If they repent, forgive them

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

Luke 17:3(b)-4

Pretty much every time we go to Church, we say what has become known as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’.  Sometimes I worry that because we say it so frequently it has become meaningless.  Do we really stop to think about what we’re praying?  I wonder how many people reflect on the word’s ‘forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us’?  Perhaps we think how fortunate we are that we have a God who forgives us, but do we pay attention to that next statement, that we forgive those who wrong us?  I personally find forgiveness very hard.  It’s one thing to forgive someone because they’ve turned up late to a meeting, or because they forgot your birthday, or because they took the chocolate that you were saving for later, but it’s quite another to forgive someone for something more serious.  How can we possibly forgive someone who has caused us physical or emotional pain, someone who has abandoned us, made our life a living hell, or caused us a permanent, disfiguring injury?  In circumstances like these it becomes very, very hard to forgive.

Today’s verse teaches us about forgiveness, but it speaks into a specific context – that of a fellow Christian who wrongs us – and there are two important aspects of this verse.  The first is the importance of repentance.  If we wrong a ‘brother or sister’, that is, a fellow believer, it is important that we repent.  To repent is to apologise, but also to consciously strive not to do this wrong again.  We can expect to be rebuked, but that should not stop us asking for forgiveness.  The second important aspect is the need to forgive those who wrong us.  If we believe that someone has sinned against us and they ask for forgiveness, then we must forgive them.  What’s more, this forgiveness should be endless.  Even if they wrong us in the same way again and it starts to feel like a malicious attack, if they repent, we need to forgive.  We must take them at their word that they are genuinely sorry and will try hard not to sin against us again.  We should think only positive thoughts towards our brothers and sisters and must remove from our minds any thoughts that they are deliberately slighting us.

If we’re to build God’s kingdom on earth, it is vitally important that we maintain good relationships with those in our own faith communities.  Let’s all strive to think only positive thoughts about our brothers and sisters in Christ, to always repent if we know we’ve done wrong, and to take a loving, forgiving attitude to those who we believe have wronged us.

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