If (we are sinned against) – We have to establish it in the first place; have they truly sinned against us? Perhaps it is just miscommunication or not a sin at all. This doesn’t usually start unless we bring the matter to them. If they bring it to us, the process is already started but we cannot hide behind their lack of coming to us with the offense, we must go to them and tell them of how we were sinned against. If we are indeed sinned against, and it is something we would continue to hold against them, then we must rebuke them, to give them a chance to repent.
Then (we rebuke) – rebuke means correct not condemn, bringing it to their attention, they may not even realize it, and if they do it is still right to bring it up. We rebuke with the sense that we are hoping that they will repent.
If (they repent) – The goal of the rebuke is to give an opportunity to repent and repentance gives us the opportunity to grant forgiveness. It is important to discuss repentance in this context. When someone repents, what are they doing?
• Confession of the sin (confession means saying the same thing God says about it)
• Taking responsibility for the sin (I was wrong, not justifying the action)
• Asking forgiveness (not “I apologize”, or “I’m sorry”, but “I sinned against you, would you please forgive me”. If we ask for forgiveness and they say it is not a big deal, or don’t worry about it, say to them it is a big deal, will you please forgive me, and continue till they say that they forgive you. It is biblical and very helpful to use these words.
• It does not mean we have to wait for some fruit (17:4, all they do is say it at this point)
• Our faith is not the issue, obedience to this command is (vs.5-6) – we are not permitted to judge another’s repentance. If someone had sinned against me seven times in a day, in other words, they kept on and on, and kept asking me to forgive them, I might think that they were not really sincere. Yet Jesus still commands me to forgive them.
Then (forgive them) – If we say “yes I forgive you”, what are we promising?
• Forgiveness is not a feeling (we can forgive even if we don’t feel like it).
• Forgiveness is not forgetting. What does God’s forgiveness look like? Jeremiah 31:34 – When God forgives sin He promises never to hold our sin against us. “Remember no more” means God won’t bring it up to our account again. God chastises me for my sin, yes, disciplines me, yes, punishes me, NO, because Jesus already took the punishment for my sins on the Cross.
• What about the judgment seat of Christ? It is not about condemnation, but commendation (see our sermon Crown Him with many Crowns)
So what we do when we forgive someone is that we never hold their sin against them. In practical terms this means we don’t unnecessarily bring it up to them, to our own selves, or to others. It is a promise we can keep even if we don’t feel like it. It is also something we cannot refuse if someone is repentant.
We have to deal with this, we don’t just “let it go” because we can end up holding onto that thing and it becomes bitterness and it colors everything we think about them. We have such a problem with bitterness because we don’t have forgiveness, and we don’t have forgiveness many times because we don’t have a rebuke. This is a command of scripture, BOTH parts, not just the forgive part, but also the rebuke, but it must first be done privately. More on that next time.