“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him…” Luke 17:3
One of the most dangerous trends in today’s society is the urge to forgiveness without rebuke or repentance. We are told that we must forgive and forget, that Christ told us to forgive others because He died for us even while we were sinners. Yet, we forget that in seeking that forgiveness God first makes us aware of our sinful nature, and first we must repent.
This is true in our relationships with one another as well. There are times in our lives when someone who is not a brother or sister in Christ will harm us. Those people are unlikely to repent, in fact, they may never even recognize that what they have done is wrong. In those instances, we are faced with the choice of allowing hatred to eat at us or choosing to forgive them and removing ourselves from harm’s way. More often however, as we grow in our walk and are surrounded by more and more Christians in our daily lives, the harm caused to us will come not from outside the faith, but from those within the family of God.
When followers of Christ harm us, the Bible is very clear about how we need to handle it, and there is a good reason for the order given above. First we rebuke them, or in more modern terms we go to the one who has hurt us and express that hurt so it is out in the open instead of festering in our hearts. This does two things, first it relieves us of the burden of anger toward another child of God. Second, it gives our brother or sister the opportunity to realize they have caused us harm, repent of that action, and makes that action less likely in the future. This allows us to forgive freely, it allows us to avoid continuing harm to ourselves and others in the future, and it allows everyone involved to grow in their own faith and in their relationships with one another.
When we fail to first tell the person who harmed us of the problem, we create an atmosphere of anger and hurt. We place a barrier between ourselves and that individual. We allow the harmful behavior to continue unaddressed. We deny the other person the chance for growth. And, while we may tell ourselves that all is forgiven, the truth is we cannot let go of the wrong doing in our hearts. That separates us from God, and weakens the power of the Spirit in us. In the end, that leads to bitterness, gossip, slander and divisions within the body of Christ.
If you have been hurt by a fellow Christian, if they have slighted you, insulted you, or otherwise caused you upset, pray for guidance, pray for grace, pray for God to speak His love in the middle of your pain, and bring that grievance to your brother or sister so that healing can occur.
Father, we often find ourselves thinking we have forgiven some trespass against us. We do our best to forgive because You have commanded it to be so. We often fail to deal with the trespass honestly though Father, and we need Your help today. Shine Your light on the things we are holding in our hearts against Your children. Give us Your courage, Your words and Your love and help us to address those who have hurt us so that we may all draw closer to You. In the Name of the one who died for our forgiveness, Jesus Christ, Amen.