Let’s talk about FORGIVENESS today. The Bible is full of forgiving, and loving, and being merciful. It talks about it all the time! I couldn’t possibly number the sermons I’ve heard on forgiveness. On putting up with a sinning brother’s faults. On remembering that you have a beam in your own eye. On showing Love to others. And you know what? EVERY SINGLE SERMON WAS DEAD WRONG!
That’s right. The Bible does talk a great deal about forgiveness, but odds are it DOESN’T mean what you THINK it means when it says “forgiveness”!
The Bible uses a lot of terms. Love, grace, mercy, peace, forgiveness, righteousness, judgment, etc. And these terms were translated from the respective Greek and Hebrew into English words about 400 years ago. But languages grow and change, and just because *I* use the term “mercy”, and YOU use the term “mercy”, it doesn’t mean that we are saying the same thing. For example, in England “a lift” means an elevator. Here it means a ride to town. So if you go to England and say “I need a lift”, they’ll try to sell you an elevator when what you ACTUALLY wanted is to hitch a ride!
It’s the same with forgiveness. When God says “mercy” in the Bible, He means something very specific, and very definite. And quite simply, the church needs a dictionary. A dictionary that defines words as GOD defines them, not as our language or our society defines them. Mercy, to us, simply means forgiving someone. “Letting go”, of a wrong that they did you. And this is very close to what God means – but critically different…
James 2:13 For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.
Mercy rejoices against judgment. Mercy is excited and is happy and defeats Judgment. But mercy MUST be a step that happens AFTER judgment, because mercy can’t rejoice AGAINST judgment, IF JUDGMENT WAS NEVER MADE!
But already we see a conflict, for the world says that judging is wrong. So if you can’t JUDGE, then you can’t show MERCY, for mercy rejoices AGAINST JUDGMENT! And so I can’t FORGIVE you of a sin against me, UNLESS I have first JUDGED you as having SINNED AGAINST ME!
Boy, does that open a can of worms. I’d better be careful, you say, and watch the beam in my OWN eye. Well, let’s check out that scripture real quick shall we?
Matthew 7:1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
Now see? Everything I’ve said is wrong. Judging is evil. But wait a moment! Let’s just read one more verse before making that decision, shall we?
Verse 2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
W-w-what?? Verse 2 says that with the judgment we DO judge, we shall be judged. But in the first verse he outlawed judging altogether, didn’t he?? So how can we be judged according to how we judge others, IF WE DON’T JUDGE OTHERS??
But He goes on to explain, and give a practical example.
Verses 3-5 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
You know, of all the thousands of times I’ve heard this scripture quoted – and usually by people trying to say I’m evil for saying that, say, a man living in open adultery shouldn’t be coming to church, much less be on the speaking list – but of all those times, I don’t think I’ve EVER heard it read for what IT was saying, and not for what THEY WANTED it to say.
What does that scripture say? It says DO NOT try to help your brother pull a splinter out of his eye, WHEN you have a BEAM in your own eye! And if that was ALL it said they might have a point – but it continues to say that you should FIRST REMOVE THAT BEAM! And THEN – THEN you shall see clearly to REMOVE THAT SPLINTER FROM YOUR BROTHER’S EYE!
It says DO NOT JUDGE SOMEONE for shoplifting, when YOU are embezzling from your corporation! But rather, STOP EMBEZZLING, and then you can see clearly to TELL YOUR BROTHER TO STOP SHOPLIFTING!!
It isn’t saying not to judge – it’s saying not to judge UNTIL YOU’VE STOPPED THOSE SINS YOU KNOW ABOUT! And friends, you shouldn’t still have a beam in your eye after TWO years in the church, MUCH LESS 40!!
But that’s the brief story on Judging. You can see the whole thing in my article “How Dare You Judge Me!“, linked there. But the main subject here is mercy. And this MERCY rejoices against that judgment. When someone steals from you, and you judge him as guilty of stealing from you (which is our responsibility), then MERCY looks at that theft and forgives him! And REJOICES against that judgment!
But wait! I missed a step. Something VERY important has to happen first. Something that EVERYONE forgets when they talk about MERCY and forgiveness.
Luke 17:3 Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and IF HE REPENT, forgive him.
Did he say to forgive your brother for his sins against you? NO! He said REBUKE HIM! Judge him for his sins against you, and TELL HIM HE WAS WRONG! And IF HE REPENTS, IF HE REPENTS THEN, and ONLY THEN, FORGIVE HIM!
That’s what He said. IF HE REPENT is in that scripture. And it’s there for a reason. “forgiving” a brother without him first repenting to you, is tantamount to “forgiving” a shark for biting your arm off, as it swims around for a bigger piece. But hold on, you say – Christ said to forgive a brother SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN – and should we do no less? You’re absolutely right! We should do EXACTLY what Christ said and FORGIVE THEM EACH TIME! But wait… in the very next verse here it says…
Verse 4 And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.
For EACH AND EVERY ONE of those SEVEN TIMES in that day that he sinned against you, he has to turn to you and say “I REPENT!” or, in our language “I am sorry! I was wrong!” and THEN – ONLY then, mind you – are you to forgive him!
The same question came up in Matthew, chapter 18. Christ had just been discussing how to deal with a disagreement with a brother, in verses 15-20, (which is worth an article by itself)….
Matthew 18:21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
And this scripture, since it was inspired by the same holy spirit and spoken by the same Jesus, has to agree with that other scripture – which says that those 490 sins Peter’s brother committed against him EACH need a repentance before Peter should forgive them! And if Peter, or you and I, DON’T forgive our brother after he repents, THEN we are indeed in hot water with God, and then the scripture which says “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” (Matthew 7:2) applies to us. Which is why Christ went on in Matthew 18 to give this parable…
Matthew 18:23-25 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.
Notice here the Lord, which represents God, found one of his servants owed him a debt – in this case, a sin. A rather large one, apparently. And God JUDGED him! And commanded him to be sold, and his whole family, to pay for these sins! This is step 1 – the judgment.
Verse 26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
This servant however REPENTED – and BEGGED for Mercy! This is step 2, repentance.
Verse 27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
And the Lord, who is FULL of tender mercies, frankly forgave him the debt! And MERCY REJOICED against that judgment! But wait, there is more to the story.
Verse 28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.
Notice here, we begin the process anew, with step 1 – a judgment. Now this isn’t wrong – perhaps he could have been a bit more tactful about it, but nonetheless, this servant OWED HIM MONEY, and he had a right to have that money, and so he made a JUDGMENT just as God did, which is totally within his rights.
Verse 29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
Now step 2 again, repentance. But here the story changes a bit…
Verse 30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
And THIS MAN DID NOT GIVE MERCY! Mercy had been given to HIM, but he did not give mercy to others – and we all know what the Bible says about that. “For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy” (James 2:13)
Verse 31-32 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:
Notice carefully WHY the Lord forgave him that debt – just because He is a “forgiving person”? No – because THIS MAN DESIRED HIM! He REPENTED and wanted to follow God’s way – or at least, said he did. And FOR THAT REASON God gave him mercy!
Verses 33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
This is God’s explanation of how HE judges sins and hands out mercy, and He gives this as an example of how WE should treat our sinning brother! And if you don’t forgive people – WHEN THEY REPENT – God will do the SAME THING to you and me that He did to the servant in the parable!
But to forgive without repentance is WRONG, and HARMFUL, for both YOU and the person you “forgive”! Because it isn’t FORGIVENESS, and you aren’t giving them MERCY, for MERCY rejoices against judgment, and is RESERVED for those who have REPENTED!
Proverbs 28:13 He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.
Those who COVER their sins, HIDE them, pretend they don’t exist, and get ANGRY with you for bringing it up, DO NOT DESERVE MERCY! THEY WILL NOT PROSPER! ONLY those who CONFESS, and FORSAKE their sins, and REPENT will have mercy from God! And only those who REPENT for stealing from you DESERVE your forgiveness!
“Yeah, but…” I can hear you saying, “it’s unhealthy to hold a grudge against someone – you need to forgive them and not fret over it constantly! Otherwise you’ll have a root of bitterness and be destroyed!”
Here again you’re confusing different issues. Forgiveness involves going to a person, and either literally or symbolically hugging them and telling them that what happened is in the past and forgotten. That CANNOT be done before repentance, for about a dozen reasons.
However, not forgiving them doesn’t mean that you keep it in your head and worry and grieve and hate them all the time! When someone sins against you, and you rebuke them and they don’t repent, LET IT GO! And by that, I don’t mean pretend it never happened and be their friend – but when they’re not around, forget about it! Move on with your life! Put their judgment in God’s hands, because it’s out of yours. But that ISN’T forgiveness, it’s simply maturity and faith in God’s eventual judgment!
Proverbs 24:19-20 Fret not thyself because of evil men, neither be thou envious at the wicked; For there shall be no reward to the evil man; the candle of the wicked shall be put out.
Don’t obsess over the jerk who stole from you, or the person who slighted you, or the man who hates you! MOVE ON! But neither should you be their friend, and pretend it never happened and tell them that you and God love them just as they are! For in the same chapter Solomon follows up and says…
Proverbs 24:24-25 He that saith unto the wicked, Thou art righteous; him shall the people CURSE, nations shall abhor him: But to them that REBUKE him shall be delight, and a good blessing shall come upon them.
If you go to those evil men, thieves, adulterers, slanders, and say “You are righteous”, which IS EXACTLY what you are doing if you go to them and say “I forgive you!” BEFORE THEY REPENT AND CHANGE, you will be CURSED, and nations shall abhor you! But if you REBUKE those men, you shall be a delight to God, and BLESSED BY HIM FOR IT!
Verse 29 Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me: I will render to the man according to his work.
So no – not forgiving them doesn’t mean harboring bitterness and resentment in your soul, and consciously or unconsciously running their crimes against you through your mind over and over and fretting over their judgment, as I’ve seen so many do. LET IT GO! It is not your JOB to punish them! Nor is it your concern how it happens!
Romans 12:19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
But all this simply means that you deal with their sins against you – that you turn the other cheek. But NOT that you pretend that this never happened between you! Not that you will allow that man who slapped you to be your best friend before you rebuke him and he repents! God never, ONCE commands you to forgive someone without repentance. And He, never ONCE forgives anyone – neither you, nor me, nor Joseph Stalin, without repentance! Christ did NOT promise to forgive you of sins of which you have not repented. Remember, repentance means to CHANGE and STOP the sin. And if you don’t STOP those sins of which you are aware, you cannot be cleansed!
Exodus 34:6-7 And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.
God will not CLEAR, or FORGIVE the guilty – unto the third and fourth generation! Talk about holding a grudge! And yet He is a MERCIFUL God? How does that square? A God who WILL NOT FORGIVE someone at the same time is a MERCIFUL GOD??
Psalms 86:5 For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.
God IS a merciful God – PLENTEOUS in MERCY – UNTO ALL THEM THAT CALL UPON HIM! And to call upon him, you must have REPENTED!
2 Timothy 2:19 … Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.
And if you haven’t departed from your iniquity, WHY SHOULD GOD FORGIVE YOU? And if you are still stealing from me, WHY SHOULD I FORGIVE YOU? God says I should REBUKE you, and then, IF YOU REPENT, forgive you!
And so it is in every place in the Bible, JUDGMENT precedes MERCY, and without REPENTANCE there can be no FORGIVENESS.
And the bottom line definition of mercy? As the Bible defines it?
“Mercy is a cancelling of the penalty of a sin of which you have repented”.
But wait a minute! Didn’t Christ said “Father, forgive them”, to those unrepentant sinners nailing him to a stake? Why, He certainly did… but that’s another article. Read it next week, titled:
“Father, forgive them!” (The angry Jesus)
And the moral of the story? Make sure you know what God means when He uses a certain word – otherwise when you ask him for a lift on the way to the Kingdom of God He might just try to sell you an elevator… to the “other” place.