We may never completely comprehend all of the ramifications (ongoing results) of sin, but Scripture tells us the end result of it in one word: Death (Romans 6:23). But just as sin and death have its power here on earth, so does forgiveness, and we have the option to experience it instead. The work of forgiveness is its capacity to breathe life into death, and reconciliation and healing into that which was broken and lost. Instead of death, the results or 'end' of forgiveness is rebirth and resurrection, to whomever receives it. Instead of brokeness, forgiveness has the power to heal, to whomever applies it. Because of this power to undo the effects of sin and brokeness, the dynamic power of forgiveness cannot be underestimated.
"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom. 6:23)
Like any gift, forgiveness must both be given and received. Only through the completion of this transaction is the full power of forgiveness manifested. With that in mind, we will examine all aspects of forgiveness in Scriptures. In the Word of God, we will see how forgiveness works its resurrection power not only to keep our souls from damnation in the 'after-death' apart from Jesus instead of the 'after-life' with Him, but also for what is in the here and now. We will explore the limits of forgiveness, or what halts and can even reverse its power. We will find out why it is to our own spiritual peril and well being if we remain ignorant of it, not appreciate it, abuse it, or even misapply it. In all things, the ministry of Jesus is both our example and patient Teacher.
God Forgives Us
A Holy Father and Our Advocate, Jesus
The primary aspect of forgiveness is the vertical one, between a holy God and fallen man. Christ's sacrifice on the cross for our sins is foundational to the Christian faith. Through this free gift of Jesus, we receive the forgiveness of our sins and the power of sin and death is broken. Cleansed from the stain of these sins, we are made acceptable to a holy God, who is our Heavenly Father. It was this same Heavenly Father who cared enough to make a way for restoration. To understand the restoration offered us by God, we will begin in the epistle of 1 John. Here, the Apostle John uses the Greek word hilasmos, or "propitiation" to describe this exchange provided by God for the purpose of taking away our sins :
"By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:9-10)
"My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world." (1 John 2:1-2)
Some explain this term as a reference to the removal of sin's effect. However, the weight of evidence affirms clearly that hilasmos portrays the placating of God's wrath toward sin; hence, Christ's death (1:7) satisfies the just demands of God's holy judgment against sin. The Apostle John emphasizes in his epistle that the goal of believers is to not sin. However, when they do sin, they have an "Advocate" (parakletos, Gk.). Jesus is the Advocate of believers in heaven. The term "Advocate" portrays Jesus as both an "attorney" and an "intercessor," one who represents the cause of believers in the presence of the Father. Thus, Christ does not simply represent believers before God (v. 1), He also provides the grounds for their forgiveness -- He is both Advocate and atoning sacrifice. Jesus' provision of propitiation does not mean that the Father is uninvolved in salvation; in actuality, God's love is the ultimate source of Christ's work (4:9).*
Jesus' Advocate On Earth-The Holy Spirit
The epistle John is not the first time the word parakletos (advocate) occurs. There are only four other times the word is used in the New Testament, and all are in the gospel of John. Each time, it is translated as "Helper", and each time it is used to describe the ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). In John 14:15-17, Jesus reminds his disciples that if they love Him they will keep His commandments, and then promises the Holy Spirit as the "Spirit of Truth" (4:17) who will stay with them forever and soon be in them. Later, He again speaks of the "Spirit of Truth" Who will bear witness of Him (15:26). In John 16:7-14, Jesus tells even more of what this 'Helper' or 'Advocate' (paraketos) will do when He comes after Jesus' death : The Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin so the world will believe in Jesus, of righteousness because we will no longer be able to behold Jesus and His righteousness (see also 1 John 3:5), and of the judgment because Satan has already been judged(15:8-11). He will also guide us "into all truth", speak from the Father, and tell "what is to come" (16:13). This Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will also glorify Jesus by disclosing and giving from Him to us. (16:14) So, as His Advocate and our Helper, the Holy Spirit convicts of sin and draws us to Jesus, tells us His truth and glorifies Him through His believers.
So, we now have the Holy Spirit as 'advocate' (intercessor/lawyer) to lead us to Jesus, and Jesus as our Advocate to make a way to a Holy Father-even if we should sin again. (John urges the believers to not practice sin)
Repent, and you will be forgiven
The Holy Spirit did come with power to glorify Jesus through his disciples as Jesus promised (Acts 1: 8 ) on the day of Pentecost (2:1-4). The Apostle Peter rose up to preach in His power, and the listeners were "pierced to the heart"(2:37). Obviously convicted of their sin by the ministry of the Holy Spirit, they cried out to the apostles "Brethren, what shall we do?" "And Peter said to them, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38) . Herein is the command to repent.
Acts 2:38: "Repent" is second person imperative, indicating a mandate for all to repent. Repentance is a Christian absolute both doctrinally and experientially (Luke 13:3). "Be baptized" is third person passive imperative, thereby stressing individual responsibility to obey. To submit to such apostolic kerygma (Gk.), or "proclamation," is one of the first outward evidences of the genuineness of repentance and faith. Baptism, therefore, follows justification and is not a prerequisite for salvation. Baptism is important; it is not, however, essential for salvation. These words might be understood to mean "because of the remission of sins." See Matt. 12:41 where this same preposition (eis, Gk.) means "because" (see note on Acts 10:47).*
Later, while the Apostle Paul was counseling the church at Corinth regarding some difficulties with sin in their midst, he described what real repentance was for them in these verses:
"For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter." (2 Cor. 7: 9-10)
"Repentance" is the translation of two different Greek words. Judas repented (metamelomai, Gk.), which means that he had regret concerning the way things developed (cf. Matt. 27:3; Acts 1:16, note). The repentance mentioned in this verse is metanoian (Gk.), meaning a complete reversal. Literally, the term means "to think after," "to have an afterthought," "to have a second mind," i.e., "to change one's mind." When a man recognizes sorrowfully his sinfulness and helplessness in his failure, he has a mind to seek God by faith in Christ. The inevitable result of this genuine repentance is a renewed interest in spiritual matters (v. 11).*
No one comes to Christ and salvation unless he has sorrow for his sins. But sorrow alone (mere regret) without the redemptive power of Christ only brings on more sorrow. It produces bitterness and a sense of hopeless self-loathing. Genuine godly sorrow brings about repentance and salvation as one turns to the ministry of Jesus, our Advocate. Before godly sorrow, we might be either completely apathetic about sin or simply remorseful at times. After the ministry of the Holy Spirit successfully convicts us with a godly sorrow, we repent---truly repent. True repentance is not passive, but is active. True repentance causes us to actively turn away from sin and spurn it, just as the Corinthian Christians did.
However, the verse in 2 Corinthians is part of an ongoing discussion Paul had with the believers in Corinth about THEIR sin, and the sin in THEIR midst. It was not about the sin of unbelievers! (1 Corinth. 5:9-11) in the verse quoted above, Paul is commending the Corinthians for responding appropriately to the situation he had addressed earlier (2 Cor. 7:8) The Apostle John also addressed the issues of Christians falling into sin or practicing sin in his epistle (1 John 2:1; 3:7-10)) Therefore, it certainly could be concluded that repentance or the turning away from sin is an ongoing part of a believer's life, and is also an appropriate concern for the entire body or fellowship of believers.
Confess, and you will be forgiven
In his epistle, John explains what true Christianity is. This theme is returned to and reiterated throughout the letter. He does this by using contrasts to demonstrate what is truthful and what is a lie, and urges believers to pay attention to manifestations of true Christianity. Most notably, these are love (1:20), doctrinal acceptance of Jesus' coming in the flesh (4:1-3), and practicing righteousness (3:7-10)
Concerning righteousness and the atonement of Christ, John gives the promise: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9) Notice that this all-encompassing promise of forgiveness and cleansing is given with a conditional 'if' in front of it. In it's context, this verse is used to contrast two different approaches to sin. Believers have the ability to fully acknowledge sin and deal with it effectively (through Christ's atonement) "in the light" where "the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1:7). However, those who "lie, and do not practice the truth," who say "they have not sinned"(1:10) are walking in "darkness" (1:6), thus negating the work of Christ (1:10).
John has drawn one of the clear lines between the true Christians in Christ's light, and the false Christians who are in darkness. That line is called confession, or verbal acknowledgment of sin. If someone does not acknowledge sin, then what is there to be forgiven? They have hidden what needs to be redeemed in the darkness, and have not brought it out to the Light of Jesus. Thus, the redemptive and cleansing work of Christ cannot be applied to what they have no need of. But for those who do acknowledge and reveal their sin, they are promised not only forgiveness, but a cleansing from all unrighteousness.
Characteristic of authentic Christianity is the confession of sin. Confession is a combination of two Greek words, homo, meaning "same," and lego, meaning "to say." It includes both an acknowledgment of specific sins and a recognition that sin needs to be forgiven.*
Forgive, as you were forgiven
In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus said, "'And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." (Matt. 6:12)
In the Aramaic language which Jesus spoke the word for 'sin' is the same as the word for 'debt'; hence 'every one who is indebted to us' means 'everyone who has sinned against us'. ( pg. 78 The Hard Sayings of Jesus by F.F. Bruce 1983 InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois)
The Lord's prayer is one Jesus gave as an example to believers of how to pray to the Heavenly Father.
After finishing the prayer, He took the trouble to explain the part of the Lord's prayer about forgiveness further, when He added to the prayer: ""For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions." (Mat 6:14-15)
Here again is a contract, beginning with the word, 'if'. This preposition tells us what our part is. We are promised that as we forgive others, our Heavenly Father will forgive us. There is no mistaking this contract!
At repentance and confession, we are convicted by the Holy Spirit of our sin, and we have used our wills to respond to that conviction. We are made painfully aware enough of our fallen nature, so that we can petition for forgiveness of our sins through the sacrifice of Jesus! Someone who has never experienced forgiveness, and does not know what it is in the first place, would find forgiving their fellow man a foreign concept indeed. Clearly, we are expected to extend this same grace to others.
A more thorough explanation of this 'contract' between God and His servant is made by Jesus in the parable of the unmerciful servant. This parable is told in Matt 18:22-35.
The parable contains a story of the following outline:
Clearly, Jesus is saying that if we refuse to extend mercy and forgiveness as our Father has done for us, we are wicked servants and will be judged by the Father. Notice that in this parable, God's original extension of forgiveness was reversed! In the end, the unforgiving servant lost much more than the judgment he faced at the beginning , which was the loss of all of his belongings. He was instead, given a second judgment, which was to be "handed to over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him"(18:34). Being tortured for an indefinite period of time certainly seemed reminiscent of what Jesus had just said would happen to the wicked in Matt 13:49-50 9 (the tares among the wheat). Jesus had also already said in Matt 10:28, ""And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." In any case, this wicked servant was consigned to a hellish torment because he did not fear God or learn from His character, and forgive his fellow servant.
The new covenant or 'contract' of forgiveness was initiated by a loving God who wished to again fellowship with fallen man. He sent His Son Jesus to become sin for us. God's response toward sin is His wrath, and Jesus legally (according to God's laws) satisfied that wrath for us,. Through His sacrifice, we are eligible to obtain forgiveness of sins. After Jesus' ascension into heaven, the Father sent the Holy Spirit to continue representing Jesus' righteousness so we may know what true purity is, and to convict us of sin so that we might repent. When we respond and repent, confessing our sins, Jesus cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Because of the Lord's example of forgiveness and mercy, we are commanded to maintain our part of the contract by forgiving our fellow man. If we do not, the contract is voided as much as we have voided it. In other words, we are not forgiven to the degree that we have not forgiven others. We are subject again to God's wrath and judgment.
If God Has Forgiven us, How Can We Not Forgive Ourselves?
Sometimes, we might have become convinced that whatever we have done is 'unforgivable'. It does not matter if others forgive us, or that we are told God forgives us. We remain convinced that somehow our sin, our crime, our weakness, is a special case. We have compared ourselves to others, and find ourselves coming up short-undeserving of mercy or grace. We may not even know why we feel this way---we may not remember when we decided we were such horrible creatures. We may be compulsively hurting ourselves, or finding a more subtle way to punish ourselves-somehow never allowing ourselves to succeed or enjoy love, for instance. Or, we may have done all the right steps possible yet still feel a sense of incompleteness. This incompleteness could be because for some reason we are now physically unable to ask the other person or persons for forgiveness. The time may seem past for the opportunity to do so.
The Apostle John said that if we are walking in the light, we do not hate our brother. Most people who inwardly harbor a hatred or contempt for themselves would never consider hating a brother. But if we are bitter against ourselves-if we hate ourselves---are we not hating a brother, too? If we hate ourselves, we have just changed the target of our hate, but the principle is the same. It's not any different to hate the person inside ourselves than hating a person outside of ourselves. Christ loved us and died for us, as well as for our brother. So we are no less deserving of His love and sacrifice than our brother. We might be quick to agree that we are no better than our brother, but we are also no worse. Beneath all the confused feelings and strong impulses is a choice. Once we understand this, we can choose to either agree with God's value of ourselves or disagree.
A choice to hold ourselves hostage to guilt and condemnation negates the work of the cross and the grace of Christ. We are telling God that He made an error when He created us with our weaknesses, and that what we have done is impossible to redeem. We can't reverse the past, and undo what we have done, so we feel bound to these things of the past. But Christ died to cover our past with His blood and set us free from it. If we accept His forgiveness, we can forgive ourselves. We have the power of His death and resurrection to call upon to help us do that. Just as Jesus was resurrected, we can be resurrected by the Holy Spirit into a 'new creature' who accepts himself (Rom. 8:11) And if it is because of weakness that we reject ourselves, we can remember that Christ considers every weakness a strength in Him. His work is not to excise our weakness from us (since we are created well), but to transform it (2 Corinth. 12:9) Whatever the reason we despise ourselves, it is not a work of God to reject ourselves. It is not in His character to look for a reason to reject His creation, but to reconcile with it (2 Peter 3:9). If we are bound by a spirit which leads to tells us to hate or despise ourselves, we can be assured that He came to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8)
Please remember that condemnation comes from the devil, not from Christ. If we are in Him-in His light, there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1) Condemnation and conviction are not the same. Their source is different, and so is their fruit. The Holy Spirit is Christ's Advocate. He reveals what true righteousness is, and convicts of sin. If the Holy Spirit is the One who convicts, the fruit will be predictable. Successful conviction means that someone comes closer to Christ--- believing in Him. Successful conviction means, true repentance, which is more active than passive (for instance, active retribution or kindness). Successful conviction means confessing and knowing the love of God. The fruit of successful condemnation, however is the opposite-hopelessness, isolation, depression, self-loathing, and destruction. It is the 'ungodly sorrow that leads to death'
Believe it or not, there is a way out of this type of sorrow. Here are the steps to do that:
While we have opportunity, we should always seek forgiveness from those we have harmed. We could even give retribution--doing some kind act. Too often though, people feel guilt or remorse, and yet do nothing about it until its too late. In the case of an incompleteness, we need to remember that God can help us transcend obstacles--even time or death. By listening to God's instructions, I've had 'supernatural' circumstances occur which have allowed me to make the effort toward reconciliation. In prayer by ourselves or with others, Jesus can also act as our Advocate or 'intercessor' to relay a message to someone across the barriers of time and death (even generations). I've heard testimonies of these occurances which lead to a sense of completeness in the spirit!
The One Unpardonable Sin
Jesus said there was only one sin that God would not forgive. That sin is not murder, lying, stealing, adultery, or shameful perversion. It isn't one of the 'cardinal sins'. It's none of what we humans would consider the 'top ten' most horrible things a person can do. It's not even what we would think is God's Top Ten--the Ten Commandments. Jesus describes this unpardonable sin in both Matt 12:21-32 and Mark 3:20-30 as 'blasphemy' or 'speaking against the Holy Spirit'. It is obvious in these passages that this means the knowledgeable, verbal attributing of the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan. This is what Jesus warned the Pharisees of when they began to say the power by which Jesus cast out demons was really the power of the devil, not God. This 'power' was the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Triune God-hood. To say that Jesus was out of His mind as the Pharisees did was a pardonable sin, but to revile the character of the Holy Spirit by attributing the supernatural power or manifestations of the Spirit as being done by the devil is an "eternal sin" (Mark 3:30)
"And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age, or in the age to come." (Mat 12:32)
If God Has Forgiven Us, Can We Forgive Him?
It seems sacrilegious to think of forgiving God. It is. But let us suspend religious thoughts for awhile, and consider how we might be angry at God. God is all-powerful, after all. He makes promises in His word. What if we feel betrayed by Him? What if we don't understand how He could let bad things happen? What if He didn't stop things, when we think He could or should? These are questions people ask in their inner hearts sometimes, but are too afraid to ask out loud. If we are angry with God Himself, then we might also become bitter against Him, and want nothing to do with Him. Who wants a God like that?
There are many issues in forgiving God. Some have to do with the fact that God didn't conceive of evil or approve of it, but people still have the free will to do heinous acts of sin. This is a difficult thing to accept, especially if the heinous acts are done against you or your loved one. God is all-powerful, but the devil is the god of this world-for now. That sounds too simple, perhaps. But it's true. Most people have a difficult time accepting the idea that God seems 'limited' on this earth. His 'perfect will' is done in heaven, not on earth. If it were done on earth, we would not have to pray for it as Jesus Himself did in the Lord's Prayer. It's the sinners who often get their way before the day of vengeance. At the day of vengeance, they are paid back for their deeds. (Matt. 16:27)
Philosophy is of small comfort, however, for those who are being tortured. I would recommend you not give 'quick fix' answers to those in excruciating pain or who are under oppression now. Even Solomon, the wisest man on earth, found no answer for oppression. In the entire book of Ecclesiastics, oppression was the only thing Solomon did not give an answer for:
"Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression which were being done under the sun. And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them. So I congratulated the dead who are already dead more than the living who are still living." (Eccl 4:1-2)
Solomon looked upon the unfairness of unrelenting oppression and came up with nothing but despair. Anyone who has truly experienced oppression, knows despair. In my experience, the question of 'why?' cannot be answered completely. Pain cannot be philosophized away, but it can be emphasized with as Scripture instructs us to do:
"Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep." (Rom 12:15)
Without the aid of philosophy or the over-spiritualization of religion, we are left with the same kind
of anger toward God as we might have toward a person. Philosophy would put ineffective Band-Aids on pain, and religion would tell us that it's 'wrong' to be angry at God, and therefore we should deny these 'wrong' feelings to ourselves. But feelings aren't right or wrong. They are just feelings. There comes a point in healing in which we become more aware of our feelings, and are ready to process them. At this point, we can process our disappointment and anger -even toward God Himself. We don't understand this Person or His ways completely, or the 'why' of something that's not fair. Expressing and discussing our pain with God and how we feel about it is better than holding bitterness against Him and losing fellowship with Him. He would rather us forgive Him (as ridiculous as that may sound to the religious or to philosophers) than be apart from us. We can choose to forgive Him, just as we would choose to forgive a person.
We Are Christ's Ambassadors
"Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." (2 Cor 5:17-20)
By the New Birth the Christian is a new creature of the sort that belongs in the new creation-a creation that is now reconciled to God . As a "new creation" (v. 17) of God, believers have a new calling as "ambassadors" of Christ. An ambassador represents his nation and his king, and has great authority because he is entrusted to by his king to act on his behalf. This is extremely important, because the people to which the ambassador is sent to don't actually see the king, but they see the ambassador. Not having direct contact with the king, the ambassador is their first clue to what the king is like. I believe this is why the wrath of God came upon the unforgiving servant. He did not act with the character of God like Christ would have. Therefore, he failed miserably as His ambassador. We cannot act like 'old creatures' and expect to be commended as an 'ambassadors' at the same time.
Our assignment as ambassadors is as to preach the message of reconciliation (vv. 19, 20) and to perform the ministry of reconciliation (vv. 18, 20). Our first priority is the urgent concern that man be reconciled with God through the avenue of forgiveness God provided-Christ. The Bible pictures man as an enemy of God (Rom. 5:10) in his unredeemed state. Reconciliation has reference to a change in relationship from hostility to love, acceptance, and friendship. Thus, in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus, a man is reconciled to God by the death of Christ. His basic relationship has changed from that of an enemy of God to that of a friend of God. We are to carry out our task with a sense of urgency as we "implore" (beseech, beg) men to be reconciled to God.
This might include not only the unbeliever, but the false believer also. He too, is walking "in the dark" (1 John 1:6), and has a mind set on the flesh which is "hostile to God" (Romans 8:7). The false brother "loves the world" (1 John 2:15) and does not keep His commandments (2:4). He cannot violate Christ's commandments and also be God's friend, any more than the wicked unforgiving servant. Jesus said, "You are My friends, if you do what I command you." (John 15:14)
Ambassadors Are Not God
If we are indeed in Christ, we are given much authority and responsibility as His ambassadors. But there are limits to our authority. We are challenged by Jesus in the parable of the unforgiving servant to forgive as God would. But we have an authority higher than ourselves, who has all knowledge and also ultimate responsibility. That Person is God the Father. If the unforgiving servant had no one to answer to, he could conceivably be an unmerciful 'god' to his fellow servant without eventual judgment from a Higher Power. It is more than coincidence, I believe, that the wicked servant who did not obey God's command to forgive met the same fate as the false prophets in Matt. 7:15-23. They were also wicked. They called Jesus 'Lord', and practiced the gifts of the Spirit, yet at the judgment they were prevented from entering the Kingdom of God. Instead, Jesus said, "Depart from Me, you who practiced lawlessness." (7:23)
God promises vengeance (Deut 32:35-43), and a day of vengeance (Isa. 34:8), yet He is also slow to anger. He promises that He will not let the guilty go unpunished. This includes the wicked, whether 'unbelievers' or 'false believers' who have defined themselves as His enemies by their lawlessness and disobedience to His commands:
"A jealous and avenging God is the LORD; The LORD is avenging and wrathful. The LORD takes vengeance on His adversaries, And He reserves wrath for His enemies. The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, And the LORD will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. In whirlwind and storm is His way, And clouds are the dust beneath His feet." (Nahum 1:2-3)
As Christ's Ambassadors, we are commanded by scripture to: 1) forgive the humble and repentant, just as God would, and 2) leave room for the God's judgments upon the proud and the unrepentant (the wicked).
Leave Room for the Wrath of God
"If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. "BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS UPON HIS HEAD." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." " (Rom 12:18-21)
"'Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, In due time their foot will slip; For the day of their calamity is near, And the impending things are hastening upon them.' For the LORD will vindicate His people, And will have compassion on His servants; When He sees that their strength is gone, And there is none remaining, bond or free."… "If I sharpen My flashing sword, And My hand takes hold on justice, I will render vengeance on My adversaries, And I will repay those who hate Me." (Deu 32:35-36, 41)
There is a wise Alcoholics Anonymous saying: "Let Go-Let God". Only God is God. We cannot force someone to repent or get help. We cannot control people, and we cannot force God's hand, either. If we supplant God's will by taking vengeance, then we are acting as though we are God. We are not to take God's place in this way. In fact, it is no accident that a great deal of the practice of the occult (illegitimate authority) is toward the goal of reprisals, retaliation, and revenge. Only the arrogant would believe that they know what is a just and adequate repayment for evil, and seek to accomplish this by their own will, apart from God. Even so, the arrogant do not have the power to consign someone to hell. God can. We cannot place ourselves on the throne of God. If we do, we have actually put ourselves in the way of God. Chances are, we don't want to be there. When His wrath is poured out, we'll be right in the path of it! It's best to move out of His way, and let Him have His way, too!
All of God's instructions regarding dealing with people who sin against us, whether 'our enemies' or 'our brothers' are ALL designed to bring about conviction and repentance on their part. For the unrepentant enemy, our instructions are designed to convict him of his behavior as soon as we have the opportunity to do so . At the same time, the command to "overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21) protects us from using the other person's transgressions as an excuse for us to fall into the sin of retaliation or bitterness.. It's like the classic adage, "Two wrongs don't make a right". As we concede to bitterness, we will eventually direct at anyone who is vulnerable-often whoever is close by.
"You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD." (Lev 19:18)
The Brother In Sin
Most teachers use the parable of the unmerciful servant to emphasize spiritual poverty and the promise of suffering to those who are unwilling to forgive. It is of utmost importance to understand the primary emphasis of this parable. Clearly, we are NOT to be as this unmerciful servant. However, it is also important not to end there. In fact, treating the subject of forgiveness too superficially can do more harm than good.
To 'dig deeper' on the subject of forgiveness, we must first take a look at this parable IN IT'S CONTEXT. We must notice when Jesus gave this parable, and what He said just before it. After all, what preceded the parable of the unforgiving servant led up to it.
Dealing with a Sinning Brother and Forgiveness
In Matthew chapter 18, Jesus talks about stumbling blocks, and gives a dreadful warning to those who are stumbling blocks to His children of the Kingdom(18:1-10). The term "offenses" ("stumbling blocks") denotes the traps used in catching animals. In the New Testament, it always figuratively designates the attitude that leads others into sin* Jesus gives 'radical' allegorical advise to these stumbling blocks who have the defects which would cause them to go to hell(18:7-9), and continues by speaking about a lost sheep that has gone astray, again relating it to His 'little ones'(18:10-14) This lost sheep who has wandered away, or "gone astray" (18:12), is in grave danger of the elements and wild animals. In this allegory, a good shepherd gives top priority to finding this one sheep. Jesus uses this description of what the good shepherd does to describe both Himself, and to likewise establish that we too are to be concerned for our brother who wanders away. This is obvious by the fact that after giving this backdrop, Jesus then gives specific instructions of what to do with a brother in sin (18:15-20):
""And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother." (Mat 18:15)
What does it mean that you have "won your brother"?
"My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins." (James 5:19-20)
The one who "wanders from the truth" is either an 'in-name only' Christian who is in danger of spiritual death, or a brother in Christ who has fallen into sin and is in danger of severe discipline from the Heavenly Father in the here and now. Both realities are taught in Scripture, though the content of the passage would seem to favor the first option. In v. 20, the wanderer is called "a sinner," not a brother, and it is his "soul" which he is in danger of losing. "Soul" in this passage has the meaning of "life," and more particularly, his "eternal life" that will forever continue in either heaven or hell. James may be echoing the words of the Lord Jesus, who said:
"For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" (Matt. 16:26)
The rest of the instructions in Matthew 18:15-17 continues with additional steps should the first step of one on one confrontation fail, and the brother continues in sin. If all of these steps should fail, there is the eventual drastic action of severing of fellowship-a biblical 'tough love', sort of speak (cf. 1 Cor. 5:1-13; 2 Cor. 2:5-11; Gal. 6:1, 2). If any of the interventions succeed, there is no need for such drastic action, and it is very clear in Scripture that even this last step is done with the hope of restoration. In any case, when you have 'won your brother', sin no longer stands between God and the brother in sin, nor between you and the brother in sin. There is no offense, and there is full reconciliation.
What does all of this have to do with the parable of the unforgiving servant?
Well, right after these instructions, Peter asks (paraphrased): "But Lord,….just how many times should I be expected to forgive a brother who has sinned against me?" (18:21) Peter is personalizing this hypothetical scenario that Jesus has spoken of. He is thinking of not just a brother who sins in a generic sort of way, but one who has sinned against him. He's wondering how many times it takes before he can say, "No. You can forget it this time. I don't forgive you." Jesus answers him with an extremely large number (490), indicating there is no time when we can refuse to forgive the brother. This is reinforced with the parable of the unforgiving servant, and the warning at the end.
There's something about this parable that is often missed:
""But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.' So his fellow slave fell down and began to entreat him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.'" (Mat 18:28-29)
Peter had been personalizing the first step of the Matthew 18:15-17 process. Imagine if we go to our brother, who has sinned against us. He 'owes us' something, and we reprove him. What if the brother 'listens to us' and responds with humility? In the parable, the slave went out to find his brother who 'owed him', and his fellow slave responded by essentially asking for forgiveness and pleading for patience. He did not say, "What debt? What are you talking about?" or "It's just a few dollars, why worry over that?" or "You have owed more than I in the past, you know!" or tried to choke back in return. Rather, the fellow slave responded to his debt. It was at this point that the unforgiving servant should have forgiven and shown mercy, just as God had forgiven him. But he was a wicked servant, and showed no mercy.
All things considered, Scripture gives this outline of ideal contract of forgiveness:
Ideal forgiveness between God and man:
Joseph-The Merciful Servant
Jesus said, "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. And do not judge and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned." (Luke 6:36-37)
These words of Jesus lays out a principal reflected in quite a few other scriptures---that as we are gracious and merciful, we will 'reap' the same. The word translated 'pardon' here is the Greek word apoluo, or "to loose away from" or "away from destruction" (Luke 6:37) The best Hebrew equivalent to this in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word "nasah" meaning "lift up or away". This word is used at the end of the story of Joseph, after the Lord had allowed him to triumph and be co-ruler over Egypt during a severe drought. When Joseph was younger, his brothers had betrayed him out of jealousy, and sold him into bondage (Gen. 37:1-36) Years later, Joseph's brothers, humbly entreated him for forgiveness:
"When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "What if Joseph should bear a grudge against us and pay us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!" So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, "Your father charged before he died, saying, 'Thus you shall say to Joseph, "Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong."' And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father." And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, "Behold, we are your servants." But Joseph said to them, "Do not be afraid, for am I in God's place? (Notice, Joseph is refusing to 'play God' by judging those who sinned against him) And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones." So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them." (Gen 50:15-21)
At one time Joseph had been at the mercy of his brothers, and they had sinned against him. They had taken the opportunity of power to cruelly exile him into a life of slavery. If it had not been for his brother Rueben, they would've killed him. Later, the 'tables were turned', and Joseph had been exalted by God to a position of great authority. Joseph did not use this opportunity for revenge, as his brothers had feared. Instead, he extended an extraordinary grace (in human, fleshly terms). Over and over again, you will see a pattern of a change in power in the scriptures about forgiveness and grace. In the parable of the unmerciful servant, the same servant who had been at the mercy of God later had a fellow servant who was at his mercy. When in power (because of God), he wickedly withheld mercy. He did not act like Joseph.
It Takes Two to Reconcile
Seek Forgiveness, So That We May Be Reconciled
""If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering." (Mat 5:23-24)
Here, Jesus places responsibility on us to make another's offense a priority. It clearly indicates that our offerings are less important than how we have hurt someone. Offerings mean little to God, or perhaps nothing, when we have not done our part to be reconciled to our brother. So many Christians know that they have hurt their brother, but just go on their way, as if it doesn't matter. According to Scripture, it does.
The Difference Between Forgiveness and Reconciliation
I find one of the biggest confusions people can have, is on the subject of who exactly is acting like our enemy, and who is our true friend in Christ. This seems especially true when dealing with someone who claims he is being our brother in the Lord, but is not. Remember, the apostle John gave criteria to help us to discern the true Christian from the false one all through the epistle of 1 John. John outlined the main themes as righteousness and love. As noted before, this is the same criteria Jesus set as Who His friends are (John 15:9-14). The question of whether someone is temporarily or permanently out of touch with God's righteousness and Love does not matter. If they 'walk in darkness' they are walking away from God and are blind too. We cannot 'fall into the pit' with them.
There was a young lady whom the Lord called me to counsel. At first, I did not know her or anything about her. However, the Spirit would sometimes prompt me to go to her during church services and pray for her. It was during these times that she would say she was in a great deal of distress. Eventually, the Lord gave me a clear indication that the root of her difficulties were in relation to her father. She began to open up to me because of a word of knowledge of "Legalism" the Lord gave me regarding her father. From her descriptions of events regarding her father, I could tell that she had a dysfunctional relationship with her father. Her father was abusive toward her. At the time, this fact was obvious to others who knew of the situation and understood what abuse was, but she did not seem to fully realize it. In fact, she seemed to accept her father's actions as 'normal' behavior.
Because I had been slightly injured in a car accident, she began to come over to help me take care of my young children. It was already clear to me that she sometimes had bouts of depression. However, it was obvious that she was becoming even more depressed during this time. She spoke of feeling 'trapped' and hopeless. She told me that she was thinking of suicide. I noticed she would speak this way shortly after describing some abusive situation with her father. Although she was in her 20's, she still lived in the same house with him, convinced that she could not make it on her own . She couldn't sleep because of all the nightmares, and had just lost another job because she was too dysfunctional to keep it.
I knew I had to find a way to reach her-and soon. Incredibly, many of the Christians in our church gave her the counsel that she should keep living with her parents and her sisters. The tribulation would help her character, they said, plus perhaps she could 'help her family'. Understanding that her father's sinful and abusive behavior obviously contributed to her deep depression, I would ask her logical questions such as "How can you help your father or your family-when you can't even sleep at night?" She would then typically put a family member's well-being above her own, and feel sorry for her father. It was only at the times that she was less depressed that she would express anger over his actions toward her or her sisters. Since part of depression is suppressed anger, this pattern of either anger or depression did not surprise me. This father's actions would provoke any child to anger! (Eph. 6:4)
While praying, I was prompted to offer to her a teaching about forgiveness. Not the 'you must forgive' mandate, but something about the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. I called her and asked her if she would be willing to hear a teaching about forgiveness. "Oh-my father ALWAYS talks about forgiveness, and how we MUST forgive!! " she exclaimed. I promised her that this would not be more empty religion, and she agreed to come over.
I went over the scripture, and emphasized what true repentance is. She said that her father was never genuinely repentant, but she wished there was some way she could help him.
"Do you know there is a difference between reconciliation and forgiveness?" I asked. "What difference?", she said, "There is no difference." "Who taught you that?" I asked. "My father," she answered. I asked her what her father taught her, and she described the standard teaching from the parable of the unforgiving servant. However, I noticed her father also taught that PROOF of her forgiveness toward him was to be completely reconciled, as if nothing ever happened. "But what if your father wasn't repentant in the first place, and does it again and again?" I asked "So. I forgive him anyway-seven times seventy seven" "Yes. It's good to forgive. But that's not the same as reconciliation." She looked at me with a blank look. "Yes it is."
Next, I went over the Matthew 18:15-17 scripture, and she almost exploded with emotion. She looked terrified and angry at the same time. She said, "They'd never believe me. He's fooled his whole church. They think he is such a great Christian! He'd be real mad if I told them what he's really like, and no telling what he'd do! You know how he talks about me-all the things he says about me. You've heard him! They won't they won't do anything to him, and that church should have done something years ago! What's wrong with them! Why can't they tell!" I calmed her down, and reassured her I wasn't asking her to try to battle his well-groomed reputation at his church. I knew that I had touched upon something that deeply frightened her, and was not to talk further about the value of confrontation. She was overwhelmed at the thought of it, and was too intimidated, emotionally fragile, and suicidal. This reaction only confirmed for me that she felt completely unsupported and trapped, and needed to get away from an abusive situation.
Then the Lord prompted me to ask her a series of questions:
"When you live in a place of your own, do you lock your doors at night?"
"No." she answered. I was more than a little stunned. Here was this very beautiful young lady in her early twenties, telling me she never locked her doors!
"You aren't concerned about someone breaking in?"
"I want my friends to come in any time they want to," she answered.
"Okay. What if a robber comes in and steals something valuable?" She shrugged her shoulders. "What if he came back the next day, and said he was very sorry he stole from you?"
"I would forgive him," she said.
"You wouldn't make a police report?"
"No. That wouldn't be forgiveness. It should be like it never happened. It would be like he never did it. She referred to a scripture about when God forgives (Isa.43:25), our sins are forgotten.…"
"So you would trust him again and leave your door unlocked the next night like you normally do?"
"What if he came back a week from then, and broke in again, and stole again. Then he felt bad about it and came back the next day to say that he was sorry."
"I would forgive him."
"And keep the door unlocked, again?"
"Yes. That would prove I had forgiven him."
"And he never returned your items, and came back later and stole from you again. And again, and again. You would still forgive him, and leave the door unlocked?"
"Do you see how this does not make sense?"
"Well-Yes, I guess!"
"After awhile, you sure would have an empty house!"
"Do you realize that is what your father is asking of you? To trust him over and over again, and be like his best friend, while he does the same thing again and again?...In a way, isn't he asking you to pretend that everything is okay, when it's not?... Do you want to pretend, like you say every one else does?"
Suddenly, she comprehended the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation, and it was easier to talk with her about putting some safe distance between her and her father, for her own sake. I pointed out to her that although his entire church might be fooled, I was not fooled. Neither was another friend of hers. Not everyone was going to be fooled by his well-groomed reputation. She didn't have to go along with his charade, and pretend all was well out of fear that no one would support her. She didn't have to depend on the church to make a difference in her life, or be her support system. Instead, she could recognize that God brought people into her life who were willing to be supportive---people who were willing to not look the other way.
It was a few more months before she actually moved out of her father's house. Before then, she became so depressed that she was barely functional, but I would have her come over anyway. She was glad for the peace from all the fighting at her house. She said her nightmares were becoming more about her father, and more violent. She spent quite a few nights sleeping at my house or somewhere else. I strongly urged her to see a competent Christian psychologist, and recommended one to her. She could only afford the two evaluation sessions. Even so, by the second session the psychologist implored her to move out of her father's house-immediately. She did, and six months later she was mostly functional again with no nightmares.
Legalism, not God, freely used a forgiveness 'doctrine' as a tool to keep her in bondage to an abusive and painful relationship. Feeling trapped, she was thinking the only way out was death. As the story unfolded, it was discovered that her father often lied (this was confirmed), and never really admitted or took responsibility for any wrong-doing. This is typical of an unrepentant abuser. A year later, this young lady's youngest sister didn't just think about suicide, but attempted it. There had to be another kind of intervention to save her life, too.
Forgiving and Forgetting
Sins done against us can produce varying degrees of wounds-physical, emotional, mental or spiritual damage. I don't believe that God intended us to ignore the impact of sin-whether done to us or by us. I don't believe He is cruel and expects us to automatically reconcile with unrepentant abusers while they continue their destructive behavior against us. Nowhere does it say that God requires this of us.
"For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust." (Psa 103: 14)
In this situation, the abusive father had inappropriately used the following scriptures:
"I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins." (Isa 43:25)."
""And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the LORD, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."" (Jer 31:34)
Divine forgiveness is marked by its unlimited scope (cf. Ps. 78:38; Luke 17:3, 4), its absolute erasure of sins (cf. Ps. 103:12; Mic. 7:19; Heb. 10:17), its abundant and gracious pardon (cf. Isa. 55:7), and its automatic forgetting simultaneous with forgiveness (cf. Isa. 43:25; 44:22).*
God is omniscient; He is all-knowing. He cannot say that He does not have knowledge of our sins., so He says that He chooses to forget them. His reaction to abominations would ordinarily be one of outrage, or a pouring out His wrath upon us for our sin. However, He chooses NOT to remember, in order to have grace. If He were to remember, He would again be outraged over the sin, and would again be 'tempted' to pour out His wrath . The word "forgive" in Jer 31:34 is translated from the Hebrew word "salah". It can mean "send away" or "let go". So God purposely sends away our sins in the act of forgiving us:
"As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us." (Psalms 103:12 )
In the parable of the unmerciful servant, however, it is clear that God can choose again to remember those 'debts' or sins. Although His forgetting is intended to be permanent, it can be reversed if we also do not forgive as He does! Reversible grace! THIS is what Jesus warned us of.
The Three Crosses
When Jesus died on the cross, He made a way for forgiveness. In order for any man to RECEIVE that forgiveness, however, he must believe in Christ's sacrifice, repent and confess. Man's response is the completion of the contract, and upon completion of the contract he is reconciled with God.
Jesus pronounced forgiveness during His crucifixion just before His death when He said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34) The most obvious subjects he was forgiving were the Roman soldiers who executed Him. But they continued to mock Him, along with the people who agreed with the execution (23:35-37) They did not receive the forgiveness. Neither did one of the criminals who was hanging beside Him, who was also "hurling abuse at Him, saying, "Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!"" (23:39) But the other criminal being crucified feared of God. He repented and confessed, and entreated Christ to remember him:
"But the other answered, and rebuking him said, "Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." And he was saying, "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!"" (Luke 23:40-42)
Jesus answered by reassuring this repentant criminal, telling him he would be in Paradise with Him that day (23:43)
Even at Jesus' death, we had the example of the completion of the contract of forgiveness. Without form, tradition, or religious instruction, this one condemned criminal responded to the Spirit of Jesus and received forgiveness. But the other criminal did not receive forgiveness any more than he did not feared God or felt the weight of his guilt.
If you will notice, the parable of the unmerciful servant began with the king (the Heavenly Father) who "wished to settle accounts with his slaves" (Matt. 18:23) While he was passing judgment on the slave according to the debt, this slave entreated him (18:26) The king was in the position of power---to either pass judgment or extend mercy. Because he was a compassionate king, he forgave the slave who humbled himself and begged for mercy. In the next scene, we find this same slave also in a position of power, with his fellow slave also entreating him. Because he was wicked, however, he choose not to forgive (let go the debt) like God forgave him when he was in such a position.
Jesus gave this parable as a reinforcement of how we, as Christians, are to extend this same kind of 'let go' forgiveness to the brother whom we have reproved, who 'listens' to us. The number of times had no bearing. If we were to be strict about interpreting this logically, we must conclude that scenarios like this abusive father and his daughter did not even come close to this parable and the lesson stressed in it by Jesus. The abusive father was more like the unrepentant criminal who hung on the cross beside Jesus. Imagine him saying to Jesus, "And remember, (even though I've done nothing wrong) you have to forgive me, if you really are the Son of God. You HAVE to take me with you to paradise (be reconciled), to prove you are the Son of God, and that you've REALLY forgiven me like God does when He forgives, and that you REALLY do love me." Imagine the criminal saying this, as he hurled more abuse at Jesus, while not even acknowledging his sin or fearing God. Or imagine the soldiers below demanding Paradise (reconciliation with God), in like manner!
Jesus had already extended forgiveness to the guilty, but not all completed their part of the contract that day. Jesus said, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." This is for the unrepentant who do not understand their sin. Jesus, however, could not 'seal' the contract of forgiveness until there was a response to conviction of sin. He could not make a pronouncement of reconciliation until then.
Casting Pearls Before Swine-Two Common Manipulations
There are two common manipulations in which the issue of forgiveness is used toward the goal of instant premature reconciliation without repentance from the offender. One of these has already been described in the example of the abusive father.
1) You must forgive me (to prove you love me, you are a good Christian, you have good character)
This message is given by abusers who have learned the trick of 'requiring' premature reconciliation on their terms, without confrontation or repentance of their sin. They have learned just enough religion to use it for their own purposes, as a Band-Aid to their conscience. They also know just enough religion to know a little of what forgiveness means, and so they may think it means their victims have forgotten just as God has. Abuse victims (having been crucified, in a sense, by their offenders) might end up innocently extend forgiveness, even saying "I forgive you" to someone who does not even understand their need for it or have any motivation to change. Unfortunately, I've known of abusers who have taken this "I forgive you" statement as meaning they are not guilty of whatever their victim thought they were guilty of in the first place, and are not accountable (because to them it means 'it's forgotten,' as though it never happened). I've known them to warp this so much in their minds that they take forgiveness and grace as a license to sin again.
"What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?" (Rom 6:1)
Unfortunately, they were not good candidates to say a simple, "I forgive you" to, because it would convey the message that there is automatic reconciliation This is not because forgiving is the wrong thing to do---Not at all! It is because the unrepentant cannot understand it, receive it, or appreciate it. If they have not acknowledged their sin or asked for forgiveness, they cannot receive it any more than the unrepentant criminal on the cross. Reconciliation to them only meant that were 'off the hook'. They don't have to be concerned, pay retribution, or go to jail. Unfortunately, they would take advantage of grace by taking it as license to "continue in sin that grace might increase" (Rom. 6:1). They would take the gift of grace and stomp on it.
2) "Forgive me (reconcile), and I promise I will change."
This bargaining statement might be used in a number of different scenarios. For instance, the drug user who has just stolen money for his habit, or the alcoholic who still wants to try to stop drinking on his own strength. Other examples might be the minister who is an adulterous relationship and wants to avoid the embarrassment of the loss of his ministry, or the abusive family member who wants to save face and not suffer the loss of his relationships. Often, this promise is made by those who have addiction problems who in reality cannot change without intervention. In order to improve, they must understand that they are at a point to t have the humility to start asking for help. Any relationships they are involved in which gives them an outlet for their sick behavior, or in some way condones or supports their addiction adds to the problem. Those around them who do not understand what true repentance is, might agree to the bargain. When an offender bargains with someone in this way, their underlying motivation is to bargain away any consequences to their actions. They don't want to suffer any loss, any embarrassment, or any pain. This is typical of the self-centeredness of the abusive personality or any sinner who has little concept of how his activities effect other people. When he has no concept of how he hurts others, nor has he the power to change himself, he cannot hold to his promise. Tragically, the person who forgives/reconciles ends up being hurt again. But the words of the Apostle John tell what true love is:
"Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth." (1 John 3:18)
Solution to Manipulation
Forgiveness is a gift offered. It was extended by Jesus on the cross, but not everyone received it. Not everyone appreciated it or benefited from it. Still, Jesus extended it. The completed blessing of forgiveness-reconciliation to the giver of the gift -was received only by those who received it. Those who do not understand their need for the gift, are not able to understand the gift itself. Those who do not understand how much a 'pearl' reconciliation with you is, are unable to appreciate it if you were to give it to them. That's why they make no true effort to repent, yet bargain for a quick forgiveness and reconciliation. When they manipulate for a sort of uneasy 'truce', it is only for their own self-interests Also, someone who is manipulated into mouthing the words, "I forgive" or act like they have, is not given the chance to forgive from their heart. Everything is rushed by skipping alot of steps, and so the forgiveness itself is also rushed.
The unrepentant (those who don't fully acknowledge, confess, turn from their sin, or take penitent action), are not going to magically 'change' overnight with poor motives or quick self-help fixes for their remorse. They will do it again. Therefore, it is important for us to get ourselves, our loved ones, and our property at a safe distance from the unrepentant. God loves us, and does not ask us to make ourselves martyrs to a lost cause, or for any cause except the gospel. We do not further the gospel by letting ourselves or our children be destroyed. Instead, we make ourselves victims to 'works of the devil' (lie, steal, kill) which Jesus said He came to destroy. He died for us, from a position of power (He could have refused His 'cup'), for a purpose-our salvation. But we are not the salvation of the sinner-Jesus is! Knowing that being victims serves no purpose except our destruction can help us to choose to not be reconciled to the unrepentant.
The next choice we have to make is to forgive, and Jesus commanded us to forgive "those who trespasses against us." This is an unconditional statement. However, there is a volume of evidence in Scripture which makes clear that reconciliation IS conditional, even by God Himself. So, if not for reconciliation, then why forgive? The reason is for ourselves, because we can then 'let go' of the anger, and 'let God' be God. Our forgiveness releases the power of God to heal US, not the unrepentant sinner. Only repentance makes healing possible for the sinner, because repentance connects the sinner up to the only One who can heal--God. The relationship between the sinner and the sinned against is another factor, and it can only be healed from the effects of sin if there is forgiveness from one party AND humble repentance from the other party. Jesus proclaimed forgiveness from the cross to everyone, but He was not reconciled to anyone without their repentance.
Ourselves, the relationship, and the offender are all separate entities, and should be treated as such. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to take care of ourselves in the face of danger, by making sure we are in a position of safety. This may mean not saying the words "I forgive you" when it puts you in danger, or not confronting the sinner without those two or three witnesses Jesus spoke about. Pronouncing forgiveness in front of witnesses, or before God alone, makes it a spiritual reality. However, this does not mean we have to give the unrepentant any misguided impressions of instant reconciliation by saying it to them. If we choose to say it to them, it may be better to say, "I forgive you, but that doesn't mean we are reconciled. It doesn't mean I trust you, or that I'm going to give you the opportunity to do it again…" or "I'll forgive you (for my own sake, but it doesn't mean I'm going to lie for you by concealing what you did. It doesn't mean I'm not going to testify to the truth at your trial. It doesn't mean I'm not going to pick up the phone and call the police right now, to protect myself, my children, and society".)
These suggestions are all variations of the following theme:
As for me--I choose to forgive.
As for the relationship--it is not the same now.
As for you-- there are consequences to your sin in your life.
This is a practical way of separating out the relationship from the fact of forgiveness. In the case of the unrepentant, we do ourselves and others a service by not confusing forgiveness with reconciliation. Not rescuing people from the consequences of their sin (whether we are the one sinned against, or not) is not any different than how God has been known to approach sin. Scripture shows that EVEN GOD did not rescue one of His most beloved people from the all of the raw consequences of their sin. This person was David, who went into Bathsheba, arranged for her husbands death, was rebuked by the prophet Nathan for it, and repented (Psalm 51) Nevertheless, Nathan's pronouncement of God's judgment over David's sin still happened. Like a pebble thrown in the water, there was no stopping the ripples. This, in spite of David's fasting and mourning while he appealed to God over the coming death of his newborn son. I believe the second son by Bathsheba, Solomon, was symbolic of the rebirth because of forgiveness. . There appear to be limits to how fast the reversal process in one's life can be done, even with true repentance. It's a miracle that any of us are rescued from the consequences of our sins, but it is not instant 'magic'. Perhaps, EVEN GOD cannot supercede His own laws of cause and effect set in the Universe. Yet, He made provision through Jesus, which set forth another cause and effect 'law', thus reversing the curses we have given ourselves as quickly as possible when we repent.
In the New Testament, there are four Greek words rendered "forgive". The only one even close in meaning to the Old Testament Hebrew word meaning 'send away' or 'let go', is the Greek word aphiemi, meaning "send away" or "let off". The scriptures in which aphiemi is used as 'forgive' in the New Testament, are scriptures about how God forgives us (Mark 3:29), in regards to our redemption through Jesus (Acts 5:31; 13:38; 26:18; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14). It is also used in a description of us forgiving man as God forgives us in the Lord's prayer and the parable of the unmerciful servant.
We get our examples of forgiveness from both God the Father and Jesus His Son. God the Father teaches us His laws, and Jesus shows us His unconditional love. Through both examples and instructions, we find the balance between conditional 'law' and unconditional grace. Essentially, forgiveness is conditional grace.
'Letting Go'-- God Style:
Remember, none of this is about imagined offenses,
or holding people to impossible standards, trying to make them live up
to your unrealistic expectations. If that's the case, the only 'reconciliation'
we have to make is reconciling ourselves with reality-what we can realistically
expect of others. We are all human, and therefore not perfect. Forbearance
is a part of the Christian walk. Serious sin (wickedness) divides us all
from one another, even if we put up a front of false unity. This is because
it divides the false Christian from the true Christian, since one brings
shame to Christ, recrucifying Him (Hebrews 6:6) and the other does not.
The tares are evident by their unrighteousness (1 John 3:9-10), but complete
division will be made more clear at the end of the Age (Matt. 13:25-30).
However, if we are 'dividing' now over minor things (anything other than
serious, repeated, sinful behavior and abuse of power or authority without
repentance), we are not in the spirit of unity!
"I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Eph 4:1-3)
When Confronting a Brother who has Sinned against You:
We live in a society today where too many people don't know how to take responsibility for their actions. I believe this has become so prevalent, it has almost overrun the Church. This blaming game is not scriptural at all, and God is not impressed with a people who do not take responsibility or acknowledge their sin. He is not mocked (Gal. 6:7) As I showed in the scripture before, acknowledgment is part of repentance, which leads to confession and a 'cleansing from all unrighteousness'. It is not an easy task to face the sin within us, and the effects our actions have had on others. However, acknowledgment is the first step to the entire process of restoration!
Acknowledgment isn't just for the offender, but also for the offended. Sometimes, people do not want to face the pain of knowing that someone they looked up to has fallen and sinned. They may not want to think they were unable to discern what that person was 'really' like, in the first place. Or, they may have watched that person drastically change as they fall into error, and may feel bad about not being able to prevent it. Sometimes, it is because we love them so murh, or are infatuated with what that person represents to us. We need so much to believe in them and their goodness. This is especially the case with close family members or others who fulfill important roles . We would rather bury the pain and anger than deal with it.
Underneath that pain is the fact that they sinned, and so that fact must also be buried. In the rush to not put responsibility on the other person, we can might also take on all the 'blame' ourselves. This is common in childhood especially, because children tend to instantly blame themselves for everything. Offenders who do not wish to take responsibility reinforce this false responsibility, guilt and shame by telling the child they were the ones who caused 'it'. Abusers often misappropriate responsibility while they are abusing. They often blame their victims for their activities, or something or someone else. The point for them is to avoid taking responsibility.
Much of the time, I find that this is the real 'root' of not being able to forgive ourselves of being so 'bad'. It may be that it's much easier to blame ourselves than to blame someone else whom we would rather not blame. When we have been entwined in an abusive relationship, and we have strong feelings of love for that friend or family member who is the one who is abusive, then we might redirect our anger toward ourselves rather than toward them. We accept their condemnation of us, or we tell ourselves that it's really 'our fault', and then refuse to forgive ourselves for whatever 'wrong' we did in the relationship. This could be a real wrong, or a total fantasy of misplaced guilt put on us by the abuser. In either case, real or imagined, we must forgive ourselves. We must also start experiencing the real anger -the anger where it really belongs--- on the real guilty party. Nothing we ever 'did' deserved cruel unmerciful abuse, condemnation or unrelenting judgment and curses. Thus, long after they are through 'beating us up', we are still beating ourselves!
I find that the issue of true responsibility is part of denial, this refusal to acknowledgment of full sin and it's full impact. This is for both the offender and the offended. The offended must first understand that they have been sinned against, and be willing to acknowledge the impact of that sin. They cannot completely confront otherwise. If they do not or cannot completely confront (because of their age, vulnerability, or the threat of danger), the offender in denial doesn't have a chance to have that denial challenged.
Here are some key things to remember:
For the offender:
-you must understand sin and your need for mercy before
you can receive grace and help from God
-you can only receive grace and forgiveness for what you acknowledge needs forgiveness. If you are denying your responsibility, it is not repentance
For the offended:
-you can only forgive sins, events and actions which you
have acknowledged. If you do not acknowledge all of the sin and it's impact
upon you, you have not forgiven it, even if you think you have. You will
later have to fully forgive, when you are ready to fully acknowledge what
needs to be forgiven.
-you must understand God's mercy before you can extend mercy, to others OR to yourself
People who are 'mixed up' about the issue of responsibility:
Without Grace, We Grieve the Holy Spirit
Just as grace is not understood by the unrepentant, or 'irresponsible', it is also not understood by those who are 'over-responsible', or those who easily receive condemnation. Renewing our minds about His character through His Word will help us pull down the strongholds (Eph. 6:14, 17; James 4:7-10; 2 Corinth 10:3-5) . A key to correcting this imbalance is that He is both as a holy God AND a gracious God, all at the same time. As we become responsible for that which we need to be responsible for (no more and no less) we become more on track for healing. It is the Holy Spirit who is our Advocate, our Helper, and Who is charged with the job of conviction and the revealing of the truth of His Word and righteousness. Separating what is truth, and what is a lie, sets us free from bondage to sin AND bondage of condemnation from the devil, the 'father of the lie' ( John 8:31-47)
The confrontation steps given by Jesus are designed to confront the brother who is in sin and who does not acknowledge it. Such a brother needs intervention, both for the sake of himself and for the entire Body of Christ. Intervention for a believer who is fallen is for the purpose of bringing about opportunity for conviction by the Holy Spirit. It is not for those who are already convicted by the Holy Spirit, who are genuinely repentant, and who have humbled themselves. Even in the case of the brother who was in shameful immorality in the Corinth church, who had to be put out be shunned by the whole Corinth fellowship until repentance, Paul asked the believers to be careful not to condemn by overwhelming him with "excessive sorrow" (2 Corinth. 2:5-11). How much more grace for someone who has not 'had his father's wife?'
"And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." (Eph 4:30-32)
This word, 'forgiving' is the Greek word charizomai, meaning literally "be gracious to". We fail the brother in sin and the reputation of the gospel if we do not address it, and we grieve the Holy Spirit if we are not gracious about it, too. There must be proper balance between grace and 'the law' and its 'legal' proceedings Christ gave to the Church in Matt 18. Just like Jesus who openly rebuked the Pharisees as a 'brood of vipers', we must be 'tough' as needed, and only when needed. Yet, we must be gentle enough, too. Anyone who is a true apostle, a true father, would know this balance just like the Apostle Paul did.
True Apostles, Prophets, and Elders do not abuse their authority by lacking grace. If are abusive in their authority, it is not a godly authority any more. Therefore, you are not held to these 'angels of light'(2 Corinth 11:13-20).
What about False Accusations?
I would be remiss in not addressing this. False accusations is the false, or warped, version of God's prescription for sin and restoration. Satan himself, after all, is called the 'accuser of the brethren'! No one can take responsibility for something they are not guilty of, or capitulate to someone's judgment of them.
Even if someone comes in the guise of 'reconciliation', and they are falsely accusing, it is good to recognize the true source of it! Remember, Satan's version of 'reconciliation' is going to be a 'warped' version of the restoration process. Therefore, there is going to be:
-bringing charges of sin or offense against someone, without ever having spoken to them directly or attempts to speak of them. Logically, the only appropriate reason we would not be able to confront one on one is if we are intimidated and in danger. Otherwise, this indirect communication is just a form of manipulation and an indirect expression of anger!
-unexpectedly accusing someone and forcing them 'out' of the fellowship, while making sure the accused have no recourse. This is especially common in fellowships where authority figures have complete control. It usually includes a great deal of intimidation and some manipulation. Often, these leaders do this after they have gathered people around them who do not question the way they use their authority. After they have told their story without being challenged, this gives them the 'courage' to bully their intended victim. They take measures to ensure there is not an equal confrontation with their 'target'.
People and church Systems actually do these type of things, fully believing that they are 'helping' people or 'the ministry'. But are they following the scriptures or their intent? No! The only one they are helping is the enemy.
I have also discovered a curious phenomenon, and have never known it to be otherwise: Church Systems which practice harsh 'discipline' upon the innocent or spiritual babes (young Christians, for instance), don't ever take appropriate, scriptural action over MAJOR sin and offenses-they will let even criminal acts go unanswered, and might even cover them up! But over a minor 'offense', and over unsubstantiated charges, there will be punitive measure---even ex-communications!. If you see apathy over sin, wait for harshness over everything else! The hallmark of these fellowships, are that they lack both appropriate grace and appropriate zeal. They seem much more concern with outward appearances than substance.
When all goes as Jesus taught:
-Accusations are false and in a punitive, condemning spirit
(these usually go hand in hand, like twins), while confrontation and exposure
of true sin is inadequate
-The offended are prevented from adequate confrontation (or are encouraged not to confront) and treated punitively, while the offender remains in denial of their sin and the effects of it on others, continues in their sin, and brings more damage to individuals and the reputation of Christianity as a whole
An Important Distinction
While the present-day Church bickers over the finer points of church government---- splitting hairs over how the gifts should be exercised, and who is qualified for what position in what part of the church organization----they are often neglecting the only thing that Jesus Himself asked Church government to do. The only 'policy and procedure' Jesus Christ gave the Church is in Matthew 17:15-20! Even then, it was clear that the entire church was to be involved, 'judging'---not the outside world, but their brother, if necessary. All other claims of what we in Church government do for the sake of 'the flock' mean nothing if we fail the ONLY directions Jesus gave in regards to authority in the Church! If we don't have any wisdom and we can't get this right, then we need not worry about the other things we think are so 'life and death.'
"For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES." (1 Cor 5:12-13)
1 Cor 5:13: Whereas God judges those who are not a part of the church, He has delegated responsibility to the church to exercise its own discipline. Exercising the ban or excommunication is the method of discipline, provided the attempts described in Matthew have been executed first (cf. Matt. 18:15-17, note). The ban should be the decree of the whole church together (v. 4). A study of the N.T. reveals a number of habitual, visible unrepentant acts which clearly call for church discipline: (1) sexual immorality, (2) covetousness, (3) idolatry, (4) reviling, (5) drunkenness, (6) extortion (1 Cor. 5:11), (7) disorderliness/laziness (2 Thess. 3:6-12), (8) false teaching (1 Tim. 1:18-20), (9) divisiveness (Titus 3:10, 11)*.
Zeal, Repentance, and the House of The Lord
Zeal for the house of the Lord, admonishment to a brother in sin, and hatred of falsehood and evil IS love, too. All of these things ARE appropriate, ARE scriptural and IS what spurns us to 'lay aside falsehood'.Furthermore, godly zeal (passion and determination without sin), is very much related to the same determination found in REPENTANCE. Paul described repentant zeal to the Corinth church:
"For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter." (2 Cor 7:11)
Godly sorrow led the Corinthians to diligence, determination, indignation against sin, fear of God, vehement desire for righteousness, zeal, and vindication. Earlier, Paul had soundly rebuked the Corinth church for being apathetic about a brother in immorality (1 Corinth. chapter 5) and about their sins amongst themselves, too (1 Corinth. 11:17-34). Apparently, they had corrected all of these things. Now, Paul was commending them for not being apathetic about their own sin, and the sin in their midst.
If our answer to sin is apathy, sin can and will flourish. If it is our own sin and error, we need to be appropriately determined, fed up, and distressed enough over it to seek God, repent and confess. We need to experience His mercy, love and power to transform. If it is nothing we can crucify ourselves or deliver ourselves from in our own power and by our own methods, we will have to have the humility to do something different than rely on our own strength and ways. It is very appropriate to turn to other Christians who have a working knowledge of grace and power in the blood of Jesus.
If it is another Christian's sin and error, we need to love them enough to attempt a kind 'rescue operation' from sin and error. Our inaction and refusal to begin the intervention steps given by Jesus, will only ensure that the brother will be further lost. Condoning sin, even by our inaction, also brings opportunity for shame to the gospel. Paul pointed this out repeatedly while he was reproving the Corinth church, before they repented.
Unfortunately, too many fellowships or churches are similar to the church of Corinth. They may have a lot of spiritual giftings, yet lack maturity and humility. Worse than the Corinth church, a Laodician church lacks acknowledgment or concern over it's own state.
In lukewarmness, the Matthew 18:15-17 process is likely to be ignored. When it is not, it is done completely inappropriately. Pious Christians are likely to 'shun' the unbeliever as if they are unclean, while at the same time remaining tolerant of any 'so-called brother' who is 'practicing unrighteousness'. The goal seems to shame people into group outward conformity rather than inward reality. Immature or false 'apostolic' leadership means confrontation and church discipline is done in the wrong spirit. Due to political concerns, partiality is shown. Sin done by leaders is called 'mistakes' and popular gifted superstars either remain unchallenged or are reinstated too soon. The innocent, the reputation of the gospel, and even the lost, suffer the most.
In Defense of Anger
One of the emotional reactions to sin and hurt is anger. Because Christians have been taught about forgiveness in a one-dimensional fashion, they assume that anger means you have not forgiven, or that you are unwilling to forgive. But anger is an emotion, neither good nor bad by itself. The choice to forgive does not mean instant healing, any more than it means the anger from the hurt is instantly gone, too. It takes time for that.
Many Christians seem to believe that it is inappropriate to express anger at all; they may even equate the emotion of anger as being the same as sin. They might suppress their emotions and might deny the pain caused by sin, all in the name of being Christ-like. They may even vocalize their disapproval and condemnation at any expression of anger, because it makes them feel uncomfortable.
Some people might repress anger because they are afraid of it. They may believe that if they do get angry, they will automatically sin. They may have been 'trained' that anger means automatic punishment or condemnation. They might get so good at suppressing 'negative' feelings, that they have stopped being fully aware of them, or their intensity. They become depressed and exhausted from all the effort it takes to repress their true feelings.
The scriptures do not substantiate the underlying beliefs in either case, however. Being unemotional and having no passion is NOT Christ-like, however (Matt 21:11; Luke 19:41-44; Matt 23). Anger is not the same as sin, nor does it automatically lead to sin. It can lead to sin, but that is a choice. Turn it one way and it can be destructive, but turn it another way and it can become appropriate passion and determination to 'do the right thing'. Anger, in fact, is useful energy. It is the fuel for the locomotive in motion. It just depends on which track the locomotive goes down. But without passion, the locomotive just sits there.The fact is, when we learn to appropriately express our hurt and anger in a timely fashion, we are able to 'let go' of it sooner. We are unlikely to build up reservoirs of resentment and bitterness, poisoning all of our relationships and ourselves. Medical science proves over and over again the benefits to our health when we learn to practice what Scripture tells us about anger.
First of all, anger toward sin is similar to God's own feelings toward it. Otherwise, the Father God would not be spurned toward wrath when it comes to the unrepentant and abominations. We can be thankful that God IS a Holy God, and does not condone sin. Sin breaks the fellowship between God and man just as it breaks the harmony among men. Sin causes many repercussions, having the capacity to hurt many. Indeed, sin even causes pain to the very heart of God. If He were not grieved that fallen man is separated from Him because of it, He would not have sent His Son Jesus to be the Way back to Him.
In the scripture, it seems we are encouraged to 'hate' evil in a similar manner as God does. Hate is a much stronger emotional word than anger, but it is an appropriate one. After all, we must completely despise something before we have the unction to turn away from it and utterly reject it!
"Hate evil, you who love the LORD, Who preserves the souls of His godly ones; He delivers them from the hand of the wicked." (Psa 97:10)
"From Thy precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way." (Psa 119:104)
However, although we are to identify with God's anger over sin, we are also admonished many times in the scripture to be slow to anger. THIS is part of God's character, too:
"Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth;" (Exo 34:6)
"A man's discretion makes him slow to anger, And it is his glory to overlook a transgression." (Prov 19:11)
"Do not associate with a man given to anger; Or go with a hot-tempered man, lest you learn his ways, and find a snare for yourself." (Prov 22:24-25)
Righteous Anger Is Not the Same as Sinful Anger
There is a poignant example in the Old Testament of a man who experienced and acted upon two types of anger: righteous anger and sinful anger. He experienced the jealous anger of the Lord at one point in life. Later, however, this same man fell into a jealousy and anger which was due NOT godly at all, and which led him down the path of paranoia and insanity. Most notice latter part of the Biblical story about this man and his spiral into madness, but few notice the first part of the story:
In 1 Samuel Chapter 11:1-4, Nahash the Ammonite besieged the Hebrew town of Jabesh-gilead. This town was obviously unable to defend itself, and offered themselves as servants to Nahesh if only he would let up his siege. In other words, they were trying to surrender and bargain with Nahesh. But Nahesh had other ideas, and would not negotiate with them unless he was could gouge out the right eye of every man among them! The town of Jebesh sent messengers to plead for someone to send armies to deliver them from the hands of this wicked Ammonite.
When the anointed-to-be-king (10:22-24) Saul heard of it, Scripture says "Then the Spirit of God came upon Saul mightily when he heard these words, and he became very angry." (1 Sam 11:6) The literal translation of 'he became very angry' is 'his anger burned exceedingly'. This was no apathetic anger that came with the Spirit of God. Saul decisively amassed the armies of Israel and completely delivered Jabesh-gilead. (11:7-11) This was BEFORE Saul was made official king before the Lord at Gilgal (11:14-15) In other words, Saul's authority as King was not even official or universally recognized (10:27), yet still he acted with brave and zealous anger on behalf of a threatened town of Israel!
Someone can be anointed without being King (in recognized authority position), and someone can be King without being anointed. It was a very different Saul by chapter 18 of 1 Samuel. Let's retrace the story. By that time, he had foolishly disobeyed the Lord so much that God relented making him King in the first place (15:11). Therefore, God rejected Saul from being king (15:23), and David was anointed by Samuel with oil and the Spirit to be the next king (16:13). The Spirit of the Lord then departed from Saul (16:14). With the Spirit of the Lord now upon David, David had the same type of righteous anger that Saul had over Jabesh-gilead earlier. With it, David was spurned to strike down Goliath, in faith (17:26).
Upon David's return from killing Goliath, the women were rejoicing and dancing in the streets to herald David's victory (18:6). Upon seeing and hearing this, Saul became angry with a different sort of anger (18:8). This was an anger that was full of FEAR-not faith (18:9). By 1 Samuel 18:10, Saul was completely given over to a different sort of spirit-an evil spirit. Afterwards, Saul continued his spiraling down journey into madness and acts of sin until his death in 1 Samuel chapter 31. Both Saul and David experienced the righteous anger of the Lord, but only one continued to obey the Lord.
The anger that entices us to sin is not righteous anger, it is carnal anger. In other words, righteous anger and unrighteousness don't go together! It's that simple! Don't be deceived by anyone who believes they are acting on behalf of God or in a godly manner, when they are sinning or given to sin during their 'zeal'. Intensity, passion, or tears are no measuring rod for discernment, because both God and Jesus were emotional, too. Sin is the measuring rod for unrighteous anger. If your anger leads you to sin, than it is destructive. It needs to be redeemed in Christ's image, and turned to a constructive anger.
The apostle Paul described his rage before his conversion when he made his defense to King Agrippa. ""And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities." (Acts 26:11-12) At the time, Paul was acting ""with the authority and commission of the chief priests,"(26:12), which he asked for so he could carry out his "threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord" (9:1-2) He was well-sanctioned by the religious.
Paul was full of religious zeal, convinced he was acting on God's behalf. Sinning against those 'deceived people' was a part of his zeal. But on his way to Damascus, he encountered the risen Lord, who gave him a new commission. Yes, Jesus intercepted Paul and redirected him. As He appeared to him, he said to him, "…for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness… (to) the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.'" (Acts 26:16-18) From then on, Paul's zeal was not turned to torturing and killing innocent people, but to bringing salvation to the Gentiles (Rom. 1:14;10:14-15).
Be Angry, Yet Do Not Sin
The same Paul later wrote this:
"Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH, EACH ONE of you, WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another. BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity." (Eph 4:25-26)
Those Christians who believe anger is the same as sin, do not see the clear distinction made between the two in this scripture. Some, it seems, would choose comfortable falsehood over uncomfortable anger. Thus, when someone is upset or angry with his Christian brother over sin, these Christians might quickly quote Ephesians 4:15, which says "speaking the truth in love". Using this, they imply that there should be zero anger in our expressions. If there is any anger, we are being 'unloving' they say. In fact, anything-ANYTHING which seems unpleasant for the hearer to hear, can suddenly become 'unedifying' or 'unloving'. Of, if borrowing a New Age term, 'negative'. (It is interesting to note that New Ager's also practice these same type of ethical standards-applying this approving term to anything they don't want to hear!)
"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths." (2 Tim 4:3-4)
In Eph. 4:25-26, however, we are given license to both 'lay aside falsehood' and 'be angry'. Why?
Because we are to be concerned, even passionate, about tossing aside falsehood! We are even to lay aside our OWN falsehoods, to lay aside our masks, to be honest, and stop smiling when we are offended!
We are told to be truthful and be angry, and to not SIN in our anger-In other words, we aren't to use our anger as a weapon against people or as an excuse to justify sinning against them. Again, it's like the old adage, "Two wrongs don't make a right". We are also told not to let the sun go down on our anger-meaning we should not wait until after the end of the day to deal with anger and deceit. It seems that doing so only gives the 'devil an opportunity, or 'place'. Deceit and falsehood have their own snares, just as unresolved anger does. Anger can be turned inward into a pit of depression. It can also turn sideways, as misdirected anger. This anger is taken out onto some innocent bystander. Festering, wounded anger can turn into resentment, and then bitterness.
"Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal." Hebrews 12:14-16
A better interpretation here of "fall short" is "come behind." Bitterness develops when one "comes behind" in the grace of God.*
Even if we go back to the parable of the unmerciful servant,
we can notice a lack of grace, this sin with anger, even BEFORE he choose
not to forgive the fellow servant who owed him. For the unforgiving servant,
Eph.4:26 it might well be interpreted "Be angry, but do not choke":
""But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.'"(Mat 18:28)
Anyone who has experienced traumatic acts of violence know how far-reaching the effects can be. It is my experience that the victim of trauma doesn't have full comprehension of the damage from the trauma themselves. Trauma in early childhood, in fact, can even be repressed because of the minds defense mechanisms:
"In a study published 5 months ago, sociologist Linda Williams of the University of New Hampshire tracked down 129 women who, as children, had been taken to emergency rooms in the late 1970's for abuserelated injuries. Nearly two decades later, 20 of them said they could not remember their hospitalization. Williams determined that the children who had been the most severely abused---and abused atthe youngest age--were the most likely to have forgotten the experience...." (TIME magazine, April 17, 1995)
Repression of memories is presently a hot-bed of controversy now, even though it's an established fact (as the study above showed). This is because some scandalous incidences have served to cast doubt on the defense mechanism of memory suppression. Some adults come forward after therapy, reporting that their therapist has suggested or implanted certain memories which they never truly had. I've noticed this seems especially the case, for instance, when methods like hypnosis is used. Purposely altering the state of the mind in such a way, and then fishing for abuse during such a suggestible state of mind seems suspect to me, in my opinion. I've noticed these adults have also complained that they were made to feel as though they needed to dig up something in order to satisfy the therapist. They also describe a dependent relationship upon the therapist. It's too bad that these therapists seem so anxious to find abuse, that they are tempted to use short-cut or questionable methods on vulnerable people.Because of all of this, there have been a peaked interest in how exactly one can tell what is the truth and what is not. For instance, this one:
"Elizabeth Loftus, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington, has shown just how easy it is to create a false memory. In a study published this summer, Loftus asked older siblings or other relatives of 24 people to make up a story about a younger person being lost at the mall between the ages of 4 and 6. While 18 of the participants insisted that the incident never happened, 6 of them not only believed the story but also developed their own memories of the fictitious event."(TIME magazine, April 17, 1995)
The consensus thus far by many professionals is that the very mechanisms of memory are not fully developed and concrete until after the age of 6. Some pedophiles have admitted that they count on this weakness with their younger victims. Perhaps they also count on their young victims not being believed by adults because of their victims questionable status as viable witnesses.
Most concede that the more sensory input a memory contained, the stronger the impression. Yet, at the same time, the strength of these impressions seem to overload minds to the point that they must repress at least parts of the memory. In the experiment above, younger children seem very impressionable to having their memories tampered with by those who are older than themselves. This is something to take into account. However, I must point out that these studies aren't exact in their scientific method. No one would dare suggest that we take some young children, traumatize them to the point that they are overloaded and repress the memory, and then see how concrete and unsuggestable they are later when they are recalling the memory (when they do). Yet, that is the experiment abusers do upon young children every day in our country . Getting lost in the mall isn't exactly the same as traumatic events or abuse. It just doesn't compare.
It is comforting to know that while the world tries to solve these puzzles as best they can, we as Christians have a power available in us which goes beyond time. God is timeless, and exists beyond time. God is Love, and is not represented by a crafty abuser. There are countless testimonies of the many creative ways God goes beyond time, healing memories of trauma and abuse. Even when the original wound is completely unknown, these healings can occur during dreams and visions, while receiving prayer for healing, and through interaction with a Christian community who live the love and wisdom of God, from God.
Time, The Unrepentant, and Vengence
If you read the Psalms of David, you will sometimes read of his protests to God that he is innocent, and yet suffers at the hands of evil men. He cries out to God about the wicked going unpunished, and asks Him why he has not been vindicated yet (Psalms 94:1-11). Many times, David asks God to punish the wicked; asks for justice, and expresses faith that someday it will happen .Sometimes David is clearly depressed and discouraged. However, he also expressed faith that God would make all right.
Over and over again, it seems clear that David equated part of the vengeance given by God with a change in the power-base. Near the end of his life, he reflects this as he praises God: ""The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock; And exalted be God, the rock of my salvation, the God who executes vengeance for me, And brings down peoples under me," (2 Sam 22:47-48). It is enough, however, to be exalted in front of our enemies. This is what happens when we reap the benefits of righteousness. In Psalm 23, for instance, David first speaks of walking in the valley of the shadow of death (23:4), and then immediately thereafter he praises God for exalting him by preparing a banquet for him in front of his enemies:
"Thou dost prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; Thou hast anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows." (Psa 23:5)
But being guided through the valley of death (vs. 4), and being blessed in front of his enemies, comes AFTER being guided "in the paths of righteousness" (vs. 5) There is a definite progression there! We have learned no righteousness, if we take occasion to exact our own cruel vengeance upon our enemies in the works of our flesh.
Justice is something we as humans desire. We would like for things to be fair. When sin causes horrible loss to ourselves or to those we love, our natural tendency is to want justice. We are made in the image of God, and so it can be assumed that our emotional mechanisms bear a resemblance to God's. It is a fact that we become angry when hurt, just as God does.
"So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the LORD was angry against Israel." (Num 25:3)
It is well-substantiated in scripture that the sin mentioned above-the sin of idolatry---always caused God to become extremely angry. He often compared this sin to adultery and disloyalty, and said He was jealous. In this case, he had loved Israel and had just rescued them from slavery and other gods, only to have them be unfaithful! So, He was very angry. What does God do when He is angry? When there is no repentance during the time He allots to do such things, He pours out His wrath.
God's day of Vengeance
God's day of vengeance is directly correlated with His year of redemption in Isaiah 63:4: ""For the day of vengeance was in My heart, And My year of redemption has come." Again a similar correlation is seen in part of Jesus' mission statement in Isaiah 61:2: " To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn," Certainly, the two acts of God -mercy, rescue, and victory for His servants and judgment upon the wicked, come side by side, simultaneously, throughout Scripture. It is no accident that His prophets often announced the two different promises (retribution for sins and deliverance) for the two different groups of people (wicked and righteous) at the same time.
However, if you are waiting for the wicked to get everything they deserve on this earth, you have a long wait. You heard me right! This is because for God to pour out his FULL wrath on the wicked, He would have to catch a few innocent bystanders too. At least, if He poured it out upon the earth now. Jesus announced His ministry in Luke 4:18-21. He listed everything that was prophesied in Isaiah 61:1-2, except "the day of vengeance of our God." It is obvious from Scripture that although Jesus proclaimed the "favorable year" (our redemption and forgiveness through His death), but "the day of vengeance" is waiting for His return. In the mean time, we humans are tested by the temporal-We don't know what we are "storing up for ourselves," if we remain unrepentant (Romans 2:5-10). This tempts many people to assume that God "does not see" and will not recompense. Therefore, they foolishly go on with their sinful ways. (Psalm 94:3-9) Likewise, it may tempt some of us to look at the wicked and be jealous of their 'freedom' (Proverbs 24:19-20), because we don't yet see the day of vengeance. But there will be a day of full vengeance upon the wicked.
God is displeased when He sees there is no justice in the land, and He is moved into taking action Himself. In handing out justice, He will pour out his wrath upon the wicked, but for those who turn away from sin there is a Redeemer (Jesus) who blesses (Isa 59:15-21) We, as humans in a great deal of pain and with a sense of justice, may think He is TOO slow, and wish there were more immediate action. However, we are cautioned to not retaliate or take are own vengeance. We are likely to be tempted to do this if it looks like justice (or our sense of it) is not being served, and if we do not trust God will repay.
It is common of course, for those who are bitter (who have not forgiven), to be so lost in darkness that they are taking their hatred out on anyone they can. This is how new 'enemies' against the innocent are made. Whether we are in a position to retaliate or not, a sure-fire way to become as wicked in our hearts as those who sinned against us is to harbor unforgiveness. We will soon be taking out our rage and bitterness against the innocent. At the root of every abuser is a root of unforgiveness, along with a wound they may or may not acknowledge! They become the 'wicked', just like the rapist in the following story.
When It Becomes Too Much
"The spirit of a man can endure his sickness, But a broken spirit who can bear?" (Prov 18:14)
I know someone who had endured a great deal of pain and sorrow in her life. I'll call her Karen. A victim of abuse, Karen had forgiven every one of her oppressors, yet had not had time to process her pain and anger, and heal. At times, she still suffered severe depression, nightmares, flashbacks, and other symptoms of what is now commonly labeled post-traumatic disorder. Only a few times over the years would she appeal for some sort of pastoral help for her difficulties. They would almost immediately preach to her about forgiveness, clearly implying that the only reason she still suffered was because she had not forgiven. They would put her on the defensiveness in this way without knowledge of the full story. As soon as she assured them that she had forgiven, they would either hold to their first judgment of her or dismiss her in some way---telling her to continue praying and reading her bible. They had no idea how much courage it took for her to talk in the first place.
Karen had become engaged to a charming young man at the age of seventeen. The engagement had full approval of everyone. This young man seemed extremely spiritual, generous, kind and sweet to all. He was immature, and so the lady anticipated a long engagement. The young lady and her fiancee agreed to no premarital sex. They were engaged for ten months, when one morning he let himself into her trailer and he raped her. She was a virgin before the rape. She thought of reporting him immediately, but was afraid her father would kill him. She thought of telling her Christian friends, many of whom she herself had witnessed to, but didn't want their young faith to be shattered by what this 'Christian' had done. Finally, she decided upon her youth pastor. He was the most available to her of all the elders of the church.
After an entire day of weeping, Karen drove her car to where her fiancee was working that night. He appeared distraught. The first words out of her mouth were, "I forgive you." She had already decided to do that. She was concerned for him, she told him, and convinced him to go with her to the youth pastor and his wife. There, the youth pastor asked the fiancee if the charge was true, and he sheepishly admitted he had raped Karen . Suddenly, the youth pastor's wife began to probe the Karen with questions, as if she were guilty of the rape. They treated the incident as though it were merely a lustful act, and shamed her. Not once did either of them ever ask her if she was okay. For the next ten years, certain that she would be blamed, Karen never told anyone about the rapes except her husband.
The young man raped Karen again, but this time she was too terrified to fight back. She was in an almost perpetual state of shock thereafter. Meanwhile, the rapist had signed up for the Air Force. He told a few people, but asked them not to tell Karen. While he was waiting to enter basic training, he victimized her as many times as he could (Karen doesn't remember how many times, but thinks it was only a few). The rapist also spread rumors that she was consenting to sex, and the youth pastor immediately shunned her. He told Karen that he didn't want her to come to the Jesus Festival camping trip with the rest of the youth. The rapist camped with the youth group, though. Karen camped somewhere else at the festival, trying to find some place safe from the rapist. (The rapist did take the effort to seek her out during the camping trip, and the youth pastor told him where she was) The situation continued to deteriorate for Karen. Within a short span of time, it seemed every one of the over 1,000 members of her Spirit-filled, Charismatic church, seemed to believe she was having sexual relationships with every young man she was seen with.
Fortunately, God had already intervened, and gave another young man, Tom, a word of knowledge about the rape. As soon as the word of knowledge about the crimes was acknowledged by the victim, Tom initiated a firm confrontation with the rapist in the presence of Karen. The rapist admitted he was raping Karen, more than once. It was too late, though, because his plot of escape was completed. He entered basic training in military service, unannounced and unexpectedly. Reportedly, he had renounced his Christian faith by words sometime before he left. Karen became suicidal, and Tom kept her from committing suicide for an entire week.
Shortly after that, realizing how young of a Christian the youth pastor was, Karen called the youth pastor and told him she forgave him. He didn't seem to understand what he needed forgiveness for, though. Karen decided not to discuss it any further with him. Dismayed, she asked Tom what he could do. He attempted to try to arrange a meeting with the senior pastor, whom she trusted implicitly. However, Karen begged Tom not to tell anyone what the proposed meeting was about. She was too ashamed. Tom came up against a stone wall with the elders, who insisted that all difficulties of the youth were supposed to be resolved by the 'youth pastor'. Reportedly, they told him that it did not matter what the request was about. They trusted the youth pastor, and the senior pastor had turned all church matters over to them. Karen didn't have the strength to try any more, and didn't feel young any more, either. Two years later that church 'boycotted' Karen's wedding to another Christian man-again because of rumors.
Stories like these sound shocking, but stories like them are all too common. This young woman became married and moved far away from the place where this occurred. Still, her trauma followed her. Knowing that Jesus said, "love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt. 5:44), Karen prayed for the rapist for several years. In fact, the rapist wrote her once and thanked her for her prayers. He said he was a Christian again, thanks to her. However, Karen did not want him to write or call her again, pretending as though nothing had ever happened. This behavior was similar to how he acted before, and it angered and frightened her. So, she called him to confront him completely for the first time.
Karen's confrontation with him was unsuccessful. He said he forgot everything past her first 'no', and insisted that nothing was rape. Karen then called his mother, whom she had felt close to, and reported what happened when they were younger. She asked his mother to never again give out her address or phone number to him. His mother believed her at first, but later changed her mind after speaking to her son. She decided her son wasn't capable of real violence, and that the young lady must have seduced him, as her son said. Not knowing how many other victims he might have raped by now, Karen now regretted that he was once again calling himself a 'Christian'.
Finally, Karen was forced to tell her father. This was because the rapist began to pay friendly visits to her father, who had liked him and trusted him. It was clearly dangerous for this to continue, because the rapist might be able to show up at HER door, one day. When Karen told her father what happened, he wept over it. Seeing her father weep, broke her again. The pain of the rapists acts had finally spread to everyone she loved. Because of the stress, Karen felt on the edge of a mental breakdown and becoming suicidal again. She decided to do another Bible study on forgiveness. Before she started, however, the Lord's voice spoke to her: "Don't do a Bible study on forgiveness. Do one on vengeance." She did a thorough one, and what she discovered astounded her. She discovered how David cried out for vengeance in the book of Psalms. She discovered the New Testament promises of vengeance for betrayal in relationships. If God promised vengeance for that, how much more would He answer her? And why hadn't He, yet? All of the suppressed anger began to pour forth to God. One day in church, the Lord clearly spoke to again to her: "I heard the cries of Abel's blood on the ground, and I took vengeance. Don't you think that I can hear your cries?" She was astonished that He cared so much!
Upon hearing God's words in her spirit, this Christian woman discovered she did not trust God to take vengeance. No doubt, the very poor examples of apathy and cruelty from those who were took on the name of Christ reinforced this distrust. With almost no decent examples in the physical realm from those who were supposed to represent His care, Karen decided to have faith that God cared enough to take action. She decided that even if it had to wait until after this life, God would somehow make all 'fair'. As He ministered to her directly regarding her anger, she discovered a way out of depression, suicidal or murderous thoughts, and other post-traumatic stress symptoms.
"For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY." And again, "THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE." It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Heb 10:26-31)
Heb 10:26: "Sin willfully" is similar to the rebellion against God that is described in the O.T. as sinning "with a high hand" or "presumptuously" (Num. 15:30, 31; defiantly, lit. with a high hand). This sin is a sin of premeditation, committed only by those who have had the advantage of great light. In the rejecting of Christ's sacrifice, they discover that there is no other acceptable sacrifice for sin.*
It was a travesty how often the young woman was 'put on trial', rather than the rapist. This was no different than the ignorance and indifference of the world. The rapist had admitted his crime earlier upon his first confrontation, and I suppose that this was taken as repentance. Obviously, it was not. True repentance involves more than weak admissions to horrible crimes. It certainly does not include capitalizing on grace in order to commit more premeditated crimes against the vulnerable.
Even if we have forgiven, we still have to contend with the sorrow, or wounds, that our 'brother' has inflicted on us. Just as in Karen's experience, to assume or teach that forgiveness means instant healing is a travesty. It makes a way for healing, but it does not mean healing. It was the false assumption that forgiveness equals instance healing which gave people an easy way to judge her. From my experience, I have found that many people don't have faith that people can recover from experiences such as Karen's. They seem to think that it is somehow completely different than God healing something 'simple' like of cancer or paralysis.
One of Karen's testimonies is after several nights of another bout of post-traumatic, which has been triggered directly by her ex-fiancee's letter, and the unsuccessful confrontation she had with him over the phone (it was a success, though, that she confronted him). She began to have the horrific flashbacks. She began to pace the floor, praying and weeping continuously, and did not sleep for quite a long time. Her husband asked her if she wanted to be committed to a hospital, so she could have medication. She refused. "Medication won't deliver me. God will. Medication would just stop it for awhile, but then it would just start up again." She was not endangering herself or others, and her husband did not know what to do with her.
Karen was faced with forgiving her rapist now for his words over the phone. She found she couldn't. She told God she wanted to, but she couldn't. She needed His help. She prayed one night, begging God to help her. Suddenly, His presence filled her room, and something like a heavy weight lifted off of her. All the bitterness, rage and all sorrow left. She also had a vision. Then God instructed her, "If you tell people of this, never take credit for forgiving. You must always tell them I helped you" Later, her three year old child spoke of a vision in which she saw Jesus. "The wolves were coming every night to attack you, Mommy. I was so scared. Then Jesus came into my room, and told me He would chase away the wolves…He said you were too sick to chase away the wolves yourself, so He would do it. Then He left my room and chased the wolves away. Then you were all better."
The Sycamore Tree
Karen notices today that whenever someone tries to imply she is bitter because of a bitter experience, they also imply she can't be healed.. Sometimes, they might treat her with distrust and disrespect, as though she might snap or become abusive, or something. These same people, having never heard her story before, thought of her in very high regard beforehand. The only difference is telling something to a people who are quick to judge and our prone to putting people in boxes. The 'box' labeled, 'rape victim' has certain automatic assumptions for them. She has noticed the only bad reactions she has experienced are from the judgmental and the unbelieving---The modern day Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees are too busy finding a way to judge in their minds, and the Sadducees just don't have faith for sycamore trees.
Luke 17:1-4 is a highly shortened version of Matt. 18:1-22:
"And He said to His disciples, "It is inevitable that stumbling blocks should come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! 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 17:1-4)
Luke skips the parable of the unforgiving servant, but transcribes another part of that conversation:
"And the apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" And the Lord said, "If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you." (Luke 17:5-6)
He then continues with a different parable which says we are to do as God commands us, and are not to think of it as a big deal (Luke 17:7-11)
In other translations, this tree is transcribed as the sycamore tree; it is part of the mulberry tree family. The fruit of the tree does not grow on the branches, but on sprigs protruding directly from the stems in clusters like grapes. It is "like" small figs in shape and size, insipid and woody in taste. The word "insipid" implies bitter tasting. The slump of the branches of that tree in that region looked like the "weeping" willow in our culture.
The word used in the KJV translation for sycamore tree is "baw-kaw", and is translated that way 4 times, twice in 2 Samuel 5:23-24, and twice in the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 14:14-15. The Hebrew word appears one other time in Psalm 84:6, where it is transliterated Baka. In Strongs Hebrew section #1057, it says that this is the same word as #1056, also "baw-kaw". This word is translated "weeping" and reference is made to a literal valley in Israel, probably the one in Psalm 84. It also refers to the root word #1058 which is most often translated, "weep"
"How blessed is the man whose strength is in Thee; In whose heart are the highways to Zion! Passing through the valley of Baca, they make it a spring, The early rain also covers it with blessings." (Psa 84:5-6)
In this scripture, "Baca" refers to the balsam tree, which flourished only in arid ground. Thus, the "Valley of Baca" pictures a dry valley on the route to Jerusalem that was marvelously converted into a place of springs. The idea, of course, is that the man who loves to spend time in the presence of God is one for whom adverse circumstances are an opportunity for finding God's faithfulness afresh (cf. 1:3; Jer. 17:7, 8).
My own view is that the mulberry tree represented sorrow, perhaps even a bitter sorrow, and Jesus used it for an example for a reason. With a little bit of faith, a Sycamore tree can be uprooted and tossed into the sea. Excessive sorrow can be healed. Just don't ask a Pharisee to pray over you, because they don't understand grace (they are too busy judging). And don't ask a Sadducee, because they don't believe in the resurrection.
Forgiveness, the Christian Community, and Healing
Fortunately, Karen was eligible for God's healing and deliverance from spiritual wounds which were 'too much to bear' because she obeyed His commands. Releasing the anger to God and forgiving the wicked as Jesus did (Father, forgive them for they know not what they do) is enlightened self-interest, because it releases the victim from the abuser and their acts, spiritually speaking. If a counselor suspects repressed memories, the victim could be exhorted to start by processing through and forgiving what she does remember, trusting God to reveal the memories that need to be revealed in the timing and by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has the wisdom and power-we must only make ourselves receivable.
However, a loving, supportive, community of believers who have faith that God does heal is was missed in Karen's life. In fact, her Christian therapist (Who, by ironic providence, was also a youth pastor) announced that she most likely would not have developed post-traumatic syndrome in the first place, if she had this kind of community. In essence, Karen had done her part (all that she knew to do), but the Christian community had not done theirs. It is because of an inadequate understanding of the Scripture that make it easy for the Christian community to lapse into these kind of errors, and justify it. Even if Karen had known one third of what is in this text, she would've been spared much. It is because of this that this text is written.
The Matthew 18:15-17 process as Church law is similar to our legal system, which is based on Judeo-Christian values. This legal system is in place to both convict the criminal of sin (punishing him, and giving him a chance to reflect on his sin and change his ways) and protect society at the same time. Just as in the law of our society, the Church 'law' is also intended to accomplish these same goals for those within the Church 'society'. The difference between the two is that the ultimate measure of 'punishment' is to completely shun a false brother as a 'tax-gatherer'. Within the Church, we are to confront people in serious sin and as a last resort remove them from our midst, but not 'stone' them as in the Old Testament. This reflects the grace Jesus brought to the earth, but grace does not mean ungodly and wicked lawlessness should be winked at in the Church. That's not true 'grace' to anyone, even the sinner.
A community should have some sense of reasonable concern, care. and love for its members. When they do not, they are not really a community. Apathy for one another leads to neglect. Believe it or not, this causes almost as much damage as frank abuse. For instance, children are damaged when one or both parents do not give them enough love, attention, or care during the vulnerable time of their development. People often discover they need to forgive neglect too, just as much as they need to forgive abuse. But some people run around acting as though we are expecting too much of the Church when we need love, or concern, or some of their time. Especially if we are brazen enough to express our needs. Funny thing, I know of not one scripture even implying this sort of idea, and yet there are hundreds of scriptures written by the Apostles in the epistles exhorting us as Christians to love one another and care for one another in a multitude of ways. Because a few people have seemed too needy (in our opinion) or a few people are selfish, we are supposed to close our hearts? The Sardis church was dead to works of Love, and has found a way to rationalize it! Surely there is a better way!
Healing Through Repentance
We have looked at the moment of salvation for a criminal on a cross, already judged by the law and suffering for his sins. Let's look at a thief and his moment of salvation. Here is Zacchaeus' response to Jesus:
"And He entered and was passing through Jericho. And behold, there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; and he was a chief tax-gatherer, and he was rich. And he was trying to see who Jesus was, and he was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. And he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, "Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house." And he hurried and came down, and received Him gladly. And when they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, "He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner." And Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."" (Luke 19:1-10)
The office of the "tax collector" (v. 2) under the Roman system was corrupt, and conducive to fraud. The official pays an amount agreed upon to the government, and all that he collects above that amount is his profit. Zacchaeus experiences a complete change of heart upon his encounter with Jesus. Note that Jesus requested to stay at this 'sinners' house, giving him an acceptance he probably did not expect. Zacchaeus decides to give his excess possessions to the poor. He also not only acknowledges that he has defrauded people as his job allowed, but goes BEYOND the requirement of the Law for fraud. (In the case of fraud, the Law only required the return of that which is illegally acquired plus one-fifth (Lev. 6:5; Num. 5:6). In the case of theft (Ex. 22:1), the requirement in the Law was a payment of at least four times the amount stolen.) Zacchaeus regards his actions as the equivalent of theft, even though he could've regarded them as only fraud.
Upon this act of repentance, Jesus pronounces that there has come salvation to the house of Zacchaeus, and that someone who was lost has been found (19:10). It is worthy to note that Jesus uses the Greek word, "swtayria" for salvation, which is translated as 'delivered'. Zaccheus' entire house has been delivered from both the consequences of sin and the hold the devil had because of the sin . There is no question that the salvation Jesus declared for Zaccheus is related to forgiveness of sins, for "swtayria" is the same word used in Luke 1:77 ("To give to His people the knowledge of salvation By the forgiveness of their sins,"). Penitence, initiated by the truly repentant, releases the power of God to deliver.
Faith, Forgiveness, and Healing
Luke 7:37-50 tells the story of the a woman, reputed to be a 'sinner', or immoral woman (most believe she was a prostitute) who was also forgiven and saved. She knelt at the feet of Jesus and poured out her expensive perfume upon them, weeping and lavishly expressing her adoration by kissing His feet. This offended the residing Pharisee, whom Jesus reproved:
toward the woman, He said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your
house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her
tears, and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss; but she, since
the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint
My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. For this reason
I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved
much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little." And He said to her,
"Your sins have been forgiven." And those who were reclining at the table
with Him began to say to themselves, "Who is this man who even forgives
sins?" And He said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace.""
Faith plus Authority
This was not the first time Jesus offended the Pharisees by giving such pronunciations of forgiveness and salvation, and it is not the first time forgiveness was related to healing. However, in the following account, Jesus clearly adds His authority in the matter:
"And it came about one day that He was teaching; and there were some Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was present for Him to perform healing. And behold, some men were carrying on a bed a man who was paralyzed; and they were trying to bring him in, and to set him down in front of Him. And not finding any way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down through the tiles with his stretcher, right in the center, in front of Jesus. And seeing their faith, He said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven you." And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, "Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?" But Jesus, aware of their reasonings, answered and said to them, "Why are you reasoning in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins have been forgiven you,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'? But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,"-- He said to the paralytic-- I say to you, rise, and take up your stretcher and go home." And at once he rose up before them, and took up what he had been lying on, and went home, glorifying God. And they were all seized with astonishment and began glorifying God; and they were filled with fear, saying, "We have seen remarkable things today."" (Luke 5:17-26)
You can notice that again the forgiveness of sins is related to faith, only this time it is the faith of the FRIENDS of the paralytic, not the paralytic himself. Jesus forgave the man's sins first, and then healed him when the Pharisees challenged his authority to forgive.
"Son of Man" has a variety of meanings in Jewish literature: (1) simply a human being (Ps. 8), (2) sometimes Israel (Ps. 80), (3) the figure to whom God is about to entrust His judgment and His kingdom (Dan. 7:13). It is Jesus' favorite self-designation. He identifies Himself with mankind, and also as the One to whom God entrusts the judgment and the kingdom.*
Authority to forgive or retain sins
Jesus had authority to forgive sins, and the healing power of the Holy Spirit was released. However, the authority did not end there.In the gospel of John, before His death and ascension and after He breathes the Holy Spirit upon them (John 20:22) Jesus gives an astonishing announcement to His disciples:
""If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained."" (John 20:23)
The tense used in this sentence is the perfect tense ("have been forgiven" and "have been retained") This tense signifies action which is past at the time of speaking, yet with abiding results. Under the leadership and unction of the Holy Spirit, we as His Body proclaim salvation and the release of sins through forgiveness.
Besides the examples of healings, another example of the releasing of sins is by the martyr Stephen in the book of Acts. In Acts 6:8, "Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people." Soon, some hostile Jews stirred up lies against Stephen, and had him brought before the Sanhedrin High Council. There, Stephen made an eloquent defense by the unction of the Holy Spirit. Upon Stephen's rebuke and vision of Heaven, his accusers could no longer stand it, and they stoned him. Just before Stephen's death, he pronounced something very similar to Christ's pronouncements on the cross. He first said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" (7:59) and then he cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" An amazing prayer of extraordinary grace. Essentially, this is the same as Jesus' "Father, forgive them!" Surely, Stephen was not only inspired by the love of Jesus for sinners, but also still under the unction of the Holy Spirit.
One of those who fully supported the stoning of Stephen was Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul (8:1) Paul remembers his involvement in Stephen's death later (22:20). Reading this, and the miraculous appearance of Christ thereafter to Paul, one can't but wonder what power Stephen released when he said these words. I don't believe Paul's conversion was unrelated to Stephen's pronouncement of forgiveness.
The negative of this-retaining sins, is demonstrated in the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) This couple lied about their contribution, and denied it when confronted. The Apostle Peter retained their sins, and again the power of God was released. They died by His hand. Another example of this is when the Apostle Paul decided to "deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." (1 Corinth. 5:5) Here, Paul was speaking of the unrepentant brother who had his father's wife (5:1). Paul "judged him who had committed this" (5:5) That's right, he judged him! He then urged the church of Corinth to do the same, and shun him (5:9-13) The eventual results of this, was this man's salvation. (by footnote, Paul also rebuked this church for not judging themselves rightly---1 Corinth 11:23-32)
Faith, Intercession, Forgiveness, And Extraordinary Grace
The alignment between faith and forgiveness of sins, and miraculous healing, is again repeated in the book of James:
"and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him." (James 5:15)
In the Old Testament, we have some examples of this same type of ministry of intercession. Take this one in which Hezekiah interceded (or acted as advocate) on behalf of the people:
"For there were many in the assembly who had not consecrated themselves; therefore, the Levites were over the slaughter of the Passover lambs for everyone who was unclean, in order to consecrate them to the LORD. For a multitude of the people, even many from Ephraim and Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun, had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than prescribed. For Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, "May the good LORD pardon everyone who prepares his heart to seek God, the LORD God of his fathers, though not according to the purification rules of the sanctuary." So the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people." (2 Chr 30:17-20)
The word 'pardon' used here, is translated in Greek as "kaphar", for "propitiation, appease, or atone"!
(2 Chr 30:17-20 NASB). From the scriptures, we have established additional actions which reach beyond time and the 'rules' of the law, which lead to forgiveness of sins, which pave the way for the power of healing and deliverance:
When we ask for forgiveness (which opens the way to healing,) or retention of forgiveness (which means vengeance), we do not and cannot supersede the will of God. Numerous prophets, endowed with the Holy Spirit, prayed and asked for both of these things in the Old Testament, and God answered. Many times He answered exactly as they requested, and sometimes He did not. For instance, when Moses asked for grace and forgiveness for his sister and prophetess Miriam after she reviled him, God decided to extend her punishment of leprosy for seven days (Numbers 12:11-16), and then heal her. When the prophet Jonah was angry at God for forgiving the city of Ninevah, pouting that God had not punished them, God rebuked him with a plant (Jonah, chapter 4). When it became 'too much' for the prophet Jeremiah, he asked for vengeance against the family members and community members who plotted to kill him, and God immediately answered (Jer. 11:18-23) In each case, the prophet petitioned God, who listened and answered without violating His will and ways, which are higher than ours. Prophets are close to God because they obey Him and listen to Him as friends. In the Old Testament they were the ones who were endowed with the Holy Spirit. But in the new covenant all of us have the ability to have intimacy with God because of the gift of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14-17). We are encouraged to approach the throne of grace with confidence because of Jesus (Hebrews 4:14-16).
In Prayer We Have No Authority If…
The requirement to release God's power in prayer is
While instructing the Church government regarding what to do with the brother in sin, Jesus gave a similar pronouncement of power to let go or retain as He did in John 20:23 :
""Truly I say to you, whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Mat 18:18)
Jesus also pronounced this same authority upon the Apostle Peter, when He said:
"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."" (Mat 16:19)
The expressions "will be bound in heaven" and "will be loosed in heaven" are examples in Greek of the periphrastic future perfect passive construction and should, therefore, be translated "will have been bound already" and "will have been loosed already" in heaven. In other words, Peter's pronouncement of "binding" or "loosing" is dependent upon what heaven has already willed, rather than earth's giving direction to heaven.*
The mystery of this relationship of power with God through the Holy Spirit., is that we are to initiate according to God's direction, and we are to function in faith. Our purpose in prayer is to see God's will here on earth, just as Jesus prayed in The Lord's Prayer: "'Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven." (Mat 6:10) When God wills something, and we complete the act of His will, we are accomplishing His will on Earth. It is already bound or loosed in heaven, but we are the ones who are charged with completing the act, and making it a reality here on earth. Thus when we are inspired by the Holy Spirit (Jesus' Advocate) to pray for healing of the sick, bind and cast our demons, forgive or retain forgiveness, we 'seal' the act already done in Heaven.
We have become Christ's Ambassadors.
* The Believers Study Bible, Version 1.0c