ARF is something found in every legitimate relationship. Without ARF, the friendship experienced is either superficial or pretended, or it is bound for termination.
ARF is also a most prominent practice in every vibrant marriage. When ARF is missing, distant apathy or damaging abuse results.
Yes, ARF is vitality important in all relationships. This is true whether one is talking about best friends, husbands and wives, parents and children, siblings, or church members. This is also important to the experiential relationship between the sinful worshiper and their faithful Christ.
So, what is this ARF of which I speak? It is Acknowledgement, Repentance, and Forgiveness, and it is succinctly presented in Matthew 18.
First, there is acknowledgment. Preferably, the one who sins should go and acknowledge his transgression against his neighbor or against his Christ. This is always wonderful when someone is tender and concerned over their own sins. However, when this does not happen due to ignorance or apathy, the offended brother or the offended Christ should lovingly cast light upon the transgression.
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. (Matthew 18:15-17)
This is not self-serving. This is not to be a shaming. No, this is loving admonishment for the purpose of improving the joy of the relationship.
Acknowledgment is then to be followed by repentance. This is not always the case. Some people will prove their arrogant self-worship and remain unconcerned over their transgression, but how sweet it is when friends, spouses, parents, children, siblings, and church members “listen” and respond appropriately. When this happens, one “gains a brother,” for it is the lack of repentance that proves one to be a self-serving tax-collecting charlatan. Yes, through acknowledgment and repentance, the relationship is proved and improved. It is so beautiful when such is practiced between two neighbors. It is even more fantastic when a sinful worshiper converses with his loving Savior regarding his relational transgressions.
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. (Matthew 18:15)
However, at this point, reconciliation is still not achieved. In order for relational vitality to be enjoyed, there must be acknowledgement, repentance, and forgiveness. Consider the amount of space Jesus and Matthew gives to this proper response:
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?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35)
Believers in Jesus Christ, you are already forgiven of all your transgressions. More that seventy-seven times – infinite is the number – all your sins have been cast by your Lord and Savior into his Sea of Forgetfulness. As far as the East is from the West, so far has he removed your transgressions from you. So confess your sins; he is faithful and just to forgive. Follow the model of the Lord’s Prayer; acknowledge your transgressions and enjoy the reconciling voice of your Friend.
Then, Church of Jesus Christ, practice ARF without ceasing. Go to those you have offended, go to those who have offended you, and acknowledge those sins that harm the peace and purity of your ecclesiastical relationship. Confess your sins one to another. Repent of your grievances. Take others along to make sure this happen, and in the process forgive one another as Jesus Christ has forgiven you. ARF is essential to the practice of Christ’s faithful community. Let us be quick to lovingly confront. Let us be quick to lovingly repent. Let us be even quicker to graciously and lovingly forgive. As Peter learned, let us practice this over and over and over again.
Then, husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters, love God and your nearest neighbors by practicing ARF daily. Because you share the same domicile, your sins against one another are abundant. Do not become calloused in regards to your sins of affection, communication, and action. Use your mind and your mouth to dialogue regarding that which harms and divides. Repent in heart, word, and deed. However, keep this in mind, the relationship will not be improved and enjoyed without forgiveness. Your marriage and familial relationships will not be sweet unless you learn how to “forgive your brother from your heart.”
AR is good. AF is good. ARF is better.