The Brother In Sin
Most teachers use the parable of the unmerciful servant to emphasize spiritual poverty and the promise of suffering to those who are unwilling to forgive. It is of utmost importance to understand the primary emphasis of this parable. Clearly, we are NOT to be as this unmerciful servant. However, it is also important not to end there. In fact, treating the subject of forgiveness too superficially can do more harm than good.
To 'dig deeper' on the subject of forgiveness, we must first take a look at this parable IN IT'S CONTEXT. We must notice when Jesus gave this parable, and what He said just before it. After all, what preceded the parable of the unforgiving servant led up to it.
Dealing with a Sinning Brother and Forgiveness
In Matthew chapter 18, Jesus talks about stumbling blocks, and gives a dreadful warning to those who are stumbling blocks to His children of the Kingdom(18:1-10). The term "offenses" ("stumbling blocks") denotes the traps used in catching animals. In the New Testament, it always figuratively designates the attitude that leads others into sin* Jesus gives 'radical' allegorical advise to these stumbling blocks who have the defects which would cause them to go to hell(18:7-9), and continues by speaking about a lost sheep that has gone astray, again relating it to His 'little ones'(18:10-14) This lost sheep who has wandered away, or "gone astray" (18:12), is in grave danger of the elements and wild animals. In this allegory, a good shepherd gives top priority to finding this one sheep. Jesus uses this description of what the good shepherd does to describe both Himself, and to likewise establish that we too are to be concerned for our brother who wanders away. This is obvious by the fact that after giving this backdrop, Jesus then gives specific instructions of what to do with a brother in sin (18:15-20):
""And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother." (Mat 18:15)
What does it mean that you have "won your brother"?
"My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins." (James 5:19-20)
The one who "wanders from the truth" is either an 'in-name only' Christian who is in danger of spiritual death, or a brother in Christ who has fallen into sin and is in danger of severe discipline from the Heavenly Father in the here and now. Both realities are taught in Scripture, though the content of the passage would seem to favor the first option. In v. 20, the wanderer is called "a sinner," not a brother, and it is his "soul" which he is in danger of losing. "Soul" in this passage has the meaning of "life," and more particularly, his "eternal life" that will forever continue in either heaven or hell. James may be echoing the words of the Lord Jesus, who said:
"For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" (Matt. 16:26)
The rest of the instructions in Matthew 18:15-17 continues with additional steps should the first step of one on one confrontation fail, and the brother continues in sin. If all of these steps should fail, there is the eventual drastic action of severing of fellowship-a biblical 'tough love', sort of speak (cf. 1 Cor. 5:1-13; 2 Cor. 2:5-11; Gal. 6:1, 2). If any of the interventions succeed, there is no need for such drastic action, and it is very clear in Scripture that even this last step is done with the hope of restoration. In any case, when you have 'won your brother', sin no longer stands between God and the brother in sin, nor between you and the brother in sin. There is no offense, and there is full reconciliation.
What does all of this have to do with the parable of the unforgiving servant?
Well, right after these instructions, Peter asks (paraphrased): "But Lord,….just how many times should I be expected to forgive a brother who has sinned against me?" (18:21) Peter is personalizing this hypothetical scenario that Jesus has spoken of. He is thinking of not just a brother who sins in a generic sort of way, but one who has sinned against him. He's wondering how many times it takes before he can say, "No. You can forget it this time. I don't forgive you." Jesus answers him with an extremely large number (490), indicating there is no time when we can refuse to forgive the brother. This is reinforced with the parable of the unforgiving servant, and the warning at the end.
There's something about this parable that is often missed:
""But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.' So his fellow slave fell down and began to entreat him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.'" (Mat 18:28-29)
Peter had been personalizing the first step of the Matthew 18:15-17 process. Imagine if we go to our brother, who has sinned against us. He 'owes us' something, and we reprove him. What if the brother 'listens to us' and responds with humility? In the parable, the slave went out to find his brother who 'owed him', and his fellow slave responded by essentially asking for forgiveness and pleading for patience. He did not say, "What debt? What are you talking about?" or "It's just a few dollars, why worry over that?" or "You have owed more than I in the past, you know!" or tried to choke back in return. Rather, the fellow slave responded to his debt. It was at this point that the unforgiving servant should have forgiven and shown mercy, just as God had forgiven him. But he was a wicked servant, and showed no mercy.
All things considered, Scripture gives this outline of ideal contract of forgiveness:
Ideal forgiveness between God and man:
Joseph-The Merciful Servant
Jesus said, "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. And do not judge and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned." (Luke 6:36-37)
These words of Jesus lays out a principal reflected in quite a few other scriptures---that as we are gracious and merciful, we will 'reap' the same. The word translated 'pardon' here is the Greek word apoluo, or "to loose away from" or "away from destruction" (Luke 6:37) The best Hebrew equivalent to this in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word "nasah" meaning "lift up or away". This word is used at the end of the story of Joseph, after the Lord had allowed him to triumph and be co-ruler over Egypt during a severe drought. When Joseph was younger, his brothers had betrayed him out of jealousy, and sold him into bondage (Gen. 37:1-36) Years later, Joseph's brothers, humbly entreated him for forgiveness:
"When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "What if Joseph should bear a grudge against us and pay us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!" So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, "Your father charged before he died, saying, 'Thus you shall say to Joseph, "Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong."' And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father." And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, "Behold, we are your servants." But Joseph said to them, "Do not be afraid, for am I in God's place? (Notice, Joseph is refusing to 'play God' by judging those who sinned against him) And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones." So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them." (Gen 50:15-21)
At one time Joseph had been at the mercy of his brothers, and they had sinned against him. They had taken the opportunity of power to cruelly exile him into a life of slavery. If it had not been for his brother Rueben, they would've killed him. Later, the 'tables were turned', and Joseph had been exalted by God to a position of great authority. Joseph did not use this opportunity for revenge, as his brothers had feared. Instead, he extended an extraordinary grace (in human, fleshly terms). Over and over again, you will see a pattern of a change in power in the scriptures about forgiveness and grace. In the parable of the unmerciful servant, the same servant who had been at the mercy of God later had a fellow servant who was at his mercy. When in power (because of God), he wickedly withheld mercy. He did not act like Joseph.
It Takes Two to Reconcile
Seek Forgiveness, So That We May Be Reconciled
""If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering." (Mat 5:23-24)
Here, Jesus places responsibility on us to make another's offense a priority. It clearly indicates that our offerings are less important than how we have hurt someone. Offerings mean little to God, or perhaps nothing, when we have not done our part to be reconciled to our brother. So many Christians know that they have hurt their brother, but just go on their way, as if it doesn't matter. According to Scripture, it does.
The Difference Between Forgiveness and Reconciliation
I find one of the biggest confusions people can have, is on the subject of who exactly is acting like our enemy, and who is our true friend in Christ. This seems especially true when dealing with someone who claims he is being our brother in the Lord, but is not. Remember, the apostle John gave criteria to help us to discern the true Christian from the false one all through the epistle of 1 John. John outlined the main themes as righteousness and love. As noted before, this is the same criteria Jesus set as Who His friends are (John 15:9-14). The question of whether someone is temporarily or permanently out of touch with God's righteousness and Love does not matter. If they 'walk in darkness' they are walking away from God and are blind too. We cannot 'fall into the pit' with them.
There was a young lady whom the Lord called me to counsel. At first, I did not know her or anything about her. However, the Spirit would sometimes prompt me to go to her during church services and pray for her. It was during these times that she would say she was in a great deal of distress. Eventually, the Lord gave me a clear indication that the root of her difficulties were in relation to her father. She began to open up to me because of a word of knowledge of "Legalism" the Lord gave me regarding her father. From her descriptions of events regarding her father, I could tell that she had a dysfunctional relationship with her father. Her father was abusive toward her. At the time, this fact was obvious to others who knew of the situation and understood what abuse was, but she did not seem to fully realize it. In fact, she seemed to accept her father's actions as 'normal' behavior.
Because I had been slightly injured in a car accident, she began to come over to help me take care of my young children. It was already clear to me that she sometimes had bouts of depression. However, it was obvious that she was becoming even more depressed during this time. She spoke of feeling 'trapped' and hopeless. She told me that she was thinking of suicide. I noticed she would speak this way shortly after describing some abusive situation with her father. Although she was in her 20's, she still lived in the same house with him, convinced that she could not make it on her own . She couldn't sleep because of all the nightmares, and had just lost another job because she was too dysfunctional to keep it.
I knew I had to find a way to reach her-and soon. Incredibly, many of the Christians in our church gave her the counsel that she should keep living with her parents and her sisters. The tribulation would help her character, they said, plus perhaps she could 'help her family'. Understanding that her father's sinful and abusive behavior obviously contributed to her deep depression, I would ask her logical questions such as "How can you help your father or your family-when you can't even sleep at night?" She would then typically put a family member's well-being above her own, and feel sorry for her father. It was only at the times that she was less depressed that she would express anger over his actions toward her or her sisters. Since part of depression is suppressed anger, this pattern of either anger or depression did not surprise me. This father's actions would provoke any child to anger! (Eph. 6:4)
While praying, I was prompted to offer to her a teaching about forgiveness. Not the 'you must forgive' mandate, but something about the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. I called her and asked her if she would be willing to hear a teaching about forgiveness. "Oh-my father ALWAYS talks about forgiveness, and how we MUST forgive!! " she exclaimed. I promised her that this would not be more empty religion, and she agreed to come over.
I went over the scripture, and emphasized what true repentance is. She said that her father was never genuinely repentant, but she wished there was some way she could help him.
"Do you know there is a difference between reconciliation and forgiveness?" I asked. "What difference?", she said, "There is no difference." "Who taught you that?" I asked. "My father," she answered. I asked her what her father taught her, and she described the standard teaching from the parable of the unforgiving servant. However, I noticed her father also taught that PROOF of her forgiveness toward him was to be completely reconciled, as if nothing ever happened. "But what if your father wasn't repentant in the first place, and does it again and again?" I asked "So. I forgive him anyway-seven times seventy seven" "Yes. It's good to forgive. But that's not the same as reconciliation." She looked at me with a blank look. "Yes it is."
Next, I went over the Matthew 18:15-17 scripture, and she almost exploded with emotion. She looked terrified and angry at the same time. She said, "They'd never believe me. He's fooled his whole church. They think he is such a great Christian! He'd be real mad if I told them what he's really like, and no telling what he'd do! You know how he talks about me-all the things he says about me. You've heard him! They won't they won't do anything to him, and that church should have done something years ago! What's wrong with them! Why can't they tell!" I calmed her down, and reassured her I wasn't asking her to try to battle his well-groomed reputation at his church. I knew that I had touched upon something that deeply frightened her, and was not to talk further about the value of confrontation. She was overwhelmed at the thought of it, and was too intimidated, emotionally fragile, and suicidal. This reaction only confirmed for me that she felt completely unsupported and trapped, and needed to get away from an abusive situation.
Then the Lord prompted me to ask her a series of questions:
"When you live in a place of your own, do you lock your doors at night?"
"No." she answered. I was more than a little stunned. Here was this very beautiful young lady in her early twenties, telling me she never locked her doors!
"You aren't concerned about someone breaking in?"
"I want my friends to come in any time they want to," she answered.
"Okay. What if a robber comes in and steals something valuable?" She shrugged her shoulders. "What if he came back the next day, and said he was very sorry he stole from you?"
"I would forgive him," she said.
"You wouldn't make a police report?"
"No. That wouldn't be forgiveness. It should be like it never happened. It would be like he never did it. She referred to a scripture about when God forgives (Isa.43:25), our sins are forgotten.…"
"So you would trust him again and leave your door unlocked the next night like you normally do?"
"What if he came back a week from then, and broke in again, and stole again. Then he felt bad about it and came back the next day to say that he was sorry."
"I would forgive him."
"And keep the door unlocked, again?"
"Yes. That would prove I had forgiven him."
"And he never returned your items, and came back later and stole from you again. And again, and again. You would still forgive him, and leave the door unlocked?"
"Do you see how this does not make sense?"
"Well-Yes, I guess!"
"After awhile, you sure would have an empty house!"
"Do you realize that is what your father is asking of you? To trust him over and over again, and be like his best friend, while he does the same thing again and again?...In a way, isn't he asking you to pretend that everything is okay, when it's not?... Do you want to pretend, like you say every one else does?"
Suddenly, she comprehended the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation, and it was easier to talk with her about putting some safe distance between her and her father, for her own sake. I pointed out to her that although his entire church might be fooled, I was not fooled. Neither was another friend of hers. Not everyone was going to be fooled by his well-groomed reputation. She didn't have to go along with his charade, and pretend all was well out of fear that no one would support her. She didn't have to depend on the church to make a difference in her life, or be her support system. Instead, she could recognize that God brought people into her life who were willing to be supportive---people who were willing to not look the other way.
It was a few more months before she actually moved out of her father's house. Before then, she became so depressed that she was barely functional, but I would have her come over anyway. She was glad for the peace from all the fighting at her house. She said her nightmares were becoming more about her father, and more violent. She spent quite a few nights sleeping at my house or somewhere else. I strongly urged her to see a competent Christian psychologist, and recommended one to her. She could only afford the two evaluation sessions. Even so, by the second session the psychologist implored her to move out of her father's house-immediately. She did, and six months later she was mostly functional again with no nightmares.
Legalism, not God, freely used a forgiveness 'doctrine' as a tool to keep her in bondage to an abusive and painful relationship. Feeling trapped, she was thinking the only way out was death. As the story unfolded, it was discovered that her father often lied (this was confirmed), and never really admitted or took responsibility for any wrong-doing. This is typical of an unrepentant abuser. A year later, this young lady's youngest sister didn't just think about suicide, but attempted it. There had to be another kind of intervention to save her life, too.
Forgiving and Forgetting
Sins done against us can produce varying degrees of wounds-physical, emotional, mental or spiritual damage. I don't believe that God intended us to ignore the impact of sin-whether done to us or by us. I don't believe He is cruel and expects us to automatically reconcile with unrepentant abusers while they continue their destructive behavior against us. Nowhere does it say that God requires this of us.
"For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust." (Psa 103: 14)
In this situation, the abusive father had inappropriately used the following scriptures:
"I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins." (Isa 43:25)."
""And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the LORD, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."" (Jer 31:34)
Divine forgiveness is marked by its unlimited scope (cf. Ps. 78:38; Luke 17:3, 4), its absolute erasure of sins (cf. Ps. 103:12; Mic. 7:19; Heb. 10:17), its abundant and gracious pardon (cf. Isa. 55:7), and its automatic forgetting simultaneous with forgiveness (cf. Isa. 43:25; 44:22).*
God is omniscient; He is all-knowing. He cannot say that He does not have knowledge of our sins., so He says that He chooses to forget them. His reaction to abominations would ordinarily be one of outrage, or a pouring out His wrath upon us for our sin. However, He chooses NOT to remember, in order to have grace. If He were to remember, He would again be outraged over the sin, and would again be 'tempted' to pour out His wrath . The word "forgive" in Jer 31:34 is translated from the Hebrew word "salah". It can mean "send away" or "let go". So God purposely sends away our sins in the act of forgiving us:
"As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us." (Psalms 103:12 )
In the parable of the unmerciful servant, however, it is clear that God can choose again to remember those 'debts' or sins. Although His forgetting is intended to be permanent, it can be reversed if we also do not forgive as He does! Reversible grace! THIS is what Jesus warned us of.
The Three Crosses
When Jesus died on the cross, He made a way for forgiveness. In order for any man to RECEIVE that forgiveness, however, he must believe in Christ's sacrifice, repent and confess. Man's response is the completion of the contract, and upon completion of the contract he is reconciled with God.
Jesus pronounced forgiveness during His crucifixion just before His death when He said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34) The most obvious subjects he was forgiving were the Roman soldiers who executed Him. But they continued to mock Him, along with the people who agreed with the execution (23:35-37) They did not receive the forgiveness. Neither did one of the criminals who was hanging beside Him, who was also "hurling abuse at Him, saying, "Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!"" (23:39) But the other criminal being crucified feared of God. He repented and confessed, and entreated Christ to remember him:
"But the other answered, and rebuking him said, "Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." And he was saying, "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!"" (Luke 23:40-42)
Jesus answered by reassuring this repentant criminal, telling him he would be in Paradise with Him that day (23:43)
Even at Jesus' death, we had the example of the completion of the contract of forgiveness. Without form, tradition, or religious instruction, this one condemned criminal responded to the Spirit of Jesus and received forgiveness. But the other criminal did not receive forgiveness any more than he did not feared God or felt the weight of his guilt.
If you will notice, the parable of the unmerciful servant began with the king (the Heavenly Father) who "wished to settle accounts with his slaves" (Matt. 18:23) While he was passing judgment on the slave according to the debt, this slave entreated him (18:26) The king was in the position of power---to either pass judgment or extend mercy. Because he was a compassionate king, he forgave the slave who humbled himself and begged for mercy. In the next scene, we find this same slave also in a position of power, with his fellow slave also entreating him. Because he was wicked, however, he choose not to forgive (let go the debt) like God forgave him when he was in such a position.
Jesus gave this parable as a reinforcement of how we, as Christians, are to extend this same kind of 'let go' forgiveness to the brother whom we have reproved, who 'listens' to us. The number of times had no bearing. If we were to be strict about interpreting this logically, we must conclude that scenarios like this abusive father and his daughter did not even come close to this parable and the lesson stressed in it by Jesus. The abusive father was more like the unrepentant criminal who hung on the cross beside Jesus. Imagine him saying to Jesus, "And remember, (even though I've done nothing wrong) you have to forgive me, if you really are the Son of God. You HAVE to take me with you to paradise (be reconciled), to prove you are the Son of God, and that you've REALLY forgiven me like God does when He forgives, and that you REALLY do love me." Imagine the criminal saying this, as he hurled more abuse at Jesus, while not even acknowledging his sin or fearing God. Or imagine the soldiers below demanding Paradise (reconciliation with God), in like manner!
Jesus had already extended forgiveness to the guilty, but not all completed their part of the contract that day. Jesus said, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." This is for the unrepentant who do not understand their sin. Jesus, however, could not 'seal' the contract of forgiveness until there was a response to conviction of sin. He could not make a pronouncement of reconciliation until then.
Casting Pearls Before Swine-Two Common Manipulations
There are two common manipulations in which the issue of forgiveness is used toward the goal of instant premature reconciliation without repentance from the offender. One of these has already been described in the example of the abusive father.
1) You must forgive me (to prove you love me, you are a good Christian, you have good character)
This message is given by abusers who have learned the trick of 'requiring' premature reconciliation on their terms, without confrontation or repentance of their sin. They have learned just enough religion to use it for their own purposes, as a Band-Aid to their conscience. They also know just enough religion to know a little of what forgiveness means, and so they may think it means their victims have forgotten just as God has. Abuse victims (having been crucified, in a sense, by their offenders) might end up innocently extend forgiveness, even saying "I forgive you" to someone who does not even understand their need for it or have any motivation to change. Unfortunately, I've known of abusers who have taken this "I forgive you" statement as meaning they are not guilty of whatever their victim thought they were guilty of in the first place, and are not accountable (because to them it means 'it's forgotten,' as though it never happened). I've known them to warp this so much in their minds that they take forgiveness and grace as a license to sin again.
"What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?" (Rom 6:1)
Unfortunately, they were not good candidates to say a simple, "I forgive you" to, because it would convey the message that there is automatic reconciliation This is not because forgiving is the wrong thing to do---Not at all! It is because the unrepentant cannot understand it, receive it, or appreciate it. If they have not acknowledged their sin or asked for forgiveness, they cannot receive it any more than the unrepentant criminal on the cross. Reconciliation to them only meant that were 'off the hook'. They don't have to be concerned, pay retribution, or go to jail. Unfortunately, they would take advantage of grace by taking it as license to "continue in sin that grace might increase" (Rom. 6:1). They would take the gift of grace and stomp on it.
2) "Forgive me (reconcile), and I promise I will change."
This bargaining statement might be used in a number of different scenarios. For instance, the drug user who has just stolen money for his habit, or the alcoholic who still wants to try to stop drinking on his own strength. Other examples might be the minister who is an adulterous relationship and wants to avoid the embarrassment of the loss of his ministry, or the abusive family member who wants to save face and not suffer the loss of his relationships. Often, this promise is made by those who have addiction problems who in reality cannot change without intervention. In order to improve, they must understand that they are at a point to t have the humility to start asking for help. Any relationships they are involved in which gives them an outlet for their sick behavior, or in some way condones or supports their addiction adds to the problem. Those around them who do not understand what true repentance is, might agree to the bargain. When an offender bargains with someone in this way, their underlying motivation is to bargain away any consequences to their actions. They don't want to suffer any loss, any embarrassment, or any pain. This is typical of the self-centeredness of the abusive personality or any sinner who has little concept of how his activities effect other people. When he has no concept of how he hurts others, nor has he the power to change himself, he cannot hold to his promise. Tragically, the person who forgives/reconciles ends up being hurt again. But the words of the Apostle John tell what true love is:
"Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth." (1 John 3:18)
Solution to Manipulation
Forgiveness is a gift offered. It was extended by Jesus on the cross, but not everyone received it. Not everyone appreciated it or benefited from it. Still, Jesus extended it. The completed blessing of forgiveness-reconciliation to the giver of the gift -was received only by those who received it. Those who do not understand their need for the gift, are not able to understand the gift itself. Those who do not understand how much a 'pearl' reconciliation with you is, are unable to appreciate it if you were to give it to them. That's why they make no true effort to repent, yet bargain for a quick forgiveness and reconciliation. When they manipulate for a sort of uneasy 'truce', it is only for their own self-interests Also, someone who is manipulated into mouthing the words, "I forgive" or act like they have, is not given the chance to forgive from their heart. Everything is rushed by skipping alot of steps, and so the forgiveness itself is also rushed.
The unrepentant (those who don't fully acknowledge, confess, turn from their sin, or take penitent action), are not going to magically 'change' overnight with poor motives or quick self-help fixes for their remorse. They will do it again. Therefore, it is important for us to get ourselves, our loved ones, and our property at a safe distance from the unrepentant. God loves us, and does not ask us to make ourselves martyrs to a lost cause, or for any cause except the gospel. We do not further the gospel by letting ourselves or our children be destroyed. Instead, we make ourselves victims to 'works of the devil' (lie, steal, kill) which Jesus said He came to destroy. He died for us, from a position of power (He could have refused His 'cup'), for a purpose-our salvation. But we are not the salvation of the sinner-Jesus is! Knowing that being victims serves no purpose except our destruction can help us to choose to not be reconciled to the unrepentant.
The next choice we have to make is to forgive, and Jesus commanded us to forgive "those who trespasses against us." This is an unconditional statement. However, there is a volume of evidence in Scripture which makes clear that reconciliation IS conditional, even by God Himself. So, if not for reconciliation, then why forgive? The reason is for ourselves, because we can then 'let go' of the anger, and 'let God' be God. Our forgiveness releases the power of God to heal US, not the unrepentant sinner. Only repentance makes healing possible for the sinner, because repentance connects the sinner up to the only One who can heal--God. The relationship between the sinner and the sinned against is another factor, and it can only be healed from the effects of sin if there is forgiveness from one party AND humble repentance from the other party. Jesus proclaimed forgiveness from the cross to everyone, but He was not reconciled to anyone without their repentance.
Ourselves, the relationship, and the offender are all separate entities, and should be treated as such. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to take care of ourselves in the face of danger, by making sure we are in a position of safety. This may mean not saying the words "I forgive you" when it puts you in danger, or not confronting the sinner without those two or three witnesses Jesus spoke about. Pronouncing forgiveness in front of witnesses, or before God alone, makes it a spiritual reality. However, this does not mean we have to give the unrepentant any misguided impressions of instant reconciliation by saying it to them. If we choose to say it to them, it may be better to say, "I forgive you, but that doesn't mean we are reconciled. It doesn't mean I trust you, or that I'm going to give you the opportunity to do it again…" or "I'll forgive you (for my own sake, but it doesn't mean I'm going to lie for you by concealing what you did. It doesn't mean I'm not going to testify to the truth at your trial. It doesn't mean I'm not going to pick up the phone and call the police right now, to protect myself, my children, and society".)
These suggestions are all variations of the following theme:
As for me--I choose to forgive.
As for the relationship--it is not the same now.
As for you-- there are consequences to your sin in your life.
This is a practical way of separating out the relationship from the fact of forgiveness. In the case of the unrepentant, we do ourselves and others a service by not confusing forgiveness with reconciliation. Not rescuing people from the consequences of their sin (whether we are the one sinned against, or not) is not any different than how God has been known to approach sin. Scripture shows that EVEN GOD did not rescue one of His most beloved people from the all of the raw consequences of their sin. This person was David, who went into Bathsheba, arranged for her husbands death, was rebuked by the prophet Nathan for it, and repented (Psalm 51) Nevertheless, Nathan's pronouncement of God's judgment over David's sin still happened. Like a pebble thrown in the water, there was no stopping the ripples. This, in spite of David's fasting and mourning while he appealed to God over the coming death of his newborn son. I believe the second son by Bathsheba, Solomon, was symbolic of the rebirth because of forgiveness. . There appear to be limits to how fast the reversal process in one's life can be done, even with true repentance. It's a miracle that any of us are rescued from the consequences of our sins, but it is not instant 'magic'. Perhaps, EVEN GOD cannot supercede His own laws of cause and effect set in the Universe. Yet, He made provision through Jesus, which set forth another cause and effect 'law', thus reversing the curses we have given ourselves as quickly as possible when we repent.
In the New Testament, there are four Greek words rendered "forgive". The only one even close in meaning to the Old Testament Hebrew word meaning 'send away' or 'let go', is the Greek word aphiemi, meaning "send away" or "let off". The scriptures in which aphiemi is used as 'forgive' in the New Testament, are scriptures about how God forgives us (Mark 3:29), in regards to our redemption through Jesus (Acts 5:31; 13:38; 26:18; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14). It is also used in a description of us forgiving man as God forgives us in the Lord's prayer and the parable of the unmerciful servant.
We get our examples of forgiveness from both God the Father and Jesus His Son. God the Father teaches us His laws, and Jesus shows us His unconditional love. Through both examples and instructions, we find the balance between conditional 'law' and unconditional grace. Essentially, forgiveness is conditional grace.
'Letting Go'-- God Style:
Remember, none of this is about imagined offenses, or holding people to impossible standards, trying to make them live up to your unrealistic expectations. If that's the case, the only 'reconciliation' we have to make is reconciling ourselves with reality-what we can realistically expect of others. We are all human, and therefore not perfect. Forbearance is a part of the Christian walk. Serious sin (wickedness) divides us all from one another, even if we put up a front of false unity. This is because it divides the false Christian from the true Christian, since one brings shame to Christ, recrucifying Him (Hebrews 6:6) and the other does not. The tares are evident by their unrighteousness (1 John 3:9-10), but complete division will be made more clear at the end of the Age (Matt. 13:25-30). However, if we are 'dividing' now over minor things (anything other than serious, repeated, sinful behavior and abuse of power or authority without repentance), we are not in the spirit of unity!
|To HarvestNET Love page||To HarvestNET Atonement page|