Should I have nothing to do with the brother who sinned against me? But what about forgiveness? Doesn’t the Bible say that we should forgive those who sin against us? In fact, in the “Lord’s prayer “ it’s also written “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” And more! Jesus, after teaching the disciples the “Lord’s prayer,” draws the attention of the disciples, that the condition of being forgiven is to forgive those who have sinned against them. How do these two commandments relate to each other?
These questions may be troubling many people. However, there are no contradictions in God’s Word, even if sometimes it seems to us that there are, as in this case: firstly, we are asked to forgive those who sin against us, and secondly, we are asked not to deal with them. Let us follow two texts from the Holy Scriptures that speak of how we should deal with the person who sins against us. These texts are written in the Gospel of Luke 17:3-4 and the Gospel of Matthew 18:15-20. Let’s see what we can learn from each of them.
Forgiveness comes after repentance: we forgive those who are sorry for the sin committed against us.
“If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” (Luke 17: 3-4) (NASB)
According to this text, when someone sins against us and does not come to ask for forgiveness, we must rebuke him and help him to understand the mistake he made and give him the chance to correct himself. We must forgive when he is sorry for what he has done and asks for forgiveness. Even God forgives only those who repent of their evil deeds and wholeheartedly want to live a new life, but He turns away from those who persevere in their sins, because sin sets a wall of separation between us and God. If we forgive those who sin against us, without confronting them with their sin and without asking for forgiveness, we are justifying their sin. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a great theologian martyred by the Nazis in a concentration camp in 1945, called such forgiveness “cheap forgiveness” that leads to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner.
What should we do when the one who has sinned against us is not sorry for what he has done and does not ask for forgiveness? The answer is found in the Gospel of Matthew 18:15-20.
If he who has sinned against us does not repent, we will have nothing to do with him, and in that way he may be ashamed and repent.
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 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. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” (Matthew 18:15-20) (NASB)
From this text we see that we must have no dealings with the one who sins against us only if he does not correct himself neither after he has been personally confronted, nor after he has been confronted in the presence of one or two witnesses, nor when he has been confronted by the Church. The man is given three chances to repent of his deeds: in case he does not listen, then we must have no dealings with him — not to harm him, but to do him good — to win him for God.
We break any connection with the one who sins against us, but we do not break it from our heart (we forgive him in our heart).
In his second epistle to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul writes to the saints in this church:
If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15) (NASB)
May the Lord help us and give us wisdom in our dealings with people in such a way that every word and every deed is motivated by “the love of God which was poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which was given to us” (Romans 5:5).
Translated by Olya Trikolich