Luke 17:3,4 “If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.”

     Jesus places emphasis on relationship and doing everything in our ability to preserve the fellowship; “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21,22)  He understands that we will need to forgive and be forgiven as we struggle to live as brothers and sisters in His body, the church.

  

     Forgiveness is essential in true Christian living.  But does that mean that forgiveness must be the automatic response to being wronged?  Luke 17:3,4  gives some conditions on which forgiveness is based.  Forgiveness should be extended to 1) a believer, 2) you must go to them and explain how they hurt you 3) the person must repent and 3) ask for forgiveness.  Lets see how other Scripture supports this.

    Matthew 18:15,16,17 says; ” 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.”  (v15)  Again we see that a brother or fellow believer is involved.  You have to go to the person who hurt you and the person must accept your claims.  If a fellow believer doesn’t ‘hear’ you then verse 16 provides the next step and ultimately verse 17 provides the final outcome if all attempts to establish the basis for forgiveness fail; “And if he shall neglect to hear them [witnesses], 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.”

     What about people who are not believers?  Jesus tells us to love even our enemies; “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” (Matthew 5:44-46)  Jesus isn’t asking us to do anything He didn’t do; “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

     For the wider world beyond the church we are to forgive as well.  Indeed, if a person who wrongs you is not a believer the requirement of forgiveness has no restrictions on it.  The person who wronged you has no ‘ifs’ to live up to!  As a matter of fact the entire weight rests upon the believer who has been wronged and the penalty for not forgiving is eternal; “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14,15) 

      And there is no talk of brothers or believers in the context of this scripture;  “if you do not forgive . . . , your Father will not forgive your sins.”  (Matthew 6:15) Note the ‘if’! So even if the dispute resolution between believers fails and a person is resolutely unrepentant regarding their sins toward you, eventually forgiveness is still a requirement.   All that changes is the transgressors relationship to the fellowship and yourself.

     Forgiveness is a hard and high calling of Christianity.  Who can do it perfectly?  And who can do it at all without His strength and love?  What the requirement of forgiving teaches me is that I need Jesus every day, on a daily basis.  I don’t have that kind of righteousness of my own.

     Lord have mercy!

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