Do We Have To Forgive Everyone?
There have been times in my life where I felt truly, and honestly offended. I’m not talking about the offense I feel when a guy cuts me off, or a person says something rude to me. Those things bother me, but I can probably get over it with a bit of time. However, I’m talking about the person I trusted with my darkest fears using them against me. I’m talking about a biological father who should have raised me to love and honor God molesting a sibling. I’m talking about a church surrounding my mother and ordering her to forgive that same biological father to keep the marriage united.
When I look at Christ and all he’s done for me, it can be convicting to see how He acted and realize I chose vindication over a forgiving heart. Have you ever wanted someone to be punished? I have. I’ve wanted people to pay for what they’ve done.
But how willing was I to pay for any of my wrong? Not at all. I want all the forgiveness. If that’s so, shouldn’t I then be willing to offer it?
But do we have to?
Jesus commanded us very clearly to forgive those who ask of it.
“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying , ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17: 3-4)
This is easy Christian math. If someone asks your forgiveness, you must give it. We’ve talked for two chapters about why this is important and why we have no right to withhold our forgiveness. This chapter is more about a few areas people may not understand so well. I know I didn’t.
First, let’s look at the mechanics of forgiveness. When we’re offended, Christ orders us to rebuke him. He doesn’t instruct us to yell at him. He doesn’t tell us to punish him. The greek word for rebuke in this verse is epitimeson. It means to censure. You might use it to chide or admonish or warn. That word is used two more times in the Bible (according to my research), Luke 19:39 and 2 Timothy 4:2. In all three there’s an tone of scolding.
We have to approach those who wrong us and address our grievance. We do this for a few reasons: First, we have to let out those feelings. How often have you tried to hold in your anger only for it to explode as something much larger than the initial offense warranted? Rebuking those who sin against us allows us to express our hurt in a healthy manner instead of going nuclear the thousandth time your husband leaves the toilet seat up. Second, it allows the person who wronged you the opportunity to repent.
Now, here someone might tangentially say to himself, “Oh he knows what he did!” or “She should know that bothers me!” Maybe, but this is still Biblically important. We sometimes don’t ask for forgiveness out of shame. We sometimes don’t ask because we think we got away with it. Maybe the person we wronged doesn’t realize we’ve done something to them, but God does, so the need to repent is still there. So even if you know, and you know they know, we still need to allow them the opportunity to repent. Doing so gains us a brother. (Matthew 18:15-17. Cross reference Luke 17:3-4)
In the previous paragraph, I said there is some Biblical importance. There’s also precedent. Let’s look at the first sin:
“He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Genesis 3:11)
Here God, who absolutely knew what Adam had done, shows us exactly what Christ instructs us to do later (it helps when they’re one and the same). He had every right to punish Adam and say, “You know what you did!” But He didn’t. Yes, He did punish Adam, but not before allowing Adam the chance to repent and ask forgiveness. Adam didn’t. He went straight to blaming his wife, who then blamed the serpent. None of them even asked for forgiveness or confessed of their sin. (Genesis 3:12-13).
So, it doesn’t matter if they know what they did or not, we’re commanded to rebuke them. So how did God rebuke them? See the passage above. Even in that situation, God didn’t shout or scream. He asked a question. That’s not the only way to rebuke someone, and we’ll talk more about how to rebuke in the next chapter. For now, please know that rebuke doesn’t in any way mean, punish. Remember, the goal is repentance. That’s God’s goal for us, and so it should be our goal for those who wrong us.
Therefore, we must rebuke those who sin against us. Then comes the essential clause “if he repents.”
No, you don’t have to forgive someone who doesn’t ask for it. God certainly doesn’t. Remember, only those who repent of their sins and accept Christ as their Savior receive their gift.
But, that doesn’t mean we can’t forgive them. It doesn’t mean that our forgiveness doesn’t matter in those cases. Let’s look at what our Savior chose do to even as he Hung on the cross:
“And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34b)
As He hung there, they ridiculed Him and mocked Him. Not a one of them asked forgiveness during the crucifixion. In Acts, Peter rebukes them and offers them the chance to repent (some of them did). (Acts 2:36)
For those of you who might want to find the plot hole and say Christ didn’t rebuke them, yes, he did. In Luke 23:28-31, Christ very clearly warns the mourners to mourn for themselves, “ … weep for yourselves and for your children … For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
Now that we’ve tied those ends, we can return our focus to what matters. The simple answer is this: If someone sins against you, and you rebuke them, but they don’t repent and seek forgiveness, you don’t have to forgive them, but you can. And that graciousness will still be applied to you because as you were forgiven, you have forgiven others (Ephesians 4:32).
Don’t, however, fall for the trap of thinking those who ask “deserve” forgiveness and those who don’t “don’t deserve” forgiveness. Remember, no one deserves to be forgiven. It is a gift, and to be a loving, giving person is wonderful fruit to bear as a Christian. It’s hard to do, but there are so many benefits to a heart God strengthens enough to do so.
Who in this world would blame a person for wanting vengeance of wrong? But if it is grace we want from God, shouldn’t we then offer it to others?
Evil men hold grudges. Evil men plot revenge and mete out punishment. Is that who you want to be?
Be forgiving, so that you are a forgiving person. Be loving, so that you are a loving person. I tell my sons (one of whom is bullied), that if you give in to your hate and mete out vengeance, you only make yourself one of them. This isn’t the same as defending yourself or rebuking those who sin against you. However, when push comes to shove, you can do as others do, or you can do as Christ did. Who is it you want to be like?
A significant portion of this information was at the very least derived from an article by Tabletalk Magazine, by R.C. Sproul.
For our panel: How is forgiveness given? What should one do if the one we’ve rebuked doesn’t repent? What if that person isn’t a brother? If we don’t have to forgive people who don’t ask for it, why should we? Why is it some people seek forgiveness so desperately, but they don’t offer it to others? How does someone help that person see what he’s doing?