Sunday I preached on the parable of the two servants in Matthew 18, the one in which a servant who had been forgiven a GDP-sized debt, then failed to forgive a home mortgage-sized debt. Afterward someone asked me if we need to forgive someone who hasn’t apologized/repented. It’s a great question and, biblically, seems to have a two-part answer.
Part One – Vertical Forgiveness
In last week’s sermon I mentioned the principle Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer:
“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’ For if you forgive other people for their offenses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive other people, then your Father will not forgive your offenses.”Matthew 6:12-15
Mark has Jesus repeating this teaching while talking about faith in prayer:
“Therefore, I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted to you. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you for your offenses.”Mark 11:24-25
In both of these passages, Jesus makes no mention of the other party, He just tells us to “forgive” – let it go, send it away!
In a similar vein Paul mentions forgiving others “as Christ has forgiven you,” in both Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:13, as a component of the Christian character that ought to be part of our daily lives. So yes, on the one hand, I must forgive my brother or sister regardless of apology so as to be in fellowship with my Father in heaven above.
Part Two – Horizontal Forgiveness
The parable in Matthew 18, concerning the two servants, is preceded by a discussion about what to do when a brother sins against you. Jesus instructs us to go to him privately and try to get him to hear us (18:15). Should the result of this meeting be one of refusal to hear (apologize, agree, repent), then there are a series of steps, the final one of which is excommunication. We see these steps played out, sometimes rather drastically, in the early church. So we know God is serious. I do understand the root of the question, that being that sins which are obvious to us ought to be obvious to the sinner. However, in this teaching we who are offended are instructed to initiate. If we don’t think the offense rises to the level of confrontation or if we are too hesitant to confront, then forgiveness is our only other option.
All that said, conditional forgiveness is a “thing,” but it’s an infrequent thing in our lives compared to how often hurts are never confronted and, therefore, just need to be “let go” because they only damage the one holding on to them, not the one we are holding them against, as much as we like to imagine otherwise!
Yours, Because I’m His,