Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Is It Always Right to Forgive?

Many Christians believe that they don’t have to forgive someone else until they apologize. In fact, some Christians even think it would be wrong to forgive someone else until they apologize. They use Luke 17:3-4 to argue their point:
Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, “I repent,” you shall forgive him.
But what they miss is that Jesus is not, at this moment, focusing on the offender’s need to repent; He is addressing the disciples and their need to forgive. “Take heed to yourselves,” He says. Regardless of what someone else may have done against us, the point of greatest concern is not whether they have repented, but whether we have forgiven.

Our forgiveness of others is not based on whether they repent. Iit is based on faith. The disciples realized what Jesus was calling them to do, for they said, “Lord, increase our faith” (v. 5). It is at that point that Jesus spoke to them about faith as a mustard seed.

On another occasion, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I do not say up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). Notice again that Jesus’ focus was not on the repentance of the offender but on the forgiveness of the disciples.

In another place, in a teaching on prayer and faith, Jesus said, “Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him” (Mark 11:25). Our forgiveness is not conditioned on whether the offender has repented, but whether we have anything against anyone (these parameters are pretty inclusive). If we do, then our duty is clear: we must forgive.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies and bless them.” How can you love your enemies without extending forgiveness to them? How can you bless them, if you are unforgiving? But if they are your enemies, they have not yet repented and apologized, or else they would no longer be at enmity with you. Yet, Jesus tells us to love them anyway. Not only to love them, but to bless them, as well. That requires forgiveness.

That is how Jesus Himself lived, all the way to the end. When He was being nailed to the cross, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Here were the enemies of Jesus, putting Him to death. Not only were they not apologetic, they did not even realize what they were doing. There was no repentance or compunction in them. Yet, Jesus cried out to the Father to forgive them.

Or consider Stephen. He was stoned by the synagogue council for teaching and preaching Jesus. As he lay dying, he cried out to the Father, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” His last words were forgiveness for those who were in still in the act of killing him. They had no repentance, showed no remorse, offered no apology.

It is always right to forgive others, to love your enemies and bless them — even if they have not repented. In fact, it is required of all who would be disciples of Jesus.