God's Word for today

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Scriptural reflections on prison ministry (3)

Passage: Colossians 3: 12-14
"Therefore, 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."

How does this passage relate to prison ministry?
The passage is saying that we have received forgiveness from God, who loves us and has shown “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” to us, and therefore we are called to exhibit the same character traits towards others.

In the case of prison ministry, this passage is of relevance in that the one thing that is sorely needed by prisoners is forgiveness, both from God (forthcoming) and from others (usually not forthcoming). While the person in prison may well have been convicted of criminal acts, their incarceration is part of the debt that they are repaying to society, and given that the aim of such incarceration is rehabilitation, part of this rehabilitation process is the sense that a prisoner can find forgiveness.

Part of our role as ministers in prison ministry is threefold: (1) to proclaim the message of God’s forgiveness; (2) to show the characteristics of compassion, kindness, etc. portrayed in Verse 13 when visiting those in prison; and (3) to help those outside prison – particularly those who have been wronged by those in prison – to come to a place where they too can exhibit these characteristics towards those in prison.

What relevance does this passage have for ministry?
Forgiveness is at the very core of the Christian message, starting with God’s outpouring of love by forgiving our every wrongdoing – even though we are undeserving of such love and forgiveness.

From a heart of forgiveness comes an outpouring of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, and it is such characteristics that attract people to hear the Christian message, respond to it, and demonstrate these characteristics to others.

A minister's primary responsibility is to proclaim this message of forgiveness and compassion, demonstrating it firstly through one's own life and witness. If God is prepared to forgive any and all wrongdoing, as Christians we should surely be prepared to act likewise? While one recognises that such absolute forgiveness is often a difficult and traumatic process – especially when a person has suffered greatly at the hands of another – it is a journey that we need to embark on if we are to obtain release from the bondage of unforgiveness and thereby walk in the fullness of God’s grace.

How does this passage define serving for Christ?
In the same way that the ministry of Jesus is one of reconciliation between God and humankind, we are called to practice the same ministry of reconciliation among ourselves. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to forgive us as we forgive others. True serving thus comes not only from being able to receive the forgiveness of God, but also from being able to extend that forgiveness to others.

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