Learning How to Forgive and Forget

Proverbs 17:9 NRSV
One who forgives an affront fosters friendship, but one who dwells on disputes will alienate a friend.

Do we forgive?

Likely, the answer will be “yes,” but for many of us, the truth is actually closer to “no.” Rather, we hold grudges, withhold our trust, and generally are fairly unforgiving. In fact, for some of us, we cling to our offenses like comfort blankets, consoling ourselves with the idea that somehow withholding our friendship from someone who has hurt us actually deals that person a fatal blow. In reality, unforgiveness hurts us a lot more than it hurts the person at whom we are angry.

The problem, I think, is that we have forgotten how to repent. We teach our children the easy “sorry;” we use it ourselves. It no longer has any meaning. And forgiveness and repentance go hand in hand. In fact, we are so absorbed with the idea of tolerance (rather than repentance) that we are even reluctant to admit to another person that they have hurt us, have offended us. So rather than dealing with that issue and forgiving them, we hang onto our hurt. It’s a vicious circle.

The Lord Jesus taught very clearly on this matter:

“Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” Luke 17:3-4 NRSV

There are some very interesting dynamics in this verse. First, the Lord Jesus command us to “be on your guard.” Vine’s states that “it suggests devotion of thought and effort to a thing.” In other words, what follows is something that we should regularly attend to, focus on, think about. How often do we think about repentance and forgiveness, even in our own lives? And yet obviously this is something important, very important, in the life of the believer.

What happens next, though, may be a surprise to many of us who are well used to living in a tolerant society. The Lord Jesus tells us—command us even—to rebuke another believer when he sins! Rather than to allow the sin to continue, we are to rebuke them. The sense is to censure, admonish, and forbid them. In other words, we are our brother’s keeper.

Sin is insidious. And it’s very difficult to sin only one sin. It’s likely eating potato chips; you can’t eat just one. Well, sin is the same way. In the vast majority of cases, one sin leads to a number of sins, all of which alienate us from God and most of which alienate us from each other. We aren’t to let sin go unchecked in another believer’s life, but rather to rebuke it. In love and with gentleness, but with rebuke nevertheless: “My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:1-2 NRSV

The story of Zacchaeus demonstrates repentance (possibly something we don’t even want to look at): Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Luke 19:8 NRSV Zacchaeus understood the three aspects of repentance:
(1) acknowledging the sin (specifically naming the sin);
(2) stating what he will do differently, and
(3) making up for the collateral damage.

Apologies (as we know) are very easy; repentance, on the other hand, is very difficult. Perhaps that’s why we shy away from it. If we are honest, the truth is, we’re not really sorry for the sin nor willing to let go of it; rather, we are sorry we got found out, that we got caught and we’d like to avoid unpleasantries surrounding the sin at all cost. And that attitude makes someone else forgiving us very difficult because forgiveness involves restoration of relationship. And how can they restore their relationship with us when we likely intend to do the sin again?

We need to learn how to forgive and effectively forget (restore the relationship) by also learning how to repent. And if we model repentance in our own lives (as the salt of the earth), we may find that those around us also learn that repentance is a far greater blessing than hanging on to those old offenses. Let’s give our families the gift of repentance and forgiveness this year. It’s likely a better gift than the latest Wii box anyway.