Is your theology about forgiveness a little bit deficient? Find out in this episode of Little Lessons!
Hi. Welcome to today’s Little Lesson. This is a special Ohio edition of Little Lessons. I’m blessed to be along the shore of Lake Erie here. It’s a beautiful cloudy day, and a nice calm day to do some filming outside.
We’ve been talking about is it okay to take a person to court in our previous two Little Lessons. They were actually filmed in Australia. I could just feel, during my last filming of that last Little Lesson in Sydney, a little bit of negative vibes coming from some viewers. So, I thought, better explore this a little bit more deeply, because we were working our way through the Sermon on the Mount.
We’re here in Matthew 5, where Jesus said, “Do not judge, lest you be judged,” and so forth. Some folks, focusing just on that verse, have come to a conclusion. It’s dangerous coming to conclusions when you focus on one verse. Every verse in the Bible needs to be interpreted in light of all the rest of the verses in the New Testament.
Jesus did not give the Sermon on the Mount in a vacuum. He gave it in the context of the entire Bible and in the context, of course, of the Law of Moses, of which he was the author and through which he set up a court system whereby the children of Israel, if they had a dispute with a fellow Israelite, they could take them to court and be assured that they were going to get justice.
So, for some folks, they’re making the conclusion that somehow God has changed and that’s all changed under the new Covenant and now, in every case, we just turn the other cheek and Jesus talked about forgiving, so we always forgive. Jesus talked about not judging so we would never, ever think about taking anybody to court, and so forth.
I understand where those people are coming from, but I’m totally persuaded that their basic premise is wrong, and that basic premise being that the Sermon on the Mount introduced some radically new themes and variations on fundamental morality, because it just doesn’t fit into the rest of scripture. In fact, that’s not taught anywhere in the New Testament, Epistles, that Jesus brought a radical new morality that all changed at the Sermon on the Mount.
So, let’s read what Jesus said in the context of everything else that Jesus said and not just take verses out of their context.
So, we talked about the fact that God set up a court system, so courts cannot be inherently evil. It can’t be inherently evil to take people to court for good cause, as long as there are other factors, biblical factors, that are followed and come into play.
We have already talked about the fact that Paul strongly reprimanded the Corinthians for taking fellow believers to court before unbelievers, but I tried to point out the fact that he wasn’t saying that courts are inherently evil and that Christians have no place in court. Christians taking other Christians to a court that’s presided over by an unbelieving judge or an unbelieving jury, that’s what Paul was warning against and so grieved over in the Corinthian church.
But he doesn’t say, “Don’t go to court.” He says, “Isn’t there a wise man among you who can decide? Aren’t you able to constitute the smallest of law courts? Gather some folks in the church, for crying out loud,” the people who are one day, Paul says, going to judge angels. Can’t they render it? It’d be okay then to have court amongst the believers when its believers having disputes with believers. Get someone who can arbitrate.
And didn’t Jesus say that when he said when your brother sins against you, go to him. If he doesn’t receive you, get two or three and so forth and if he doesn’t receive you, go to the church. So he’s talking repeatedly there about having court, as it were, in church.
I think that the fundamental problem regarding the question I posed at the beginning of this Little Lesson is your understanding of God’s expectation of forgiveness a little bit deficient. Here’s where I think so many Christians are deficient in their understanding of our obligation to forgive. They completely ignore everything else the Bible has to say, including Jesus about the confrontation that would be expected and, in fact, even commanded prior to getting to the step of forgiveness.
Yeah, sure, in Matthew 18 … Your brother sins against you, go to him. You confront him. If he receives you, you’ve won your brother. And Jesus says, if he doesn’t receive you, get one or two others, confront him again with some help. And of course, if you get two others, they’re going to want to listen to both sides of the story, they’re not just going to jump on your side. They want to judge righteously.
Jesus said if the offender doesn’t receive them, then take them before the church. And if he doesn’t receive them, then let him be to you as a tax collector. Well that doesn’t sound like forgiveness, carte blanche instant forgiveness, as some people preach and advocate. It’s not in there at all.
We want to work towards reconciliation, and the steps to do that are confrontation, repeated confrontation, increasing the pressure of the confrontation until there’s no hope of any further confrontation bringing reconciliation and if that happens, there’s no requirement to offer forgiveness. The person becomes a tax collector or a gentile to you. That is basically … don’t have any obligation to have a relationship with that person at all. There’s no reconciliation, there’s no forgiveness. Okay.
Perhaps another aspect that we just briefly touch on in this is what about Christians taking non-Christians to court. Christians don’t take Christians to court but what if it’s a non-Christian? I would recommend the same exact steps. Go to that non-Christian privately because that’s what love would do and if he doesn’t receive you then say would you mind if we got some help, some arbitrators here.
You know, maybe you pick one, I’ll pick one, and they can both pick one. That’s a standard process on arbitration, you know. And we’ll go before those three and that we can avoid having to go to court ’cause I really don’t want to sue you because I want to continue a relationship with you. I want a fair settlement. I don’t want you to get ripped off, but I don’t want you to rip me off. You see, I just want fairness here because God is a God of fairness, right, right.
If that unbeliever refuses that, then you’ve exhausted your possibilities, then all you can do is take that person to court. And now you’re probably going to go before unbelievers. But you can still be Christ-like in all of this. You can still be considerate and kind and open minded and humble in all of it. But, God is a God of justice.
Now, you say well what happened to the commandment about if he slaps you on the cheek, yeah, yeah, yeah, little tiny things like that … You know, forcing you go a mile, go the extra mile, sue you for your shirt … Come on, it’s almost comical. Suing you for your shirt. Jesus said give him your coat. Mercy shame those kinds of people. But when somebody does something that causes some huge infraction, some significant suffering that’s not a slap on the cheek, that’s not a suing of taking a shirt. Right? Right.
So there’s more to the Bible than just one verse. There’s more to the Bible that just one Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, chapter 5, 6, and 7. Jesus is speaking to us from Genesis to Revelations, through the law, through the prophets, through the Psalms and the Proverbs, its all inspired by his spirit.
Well, this is a Little Lesson and I’ve done the best I can do and there will be comments, I’m sure, that are negative and so forth but I just want to tell you that I love you because that’s the most important thing and if you disagree, that’s okay. All right. Be at peace.
Okay, thank you so much for joining me on this Little Lesson. Hope to see you next time. God bless you.