In this eighth post on the subject of forgiveness, the assumption is that a sin or offence has been committed and that the offender has been confronted. The other assumption is that the offender has confessed to the offence and repented. Now, we will see (at least one set of) the answers to the matter of what happens next. How are we supposed to relate to the person who has sinned and repented and even made restitution as necessary? As is often the case in the Scriptures, the instruction reveals what the natural and unbiblical tendencies are in us; in this particular case, the tendency to hold them off at arm's length or even shun them completely. So the apostle begins with the beginning â€“ forgiving the trespass (in verse 7).
In a sense, this is covering territory already covered in previous ministries. But what are the foundational reasons for forgiving? First, it is a divine command. That is, according to the clear testimony of Scripture, we do not have the authority to withhold forgiveness from one who seeks it from us if they have confessed their sin and repented of it. (I would refer you to the first three sermons in this series.) Secondly, it is a fruit and necessary consequence of your own repentance/forgiveness before the divine bar of justice. If you have confessed and repented of your great sins againstâ€‹ â€‹the divine majesty, you know that it is the only thing toâ€‹â€‹ do because of your forgiveness. (See Matt. 18:21ff) Thirdly, there is only one unforgivable sin (and it is automatically not a sin against you, but against the Holy Spirit). With this foundation, what are we to do in the ecclesiastical discipline context? Biblical ecclesiastical discipline is designed to be step-by-step. At each point there is opportunity for repentance. This also means that there is also opportunity to forgive. Indeed, it is your privilege to do so as it reflects the longsuffering forgiveness you receive from God through Jesus Christ. We must always remember that the object of ecclesiastical discipline is always restoration. If it is about revenge, shaming, or any other motive, it is not biblical eccleciastical discipline. Biblical ecclesiastical discipline is authoritative and thus serious business. It ought not be exercised lightly, and we should greatly desire reconciliation, because we are never, by ecclesiastical discipline, declared to be beyond hope. Also, you are to forgive in the interpersonal relationship context. As a matter of review, this means that when the offender is forgiven, it is never to be a matter of offence again. It should not be thrown in the face of the offender as a way of getting an ounce (or pound) of flesh. It is not that it is forgotten, for that is impossible, but the offence is removed. It no longer causes a break in fellowship.
After the first step, the apostle exhorts us to comfort the soul of the repentant offender. Once again, let's consider the foundational reasons. In I Thess. 5:14, 15 we read, "Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all." This text tells us that there are times when we must confront offences (the unruly). But it also recognizes our weakness; we are to build up what is broken down; and it expresses patience â€“ the patience we all require from time to time. And it is a confession of the truth that we, in Christ, are one, as we read in Philippians 2:1, 2. "Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind." If the point of the confrontation of sin is repentance and restoration, then we have a loving obligation to those who have confessed their sin and repented. In the ecclesiastical discipline context, as we read above, it is necessary to "warn those who are unruly". It is not loving to ignore sin and offences. And sometimes, it is necessary to be firm and even harsh in the context of ecclesiastical discipline, and if the one who is out of the way responds the way he should, then the church, and those who are members of the church, have the obligation, yes privilege, to comfort the one who has been pierced by the discipline. Again, the point is not rendering evil for evil, but the rendering of service to one who needs to hear a voice of correction. This act of comforting should be a part of every act of discipline from personal admonishments up to and including excommunication as the case was in Corinth. In the interpersonal relationship context, it is not your place to make the one who offended "pay" for his offence. This does not necessarily mean that everything goes back to the same as it was before the offense. There may be a need for a system of accountability, for example. It may be necessary to require "lifestyle changes". In fact, willingness to submit to these things is an indication that the repentance is genuine. Nevertheless, if one reacts the way we hope and intend when we confront sin, it means that they have realized the true nature of the sin or offence and (should be) grieving over it. Comfort is often necessary. As the text says, there was a concern that the offender â€‹â€‹could be overwhelmed which his sense of sorrow.
â€‹Lastly, you are to reaffirm your love to the repentant offender. (verse 8) Again, we must consider the foundational reasons before seeking an application. I would direct you to three verses. Heb. 13:1, "Let brotherly love continue." It is the Lord's will that brotherly love be perpetual. That is, when things are working the way they are supposed to work, relationships are restored and love abounds. Eph. 2:1-7, "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." And Rom. 5:8, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Divine love was extended to you in the midst of offences. Praise be to Him that it was! What would be our state if He did not love us until we were "lovable"? So, in the ecclesiastical discipline context, we better make sure that love is the motivation in the first place: Love for truth; Love for the church; Love for the one who is out of the way. Certainly, it ought to be part of the restoration. The divine example is offence â€“ then mercy â€“ then saving love applied in Christ and through the Holy Spirit. It is not that we were so lovable first! Love and discipline (rightly administered) are inseparable. If one element is missing, it is not godly. Likewise, in the interpersonal relationship context, love is necessary in the midst of offences. This is probably the hardest part. Your flesh â€“ your pride and desire to build up yourself at the expense of others â€“ will fight you every step of the way. But let us plainly understand: that is sin. It may also be an offence against the one who offended you. You are to demonstrate love to the repentant offender. The silent treatment, sniping, rehearsing past wrongs is contrary to the Word of God and inconsistent with the love of Christ for you. Peter betrayed the Lord and He gently and lovingly restored Him. Remember, the goal of seeking and granting forgiveness is reconciliation. It cannot happen if you withhold your affection to the guilty, but repentant offender. It is not a one-way street. It is a two-way street. Yes, you are the one who has been hurt, but in order for there to be healing, you must reaffirm your love. If you do, yes, you are opening up yourself to more hurt. But the withholding of love guarantees that there will always be hurt because the reconciliation is not allowed to occur and the wound never heals.
So forgive. Truly forgive without deceit. Comfort and you will also be comforted. Reaffirm your love, for you are the recipient of great and merciful love even though you have sinned greatly and purposefully. What you have received, likewise give.
In this seventh entry on the doctrine and practice of biblical forgiveness, we come to a very practical question. What do you do when the offender is not repentant and even goes to the next step? Here at the beginning, we know at least one thing.
One of the most difficult aspects of the doctrine and practice of forgiveness is the conditional nature of divine forgiveness. We must begin by asking a very important question: does God forgive everyone absolutely, unconditionally, and...[ abbreviated | read entire ]
If we were to summarize the error of the judiazing teachers which is corrected by the inspired apostle in much of the Book of Galatians, it would be that the teachers in Galatia were missing the point. The Lord had instituted the Law under the...[ abbreviated | read entire ]
In this text, there is a question posed by the prophet: "To whom then will you liken God?" All of mankind must answer the question posed in verse 12 and your answer to the first question determines the answer to the second in verses 13 and 14....[ abbreviated | read entire ]
We now turn our attention to Psalm 86 and some selected verses in particular. As always, we need to keep in mind the foundational verse of Ephesians 4:32, "And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ...[ abbreviated | read entire ]
Brothers and Sisters, Regarding the biblical doctrine and practice of forgiveness, we will look at the example of Hezekiah who sought forgiveness from God. In this chapter, Hezekiah experienced the effect of the broken relationship and the Lord's...[ abbreviated | read entire ]
The relationship between the Lord's act of forgiving is directly tied to your obligation to forgive. When considering the biblical doctrine and practice of forgiveness, there is a temporal and causal relationship which bears directly upon what...[ abbreviated | read entire ]
There is much sloppy thought and practice in regards to the biblical doctrine of forgiveness. One of the most common errors in the church and outside of it is not the withholding of forgiveness, but the idea that all of us are required to forgive...[ abbreviated | read entire ]
What is love? There have been many answers offered over the years, but in our current day the answers have become more and more irreconcilable and distant from any biblical foundation. Should we accept the notion that love is merely a...[ abbreviated | read entire ]