February 17, 2017

Forgiven People Forgive

by Mike Riccardi

ForgiveWell, we’re back to our series on dealing with sin in the church from Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 2:5–11. If you haven’t read the other posts in this series, I’d encourage you to do so. We’ve been moving through the stages of faithful, successful discipline, and have seen three of them so far. First, there is the harmful sin that makes discipline necessary; second, there’s the corporate discipline itself; and third, there is, we hope, genuine repentance. The fourth stage, after there has been genuine repentance, is comforting forgiveness. Paul says, “Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, 7so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.”

Here we glean a principle that needs to take root in the soil of every Christian’s heart: where there is repentance, there is forgiveness. When a sinner repents, the church forgives. And though the original events of this text lead us to apply this principle first of all to cases of corporate church discipline, we all need to hear this point in light of our own duty to forgive those who sin against us personally. When a sinner repents, Christians forgive.

Requiring Penance?

But the Corinthians weren’t not abiding by this principle. Remember, they had come to grips with how serious it was for them to take sides with the offender against the Apostle Paul. Through Paul’s severe letter (cf. 2 Cor 2:4), they had experienced that godly sorrow that leads to repentance. 2 Corinthians 7:11 speaks about the fruit of Corinthians’ godly sorrow and genuine repentance as it related to the offender: “For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong!” Though they had been hesitant to discipline the man who had challenged Paul’s authority, they were now indignant with him. Paul speaks of their zeal, and their avenging of wrongdoing in this matter of disciplining this person.

And by the grace of God, corporate discipline had had its intended effect; it brought this sinning brother to repentance. But the Corinthians weren’t satisfied. They refused to forgive him and welcome him back into the church. And the fact that Paul says the punishment was sufficient (2 Cor 2:6), and “on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him” (2 Cor 2:7) implies that they were looking to impose even severer punishment. They believed that he needed to suffer further before being restored to the church. He needed to be made to wallow in the grief of his sin. In a real sense, the Corinthians were demanding that this man do penance. His repentance was not enough; they were requiring that he now further “atone” for his sins by suffering further shame, grief, and sorrow. Once he had felt bad enough about his sin, well then they would welcome him back.

It is Finished

But such self-atoning penance is no more acceptable to the true church than it is to God Himself. Think for a moment about the times when you find yourself on your face before God, confessing a familiar sin to Him and asking for forgiveness again. He has every right to be indignant with you. He has every right to rake you over the coals for sinning against Him again—especially after He has forgiven you countless times for that same sin. But when you come to your Father in repentance, seeking forgiveness for your sins and restored fellowship with Him, He doesn’t require you to perform a laundry list of duties before He welcomes you back. He doesn’t say, “Nope, you need to sit in the dog house a little while and feel worse about what you’ve done.”

It is FinishedAnd why not? Because Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient atonement for all your sins. When the Son of God received in Himself the full exercise of His Father’s wrath against the sins of His people, He did not fail to pay for a single one of your sins. He didn’t dodge the slightest stroke of His Father’s rod. He drank every last drop of that miserable cup, and cried, “It is finished!” There is nothing more that you could do to pay for your sins. And to suppose that you can pay for them—whether it be by reciting Hail Marys, or by wallowing in your grief trying to feel sorry enough so God will take you back—is nothing short of blasphemy. You could fill the oceans with sorrow, and there would never be enough sorrow to atone for even a single sin.

And if that is the case with God’s forgiveness of you, dear Christian, how could it be any different with your forgiveness of your brothers and sisters? Or how could a church demand from its members more than God Himself demands of them? When a sinner repents, church discipline has achieved the purpose for which it was instituted. For the church to withhold forgiveness at that point is to abandon the remedial and restorative blessings of discipline, and to move into cruel domineering, as Calvin said. Philip Edgcumbe Hughes writes,

“Discipline which is so inflexible as to leave no place for repentance and reconciliation has ceased to be truly Christian; for it is no less a scandal to cut off the penitent sinner from all hope of re-entry into the comfort and security of the fellowship of the redeemed community than it is to permit flagrant wickedness to continue unpunished in the Body of Christ” (66–67).

Swallowed Up in Despair

The fruit of that kind of domineering over-lordship is utter despair. Paul says, “Forgive him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.” “Overwhelmed” is the Greek term for “swallowed,” “drowned,” or “devoured.” Paul is concerned that this repentant man be forgiven and comforted, lest he be swallowed up and drowned by excessive sorrow. Now, it might sound a bit melodramatic, but think for a moment about the sheer power of the despair for ever being forgiven. If you have sinned grievously, and, because of your stubborn refusal of the correction of your brothers and sisters, have been put out of the fellowship of the church, but now by the grace of God you have owned your folly as sin and have sought to abandon your error and be restored to God’s people, and you go to them expressing repentance, but they tell you that you’re not forgiven and still not welcome——how helpless and alone would you feel?

You would feel as if there is absolutely nothing that could ever be done to help your estate. It’s one thing to feel like a stranger and alien among the world; they are of their father and you are of yours. But to be made to feel like you’re a stranger and alien even among the people of God is an unbearable thought. It would be to make a spiritual orphan out of you. How long would it be before your flesh convinced you that there’s no point to repentance—no point to pursuing holiness at all? If repentance from sin gets you isolated and cut off from the people of God, it will only be a matter of time before you plunge headlong into sin without any hope of ever being restored to fellowship. Friends, the power to fight sin comes from the freedom of Christ’s forgiveness. For the church to withhold forgiveness from repentant sinners is to imprison those whom Christ had made free—to cripple them, to weigh them down with despair.

DrowningThat kind of sorrow devours a person; it swallows him up. Just as properly-administered discipline brings godly sorrow, so poorly-administered discipline brings worldly sorrow. “Godly sorrow,” Paul says, “produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Cor 7:10). God doesn’t mean for believers to be totally consumed by grief over their sin; He wants them to experience the godly sorrow that leads to a repentance without regret. Excessive sorrow can be so unbearable that it even leads to death (e.g., Matt 27:3–5).

And so Paul says to “forgive and comfort him.” As surely as correction and discipline are to follow sin, forgiveness is to follow repentance. Just as it is grossly unfaithful for a church to fail to deal with sin in its midst by failing to administer discipline, it is just as grossly unfaithful for a church to fail to forgive a sinner who repents. Charles Hodge captured it nicely when he wrote, “Undue severity is as much to be avoided as undue leniency.”

Forgiven People Forgive

Undue severity just as unfaithful as undue leniency because it is so outrageously out of tune with the Gospel. I’ve always been struck by the utter wisdom of the Holy Spirit to place the parable of the unmerciful slave immediately after Christ’s teaching on church discipline.

Back in Matthew 18, immediately after Christ finishes speaking about binding and loosing, Peter pipes up. And he asks, not, “Lord, how many times should I be forgiven if I’m a bonehead and sin against my brother over and over again?” but, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” And Jesus said, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven. As often as there is repentance, so often is there to be forgiveness.”

And then he tells the story of a man who owed his master an incalculable debt; ten thousand talents was equivalent to 150,000 years’ wages. He couldn’t pay the debt, so he and his family were to be sold into slavery. The man threw himself to the ground and begged his master to give him time to pay. And the master had such compassion on him that he didn’t just give him time to pay, but forgave the entire debt! But then the slave came across one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii—equivalent to about 100 days’ wages—and he grabbed his friend by the throat and demanded to be paid! And just as he had done with his master, his friend fell to the ground and begged him to give him time to pay. And this man, who had just been forgiven, threw his fellow slave in prison until he was paid back a debt that was 0.000183% of the debt that he was just forgiven!

What would you say about such a man? Absurd! Wicked! No appreciation whatsoever of what it meant to be forgiven! Well, the other slaves went and told the master what this man had done. Unmerciful SlaveAnd he summoned his slave to him and said, “You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?” (Matt 18:32–33). And then Jesus comments, “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart” (Matt 18:34–35).

Friends, we who have been declared righteous in Christ have been forgiven an incalculable debt. Not 150,000  years, but eternity. And not in a debtor’s prison, but in hell itself. That is the just payment that our sins deserved. And because of the unspeakable grace and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ, we don’t pay a thing! We have been forgiven! And yet what happens? We are so prideful, that when our brother or sister sins against us, we are intransigent: “It isn’t right! She sinned against me! And I demand justice!”

And people try to reason with you. “But she’s come and confessed. She’s admitted her sin and has asked for your forgiveness.”

“I don’t care! She’s not getting off that easy!”

Now, you don’t always give voice to that kind of severity, but whenever you refuse to forgive someone who has come to you in repentance and has asked for your forgiveness, that is what’s going on in your heart.

Do you understand the Gospel? Do you understand the unspeakable magnitude of your sin against a holy God? Do you understand that the perfect sacrifice of Christ has paid your debt, so that you are forgiven? Then how in the world can you, who have sinned against God and have been spared the tortures of hell, refuse to forgive such an insignificant crime committed against yourself, and insist on your pound of flesh?

It simply cannot happen. For those who have truly experienced the forgiveness that the Gospel brings, it is a delight to extend forgiveness to others. Those who’ve been forgiven by God are eager to forgive those who sin against them, because it gives them an opportunity to be an imitator of their Father. That’s why Jesus says, “If you forgive others, God will forgive you, but if you don’t forgive others God won’t forgive you” (Matt 6:14–15). He’s not saying that salvation is conditioned upon forgiveness. He’s saying that if you can profess to be forgiven of such an incalculable debt as eternity in hell, and then refuse forgiveness to those who come to you in repentance, then you give evidence that your heart is a stranger to the grace of God in Christ, and that you aren’t even a believer yourself.

Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also as forgiven you.”

Colossians 3:12–13: “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”

Do you see the way Scripture reasons? Forgiven people forgive.

Conclusion

And so Paul says, “The punishment already past is sufficient. He’s repented. Forgive this man, and comfort him, otherwise he might be swallowed up by sorrow and despair.”

“But Paul, don’t you remember how he stood up and defied you in front of the whole church—”

“Don’t worry about me. I’ve forgiven him—if even there was anything to forgive” (cf. 2 Cor 2:10).

“Anything to forgive? How can you say that?”

“Dear friends, because I am ever so conscious of the sin that I’ve been forgiven by Christ. And in light of the cross, sin against me looks a thing so miniscule and infinitesimal that I’m not sure it even registers as a crime.” That’s how forgiven people talk.

Do you talk like that? And more than talk like it: do you act like that? And even more than acting like it: does your heart pulse with that kind of forgiving spirit? Is it the reflex of your heart to forgive a sinning brother or sister? That is the kind of forgiving that we, as forgiven people, are called to. May we fix our eyes so firmly on our own forgiveness that we delight to extend something of that forgiveness to others.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • Lynn B.

    Mike: Would you define what it means to forgive please? If there is forgiveness does there ever need to be restitution in any way?

    When should a criminal offense be reported to authorities? Does repentance/forgiveness affect that decision?

    In personal relationships, what if the one sinning does not repent (especially when the sin is grievous such as sexual/physical abuse)? Do we still forgive?

    What does it mean that love covers a multitude of sins? Does that mean love covers after repentance or absent repentance? Does it mean love covers a multitude of little offenses and repentance is required only for the “big” sins?

    When Dylann Roof murdered nine members of a Charleston, SC church, the family and church immediately announced to the world that they forgave him. Was this a biblical response? Was it helpful to the cause and message of the gospel?

    True story: A young unmarried woman becomes pregnant. Both she and the father of the child are repentant and completely broken when they go to their pastor. The pastor determines that they will be “disciplined” by the church for one year to make them an example to other young people. They are not excommunicated, but make a public confession before the church and are denied wedding and bridal showers and a church wedding. Your thoughts?

    • Jason

      My thoughts on the true story is that the church opposed the very thing that God commanded as far back as Exodus 22:16.

      That’s not to say we should take it upon ourselves make every cohabitation couple we may know marry, but specifically denying it to expecting parents who desire to commit themselves to each other seems to miss the point.

      Then again, the more I study what the scriptures say about marriage, the more I’m surprised how much of the world’s redefinition the church (and myself) has already incorporated. Albert Mohler spoke toward this recently:

      http://www.albertmohler.com/2017/02/14/briefing-02-14-17/

      • Lynn B.

        Jason: They were married in the pastor’s office but denied a church wedding and the festivity. Likewise, there was no celebration of the baby.

      • Lynn B.

        Jason: They were married in the pastor’s office but denied a church wedding and the festivity. Likewise, there was no celebration of the baby.

        I would add in response to Mohler (but not in contradiction to what he said) that scripture does speak of celebrating a wedding culminating in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb which is the ultimate celebration of repentant and forgiven sinners, the Bride of Christ.

        • Jason

          I guess we should all just be glad that the marriage supper of the lamb will be celebrated even though we didn’t observe proper protocol prior to our union with Christ.

    • This comment should have gone here:

      Mike: Would you define what it means to forgive please?

      Every Christian knows what it means to be forgiven by God for his/her sins. It means God doesn’t count our sin against us (cf. 2 Cor 5:19; cf. Rom 4:7-8). Apart from Christ, our sin erects a judicial and relational barrier between us and God; we are accountable to pay for our sin and until we do [that is, until the Spirit applies Christ’s payment for sin on our behalf, through repentance and faith] there is loss of genuine fellowship with God. When the Spirit applies the work of Christ to us in salvation, the judicial ground of our enmity is taken away as sin is paid for and God’s wrath is propitiated, and therefore we can be reconciled to God as if we had never committed those sins.

      That same definition ought to apply for forgiveness between believers. In the context of church discipline, to forgive means to welcome a repentant sinner back into the fellowship of Christ’s church, no longer holding their sin against them. In personal relationships, it means the same — their offense is no longer the ground of judicial or relational separation between the offender and offended.

      If there is forgiveness does there ever need to be restitution in any way?

      Yes, in some cases that is necessary (cf. Luke 19:8).

      When should a criminal offense be reported to authorities?

      Books could be written about that, because every situation is so different. Therefore, it’s unwise to speak in generalities. Certainly, if your state requires pastors to be mandatory reporters of domestic/child abuse, it would include submitting to that authority.

      Does repentance/forgiveness affect that decision?

      In some cases, it might. If a young man stole money from the house of his friend’s parents, was found out, confessed, repented, and asked forgiveness, the elders might legitimately encourage the parents not to press charges but to accept the restitution of the money (and perhaps other things the parents of each child would agree upon), and put the matter behind them.

      But in the case of mandatory reporting issues, repentance could not affect that decision. There are consequences for sin, even when sin is forgiven. The death of David’s child from Bathsheba is a clear instance of that: David would not die for his sin; it was forgiven. But the child died as a consequence of his wickedness (2 Sam 12:13-14). The church, therefore, doesn’t hold sin against someone who has repented; they don’t consider him an unbeliever or exclude him from the fellowship of the church. But the real-world (often legal) consequences of his sin may be beyond the scope of forgiveness and restoration to fellowship, and the church has no right to attempt to side-step those consequences.

      In personal relationships, what if the one sinning does not repent (especially when the sin is grievous such as sexual/physical abuse)? Do we still forgive?

      I believe Scripture defines forgiveness as that which can only be granted when there is repentance. Forgiveness necessarily entails the restoration of a relationship, and that can’t happen when the offender is unrepentant. In 2 Cor 2:5-11, the only reason why Paul can say the corporate punishment was sufficient, and that the offender should be forgiven and comforted, is because there had been genuine repentance (cf. 2 Cor 7:5-16).

      That doesn’t mean, however, that, absent repentance, the offended party is allowed to harbor bitterness against the offender. We must cultivate our hearts so that we are always ready to forgive when forgiveness is asked. But it’s my opinion, by definition, forgiveness can’t happen without repentance. See Chris Brauns, Unpacking Forgiveness, for a book-length defense of that notion.

      What does it mean that love covers a multitude of sins? Does that mean love covers after repentance or absent repentance? Does it mean love covers a multitude of little offenses and repentance is required only for the “big” sins?

      Definitely not the latter, no. It means that not every personal offense against you requires a transaction of repentance and forgiveness. It’s to a man’s glory to overlook a transgression (Prov 19:11). Love does not take into account a wrong suffered (1 Cor 13:5). It means that love is able to absorb offense, such that the relationship is not hindered without there being a transaction of repentance, confession, and forgiveness. If you verbally mistreat or insult me on this comment thread, there doesn’t need to be a rift in our relationship as brothers until I pursue you and you ask forgiveness and I grant it. I can just overlook it, as Proverbs 19:11 says, or not take it into account, as 1 Cor 13:5 says, or cover it, as 1 Peter 4:8 says. If, however, the offense is serious enough that I can’t move on from it without there being a conversation — without there being a genuine rift in our relationship — it’s something I ought to gently bring up with you in pursuit of peace (Rom 12:18).

      When Dylann Roof murdered nine members of a Charleston, SC church, the family and church immediately announced to the world that they forgave him. Was this a biblical response?

      I think what they were doing was showing that they had an attitude of forgiveness, that they refused to be bitter or vengeful. They may have called that “forgiving” him, but I don’t think that’s the right name for it. Nevertheless, I do think it’s a biblical attitude to be poised to forgive at the first sign of repentance. If that is what those people were expressing, then it was a biblical response.

      Was it helpful to the cause and message of the gospel?

      I think it was a testimony that those who name the name of Christ desire to imitate Him in forgiving those who mistreat them. But I don’t know anything about that church or the spiritual state of its congregants, so it’s hard for me to comment on that.

      True story: . . . Your thoughts?

      Realizing that I don’t have all the facts, and so whatever evaluation I come to must be tentative (Prov 18:17), that seems to be precisely the kind of heavy-handed, vindictive, overlordship that Paul was insisting that the Corinthians desist from. I find that story to be utterly repugnant and out of step with the Gospel. That’s not how Christ treats us.

      • Lynn B.

        Mike, So much good stuff here that I have to further digest it later. Thank you! I have studied repentance and forgiveness until I had to set it aside and take a break. I believe that I have Brauns’ book but I have not read it yet. When you begin to re-learn fundamental things like forgiveness it takes some time (at least for me) to really wrap your mind around the concepts correctly.

        Just this for tonight if you care to answer… I agree with you about the heart attitude of the people in Charleston, and I salute them for their desire to honor God amidst great tragedy and loss. But if someone had killed nine members of your church how would you have
        responded to the public and press? That is an extreme illustration but we deal
        with the same principle in lesser ways. As I learn to understand true forgiveness requires repentance, it leaves me at a loss sometimes in communicating with others who have a different understanding and language of forgiveness. Many believers even argue that when Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them…” that He was in fact forgiving. I’m thinking that part of the answer is that we’re called to LOVE our enemy (whatever that may mean) but not forgive them.

  • csquared78

    Mike…thank you for this post. I do have a question. How do we respond to those who sin against us, but don’t ask for forgiveness and don’t repent of their sin. I know we cannot hold a grudge against them and allow ourselves to become embittered, but what should our response to them be. I’m asking this not as a church, but as an individual. Please share some thoughts. Thanks.

    • I think you’ve answered it in your question. We don’t hold grudges. We don’t nurse bitterness. We don’t seek vengeance. We pray for them, especially for the Spirit to work in their hearts and lead them to repentance. And we cultivate in our own hearts a readiness to forgive the moment forgiveness is sought.

      Thomas Watson put it this way:

      Question: When do we forgive others?

      Answer: When we strive against all thoughts of revenge; when we will not do our enemies mischief, but wish well to them, grieve at their calamities, pray for them, seek reconciliation with them, and show ourselves ready on all occasions to relieve them. (Body of Divinity, 581)

      Piper outlines how each of those components is manifestly biblical:

      1. Resist thoughts of revenge: Romans 12:19, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

      2. Don’t seek to do them mischief: 1 Thessalonians 5:15, “See that no one repays another with evil for evil.

      3. Wish well to them: Luke 6:28, “Bless those who curse you.”

      4. Grieve at their calamities: Proverbs 24:17, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.”

      5. Pray for them: Matthew 5:44, “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

      6. Seek reconciliation with them: Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

      7. Be always willing to come to their relief: Exodus 23:4, “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him.”

      I hope that helps.

  • Gavin Baxter

    Thanks for this important series, Mike. I would appreciate some comment on how the church might continue to work with those who are forgiven, more specifically in regard to future / continuing leadership – for example, if their sin was in the area of theft, or promiscuity. How do we totally forgive and yet hold an awareness of areas of an individual’s weakness in order to not put someone into an area of temptation &/or bring possible future blemish to the church?

    • Forgiveness relates to the churches evaluation of one’s status before God and their participation in the fellowship of His people. Restoration to fellowship does not always imply a restoration to positions of leadership and responsibility. Elders and deacons are to be above reproach (1 Tim 3:2, 10). One who has been discovered as a thief, and who has repented, ought to be welcomed back into the fellowship of the church, but probably shouldn’t be given oversight of the church’s finances. One who has been discovered as a fornicator or adulterer, and who has repented, ought to be welcomed back into the fellowship of the church, but, because he is not above reproach, is not the husband of one wife, etc., he cannot hold the office of elder or deacon. (Note, I’m speaking of one whose fornication or adultery happened while a Christian, not pre-conversion; cf. 2 Cor 5:17.)

      Forgiveness does not mean that there will be no consequences for sin. As I said in my reply to Lynn above, there are consequences for sin, even when sin is forgiven. The death of David’s child from Bathsheba is a clear instance of that: David would not die for his sin; it was forgiven. But the child died as a consequence of his wickedness (2 Sam 12:13-14). The church, therefore, doesn’t hold sin against someone who has repented; they don’t consider him an unbeliever, exclude him from the fellowship of the church, or consider him “second-class.” But the consequences of his sin may be beyond the scope of forgiveness and restoration to fellowship. The church needs to be wise for precisely the reasons you bring up (causing others to stumble, bringing reproach upon Christ and the church, etc.).

  • grh

    Excellent series. 3 questions: if you can get to at least some of them it’s appreciated:

    1- At what point do we shift from forgiving our brother “seventy-seven times” to recognizing the truth of 1 Jn. 3:9, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning.” In other words, at what point does “forgive an infinite number of times” devolve into naivete?

    2- At what point is forgiveness actually extended? Is it right away as soon as there is an offense, regardless of whether the offender is repentant or not, or is forgiveness extended after repentance occurs? I have encountered those who advocate the former, and I am confused as to how that is in keeping with the mandate to hold each other accountable as “my brother’s keeper”…

    3- What do you say to the position that views Matt 18 and 1 Cor 5 and 2 Cor 2 as completely separate, not having anything to do with each other? There is at least one well-known organization that holds this, saying that Paul did not have Matthew 18 in view when he commanded the sinning man in 1 Cor 5 to be put out of the congregation, and thus 1 Corinthians 5 is not an example of church discipline for today, and that 2 Cor 2 is talking about a general attitude and not necessarily the same guy as in 1 Cor 5. Seems to me to violate the principle of allowing the more clear texts of Scripture to interpret the less clear texts…

    Again, well-done in this series. It’s much needed!

    • 1- At what point do we shift from forgiving our brother “seventy-seven times” to recognizing the truth of 1 Jn. 3:9, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning.” In other words, at what point does “forgive an infinite number of times” devolve into naivete?

      I believe the clear principle is you forgive as often as there is repentance. Now, that requires that one define genuine repentance carefully. Has someone truly repented of sin if, as soon as they have forgiveness, they turn around and do the same thing again? If someone is causing division and is warned per Titus 3:10, admits his wrong and asks forgiveness, but then the next week keeps right on sowing discord, he hasn’t repented. Repentance is not only intellectual and affectional (i.e., acknowledging sin and feeling sorry), but volitional — it involves a movement of the will to turn from that sin. Nevertheless, that is to be balanced with how often we ourselves return to Christ asking forgiveness for the same sin again. Let us be as charitable with a sinning brother as we our to ourselves concerning our own genuineness of faith.

      2- At what point is forgiveness actually extended? Is it right away as soon as there is an offense, regardless of whether the offender is repentant or not, or is forgiveness extended after repentance occurs?

      See my comments above. I believe Scripture defines forgiveness as that which is granted only after there has been repentance. What people call “forgiveness” before repentance has taken place is not, by definition, forgiveness, but a readiness to forgive, or a refusal to be embittered or become vengeful, or what have you. Again, I recommend Chris Brauns, Unpacking Forgiveness, on this.

      3- What do you say to the position that views Matt 18 and 1 Cor 5 and 2 Cor 2 as completely separate, not having anything to do with each other?

      That every passage of divine revelation “has to do” with every other passage of divine revelation. All Scripture is inspired by God (2 Pet 3:16-17), and thus has a single Divine Author who intended us — i.e., we who live in the time when revelation has progressed to the point of completion — to bring the whole counsel of God to bear on our lives (Acts 20:27).

  • Whitemoong

    Mike; Very good and timely article, which most importantly is solidly Biblically based, and I don’t see anything that I personally disagree with.

    If a family member describes a parent in a shockingly vile way when mistakenly thinking the communication is to only one other person, (a parent who by the way has just exhausted herself traveling hundreds of miles to render practical assistance & many expressions of caring, love and support, at a milestone event, along with specially chosen personalized gift surprises) and said parent confronts with understandable hurt and dismay, and offending family member says she’s sorry she used that word while in the same breath attacking the parent over some highly exaggerated unrelated fiction (basically trying to concoct some made up offenses as a moral equivalent to the vile reference to the parent when caught red handed saying it) re this “apology” over a vile word choice while simultaneously attacking the parent over nothing, with no attempt to reassure that maybe she doesn’t really feel that way about the parent, no reassurance that she really feels awful about what she said, no reassurance she realizes that what she said was just plain wrong, what does one do with this gloved-fist non-apology “apology?” Moreover, no begging indulgence or asking for forgiveness ever occurred; the parent’s spouse calmly called the offender’s spouse 3 days later in good faith hoping to spend 5-10 minutes clarifying and patching this up, very willing to forgive and move on, only to be blasted for thinking there was something they needed to forgiven for, while at the same time angrily condemning us as like the evil servant of Matthew 18 who was forgiven but himself refused to forgive. In short, angrily denouncing us for not forgiving them while angrily denying committing any offense to be forgiven for, Any thoughts?

    Further complicating things is their seeming claiming victimhood to their siblings, and seeming moral preening by announcing that they’ve forgiven my wife and I many times without any explanation of what we’ve supposedly done that needed forgiveness. This has further strained once very healthy relationships between us as parents with their other siblings, who offer only very tepid support to their parents, who rarely want to discuss it, and most importantly seem to enable the offender sibling with no insistence or actions with teeth toward real accountability, that in effect DISHONORS their parents as their caring, loving mother drifts into increasing despair , and father struggles with not wanting to be resentful. All borne out of objecting to a nasty vile comment while being very willing to forgive, but instead reaping angry hostility and destructive family straining behavior, with zero request for forgiveness and certainly no repentance. Any thoughts or suggestions?

    • Lynn B.

      Whitemoong: If you haven’t read the prior articles in this series they may be of help to you. Remember also Matthew 7:5.

      Additionally, I’d remind you that we don’t often say things we don’t mean, we say things we do mean but didn’t intend to say or didn’t intend to have heard. This problem may be deeper than the presenting issue.