What Forgiving Someone Doesn’t Mean

I trust you are seeking the Lord and resting in His unwavering, amazing love and faithfulness today. He remains worthy!

There are a few things I’d like to say about forgiveness that won’t show up in my sermons in our current series. They’re sermon-worthy, but I feel they are better said as a kind of extended caveat than a full-fledged message because I don’t think they apply to everyone. I may have said a thing or two in my sermon this past Sunday that were a bit misleading, so I hope this will correct those.

1. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you must allow them to continue to hurt you

Oh friends! If your husband is abusing you, call the police right now! Look what Paul says about slaves seeking their freedom:

Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.)

1 Corinthians 7:21

If you are able to be free from that situation, do it! Get out!

Paul demonstrated this himself (not apples-to apples, but close!) when he appealed to his Roman citizenship to avoid being beaten.

the tribune ordered him to be brought into the barracks, saying that he should be examined by flogging, to find out why they were shouting against him like this. 25 But when they had stretched him out for the whips,[a] Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” 26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.”

Acts 22:24-26

If the person who hurt you is intent on hurting you again, avoid it if you can!

Paul even goes further in Acts 16. He had been beaten as a Roman citizen (a big no-no in Rome) and thrown in jail, a huge violation of his rights. When those who did so found out what they did, they wanted to release him privately in order to avoid their punishment. But look what Paul did:

36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” 38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens.

Acts 16:36-38

Instead of just ignoring the wrong done to him by those who beat him, Paul put their feet to the fire and made them face what they did! Not only did he seek to avoid unnecessary pain, he sought to hold those who caused it accountable. Consider that.

Yes, God is using that hurt for your good (Romans 8:28) and is giving you an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Christ, but if it is possible to let that cup pass from you, let it pass. Sometimes it’s not possible, but sometimes it might be.

That leads me to my second point just below.

2. FOrgiving someone doesn’t mean never confronting them about their sin against you

Overlooking the sins of our fellow Christians is probably what we should do most of the time. Notice the wisdom of Proverbs 19:11

Good sense makes one slow to anger,

    and it is his glory to overlook an offense.

Proverbs 19:11

We certainly aren’t called to be the sin police toward one another. It’s primarily the Holy Spirit’s job to confront sin in a believer and shape us to Christ’s image. We model Christ-likeness as best we can, encourage one another to do the same, and assume the best about one another when our flesh tells us to condemn and believe the worst about someone’s motives. There is much grace given to us! How wonderful it is to extend that to our brothers and sisters!

But in some situations we are not to overlook the sin of another Christian toward us. Notice Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18:15-17:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Matthew 18:15-17

Jesus tells us to tell our brother (or sister in Christ) their fault (note: privately at first). He does not instruct you to tell your pastor about what someone did in order for the pastor to confront the sinner. He follows that with what to do depending on the response–more fervent confrontation or reconciliation.

There seems to be a two-fold reason for this kind of confrontation: (1) to restore the relationship between brothers or sisters in Christ, and (2) to encourage the sinning brother to be restored to God. In fact, if the sinning brother doesn’t listen even to the whole congregation (who is evidently able to confirm his behavior as sin), Jesus tells the church to treat him no longer like a brother, but as someone who isn’t a Christian (a “Gentile and a tax collector”).

How to know if you should overlook or confront

We must distinguish the difference between what the Spirit through the Word wants us to do and what our flesh wants us to do. Here is one question to consider to help you discern:

Is their action hindering your relationship as brothers and sisters?

If it is, you need to talk to them. Here are my suggestions to make it as successful as possible on your end:

1. Pray. A lot.

2. Do it in person or over the phone if at all possible.

3. Assume the best about their motives.

4. Use phrases like, “I’m probably wrong about this, but it’s hindering our relationship, so I had to talk to you about it . . .” “I heard you say . . .” “I was very hurt by . . .”

If you still have questions, I’m happy to help however I can. I’m praying for you all as we continue to seek to forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven us.