Are we commanded to forgive unconditionally? Well, Yeshua’s admonition to forgive others is unmistakable:
Matthew 6:12, 14-15 – “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. … “For if you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. “But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your offenses.
Therefore, as believers, we should just forgive everyone no matter what, correct? Well, if we dive a little deeper into Yeshua’s concept of forgiveness, we find that he lays out some parameters that can help guide us through some of these interpersonal relationships, and it may seem a little different than you may expect.
Luke 17:3-4 – “Be on your guard. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. “And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
Firstly, we can see that we must be alert or “on our guard,” as he relates here. Forgiveness is not something that should just be offered to everyone regardless of circumstance. If we are preparing to be forgiving, then we must be alert and use some critical thinking, as well.
Yeshua says “if he repents” you must forgive him. That is the qualifier. Even if someone comes up to you after repeatedly offending you in some way but asks for forgiveness, you must not withhold it.
But what do we do in a situation where someone provides an offense against us but does not repent or ask forgiveness? Are we obligated to forgive them? Well, Yeshua lays out an instance where that also may come into play. It begins by confronting the individual who has wronged another.
Matthew 18:15 – “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother.”
In this case, an offense of some sort has been caused by a close friend or relative yet they have not asked for forgiveness. Interestingly, Yeshua lays the responsibility to restore the relationship on the one has been wronged. It would appear that one of Yeshua’s primary principles is restoration of relationships, not avoidance. This is also intimated in another teaching where he relates those relationships should be restored prior to worshiping God.
Matthew 5:22-24 – “But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Whoever insults his brother or sister, will be subject to the court. Whoever says, ‘You fool! ‘ will be subject to fire of Gehenna. So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”
The reconciliation begins with us for those with whom we might be angry for some reason. If we go and speak with them about it and they recognize the error, then, as Yeshua says, “you have won your brother.” However, what do we do if they don’t repent or ask for forgiveness? This process is also lined out by Yeshua.
Matthew 18:16-17 “But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the congregation. If he doesn’t pay attention even to the congregation, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you.”
Only in the most bitterest of contentions must we remain separated from those who have wronged us. Yet, how many of us have actually cared enough to take the initiative in doing the hard work in restoring those failed relationships? Forgiveness may be real and lasting but it is not cheap. It comes at a price, and it has boundaries.
Yeshua then concludes this teaching with a phrase that has challenged commentators and believers over the years, but I believe is not as difficult to understand as it sounds.
Matthew 18:18 – Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.
This binding and loosing principle can be understood in the light of what God has commanded. Whatever God (heaven) has bound, is bound or restricted. Whatever God (heaven) has loosed or allowed, is allowable. This is a basic understanding of all of God’s Torah or instruction, beginning with Adam and Eve in the Garden. This is also why we find Yeshua referring to the Torah principle of additional witnesses found in Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy 19:15 – A lone witness is not sufficient to establish any wrongdoing or sin against a man, regardless of what offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
As believers, we are bound to what God’s Word or Torah says, but whatever it allows, we are also free or “loosed” to do. So when we follow the admonition of the Torah injunction in ensuring facts of a matter before we jump to conclusions about someone’s intent, we honor God and relationships can be restored.
In his teaching on forgiveness, Yeshua simply provides clarification on the fact that if someone repents, we are obligated to forgive them. However, if they are unrepentant and we have fully involved others to verify the injustice, then and only then are we justified in avoiding them.
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