A recent poll conducted by Barna, entitled the State of Your Church, revealed that 58% of people who attend church rated their contentment in family and personal relationships as ‘strong’.
When the individuals classified themselves as practicing Christians, the rate of ‘strong satisfaction’ went up to 67%.
According to Christian Headlines, it was a stark contrast to the general population, where only 34% of Americans had what they considered a strong satisfaction with family and personal relationships.
The same percentage differences showed up again when people were asked if these relationships were as satisfying as they could be.
In other words, the pollsters were wondering if there was room for improvement, that would balance out the answers to the first question.
Though the percentages went down, again practicing Christians, 61%, and 50% of church members stated that they were satisfied with where things were at and weren’t necessarily seeking to improve these relationships.
In contrast, only 29% of the general population said they were happy with how things were going, meaning 71% were desiring improvement.
Now, there could be several reasons for these discrepancies, but a major one may revolve around a question that Peter asked Jesus in Matthew 18.
Peter approached Christ and asked how many times he needed to forgive his brother. It was actually a rhetorical question because Peter also threw out what he obviously considered a magnanimous answer, seven times.
21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22 ESV)
Undoubtedly, Peter considered this an overly generous response and was expecting a pat on the back from Christ because it more than doubled the amount that the rabbis said a person needed to forgive. Based on Amos 1:3-13, where God forgave Israel’s enemies three times before judging them, the rabbis taught that a person only needed to forgive a maximum of three times.
However, Jesus responded that Peter needed to forgive seventy times seven, or 490 times.
Now, this doesn’t mean that Christ put a limit to how many times a person needed to forgive, because who would be able to keep track of nearly 500 specific offenses. Jesus was essentially saying you have to forgive and keep on forgiving.
And if a person actually kept a list, had they really forgiven in the first place? When God forgives, He also forgets and tosses our sins in the deepest part of the sea (Micah 7:19).
The Greek word, ‘delphos’, translated ‘brother’ in Peter’s initial question, can refer to both an actual family member and as well a person who is similarly close to you. The fact it was in the singular suggests that Peter may have had a specific person in mind.
It’s the closeness and expectations that we have about our family and friends, that make us vulnerable to hurt.
No family or relationship is perfect, and that obviously includes Christian ones. We all say and do things that anger each other, but the difference is that Jesus taught repeatedly about our need to forgive.
Forgiveness repairs relationships.