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Forgiveness

Many times we hear people throw this word around and do we really understand what Jesus means by it?    We say that we have forgiven people for things they have done, but have we really.   I will be the first to tell you that we cannot look into the heart of another person and know this for sure, only God can do that.    If someone seeks forgiveness, we have to forgive them, scripturally there is no other course and there should not be.   In fact, Christians are told in scripture to be in a continual state of forgiveness.   Look at what many call the “70 times 7 rule” that Jesus gave in Matthew 18:21-22:

21 Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" 22 Jesus said* to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

I know you are aware that this is not 490 times, but a state of continual forgiveness.   Jesus put this same commandment another way in Luke 17:1-4:

1 He said to His disciples, "It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! 2 "It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3 "Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4 "And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him."

These are easy to understand, they are given for the occasion when someone sins against you or hurts you and you are to forgive him or her.   Regardless of how many times someone does something to you, you must never hold that against them.   Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:14-15 that if we do not forgive, then our sins are not forgiven and we understand the consequence of unforgiven sin.

14 "For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 "But if you do not forgive others , then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

But the more difficult situation arises when you have done nothing wrong and other Christians hold you responsible for alleged sin against them.   What do you do then, just ignore them?    No, Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount how to handle this situation.    In Matthew 5:23-24 Jesus tells us:

23 "Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.

Look very carefully at the wording of verse 23, it says,  “…and there remember that your brother has something against you,…” means that even though you may not have done anything to your brother or sister in Christ, you are commanded to go and resolve the issue because they have something against you.   Now, you may have sinned against your brother or sister in this situation, but this teaching goes to an issue beyond clear cut sin.   Let me ask you this question:   Do you think God knows that we may have misunderstandings, miscommunications, someone misspoke and another person took it wrong?   Matthew 5: 23-24 is given to handle these types of situations also.   Granted, it can be applied to sin too.   The issue, whatever it is, whether real or imagined by your brother or sister is not the major point in this teaching.   If your brother or sister will not take the initiative to resolve the issue, you are commanded to take the initiative.    That is the real teaching of this passage, resolve the issue and do not let it become more than what it is already.   Take care of the issue before it gets bigger and blown way out of proportion.

Where one person may or may not have sinned, yet another brother or sister in Christ thinks they have, they perceive that they have, but will not follow the commandment of Matthew 5:23-24 and they refuse to go to his or her brother or sister in Christ for whatever reason, stubbornness or pride, sin may in fact arise here.   Let’s look at James 4:17:

17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.

You know it is right to obey a commandment from Jesus, yet for whatever reason you make a free will choice not too.   You say to yourself, I have not done wrong, why should I go to them, let them come to me.   I will leave it to your conscious, but look again carefully at what Jesus says in Matthew 5: 23-24.   He says if you "remember that your brother has something against you," He says to go to your brother.   Jesus does not say that your brother has sinned against you, only that he or she "has something against you".   Again, what Jesus is saying is to take care of this matter regardless of what the issue is or is not, whether you started it or they started it.   Let’s assume it is a very small matter, but you know Jesus commanded you to GO and you do not do that, have you violated James 4:17, because you know it is “the right thing to do” and you don’t do it?    It may be a very small matter, but allowed to go unchecked, it can fester and resentment can grow over time until it becomes a big matter and upsets the entire church.   At this point, you are way deep into sin, as you know it was right to go in the first place, as Jesus commanded you to do.

What if a brother or sister has left a particular congregation over the issue and those who remain go on as if nothing is wrong.   Is this OK?    Part of the people who were involved are now gone, so as the old saying goes, "Out of Sight, Out of Mind", is that correct?   Not hardly.   Remember Christ built only one church, so until resolved, the issue still remains.   Everyone involved are still involved until they get together and reconcile, Jesus commanded it.   To say that just because they are not attending that congregation anymore is wrong and scripturally inaccurate.   Paul talks about how the church is set up.   We often think that we place membership in a congregation when we come to a new congregation.   That is a tradition, not scripture.   When you obey the Gospel by repenting and be baptized, God adds you to the church, see Acts 2: 47.   That is the time you become a member of the church and the only way you can become a member.   Once a member, you are a member of the church as a whole.   Don’t confuse the building you go to each Sunday as the church, it is not.   It is nothing more than a building.    The church is the spiritual body of Christ.  Paul wrote the church in Ephesus about this in Ephesians 1: 22-23:

22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

Clearly, the body of Christ is the church and there is only one body, see Ephesians 4: 3-6.   Paul went on in Romans 12: 4-5 to fully clarify this matter:

4 For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

Note here that Paul is writing to the church in Rome said there is only “one body” and that we are “individually members one of another.”   Each of us is a Christian in the church and we have an obligation not have issues between us.    This teaching is given to clear up matters between individuals in the church, so they do not fester and cause divisions within the body.    What Jesus is really telling us here is it does not matter who sinned against whom, or someone is perceived to have sinned, the key teaching is that the issue be cleared up.   This is a commandment, not a request if you feel like it. 

Jesus gives us a further example in Luke 15: 3-7 in the form of a Parable on this same issue.

3 So He told them this parable, saying, 4 "What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 "When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 "And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!' 7 "I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

There is much that can be taught here, but I only want to take one point from this.  Jesus points out that one of the sheep has left the flock and is lost.   He starts in verse 4 saying,  “What man among you,…” indicating clearly this is a commandment for everyone, not just certain people like the minister or the Elders to handle this.    Clearly, the minister and the Elders are included in this group, but it is not limited to them.   What Jesus is really asking is this:   Which one of you would fail to do this?   Now the last part of verse 4 says you will go after the one who is lost until you find them.    What I find interesting here is what Jesus did not say.   He did not give a reason the one sheep left in the first place and in teachings I have heard on this passage this point is often overlooked, and it is the most important point.  Jesus did not give any reason for leaving because He did not want people to carve out exceptions to this commandment.   It does not matter why the one sheep left the flock, only that the one sheep is found again and returned to the flock, regardless of the reason.   Now that is forgiveness without condition, that is maintaining church unity ahead of personal reasons or issues.   It is after all, the church that will be delivered to God on that day and its unity can only be complete inside God’s Grace, Love and Forgiveness.    There is simply no other way it can occur and without us forgiving, regardless of whether we have done anything wrong, is paramount.

Just simply saying I forgive someone is not enough; you must convey that message to them, otherwise how will they know.   Remember that Jesus said in Matthew 5:24 to GO and be reconciled to your brother.  This places both parties on the same page, each Christian is commanded to GO to the other.    Your own eternal salvation depends on it.   As Jesus said in Mathew 6, if we don’t forgive, then there is no forgiveness for us.  Again, how does someone know we have forgiven them if we do not tell them?   We may say to ourselves that we have forgiven them; we may tell others we have forgiven them; we may have gone forward at church and told the church, but how does the individual involved know if we do not tell them?   While we may feel relief, they are still upset and fuming about it, still holding a grudge, holding in anger.    That is why Jesus commands in Matthew 5:24 for us to GO and be reconciled to them.  Go to them personally and work it out, that is the commandment.   If we don’t resolve issues between ourselves, then we cannot properly worship and serve God, because the issue simply has to be taken care of and the sooner the better.   God is more interested in the resolution of the issue, than the issue.   Again, look at what Jesus says in John 17:1:   "It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come,...".    Things will happen, they always do, but they cannot be allowed to go on without being addressed.   When they are not taken care of, the church pays the price for it.    When God forgives He forgets and we must do the same.   It keeps peace and unity in the church.

The last thing I want to address here is what happens when you go to your brother or sister and seek to reconcile and they refuse.   The Bible has an answer for that situation, as God knew that would happen too.   The Apostle Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit wrote the church in Rome about this in Romans 12:16-18:

16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

Notice in verse 16 in this letter to the church, it starts off saying “Be of the same mind toward one another;…” which means that we are to regard and treat each other with respect.   He goes on to talk about your behavior, your attitudes.   If each member is doing this, then unity is obtained.   In verse 18 he tells us “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men”.    If you have gone to your brother or sister for reconciliation and they refuse, then you have done what you can do.   You have made the effort, the attempt at reconciliation and have been rejected by them.  That shifts the burden to them, but you always remain ready to reconcile with them, should they have a change of heart.    I will close with this.    Always pray for them that God will soften their heart and will turn them from this position.   By doing this, it helps keep peace and unity in the church.   As Jesus said in Luke 17:1 problems will arise, it is how you handle them which determines if the problem remains.

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