Do you have to forgive people who don’t even ask for your forgiveness? We’ve been talking about forgiveness the last few episodes of Little Lessons. And today’s question, of course, is another one along those lines. When people offend us, when people sin against us, do we have to forgive them? And my answer is going to absolutely shock many who are watching this.
But stay around to listen to everything I have to say. Don’t just shut me off after your first misunderstanding of what I’m really trying to say.
The Surprising Answer
The answer is: no, you don’t have to forgive people who don’t ask for forgiveness. Don’t touch that dial, because I’m not done talking yet, okay? You don’t have to forgive them, but you have to love them. Because that’s a commandment, to love everybody.
And you know, think about it, it is possible to love people and not forgive them. Because God does that a million times every day. Right?
God loves everybody. God loves the whole world, but that doesn’t mean He’s forgiven them. No. He’s waiting on them to repent, acknowledge their sin, confess it, and so forth. And then He forgives them. So God’s not expecting more out of us than He holds Himself to when it comes to forgiveness.
How to Treat Those Who Don’t Ask for Forgiveness
We have to forgive those who ask forgiveness from us. Those who don’t ask forgiveness, we have to love. And if they are people who are professing Christians, our job is not over despite saying, “Well, I’m just going to love you.”
No, because if you love them, you’ll do what’s best for them. That is, you’ll do what Jesus said to do if your brother or sister sins against you. You will go to that person to try to repair the breach in your relationship by confronting them about their sin.
And you will say, as a loving person will say, “I have to come to you because I value our relationship so much, and I don’t want to have bad feelings against you. When I see you I don’t want to have anything bad come into my mind. You may not even realize what you did, but there’s something that you did that has caused a breach in our relationship. And I’d like to talk about that, to see if we can reach an understanding.”
Working For Reconcilation
Many times, those folks will say, “Oh, I didn’t even realize this.” They’ll be totally ignorant, totally blind to their offense. And once you tell them, they’ll just immediately say, “Oh, forgive me! I’m so sorry.” What will you do then? Oh, you better forgive them then. Because if you don’t, you’re in big, big trouble. God won’t forgive you of any of your sins from then on.
If they don’t listen to you, Jesus said, of course, get a couple folks to come and help you. And if those folks are smart, they’re going to listen to both sides. I’ve talked about this before on Little Lessons.
So, if they listen to you, if you’re right, and your friends who’ve come to help you reconcile agree with you. And if that person who offends you realizes it and admits it and asks for your forgiveness, what do you need to do?
You’d better forgive.
When You Can’t Reach Reconciliation
But obviously you don’t have to forgive them if they don’t confess it. Because you take them to the next step, which is a step that indicates that reconciliation, restoration, has not occurred yet. You take them in front of the church.
Now, in New Testament context, this a little tiny house church, okay? So in the modern context, you take them in front of your Bible study, or some small group of people. And confront the person then.
And if they realize it then, and confess it, what do you have to do? You have to forgive them. But if they don’t confess it, do you have to forgive? Obviously not, because Jesus said you can then treat them as a tax collector, or as a Gentile. They’re out of the church. And you still love them, you pray for them. You hope that they’ll come to their senses and admit they’re wrong. But you don’t have to forgive.
True forgiveness will always result in some semblance of reconciliation. And you can’t forgive people who don’t even want or ask for forgiveness. And that is the pattern that we find in Scripture.
This is not only exemplified by how the Lord deals with people, but it exemplifies the teachings of Christ. In Luke 17:3, Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.”
A Parable About Unforgiveness
In the parable that Jesus told about the unforgiving servant (see Matthew 18:21-35) who owed his master this immense amount of money he could never repay. And he begged for mercy, and his master forgave him of this incredible huge debt.
And then he went out and found a fellow slave who owed him a few days wages, and said, “Repay me.” And his fellow slave said, “I beg for mercy, I will repay you.” He said, “No, I’m not having any mercy on you.” And he had him thrown into the prison.
And when his master heard what he had done to his fellow slave, he said, “Hey, I forgave you of all that debt. Shouldn’t you have forgiven your fellow servant of all of his debt?” And so he was cast into prison until he should repay his debt. A great example of what happens to us when we don’t forgive. God reinstates our former guilt, which he had forgiven, and we’re in big trouble.
But notice, even in that parable of the unforgiving servant the people who got forgiven asked for forgiveness. The people who should have been forgiven asked for forgiveness. That’s the starting place. That’s the component. And that’s why you go to your brother who sinned against you privately to evoke a confession. That can start the wheels of forgiveness going.
Letting Go of Grudges
When people say, “Well, I’ve forgiven them, but I’m not going to talk to them,” they’re only fooling themselves. You haven’t forgiven them at all. You’re still harboring a grudge. And if you truly did love that person and value the relationship, you would be going to them to make it right.
Just like in a marriage, when you say “We said til’ death do us part, so there’s no sense letting this thing drag on for years. Let’s just confront it right now, and have some communication here.”
Because we value this relationship, we don’t both want to live in tension. And so we get together and we talk. And if somebody needs to ask for forgiveness, you bring them to that point where they ask for forgiveness.
Okay? Alright. So, do you have to forgive everybody who sins against you? No. You have to love them, and you have to go to them to try to evoke a confession in order to participate forgiveness and reconciliation.
More to be said on this. This is a Little Lesson. You can read more about this subject in a chapter of my book, The Disciple-Making Minister. Okay, thanks for joining me. God bless you.