“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 17:3-4 NASB)
Forgiveness is one of those things Christians are supposed to do that we work really hard to find a way around. I think we normally ignore the requirement. Sometimes, increasing our depth of commitment to Jesus, we redefine forgiveness so that we are able to do it. Rarely do we truly forgive as Jesus intended nor with the the frequency or priority that He places on it. Rarely. In fact, we’ve probably done so much damage to the concept few of us really understand it any more.
Boundaries is a book and a teaching by Henry Cloud and John Townsend in which they teach how to set appropriate boundaries in our relationships with others and ourselves. It’s actually quite biblical. Few have read it. Many use the term, and most misuse the term. Boundaries have become our favorite method of “side-stepping” forgiveness. We don’t forgive because we can’t let someone violate our boundaries. Or we redefine forgiveness so that we can say we have forgiven yet not violated our boundaries.
The reality is that we have set up walls and Cloud and Townsend taught that boundaries are to be fences; fences with gates. The truth is that Cloud and Townsend teach about forgiveness in the book and how to forgive with appropriate boundaries. The reality they point out is that unless we forgive, we actually keep stuff that isn’t ours inside our boundaries. Forgiving is setting and maintaining appropriate boundaries. But we fear and the fear supersedes the teaching of Jesus in Scripture.
The word forgiveness in Greek is “aphiemi”, which has a basic meaning of “to send away”. It’s used for cancelling debt (to send the amount owed away), leave (to go away), abandon (to leave someone), send away, to divorce (to send away a wife/spouse), and to forgive. Think about the irony in that forgiveness is the same word used for divorce. The meaning is really derived from what is being sent away. And I believe Jesus teaches pretty clearly what we are to send away in order to forgive.
Matthew 18 has Peter asking how many times should he forgive, suggesting 49 times. Jesus pushes the number to 490. But He also ties forgiveness to being forgiven by God. That was probably as unexpected as the 490. In Matthew 6, in explaining the Model Prayer, Jesus says that if we do not forgive we will not be forgiven. So in Luke we see this simple summary of Matthew’s expansion in chapter 18. Someone repents seven times, forgive seven times. Think that through. That would mean we would forgive repeat offenders.
Forgiveness isn’t simply something that we should do because it’s ‘good’. Forgiveness is something we should do because it’s necessary. Forgiveness is necessary for us to be disciples of Jesus. What else do you think Jesus meant when He said that we would not be forgiven if we don’t forgive? However you answer that, the answer has to include not being His disciple. In such a case, repentance would be to forgive the person we had refused to forgive. In that case forgiveness would be ours as well. Forgiveness is tied to repentance so closely as to be dependent. But it’s often our own repentance rather than another’s.
I believe Jesus calls us, as His disciples, to send away our resentments. Resentments are kept on the roll-call of grievances we hold against others. These resentments define other people in our minds and hearts. Other people, like we us, grow and develop, and deepen their walk with Jesus. That roll-call of grievances refuses to permit Jesus to define them for us. We only see them as they were, not as the Holy Spirit is transforming them now. We refuse to acknowledge their growth.
Such a view doesn’t prevent them from growing, but it does make their growth more difficult; to the degree of our continued proximity to them. So you have a good idea of the severity of this problem, check out verses 1 and 2 of this chapter. It would be better for the unforgiving one to swim with a millstone. And I suspect that for us who struggle to forgive, it is a lot like swimming with a millstone. Jesus calls us to send the rock away and swim freely with our fellow forgiven disciples.
So, that’s one view through a knothole. What do you see and learn from these verses?