Friday, February 09, 2007

Forgive Your Brother

Forgive Your Brother
Suppose you are sitting in your favorite coffee shop and a fellow you know from church comes up, kicks you in the shin, and runs away. A few minutes later he comes back and apologizes profusely and begs for your forgiveness. He says he has repented and will never, with God’s help, do it or anything like it again. What do you do?

If you are a good Christian person, your response should be to graciously accept his apology, his confession of sin, and to forgive him (Luke 17:3).

Now suppose, an hour later, the same fellow comes back into the shop and repeats the exact same thing he has done earlier. He kicks you in the shin and later comes to ask for forgiveness. To make it even more dramatic, suppose he’s now in front of you, asking for your forgiveness for the seventh time today. At this point, what do you do?

Despite your hurting shin, wounded ego, and the fact that you feel a bit silly for not avoiding him sooner, the Biblical answer is—you forgive him again. Sounds pretty strange, doesn’t it? But turn in your Bible to Luke 17:3, “…if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him." You see, Jesus told us to forgive a fellow at least seven times for the same sin, even seven times for the same sin in a single day.

“Wait a minute,” I can hear you saying, “Shouldn’t repentance be accompanied by some sort of fruit? Why should I forgive him, if he clearly hasn’t repented? He keeps coming back and kicking me; that doesn’t sound like repentance.” But notice, Jesus said nothing about fruit; He said, “If he says, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” It has nothing to do with a changed life. In other words, our forgiveness and our not holding the sin against him (this is what forgiveness means) has to do with what he says, not with what he actually does or will do one hour down the road.

The reason this is true is that repentance is a function of sanctification. The word ‘repent’ means to change your mind. I used to think in the same way that the world does about this particular action, but now I think the way God thinks. This change of mind comes from the hand of God as a gracious gift, and, as with all change, is part of God’s sanctification.

Further, as we all know, sanctification is a process, not an instantaneous, complete change in a person. Change can happen instantaneously, and praise God, it often does, but it is not usually that way. People will often struggle with temptation for a long time before God grants victory, and sin is finally overcome.

How often have you sinned, been convicted, confessed and repented of the sin, and never fallen into that sin again? Usually, often, seldom, never? Most of us sin quite a bit after we have repented the first time.

If we were to wait until fruit of repentance was present before we forgave the fellow who kicked us in the shin, we would never have restored fellowship with him. We could never be sure he had truly repented because, while he hasn’t kicked us for several minutes, you never know what will happen in the next hour or even tomorrow.

The point? It is better to obey, even when we don’t understand why, than to try to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong. It is better to forgive our brother and maintain fellowship than to try to read another’s heart and his level of sanctification-“If your brother sins against you…and if he repents, forgive him” (cf. Mt. 18:21ff.).

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