the remorse from the wayward son, the unjustified darkness of jealousy from the resentful brother, and the inescapable loving forgiveness from the father who represents God.

Illustration of Hosea and Gomer from the Bible Historiale, 1372 (public domain)

Another profound example of God’s forgiving love is the enacted parable recounted in the book of Hosea. Lived out through the prophet Hosea’s own experience, the parable illustrates God’s unconditional love and lavish forgiveness for wayward Israel as a powerful illustration of the forgiveness that he extends to all people.

God told Hosea to marry a prostitute named Gomer. Some believe this means he was to take a wife from the spiritually adulterous northern kingdom of Israel. In any case, it was not the kind of marriage anyone would want, as Gomer repeatedly left Hosea to have a life of prostitution. At one point Hosea buys Gomer back from presumed slave traders, yet she continued to run off with lovers who promised her material gain. “I will go after my lovers,” she said, “who give me my food and my water, my wool and my linen, my olive oil and my drink” (Hosea 2:5). Regardless of Hosea’s attempts to stop her, Gomer continued seeking companions in sin.

We cannot help but be moved by what Hosea did in taking his wayward wife back time and again—extending to her loving, unconditional forgiveness. Perhaps Gomer tried at times to make things right, but if that was the case, her repentance was short-lived. She was soon back to her adulterous ways, chasing after other lovers.

Hosea’s loving and forgiving treatment of Gomer illustrates God’s response of faithfulness to us even when we are unfaithful to him. This unconditional forgiveness is based not on how we respond, but on who God is. Like Gomer thinking she would find freedom by entering new forms of slavery, we forsake God’s love by trying to do things our own way. At one point Hosea had to pay for Gomer’s freedom with material possessions. God, who is love, paid a much higher price for our freedom—he gave his beloved Son Jesus as a “ransom for all people” (1 Timothy 2:6). God’s indestructible, never-failing, never-ending love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7 NKJV). It also forgives all things, for love “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5 NIV).

Some who read Hosea’s story might contend that to keep on forgiving without repentance affirms the offender in their sin—it amounts to approving the behavior of the sinner. Others might contend that if you keep on forgiving, you will cause the offender to think they can get away with anything they want. But receiving freely-given forgiveness necessarily involves admitting that one needs that forgiveness—and that is true no matter how many times the forgiveness is extended. The one who presumes upon God’s forgiveness, using it to justify repeated offences, does not receive that forgiveness at all, for they have not acknowledged their need for forgiveness.

Presumption upon forgiveness, means rejecting rather than receiving God’s grace. Such presumption never yields a joyful, reconciled relationship with God. Nevertheless, such rejection does not cause God to withdraw his offer of forgiveness. God’s offer of forgiveness in Christ to all people is unconditioned by anything we are or anything we do.

Those who have embraced God’s unconditional forgiveness (as did the prodigal son), do not presume on that forgiveness. Knowing that they have been unconditionally forgiven, their response, rather than presumption or rejection, is one of relief and gratitude that yields a desire to reciprocate with kindness and love. When we receive forgiveness, our minds are released from the bondage that so easily builds walls between us, and we experience the freedom to grow in relationship with each other. The same is true when we unconditionally extend forgiveness to those who have offended us.

Why would we want to unconditionally forgive those who had offended us? Because that is how God, in Christ, has forgiven us. Note Paul’s statements:

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12-14)

When we receive and rejoice in the unconditional forgiveness God has extended to us in Christ, we can truly value the blessing of extending life-giving, relationship-building, unconditional forgiveness to others in the name of Christ.

Rejoicing in the way forgiveness has blessed my relationships,
Joseph Tkach


Here from GCI-Philippines are reports on some recent events:

The church and its ministry (part 5)

Gary Deddo

Here is part 5 of an essay from Gary Deddo on the nature of the church and its ministry. For other parts of the essay, click a number: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 78, 9, 1011, 12. We encourage you to add your thoughts and questions in the “comments” box at the end of each post to get a discussion going. To read the full essay in booklet form, click here. To read the related essay, “Clarifying Our Theological Vision,” click here.

A Brief Theology of the Church
(with a view to equipping the saints for the work of ministry)

by Dr. Gary Deddo

Part 5: The church’s ministry of proclamation

Last time we noted that the church is God’s creation under the Word of God (both Living and written). This time we’ll see how the central and defining goal of the church’s ministry is to point to whose church it is by bearing witness to Christ, the head of his body. The church is committed to that ministry because it trusts, loves, honors, hopes in and worships God through Jesus Christ above all else, and because there is nothing better to pass on to others. Jesus is the best we have because the Father has given us the best that he has—his Son, by his Holy Spirit.

The church’s primary ministry

The purpose of the church determines its primary ministry, which is to communicate (proclaim) by word and deed, who Jesus Christ is (according to his Word), then direct those in the church’s care to Christ and his written Word, leading them toward repentance along with faith, hope and love for the triune God. The goal is that these people will grow in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which means growing up (maturing) into the fullness of Christ. Fundamental to their maturing in Christ is their participation in Christ’s continuing ministry—a ministry both within the church and then beyond to those who are not yet members of the body of Christ.

This ministry of the church involves passing on to others what we (believers) have already been receiving from our Lord. The first thing he gives us (by his Word and Spirit) is knowledge and awareness of himself. We first discover who he is and then who we are in relationship to him. Then we discover who others are, also in relationship to him. The ministry of passing on what we have received (proclamation) centers on identifying to others who Christ is, what he has done for them and their salvation, and who they are now in ongoing relationship with him. In short, we can say that the ministry of the church is to know Christ and make him known.

Proclamation of the gospel

The special Greek word in the New Testament for the central task and focus of the church’s ministry is kerygma, which means “proclamation.” It corresponds in meaning to the Greek word euangelízomai, which means “proclaim the gospel.” In the New Testament, this word is often translated “preach.” Indeed, the church exists to hear and receive the gospel and then proclaim (preach, communicate) it to others. Some modern approaches to this preaching fall short of this biblical purpose, by focusing merely on conveying “nuggets” of biblical knowledge, or on telling people what they should (or should not) do using various techniques to move (sometimes coerce) people to take action. With these approaches, the preacher is sometimes viewed as someone with special (even secret) knowledge, derived from Scripture or even from a message directly from God. In contrast, the goal of truly biblical preaching is primarily to proclaim who Jesus is and what he has done for us, then who we are in relationship to him as revealed to us in the written Word of God. This gospel-focused preaching asks and answers, from the Bible, a vital question: Who are you Lord?

St. Paul Preaching in Athens by Raphael (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The indicatives must precede the imperatives

Such preaching calls for a response from the hearer to the truth that is being proclaimed. Providing direction concerning a proper response is an appropriate part of the message. We see Peter doing this in his sermon recorded in Acts 2:14-40 where the indicatives (the grammatical term for a statement of fact) of God’s grace are announced first, telling the listeners about God’s promises and how these were fulfilled in Jesus who he identifies and proclaims to be Lord and Christ. This proclamation provides a foundation on which Peter then rests the imperatives (the grammatical term for commands) of his hearers’ response to God’s grace. Peter’s sermon prompted this question from his hearers: “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter’s reply to that question was this: “Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” Note the order and priority here, as indicated in this diagram:

We see the same order and priority in Jesus’ proclamations of the gospel, including this: “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). “The kingdom of God has come near” is the indicative (which comes first) and “repent and believe the good news” is the imperative that follows. Thus the indicative calls forth the imperative, namely repentance grounded in faith in what was proclaimed. Preaching that fulfills the primary ministry of the church always follows this pattern, which is found throughout the New Testament. Any and every imperative in our proclamations must be built on the indicatives of the good news of Jesus Christ—who he is and what he has done and has promised. That proclamation will include the truth that Jesus is Lord, that as Lord he reveals God, that he has reconciled all people to God, and that he has established his kingdom (rule and reign), which has broken into the world (is “near”), to be revealed in all its fullness when Jesus returns to earth in glory (thus establishing our hope for the future).

Proclamation with words…

Faithful proclamation of these gospel truths appropriately uses words, concepts, ideas and illustrations in order to give faithful witness to who Christ is. Such proclamation always places itself under the authority of the apostolic witness of Scripture, no matter what the genre of the particular passage being expounded (be it historical, figurative, symbolic or theological). Our proclamations (including our doctrinal statements, stories, testimonies, etc.) will, appropriately, use additional words to explain and help listeners understand the normative witness of Scripture. But our words, witnessing faithfully to the proclamation of the gospel in Scripture, must be weighed and tested for alignment with the reality of the identity of God in Christ to which the Bible normatively, irreplaceably and unsurpassably points. And of course, we do not do this weighing and testing on our own, but in ongoing fellowship with those who have gone before us, and with those with whom we are in ongoing, worshipping communion.

…and deeds

The church, through its ministry (including its worship) under the authority of Christ and his written Word, bears witness to the One it proclaims and worships. It does this not only with words of witness, but also with deeds (actions) that confirm and corroborate the words. Such actions are a true witness to Christ when they accurately proclaim the indicatives of grace through deeds reflecting and thus showing forth the imperatives of grace. Such deeds point to the same character seen in Jesus, and so direct people to him.

Words take precedence

Though deeds are vital, proclamation using words takes precedence because, as Scripture tells us, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17 NKJV). Why is that so? Because the primary things declared in the gospel cannot be seen and thus cannot be exemplified in deeds alone. For example, the eternal existence of God before time cannot be seen. The eternal unity yet distinction in Persons of the Trinity cannot be seen. The eternal purposes of God for the entire cosmos cannot be seen or demonstrated. The meaning and significance of the cross of Christ cannot be seen or exemplified. The resurrection and its meaning cannot be seen or exemplified. The hope of the coming kingdom cannot be seen. God’s yet unfulfilled promises cannot be seen (including the promise of Christ’s return). The nature of the Holy Spirit and the movement of ministry of the Holy Spirit cannot be directly seen or predicted or demonstrated by our deeds. God’s ultimate justice, providence and victory over all evil cannot be seen or demonstrated. All these and more can only be conveyed by passing on a message using words—words that indeed can be heard by those who have “ears to hear.” And that is the primary way the faith, hope and love of the church is nourished and strengthened.

Conclusion: equipping for proclamation

The central vocation (ministry) of the church is to bear witness to Jesus Christ, and the primary way that takes place is by means of proclamation (preaching and teaching)—largely with words, but also with deeds that confirm the words, with the words of the gospel of Jesus Christ interpreting the deeds that are being done in his name. Thus the primary responsibility of those who pastor and otherwise have a leadership role in the church is to know Christ and to make him known through such proclamation. Accordingly, we as a church must emphasize equipping of leaders (pastors and ministry leaders) in formal and informal ways for the church’s ministry of proclamation.

February Equipper

Through the five articles linked below, this month’s Equipper addresses leadership development, a vital part of GCI’s ongoing journey of renewal.

From Greg: Team-based and pastor-led
Greg Williams explores the model of congregational leadership that GCI advocates and has governance systems in place to facilitate.

The Exhortation to the Apostles by Tissot
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Know yourself to lead yourself
Rick Shallenberger notes a key aspect of congregational leadership.

Team-based leadership resources
This article links to helpful resources related to congregational leadership.

RCL sermons: February 12—March 12
Here are five sermons synced with the Revised Common Lectrionary (RCL) Gospel readings.

Kid’s Korner: Discipling children in a small church
Here’s a helpful strategy for ministry to children in small churches with limited resources.

If you would like to automatically receive Equipper each month by email, you may subscribe by emailing Ted.Johnston@gci.org (put “subscribe to Equipper” in the subject line).

Death of Serge Volpe’s mother

We were saddened to learn of the recent death of Serge Volpe’s mother Anne. Serge serves as facilitator of a GCI fellowship group that meets in White Plains, New York.

Serge and Lynne Volpe

Anne went through a long period of decline, especially during the last three years, leading a few months ago to hospice care. Serge and his wife Lynne experienced multiple crises caring for Anne during those years while she battled COPD, cardiac problems, and moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

We pray for and extend condolences to Serge and Lynne, and to the whole Volpe family. Cards may be sent to:

Serge and Lynne Volpe
6 Grandview Ave
White Plains, NY 10605-1613