For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.Matthew 6:14-15 (KJV)
Forgiveness is a difficult issue. I have been hearing a lot of songs on Christian radio about it lately. And I myself have been struggling with this issue. Here is my thought-provoking question for today:
What constitutes forgiveness? It’s obviously not just saying the words “I forgive you.” That is not real forgiveness if you are still harboring resentment in your heart against the person who sinned against you. But on the other hand, forgiveness does not always mean that the consequences of the sin to be forgiven can be completely mitigated or go completely unpunished. It may be impossible to restore a relationship severed by sin.
Jesus said to turn the other cheek. This basically means to me that if someone commits a small sin against you, there is not even any need for forgiveness, because the sin is so small that you can just ignore it and go on your way.
In Matthew 18:21-35 we have a parable about servant who was not forgiven by a king (which figuratively represents God) because he did not forgive another servant. The servant refused to forgive despite the fact that the other servant asked for forgiveness, his monetary debt (which figuratively represents sin) was small in comparison to his own debt and the king had forgiven him of this large debt.
So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.Is forgiveness always possible and it is always appropriate? Well, the willingness to forgive should certainly be unlimited. Seventy times seven (Luke 17:4). But notice what the previous verse says:
Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.Luke 17:3 (KJV)
Notice that rebuking comes first, then repentance, and then forgiveness. If someone commits a sin 490 times and asks for forgiveness each time, then you should forgive them each time. God’s forgiveness is different from man’s forgiveness in that the eternal salvation of man is dependent on the former and not the latter. Man’s forgiveness is imperfect in this way, but it seems to me that in all other respects it is basically the same.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.1 John 1:9 (KJV)
Notice that again, forgiveness is conditional. If it was not conditional, then God would be condoning sin. But the conditions for forgiveness are not hard to achieve. All you have to do is admit that what you did was wrong and intend not to do it again!
But what if the person who sinned against you does not even acknowledge that he (or she) sinned against you? The Bible has an answer for this, but the “popular opinion” diverges from the Truth in most modern American Christian congregations. Here it is:
15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.Matthew 18:15-20 (KJV)
9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: 10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. 11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. 12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? 13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.I Corinthians 5:9-13 (KJV)
The goal of this teaching is not to kick someone out of the church, but cause them to repent. But that is more or less what must be done if someone stubbornly refuses to repent even when confronted by the entire congregation. The goal is repentance and forgiveness, but it doesn’t make any sense to say, “I forgive you, but I am going to treat you like a pagan or tax collector and I am not going to associate with you.” Forgiveness just doesn’t extend to the case of an unrepentant sinner. To say otherwise, you must either contradict the Scriptures or water down the definition of forgiveness to the point where it doesn’t mean anything at all but just saying the words, “I forgive you”. Notice also that the above passages apply only to a “man who is called a brother” (i.e. not a real Christian, but a false convert or apostate among the believers).
Here is why this method works:
To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.I Corinthians 5:5 (KJV)
Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. 7 So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him,II Corinthians 2:6-7 (KJV)