In a recent conversation I had with two Christian friends, they recounted several experiences when they were wronged, they forgave the offender and offered help and they were wronged again. This grated on their nerves and they stated “we felt like we were used.”
Can the focus on forgiveness that we see in the Christian faith set us up as “easy marks” for unscrupulous individuals? W. Bingham Hunter* says it like this: “Being a forgiver is one thing. But being a whipping post is another.”
There is guidance in God’s Word on this matter. Peter asked Jesus how many times should he forgive his brother when his brother sins against him. He says “Up to seven times?” Seven is a special number for Judaism, a number that signifies completeness. Really Peter is saying seven times is the limit and I suspect that I am being generous. Jesus surprises Peter by saying “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
What is Jesus really saying about the limits of forgiveness? Maybe He is telling Peter that placing a limit on forgiveness may not feel so wonderful if you are the person needing it. Maybe He is saying to Peter would you only need seven instances of forgiveness? Would you possibly need more? Also, maybe Jesus is saying with the large number [seventy times seven] that we should not even keep track of the number of times we forgive. We should just do it.
So the Bible says we are just to accept whatever is done to us. Not really. There is nothing wrong in telling another “you have sinned against me.” This is rebuking a sinner and in Matthew 18:15 it says “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother.” The idea is that rebuking another is ok but the rebuke should be done in love and it should be about creating peace between you and your transgressor. You should want your brother and sister restored to fellowship with you , the church and God.
The goal should not be to create anger, the goal should not be to prove yourself right and prove that they are wrong. Many find rebuking another so hard because they don’t have the right goal in mind. That right goal is discipline, aimed at restoration.
The offender may still not accept forgiveness and change. The offender may still not listen to a rebuke and change.
What are we to do?
Jesus says that we are still to love that person. We are not to repay evil with evil, nor should we seek revenge. Paul says in Romans 12:20-21 “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.”
This is hard advice because we may be very impatient with a person who continually causes us physical or emotional harm. It can cause us to feel “like we are being used” as we are called on to forgive over and over again. Many cannot follow the teaching of the Bible due to personal outrage and anger. Pride can also get in the way as many of us feel that we deserve better treatment. In some instances, Christians don’t have the love in their hearts to deal with people who are offensive. Some people don’t have the words to use in these situations or the empathy necessary to understand other points of view.Bingham Hunter says the reason to follow God’s Word on forgiveness is trifold: we want sinners to be brought to their senses and we want reconciliation, we want to protect the purity of others in the church and finally, we want to show an effective witness to the nonbeliever. We want them to see Jesus in our actions.
Yes when people do us wrong, it is hard to forgive, but the Bible is clear about the need to do it.
It is best to think seriously about the title of Hunter’s chapter on prayer and forgiveness. It is “Forgiving: The Prayer for Other Sinners.”
I want to be able to forgive and I am certainly a sinner.
*author of The God who Hears