Should We Forgive the Unrepentant? — Matthew 18

To answer Peter’s question about how many times we should forgive someone, Jesus said either 77 times or 490 times depending on your translation. But what about the person who sins against us and does not repent or ask us to forgive them? And in some cases, even continues to sin against us? I do not have a definitive answer to this question, and I would like your ideas or for you to share how you have faced this problem. Below are some suggestions.

First, from Jesus’ parable of the Persistent or Relentless Widow in Luke 18 (our lesson for July 15), it seems we can pray for justice, pursue justice, and pursue justice until we have received justice. See my new Bible study book: The Power of Persistent Prayer & The Story of a Relentless Widow. But at the same time, it seems to me that we should pray for God to help us and give us a forgiving spirit should the unjust person repent. We should also pray for God to work upon the mind and heart of the unjust person, so they will repent, turn to Jesus in obedient faith, ask Jesus to help them do right, lead them to make restitution where appropriate, and ask our forgiveness where appropriate. Each situation must be examined and prayed about; however, developing a willingness to forgive any person should they repent and ask us to forgive them seems to be appropriate.

Second, it seems to me that for our own mental and spiritual health, we need to choose as an act of the will (from the heart) to forgive everyone who has ever sinned against us whether they repent or not or ask us to forgive them or not. I just don't think quietly holding a grudge is heart healthy and it does nothing to help the other person honestly repent. That does not mean that we need to keep suffering abuse from them or that we need to keep trying to be their friend or spend time with them. That does not mean that we should not seek justice regarding them. We can seek justice from God and from legal authorities (and at the same time be willing to forgive them) so both they and we receive a just outcome. In some cases, an unjust person must be punished by legal government or church authorities as a deterrent to them and as an example to others who might be tempted to do as they did. We can forgive someone and at the same time want justice to prevail.

Finally, my own approach has been that before I participate in either serving or receiving the Lord’s Supper that as an act of the will (from the heart), I forgive (and sometimes once again forgive, and again and again forgive) anyone who has sinned against me and has not asked my forgiveness. I have not found this to be easy or something I can achieve in a week, because sometimes the injustice and the suffering has been too great and beyond understanding. I also pray for the person (see above). I know how much Jesus suffered to make it possible for God to forgive me with justice and mercy for my sins, and I pray for Jesus’ Spirit to work in my heart so I am at least willing to forgive and making an effort to forgive the unrepentant who have sinned against me.

I would really appreciate your ideas on this topic. Almost all of our IBLF members want to learn from one another, so please post your thoughts.

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  • There is but one answer for me and it is definitive. "Even as Christ".
    Ephesians 4:32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
    Colossians 3:13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.
  • Thank you so very much! These are two excellent Scriptures to add to this discussion! Remembering and repeating "Even as Christ" is a good truth to apply when in doubt about this subject and as a living principle as we try to follow Christ..
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