Unreserved Forgiveness —Looking at some common reservations
Jesus said, "If you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you."(Matthew 6:14). In that light,let us examine some common reservations about forgiving...
1 Some of us want to forgive only if the wrong is against someone else.
We may easily forgive a wrong done to another person, and expect that person to forgive. But when the wrong is done to us, it is a different story.
"In the way you judge, you will be judged,and by your standard of measure it will be measured to you"(Matthew 7:2).
2 Some of us want to forgive only if there is something in it for us.
Should we consider the offender under obligation to us, before we are under any obligation to forgive the offender?
But "This is love, not that we loved God, but that he first loved us and sent his Son to be the atonement for our sins."(1John 4:9-11,19).
God did all that he could possibly do (and that we could not possibly do) toward the forgiveness of our sins, before we did anything.
God was willing to sacrifice himself for our forgiveness. He did not seek to exploit our obligation to him.
3 Some of us want to forgive only if the wrong is all squared up.
Of course wrongs should be righted if possible (Zachaeus principle Luke 19:8-9).
If we are forgiving someone for stealing $50 from us and they have that amount in their pocket or pay packet, surely they should give it back!
However not all wrongs can be righted. For example, one cannot undo murder or adultery. One cannot give back what these acts take away.
What if God forgave us only the sins we could compensate for?
"Be... tender-hearted, forgiving one another..."(Ephesians 4:32). In many cases demanding restitution could be hard-hearted.
"You were bought with a price"(1Corinthians 6:20)"Christ gave himself for us that he might redeem us from every lawless deed..."(Titus 2:13-14)
It is Christ-like to bear the cost of forgiving others when they themselves can hardly put right the consequences of their wrongdoing.
4 Some of us want to forgive just once more and never again.
Peter wondered if "up to seven times" might be a generous limit on how many times one should forgive a repeat offender (Matthew 18:21-22)
"...bearing with and forgiving one another..."(Colossians 3:13). In many cases giving only one more chance might lack a forbearing spirit.
Of course there may come a time when enough is enough and people have to be protected from an evildoer. However, you will notice that this should reflect the judgment not of one person, or even two or three, but of the many "...and if he will not listen to the church..."(Matthew 7:15-17).
When we are finding it hard to be lonsuffering toward others, let us remember that God is "longsuffering toward us"(2Peter 3:9).
5 Some of us want to forgive but not to forget.
There is a temptation to remember the wrongs we have forgiven others and to reserve the right to hold them against the wrongdoer again later.
"Love does not keep account of a wrong suffered"(1Corinthians 13:5).
When God forgives, he forgets. "Their sins and iniquities I will remember no more"(Hebrews 8:12 sv)
Of course we are only human, and the more severe a wrong is, and the more lasting its effects, the harder it is to forget. That is hardly our fault. But one can learn to suffer the hurt without holding a grudge.
6 Some of us want to forgive our friends but not our enemies.
Forgiveness does not sit well in a double standard.
Jesus said, "Love your enemies" not just your family and friends (Matthew 5:43-48).
James says, "If you show partiality you are committing sin"(James 2:9).
7 Some of us want to forgive only if the sin is repented of.
There is a place for this condition or reservation "...if he repents forgive him..."(Luke 17:3-4). Note: A related passage (Matthew 18:21-22) omits this condition, and multiplies the "seven times" to seventy times seven. We use the additive principle here. We don't subtract from one verse what is omitted in the other, but rather add to one verse what is supplied in the other.
"Remove him from your midst" is said of the unrepentant (1Corinthians 5:2,12,2-12)—but of the repentant and contrite wrongdoer it is said, "Forgive and comfort him"(2Corinthians 2:6-8).
Those verses are not teaching an "unconditional forgiveness" that is sometimes urged upon us by well-meaning preachers and counsellors as though we are bound to forgive even when the wrongdoer is unrepentant. Rather, these verses teach that the onus is on the wrongdoer to repent, and then if he or she does, the victim ought to forgive.
However there are three circumstances when this reservation is inappropriate...
1. When a wrong committed was unintentional. Why cause more hurt by drawing attention to the wrong? Treat it as "...a sin not unto death..."(1John 5:15-17). Jesus demonstrated this principle on the cross. "Father forgive them for they know not what they do"(Luke 23:34).
2. When the offender is unrepentant and cannot be brought to account for his wrong. In this case don't hold on to the hurt. Let it go to "your Keeper"(Psalms 121:1-8,Jude 1:9,Romans 12:19). In this case you don't have to put yourself in the way of more harm if you can avoid it.
3. When the wrong us unresolvable—it would cause more trouble than it is worth to bring a person to account. A wrongdoer may even be taking advantage of this. In such cases, "Why not rather be wronged?"(1Corinthians 6:7). Some times the best outcome is through just silently suffering the wrong, putting it behind you, and getting on with your life. Don't get caught up in a game stacked against you. Simply withdraw.
In these three cases just noted, you can forgive independently of any discussion with the wrongdoer. The purpose is that your own heart might be comforted (2Thessalonians 2:16-17,2Thessalonians 3:1-6).
❖ Preached in 1978 at Newnham Tasmania, Boronia and Heidelberg West Victoria.