THE COMMANDMENT TO FORGIVE

INTRODUCTION:

The commandment to forgive is the most sanctifying of all God’s commandments.  It is given to us literally on a golden platter which is His rock-solid promise, “It is Mine to avenge, I will repay” (Rom 12:19, Heb 10:30, Deut 32:35). With such an awesome backing, we need only to put our trust in Him and simply and unconditionally – FORGIVE!

FORGIVENESS TODAY:

Forgiveness is such an integral part of Christianity that the two have rightly become synonymous with each other.  For instance, it was the protective stockade against terrible persecutions and trials of the early Church.  

However, today, it is merely a weapon, a thrashing whip in fact, in the hands of the wicked. So that, the oppressed remain tormented under its lashings. Because the forgiveness preached and taught today fails to heal, to sanctify or to reconcile. The powerful within and without oppress the powerless and render them more helpless than ever by expecting them to simply forgive in return!  Consequently, the very sanctifying purpose of forgiveness is lost on the people. We see no deliverance, no healing, no sanctification and most of all no real reconciliations happening anymore!  And without reconciliation, how can we ever hope to become One? (Jn 17:11(b)). 

Is this the forgiveness Jesus taught?  If yes, then the next question would be, who then is sanctified? Who is healed?And, why do we have more and more divisions and factions instead of reconciliations.

Undoubtedly, somewhere along the way, like all the other teachings of Christ, the commandment got distorted, allowing for wickedness and hypocrisy to thrive in  the church.

BACK TO SQUARE ONE:

Therefore, let us retrace our steps before it is too late, way back to the original commandment.  As we follow it step by step, let us make our own personal discoveries as to where exactly we’ve been going wrong.  The healing, the sanctification, the reconciliations and above all freedom will most assuredly follow.

And to that end, let us begin by defining forgiveness:

I.  What is forgiveness?

Forgiveness is an act of love or an expression of mercy.   Forgiveness is exemplified by Jesus’ inimitable death on the cross for the salvation of many, which is the supreme manifestation of God’s abounding love for all mankind.1 Pet 4:8, therefore, so aptly says, “…Love covers a multitude of sins.”

Word of God also teaches that forgiveness as an expression of love is four-fold :

  • It is being merciful.   (Lk 6:35(b)-36, Rom 11:22, Col 3:12-13)
  • It is not taking revenge.   (Matt 5:38-42, Rom 12:17, 19; 1 Thess 5:15)
  • It is praying for the wrongdoer.   (Matt 5:44, Lk 6:28(b), Job 42:8(b))
  • It is blessing the wrongdoer.    (Lk 6:27-28(a); Rom 12:14)

This is forgiveness epitomized by the Lord and followed absolutely by the God-fearing, since of old.  For eg. Job (Job 29:1-4).  And like Job (Job 31:29-30), if we do not learn to forgive from the heart (Matt 18:35), not vengeful even in thought or prayer, we’d not have forgiven at all.  Our hearts will be full of malice, bitterness and rage instead. 

II  Why must we forgive?

There are three reasons why.

  •  Because God forgave us   (Col 3:13, Matt 18:23-35),
  •  So that God may continue to forgive us   (Matt 6:12, 14-15, Mk 11:25, Jn 13:8(b), 10), and
  •  So that we may be perfected   (Matt 5:48, 2 Cor 13:9(b), 2 Cor 13:11).

III  How should we forgive?

Before learning how to forgive, we have got to understand the three classifications of mankind in God’s perspective (1 Pet 4:18). Because, these demarcations enable us to fulfill the commandment accurately and absolutely:

  • THE SINNERS:  The sinners are the unreached who have yet to hear the Gospel and know Jesus Christ the Savior.  This lot is close to extinction now.  For, one of the signs of the end-time is that there will be none left.
  • THE RIGHTEOUS:  The righteous are the reached who have responded obediently to the call of the Gospel.  This is a steadily growing tribe and a profound mystery waiting to be revealed.  End-time, this will be one of the only two kinds remaining.
  • THE WICKED:  The wicked are also the reached but are the ones who have been disobedient to the call of the Gospel.  This is a tribe that grows super fast.  The other of the only two kinds that will be found remaining at end-time.

[While  on the subject, we may pause a while and take a brief look at the remaining two divisions of end-time, as a  result of the Gospel having been preached to all nations.  The signs are evident that we are close to end-time, if not  already there.  Because, there could no more be a people, a tribe, a nation that has not been told the Good News of the salvation through God’s Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  Refer Matt 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” and  Mk 13:10, “And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.”  

This is how the Scripture makes a distinction of the two:

  1. Good fish vs Bad fish (Matt 13:47-50)
  2. Sheep vs Goats (Matt 25:31-33)
  3. Wheat vs Weeds (Matt 13:37-43)
  4. The Harvest of Wheat vs the Harvest of Vine (Rev 14:14-20)
  5. The Obedient vs  the Disobedient (Mal 3:18)]

THE GOOD AND THE BAD NEWS:

Reverting to the main topic, let it be known that the good and the bad news concerning the three classifications is that a person’s standing in any of these classifications need not be permanent until death takes over.  That is to say, a sinner can with time obey or disobey and join the righteous or the wicked as the case may be.  The righteous, if they do not continue in obedience may break faith (Mal 2:16(b)) and fall out into the bandwagon with the wicked (Matt 12:43-45, Ezek 18:24, Ezek 33:12-16, 18).  And likewise the wicked may repent and turn to God and join the righteous (Ezek 18:21-23, Ezek 33:12-16, 19).  Also read 1 Pet 4:18.

Thus, having understood the classifications, we will find that we are now better equipped to forgive the different sections of people perfectly in compliance with God’s will:

A.  FORGIVING A SINNER:

Lk 23:34, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Unconditionally is how we forgive a sinner.  Unconditionally simply means liberally and freely i.e. not dependent on any pre-requisites, not even of seeking forgiveness.

When Jesus was handed over to His enemies, He faced the last and final test of His divine mission.  Therefore, in its immediate precedence, we find Him praying, Jn 17:19, “For them I sanctify Myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” referring to His disciples and all the righteous to follow.  And thus resulted His exemplary prayer on the cross for His tormentors, Lk 23:34(a), “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Also, Acts 3:17.  We learn that shortly afterwards Stephen follows suit.  Acts 7:60, “…..’Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’…”

Thus, in both cases, having prayed for the forgiveness of their offenders the option of God’s forgiveness was left open to their offenders so that they may not perish in their sins.

B.  FORGIVING A RIGHTEOUS, A FELLOW BELIEVER:

Col 3:12-13, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Once we understand that the term ‘brother’ in the Word of God means fellow-believer (Mk 3:34), unless otherwise specified (as in Mk 3:31, Mk 6:3), following God’s instruction on the application of forgiveness within the Church becomes very simple (Matt 12:50).

It is the God-ordained purpose for us to be healed, sanctified and reconciled.  Therefore, ASKING FORGIVENESS IS A MUST, without which one cannot even hope to be reconciled with God.  

WASH ONE ANOTHER’S FEET:  Read Jn 13:4-17.  Some believers love to make a show of following Jesus’ example and obey Him verbatim by washing one another’s feet (Jn 13:14).  Beware!  In doing so, we only end up allowing the devil to conveniently shift our focus from what exactly Jesus was teaching us to emulate.

Jn 13:8(b) and Jn 13:10 (a) make it so clear for us – we who were once reconciled to Jesus by bathing ourselves in His cleansing Blood should continue in the fellowship with Him by regular washing which comes through His forgiveness.  Jn 13:14-16, Matt 6:14-15 further teach us that we will not be forgiven if we ourselves do not forgive one another symbolized here by Jesus’ teaching to wash one another’s feet (Jn 13:14(b)).  In other words, washing one another’s feet means forgiving one another.  Therefore, we see that disciples had no need to wash Jesus’ feet and indeed, they do not do it.

GO AND SHOW YOUR BROTHER HIS FAULT:  Forgiveness within the Church is not easy all the time.  An offender may not even realize he’s been offending and therefore needs to be told and corrected before he or she can be expected to seek forgiveness.  Some believers neglect their duty to correct.  Jesus knew we would.  Therefore, He teaches us to, “GO AND SHOW YOUR BROTHER HIS FAULT” not once but persistently (Matt 18:15-17).

It is a gross sin of negligence if we fail in our duty to correct.  It is of equal and as much importance within the Church as it is to spread the Good News outside the Church.  Correcting, rebuking, exhorting and like Jesus did perhaps even wielding a whip is part of the cleansing work within the Church (Jn 2:15, 1 Cor 4:21).  But if we ourselves choose to remain spiritually immature, not being able to distinguish good from evil – how can we fulfill our brotherly obligations towards one another? (Heb 5:11-14, Gal 6:1-2, James 5:19-20, Jn 17:23).  

Now, correcting a brother may involve three stages, if required :

  1. Personal correction (Matt 18:15, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”)
  2. Group correction (Matt 18:16, “But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses’.”)
  3. Public correction (Matt 18:17, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”)

Let us reiterate, if the offender is not found penitent even after all these attempts, he or she is to be treated one with the wicked, “….treat him as you would a pagan or a tax-collector.” (Matt 18:17(b)).  Also, 1 Cor 5:11-12.

PETER’S QUERY:  Peter’s ever alert and active mind once again comes to our aid here as he questions the Lord, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?  Up to seven times?” (Matt 18:21).  And Jesus answers, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy seven times.” (Mat 18:22).

Lk 17:3-4 explains it clearly for us – “….so watch yourselves. ‘If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.  If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, “I repent”, forgive him’.”  Again, the criterion is repentance that leads to reconciliation.

C.  FORGIVING A WICKED:

We have just discovered how persisting in disobedience can rank us with the wicked at any given time.  Therefore, we need to look deeper into the Word of God (which is equally apportioned to the identity of the wicked as it is to God and His righteousness) and understand the making of the wicked (lest rather unwittingly we ourselves become one!).

The following verses with their accompanying descriptions will give us an immediate appraisal:

WHO ARE THE WICKED?

  • The wicked are found everywhere  (Ps 12:8).   
  • Even inside the church when what is vile is honored among men! ( Ps 12:8(b), Isa 5:20(a), Lk 16:15,  Mal 2:17, Ps 26:5).                                
  • The wicked are arrogant; they target the weak, the helpless and the innocent; they are always prosperous; they oppress the alien/the stranger, the fatherless and the widow; and they revile God in their hearts.  (Ps 10:2-11, 13, Ps 146:9, Ps 73 etc.).
  • They are unrepentant  and ever increasing in wickedness.  (2 Tim 3:13, Rev 22:11(a), Matt 11:20-21, Rom 1:28-32, Ps 81:12).
  • They are the unbelieving.  (Matt 21:28-32, Matt 10:14-15, 2 Thess 2:11-12).
  • They are the backsliders.  (Matt 12:43-45, Matt 23:15).
  • And some are planted by the devil, Beware!  They are here to stay till the end.  (Matt 13:24-26, Matt 13:37-39, Matt 13:29).
  • The wicked always demand signs and wonders. (Matt 12:39).
  • They are the insincere and lazy servants of God.  (Matt 25:26).
  • The unfaithful. (Ps 73:27).
  • They are those who cause another to sin. (Matt 18:7).
  • They are the ones who tolerate and put up with the wicked (refer item ii).  (2 Cor 11:19-21, 2 Cor 11:4(b), Ps 15:4).
  • The unforgiving or the unmerciful.  (Matt 18:32, 1 Cor 5:8, Matt 23:23).
  • The hypocrites.  (Matt 23:3-7, 13-14, 28, 2 Tim 3:1-9 (kjv), Mk 12:38-40, Ps 26:4).
  • Those who are not clothed in righteousness; the kind that surpasses even that of the pharisees and teachers of       the law, also called the wedding clothes or the robe of righteousness. (Matt 22:12, Matt 5:20, Rev 19:8(b)).  
  • The unwaiting!  Yes it is wicked not to ready ourselves in eager expectation of the Lord’s coming.   We are taught to wait prayerfully; discharging our duties faithfully; always in readiness for service and persevering in zeal.  (Matt 24:45, 48, 50-51, Matt 6:10, Isa 62:6-7, Lk 12:38).  

OUR WAKE-UP CALL!

The above listing should serve as a ‘wake-up’ call to all of us.  Rev 22:11(b), “…….Let him who does what is right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.”  Maintain continuity.  Christian life has no place for complacency.  “Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are His’, and ‘everyone who confesses the Name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness’.” (2 Tim 2:19).

WHILE FORGIVING THE WICKED:

{In the previous lesson on love, we learned how to love our enemies – we are taught not to repay evil with evil and we are also taught to be ever willing to do good to them when the opportunity arises. (Matt 5:38-48, Lk 6:27-36) }

Since reconciliation without repentance is out of question, forgiving a wicked does not include fellowship with him/her. That’s right, there is absolutely no allowance for any kind of fellowship with the wicked.

EXAMPLE OF ABRAHAM:

We know, how, when the servants of Lot and Abraham quarrel, Abraham decides it was time for them to go their separate ways (Gen 13:8). And God blesses him greatly afterwards (Gen 13:14-17). Later developments in Lot’s life go on to prove that he was right in his decision. Thus Abraham not only lays the foundation for the principle of separation but also in the manner in which he executes it, he teaches us the godly principle of forgiveness in its entirety:

  • By nipping it in the bud, he stops the quarrel from growing (Gen 13:8).
  • He offers Lot the first choice even though he was the one who’d received the promise of inheritance (Gen 12:1-3).
  • As assured, he then moves to the opposite direction and continues in the fellowship of God (Gen 13:18).
  • But when the opportunity arises, he is quick to rush to Lot’s rescue (Gen 14:14-16).
  • He intercedes persuasively on behalf of Lot (Gen 18:17-33, Gen 19:15-17, 29).  Consequently, Lot’s life is spared.

MORE FROM THE WORD OF GOD FOR THOSE WHO FAIL TO GRASP THE NEED TO DISASSOCIATE:

  • Matt 18:17 – teaches us to disconnect.
  • Ps 15:4 – teaches us to despise.
  • Eph 5:5-7 – do not be partners with them.
  • 2 Jn 11 – do not share in their wicked work.
  • 2 Jn 10-11 – do not even entertain.
  • Titus 3:10-11 – have nothing to do with them.
  • Acts 8:22 – rebuke and preach repentance.
  • 1 Cor 5:5, Rom 1:28-32 – hand them over to Satan.
  • 1 Cor 5:12-13 – expel.
  • 1 Cor 5:9-11 – “But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother, but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler, with such a man do  not even eat.”
  • Jude 22-23, “Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.”
  • 2 Thess 3:14-15 – warn and disassociate to shame them. 
  •  1 Cor 15:33-34, Deut 7:2-6, 2 Cor 6:14 – disassociate so that we are not misled.  Do not be yoked with a wicked.

    2 COR 6:16-17, “…I WILL LIVE WITH THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM, AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY WILL BE MY PEOPLE.”  “THEREFORE, COME OUT FROM THEM AND BE SEPARATE.” SAYS THE LORD”

Taking the lead from Abraham, we must be aware that even though we disassociate (because ‘keeping God’s commands is what counts’ (1 Cor 7:19(b)), we are still obliged to God to seek their salvation.  Therefore, continue to persevere mercifully and intercede on their behalf.  As for the unrepentant, let us recall Rom 12:19, Heb 10:30, Gen 9:5 etc and leave them to the mercy of God.

CONCLUSION:

Jesus teaches us to pray that we may be delivered from the evil one (Matt 6:13 – “….and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from  the evil one.”  (eg. Lk 22:32).  May this prayer be ever on our lips!  For we are not unaware of the schemes of the evil one (2 Cor 2:11).  Therefore, pray continually.  2 Thess 3:2, 2 Tim 4:18, Rom 15:31.  And even as we pray, let us bear in mind the verses from Ps. 1:1, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.” and bring earnestness to it.

WE DO NOT LOVE IF WE ASSOCIATE WITH THE WICKED OR EVIL DOERS, BUT WE ONLY ENCOURAGE THEM IN THEIR WICKEDNESS AND  BECOME PARTNERS WITH THEM.  THEREFORE, KEEP AWAY!  REMAIN WISE ABOUT WHAT IS GOOD, AND INNOCENT ABOUT WHAT IS EVIL.  IN OTHER WORDS, BE SHREWD AS SNAKES AND INNOCENTS AS DOVES. Rom 16:19(b), Matt 10:16.

May God Bless You!

 

To be contd…………NEXT:  The commandment to Sacrifice