Must My Brother Repent Before I Forgive Him?

As a Bible teacher, I’ve heard this question many times: can a person actually forgive if the offender is not repentant? Should Sally wait for her husband to meekly ask for forgiveness before she forgives him? Can Ben go ahead and extend forgiveness to his boss who repeatedly disrespects him and often abuses his time and talent?

Does Jesus forgive only when a person repents?

Forgiveness differs from reconciliation. We sometimes confuse the two.

For instance, from the cross Jesus said, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” His statement did not result in reconciliation, but it did reveal His compassionate and forgiving heart towards His most bitter enemies.

Jesus also taught an assertive forgiveness. Check out Mark 11.25:

“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.”

Jesus does not command us to hunt down our brother and demand an apology first. Just forgive. How? In this context, it seems we should have a heart–an attitude–of forgiveness. It’s not necessarily saying the words, “I forgive you,” to the person, but it’s a willingness to absorb the cost and the hurt, put it away, and let it go. Isn’t that what God does for us?

Also consider Luke 15.20 in the parable of the prodigal son:

“So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”

The father didn’t ask for a full confession. In fact, he acted so quickly the son didn’t have time to speak before his dad was crushing him in an embrace and kissing his face. He then tried to tell his dad how he would pay him back and how he didn’t deserve to be called a son, but again the father cut him off, reinstated him as a son, and totally accepted him back. Obviously, the father forgave his son even before his son demonstrated repentance!

Reconciliation is only possible when both parties act properly–one repents and the other forgives. Sometimes one person repents but the one who was wronged will not forgive. No reconciliation. In other cases, one person forgives from the heart but the other refuses to apologize and repent. No reconciliation.

But notice that forgiveness is not necessarily dependent upon the other person’s repentance. God expects us to forgive those who sin against us. Period. Just how we can do that is a subject for another article, but suffice it to say it’s simply not possible to forgive completely without an internal power that most humans don’t possess.

So don’t wait for your brother or sister to come crawling, contrite and crushed. They may never repent. God wants you to always have a heart of forgiveness, ready to accept back the moment your brother heads your way.

It’s difficult, yes. But it’s so freeing! Discipline yourself to forgive.

AUDIO: Healing a Woman; Raising a Girl from the Dead

We recently enjoyed Mark 5.21-43, in which Jesus healed a woman who had endured a flow of blood for 12 years and raised a girl from the dead.

In this amazing series of events, Jesus shows His great compassion towards women, continues His habit of touching the unclean, and leads people to conquer their greatest fears! Enjoy.

The Good Samaritan: The Power of a Story

Good SamaritanMany of us have heard abundant teaching and preaching on Luke 10.25-37, the parable of the good Samaritan. Praise God for providing such a teachable event, for the lessons just pour out of the text!

Jesus told the parable in response to a lawyer’s questions.

The lawyer (testing Jesus) asked, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

As the master teacher He was, Jesus replied with a question, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

In the presence of an audience, this must have been a bit embarrassing for the lawyer. He should have known the Law like the back of his hand. This question was kind of like asking a child, “What does the book say? You should already know the answer.”

If the lawyer couldn’t produce the answer, he’d be publicly embarrassed, so he had to answer. Jesus caught him…but not in a mean way. Jesus was teaching him.

Questioning JesusThe lawyer produced an excellent answer: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

“You have answered correctly; do this and you will live,” Jesus responded.

[Um. Wait. It can’t be that easy. I’m a lawyer, and I wouldn’t ask such an easy question! No, my question is really much deeper than that, Jesus. What I really meant to ask was…]

“And who is my neighbor?”

THAT’S when Jesus gave the good Samaritan illustration. And what an answer it is! It’s clear. It’s simple. There’s no room for argument. It teaches that it’s not so much about figuring out who your neighbor is; it’s really about being a good neighbor to anyone and everyone who needs a neighbor!

Jesus’ answer, in a nutshell, is, “Go, show people mercy. Be like that Samaritan.”

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what of this 157-word illustration? Jesus could have just said, “Just be a good neighbor to anyone you meet.” Would that have packed the same punch? Not hardly. Packaged the way it is, the parable of the good Samaritan contains riches well beyond a legal statement; it contains abiding principles and depths of teaching a list of laws never could.

Instead of providing the lawyer with a list of people he should consider to be his neighbor, Jesus made the lawyer picture himself in the shoes of a compassionate Samaritan (someone he normally would loathe). Jesus broke down racial, economic, and social barriers with this simple story.

Perhaps that’s why so much of the Bible is written in narrative.

Helping Out an Enemy

Helping outMy wife and I watched War Room a couple of days ago, and we both highly recommend the movie.

Slight spoiler alert…

In one of the scenes, the main couple drives up to a guy in a business suit and nice car who has a flat tire. It so happens (of course) the stranded man has been sour and belligerent towards our story’s protagonist, and so we wonder if the man will stop and help his foe. The short scene packs the right kind of punch as we see our hero step out of his car to help his enemy while his wife and daughter watch.

I ran across this verse in my readings this morning:

Exodus 23.4-5 “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.”

What an excellent illustration of both “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk. 12.31; Rom. 13.9), which undergirds the even harder instruction to “love your enemy” and “pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5.43-48)!

If you see an enemy in trouble and you can help him / her, help! It’s what God does. While we were yet enemies Christ died for us…

Notice in Exod. 23.5 the situation God describes: “If…you would refrain from helping it…” In other words, we sometimes find someone we don’t like in a tangled mess, and in the darkness of our hearts we snicker, “This ought to be good,” when we should really be thinking, “I reckon I should help her out because, after all, that’s what I would want from her if the situation were reversed.” Yes, sometimes we just don’t want to help out; we would refrain from it. But God insists, “You shall surely help him with it.”

Yes, Lord. I need an attitude adjustment.