Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Do I have to forgive (another man)? PART I

Preamble: Before I talked more, I want to say that some of the points here are NOT in agreement with the understanding of the “overly grace” believers who hold onto the theology that they are forgiven AT their born-again, of all their sins, past, current and FUTURE.

In this part I, we will cover a few key points in this very important subject of the need for us, a believer, to forgive another. I feel it is easier to give understanding on this topic, through point by point form; the layout of this article is in this manner.

Point No 1 – We have to forgive because we have unmerited forgiveness from God (unmerited, meaning, out of grace).

Point No 2 – We have to forgive as God forgave us.

The support for these 2 points come from Col 3:13 and Eph 4:32:

Col 3:13 – “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Eph 4:32 – “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

1) because we have received forgiveness from God, we are to forgive. When we received God’s forgiveness, we received it, out of grace (we did NOT merit it), as such, in gratefulness, subsequently we should be forgiving towards others; and

2) in the manner we received, we give, or freely we received, freely we give (Matt 10:8b). In other words, we are to release forgiveness also out of grace, without the counterparty meriting it.

3) It is clear, the 2 verses are talking about the manner in which we are to forgive, and NOT timing; the use of “as” for timing, would be like “AS I pass out” these song sheets to you; you “pass them on”, but in this case, it wasn't used this way.

Point No 3 – forgiving is practising love

Prov 17:9 – NIV84 - “He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” NLT2007 – “Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.” God’s Word Translation – 1995 – “Whoever forgives an offense seeks love, but whoever keeps bringing up the issue separates the closest of friends.”

I like the interpretation of “covers over” as “forgive”, as in the NLT & GWT.

When God forgave us, God was promoting love. Likewise, when we forgive, we are promoting love or practising love. Love prospers when forgiveness is rendered. As a Christian, do we have to put love into practise? Yes, we must; and forgiving is a very important way.

Is it NOT true, if we kept on, the bringing up of a wrong, it will separate the closest of friends? Yes; and so, when we forgive another over a matter, don’t keep bringing it up with the person, to put the person down.

Before I go on to point No 4, let me repeat the 1st 3 points:

1) We have to forgive because we have received unmerited forgiveness from God.

2) We have to forgive as God forgave us, or we have to forgive in similar fashion/manner as God forgave us.

3) We have to forgive because to forgive is to practise/promote love.

The next point is one that is very important, and is where “overly grace” preachers would definitely NOT agree with us.

Point No 4 – forgive, for we need on-going forgiveness from God

I will express here, the “overly grace” preachers do NOT believe a believer needs to get on-going forgiveness from God; their theology is that a believer needs only be forgiven once, i.e. AT his born-again, for all his sins, past, current, AND FUTURE. According to them, a Christian should NEVER ask for forgiveness from God again!

If you are like me, unlike the “overly grace” believers, we are to believe in our need for on-going forgiveness from God; and we forgive, for we need on-going forgiveness from God.

The supporting texts are these: Matt 6:14-15, Mark 11:25 and Luke 6:37

Matt 6:14-15 – “14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” {Note the future tense used, “will not”}

Mark 11:25 – “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Luke 6:37 – ““Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

It is obvious that believers are being referred to, here. Don’t you agree!

If, as the “overly grace” preachers have taught, believers need only to be forgiven once, for all his sins, including future ones, AT his born-again, these verses are WRONG to suggest God will be forgiving believers subsequent to their entry into salvation.

If you are like me, believe the verses are NOT WRONG, but the “overly grace” preachers erred, and that we need to receive forgiveness of God from time to time, even as a believer, because we do sin (from time to time), we need to forgive others; for if we don’t, God will also NOT forgive us.

My purpose here is NOT to refute the claims of the “overly grace” believers, but I must state an important point on this subject of forgiving another, and that is, I repeat, “we forgive, FOR we need on-going forgiveness from God.”

Point No 5 – we are to forgive, forgive, and forgive.

Scripture texts:

Matt 18:21-22 – “21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (NIV84)

Luke 17:4-5 – 4 If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” 5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” “

Do these verses support the notion that if one (ok, a brother) sins against you 7 times a day, for 11 days {7x11=77 times}, and on the 12th day, you don’t need to forgive him?

The answer is “No”, I believe such were a manner of speaking in that time and culture, meant to say there is no limit to the number of times. 7 was thought to be already the perfect threshold, and Jesus was saying one had to go beyond that, “go perfect, perfect” or “7,7” NOT just “7”.

It was how superlatives were expressed, like when, “Verily”, was used twice as “Verily, verily” or in the extreme superlative, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty” (“Holy”, repeated 3 times, to express extreme superlative).

Or alternatively, if you read verse 22 of Matt 18, as, “70 x 7” times (as in the NIV footnote), similarly, “1 x 7” is already considered “perfect”, there is the “7 x 7” (or 49 – the Hebrew’s jubilee), and “70 x 7” (or 490, the grand jubilee); essentially, what was intentioned, was to indicate to go, to the maximum no. of times imaginable.

What are we supposed to do? Forgive, forgive and forgive.

Point No 6 – we forgive, regardless

This is an extremely important point, and supports come from these sets of verses: Col 3:13, Mark 11:25 & Luke 17:4-5

Col 3:13 said, “Whatever grievances”, forgive. Mark 11:25 said, if you hold anything, anything at all, against anyone, forgive him. This includes all cases where you have grounds to be “unforgiving”; you have to forgive, regardless, so that God may forgive you your sins.

Luke 17:4-5 is saying the same: Just imagine, a brother wrongs you, one time, and says, “I am sorry”, and you forgive him; he repeats that, and you forgive him, and then he repeats it again, and again, for another 5 times, all in the same day, and on the 7th time, you are still to forgive him when he has said, “I am sorry” or “I repent”.

If you ask me, if a brother has wronged me 3 times in a day, I will be quite dull, to NOT realize, that brother is lacking sincerity. What this tells me is that, Jesus was deliberate in saying what He had said, which was in substance, this: “If the offender comes claiming he knows he was wrong, and now seeks forgiveness, even at face value, you just accept it, and release your forgiveness to the person.”

The exclamation of the disciples (“Increase our faith!”) was recorded to emphasise the need for us to forgive, regardless; despite we have NOT seen better or higher gauge of repentance than a mere claim, “I repent”.

Let me now take the time to explain the concept of forgiving and releasing forgiveness. Firstly, there is our forgiveness in the heart for the offender, and then there is the releasing of forgiveness to the offender. We must first forgive the offender in our heart, regardless; then we release our forgiveness to the person. In other words, before we could release forgiveness to the offender, we must have forgiven the person in our heart first. That forgiveness from the heart, in the heart, is to done, regardless, without condition attached – forgive, regardless. So, despite the Luke passage was more on releasing our forgiveness to the offender, it implicitly included forgiving.

Point No 7 – in forgiveness, we are to be our brother’s keeper

The Scripture text is this:

Luke 17:3-5 – “3 So watch yourselves. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. 4 If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” 5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” “

If our brother sins, we are to rebuke him. We are to stress to him what he did is wrong; and this is line with our responsibility for our brother (we are our brother’s keeper!). In other words, the Luke’s account was also incorporating the teaching of how to function as a brother’s keeper in rendering forgiveness.

In living out our Christian lives, we are always to be aware, we are our brother’s keeper, and a key aspect of that role is to avoid stumbling, confusing or misrepresenting to our brother. So, even in matter of rendering forgiveness, we are here being taught, how NOT to stumble a brother. Only when he claims repentance and seeks forgiveness, which is PRIMA FACIE that he understands he has done wrong and wants to turn from it, do we RELEASE forgiveness to him.

Please NOTE that I have said, “Release forgiveness to him, and NOT forgive him”. We have to forgive the offender in our heart, regardless, and then in discharging our brother’s keeper’s role, we release our forgiveness on prima facie repentance. Prima facie simply means “as it seems, without investigation”.

By verse 3 of Luke 17, I believe Jesus was intentioned to stress 2 things:

1) we have a certain responsibility towards our brother, so that “his blood is NOT on us”; and

2) we are to forgive the brother for the wrong he had done to us.

The “repent” bit was only to indicate when to release your forgiveness to the person, NOT so much as to be a condition for forgiveness; that was why Jesus had to follow it with verse 4, to explain what He meant by “repent” that He had just mentioned.

As a timing or sequence of events, it is this: a brother sins, we tell him, that is wrong (we rebuke, in other words), and then at his claiming of repentance and seeking of forgiveness (“I repent” was to indicate this), we are to release our forgiveness to him. This was what Jesus meant when He said, if that brother sins against you 7 times in a day(!) and comes back to you, every time (!!), saying, “I repent”, you are to forgive him!!!

The text should NOT be interpreted as requiring “truly repented” as a condition for forgiveness. As I have said before, just imagine, a brother wrongs you, one time, and says, “I am sorry” (and you forgive him); he repeats that, and you forgive him, and then he repeats it again, and again, for another 5 times, and on the 7th time, you are still to forgive him when he has said, “I am sorry” or “I repent”.

As I have said earlier, Jesus was believed to be saying, “If the offender comes claiming he knows he was wrong, and now seeks forgiveness, even at face value (prima facie), you just accept it, and release your forgiveness to him.”

Jesus was intentioned more, to explain how you are to discharge your responsibility towards a “failed” brother rather than on stating there is a proviso, for forgiveness. If we remove the “repent” (its more exact meaning, as explained in verse 4) from verse 3, it would then appeared that Jesus would be instructing us to rebuke the person who has done wrong and then, on finishing the rebuke, tell the person he is forgiven – what kind of message would that be, would it NOT, be confusing to the person who sinned? Yes, it would, to say the least; it might even suggest to him as being quite alright to commit the wrong/sin in question!

Point No 8 – If there is prima facie repentance, and forgiveness is sought, you are to release it

We are still looking at the same Scripture text of Luke 17:3-5.

It is because the way Jesus explained the “repent” of verse 3, in verse 4, that made the disciples said, “Increase our faith!” Why?

Because first, Jesus required us to be our brother’s keeper, to tell the person he is wrong, then even when there is no repentance according to our “stricter gauge standard”, we are to release our forgiveness to the person as long as there is prima facie repentance (the person claims repentance, and seeks forgiveness, that will do). Isn’t that hard, and that was what the exclamation was about!

Had Jesus said, for example, “When he truly repented, you forgive him”, the disciples would NOT have said, “Increase our faith!” as an indication of it being a hard thing, Jesus was asking them to do. You see, the minimum test of “truly repented” would be the “test of time”. Given reasonable time, if the brother does NOT repeat his error, we may at least, have a degree of comfort that he has indeed repented, but that was NOT what Jesus indicated (Jesus deliberately used “7 times in a DAY”; there is no test of time).

Neither did Jesus suggest some other form of actions, like restitution (in situation where it is possible), or paid the “damages” to you, or paid the fines, or surrendered to the police. If one of those was suggested, perhaps, it would have been easier for the disciples to “stomach” it; but Jesus did NOT. Jesus said you just take it, when the person says he repents, which is basically means “he claims he repents”; and he wants your forgiveness, you are to give it!

Jesus was NOT intentioned, in these verses, to lay down a proviso we are to demand, before we forgive. Don’t quote this verse, Luke 17:3, to support our own purported understanding of requiring a “failed” brother to have “truly repented” before we forgive. We forgive …….what? Regardless. We release forgiveness on … what? Prima facie repentance.

Point No 9 – Despite we are to forgive regardless {point no 6}”, and “to release forgiveness on prima facie repentance (NOT to insist on “truly repented”) {point no 8}”, we are to repent in asking for forgiveness.

I felt it is necessary to insert this point, in case, people go away with wrong idea that we do NOT need to repent when asking for forgiveness from God, or from each other.

Despite the above exposition, on Luke 17:3-5, the text does NOT suggest, the “failed” brother need NOT truly repent of his sins. The text is addressed to the one offended, how he was to forgive and to perform his role as his brother’s keeper.

There is a very valid guide for receiving in of truths from the Word, and it is called, “Please read your own email, and NOT that addressed to another”. Here, God tells you, the offended one, what you are to do; you don’t ignore that; instead, go read the email to the offender, in which God tells him what he must do.

I repeat: “The verses do NOT suggest, the “failed” brother needs NOT truly repent of his sins”. Let me explain:

Be the first one to throw a stone at me, if you honestly was NEVER, as a believer, ever, intentioned to repent before the Lord, and then went on to commit sin again.

Do you think God did NOT forgive you on those occasions? Or that God waited until you truly repented before He forgave you? When you purportedly said that you would NOT sin again, when can God truly be sure that you would NEVER sin again? Can you tell me, for sure, when? Most of us, can’t, right!

At the same time, it is NOT God is saying you are NOT to truly repent of your sins; in fact we are, to truly repent of our sins. And so, it all comes back to the same thing said earlier, concerning Col 3:13: “we forgive in the same manner God forgives”. God forgives us at our expression of repentance, and so must we forgive another, that way; although in both cases, it is NOT that we are NOT required to truly repent. Let me explain further:

Forgiveness is expression of love, and practising forgiveness is practising love, we have seen that, above (Prov 17:9 / point No 3). Yet, because ultimately, God can only love us unto righteousness (‘ahab love), God does desire that we repent from our sinful ways.

In the same way, we love with the love of God, our brothers; and we, therefore, must love our brothers, unto righteousness, desiring him to repent; but just as God forgives out of grace, we, too, are to forgive out of grace. Just as God would release His forgiveness to us at our expression of repentance, so must we do the same – release forgiveness to another at his expression of repentance (“I repent”).

When it is out of grace, it means the person receiving it, has NOT merited it. So, really, you cannot be attaching conditions to your forgiving another, like he must truly repented first, done this and done that, or suffered this first, and that, too, before you forgive. If your mindset is that way, when the offender does NOT satisfy any of the conditions, you will be reluctant to forgive, and that goes against the wish of God, which is that we forgive, regardless.

Because God’s love for us, ultimately is love unto righteousness; we must repent; and we love our fellow brother with the love of God, we too, love him unto righteousness, and so rightly, we desire his repentance, and he should repent. So, you see, in our asking for forgiveness we are to repent.

God’s email to the offender would have read along the lines that I have just given (he should repent), yet you, the offended one, still should just go to the instruction God has given you, “Release forgiveness to the offender on prima facie repentance, just as He (God) also does, when you ask for forgiveness”.

So, please do NOT go round quoting me saying that, in asking for forgiveness, we do NOT need to repent; you have to (repent).

Many misinterpret Luke 17:3-5
Because many misinterpret Luke 17:3-5, so before I end, I repeat: It is NOT right to interpret the Luke passage to say, the Word of God said, we are to forgive another, only when that person has truly repented, excusing ourselves to harbor unforgiveness against that person. The correct rendering is, we are to forgive (from our heart, and in our heart), regardless; it is that we may hold back the release of our forgiveness, in our proper discharge of our role as our brother’s keeper. But when there is prima facie repentance, you are to release your forgiveness to him; any reluctance on your part goes only to show you have NOT forgiven the person, in your heart, in the first place; and that is NOT right.

If you ask: Can I release forgiveness to the offender without him asking for forgiveness? Yes, so long as you are still properly discharging your “brother’s keeper’s role”. Sometimes, our relation with some people is such that we know, there is already prima facie repentance on the part of the person, even without him claiming it and seeking forgiveness; in such a case, it is NOT wrong to release the forgiveness to the person (legalism is to be avoided).   To proceed to Part II, click here <Part II>

Anthony Chia, high.expressions

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