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LOVE, MERCY, FORGIVENESS
Authored By : Bill Kochman (aka The WordWeaver)
Published On : May 25, 1998
Last Updated : February 24, 2011
Human Pride, The Unrepentant Sinner, Wicked Heart, Fall Of The Proud, Humbly Confess Our Faults And Errors, A Root Of Bitterness, Forgiving The Unrepentant, The True Test Of Our Christian Love: Loving Our Enemies And Unrepentant Sinners, Defining The Word "Offend" In The Scriptures, Endtime Apostasy, Trespass Sin And Missing The Mark, The Four Key Steps Of Forgiveness, Definition Of Genuine Repentance, Faith Backed By Actual Works, Hardened Criminals And The Revolving Door, Confessing Our Sins To One Another, True Love Is Blind And Covers A Multitude Of Sins, Mutual Reconciliation, Failure Of Modern-Day Relationships, Mercy, Reciprocal Forgiveness
Perhaps some of the hardest words to say in the English language are "I am sorry; I was wrong; please forgive me." Even though we know full well that we have said or done something wrong which has terribly hurt or offended another human being, our pride is so strong, that oft times not only will we stubbornly refuse to humbly seek forgiveness, but we will not even be willing to admit that we are guilty of the crime of which we have been accused. That old pride of ours just bursts out of our chest like an over-inflated balloon which repels anyone who tries to draw close to us in order to show us the error of our ways. Oh, our hearts can be so evil and so wicked! The Prophet Jeremiah knew all about this; and that is why he said in one place:
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"
Jeremiah 17:9, KJV
In the New Testament, we are told that Jesus Christ knew exactly what was in the heart of man. On one occasion, after He had apparently done some miracles in Jerusalem, the Apostle John relates the following incident concerning our Lord:
"Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man."
John 2:23-25, KJV
Exactly what is in the heart of man? Jesus answered this question quite directly in the Gospel of Matthew when He told Peter and the rest of the Disciples the following:
". . . Are ye also yet without understanding? Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man."
Matthew 15:16-20, KJV
What some people don't realize is that the longer they cling to their pride, and stubbornly refuse to admit the error of their ways, and humbly seek forgiveness from those whom they have hurt or offended, the harder they will also fall when it comes time for the Lord to deal with them; and He most certainly will in His perfect time. This thought is clearly brought out in the following verse from the Book of Proverbs:
"Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall."
Proverbs 16:18, KJV
It is much better for us if we humble ourselves, tuck our pride back down in our shirt, confess our faults, and seek forgiveness, than to have to face the consequences for continuing to yield ourselves to the rebellion of our own proud stubborn hearts. As the Apostle Paul wrote:
"It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God . . . For our God is a consuming fire."
Hebrews 10:31, 12:29, KJV
Recently, a dear sister in the Lord asked me for some advice concerning a serious problem she was having with another member of her family. According to her story, some time ago, this person had committed an evil act of violence against her. Just as I described above, even though it was widely known that this person had hurt her in this way, he had never sought for her forgiveness; and in fact, he refused to acknowledge that he had even committed the crime. While this sister had thought that she had forgiven this person, a later incident revealed to her that perhaps she really hadn't; and that maybe a root of bitterness had taken hold in her heart. The Apostle Paul spoke of the danger of such things in his Epistle to the Hebrews when he wrote the following:
"Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;"
Hebrews 12:14-15, KJV
That word "bitterness" is derived from the Greek word "pikria", which is pronounced pik-ree'-ah. Thayer's Greek lexicon provides the following definitions for this word:
----- Begin Quote -----
1) bitter gall
1a) extreme wickedness
1b) a bitter root, and so producing a bitter fruit
1c) metaph. bitterness, bitter hatred
----- End Of Quote -----
Once bitterness against another person takes root in one's heart, it can be extremely difficult to rid oneself of it. It is just like an ugly weed growing in the middle of a beautiful flower garden. We might use a machete or perhaps a lawn mower to chop it off at ground level, thus giving the false impression that we have rid ourselves of it, but unless we totally remove the root, with time, that same old ugly weed will grow right back again to defile the beautiful landscape we have so carefully and patiently created. What is even worse, is that each time we cut off the top of that weed, the roots continue to grow and strengthen themselves below ground level. In fact, depending upon its type, that weed might even spread its hidden roots and produce similar weeds which will do even more damage to our once-beautiful flowerbed. Obviously, that flowerbed represents our life and those we immediately affect in it; and this we will indeed do, whether we realize it or not. While trying to resolve a problem in the Christian Church at Rome regarding those who ate meat, and those who didn't, the Apostle Paul made the following comment:
"For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself."
Romans 14:7, KJV
Thus, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Hebrews, if we are not careful, we can defile others with the negative thoughts that we have towards that person who harmed or offended us; just like that stubborn weed which secretly spreads its roots underground.
This same dear sister then asked me a question concerning forgiveness. She was wondering how a Christian should respond in a situation -- such as the above -- where the evildoer has not only refused to seek forgiveness, but will not even confess to the crime. Under such circumstances, are we still supposed to forgive them? This is indeed a rather difficult situation which most of us have encountered at least once during our lifetime. The truth is that it is so much easier to forgive someone when they humbly approach us seeking forgiveness; but in real life, this simply isn't always the case, as we have seen. It is at this time in our lives that we are truly tested by such verses as the following:
"Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."
Matthew 5:38-48, KJV
"Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven."
Matthew 18:21-22, KJV
As Jesus makes very clear, it is so easy to love those who reciprocate our love with their own love. It is an equal give and take situation; but this is not when the true Christian character is tested. It is when the other person does not respond to our love as we would hope, that we are put on the spot with the Lord. In the case of a person who has intentionally hurt us either physically or emotionally, and who shows absolutely no signs of repentance, this is when our Christian love and patience is stretched to the limit.
To fully understand this issue of offenses and forgiveness, it is important that you realize that in the Scriptures, the word "offense" does not always carry the same meaning. This is an issue which I explain in detail in the article "The Urantia Book: A Dangerous New Age Doctrine". In that article I discuss how the followers of the Urantia Book -- which I refer to as the Unbelief Book -- are leading people astray through their false doctrines. I then mention the fact that, unless they repent, those deluded people are going to face dire consequences in the day that they have to appear before the Lord. To support this thought, I quote the following verse:
"But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea."
Matthew 18:6, KJV
In the previous verse, the word "offend" is derived from the Greek word "skandalizo". It is from this word that we derive our English words "scandal" and "scandalize". While this word is translated as "offend" in the New Testament, the Greek lexicon defines "skandalizo" as "putting a stumbling block or impediment in the way, upon which another may trip and fall". Thus, in the previous verse, Jesus is actually warning those people who, by whatever means, lead His lambs away from the truth of the Scriptures and faith in Christ. As you can see, this definition is very different from the meaning most people are familiar with. This idea of tripping or falling away from the truth is directly related to what the Apostle Paul stated concerning the conditions which would exist during the Endtime. Please note what Paul said:
"Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;"
2 Thessalonians 2:3, KJV
Those words "falling away" are derived from the Greek word "apostasia", which is defined as "a falling away, defection or apostasy". There are many reasons regarding why so many people are falling away -- or stumbling -- from the true faith and doctrines of the Bible, but this topic is amply discussed in other articles; so I will not dwell upon it here. Jesus then continued to warn against those people who would offend His little ones by saying the following:
"Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!"
Matthew 18:7, KJV
Thus again we can see that these "offences" -- or stumbling blocks, from "skandalon" -- are the lies, deceptions and false doctrines which are causing so many people to be led astray from their faith in the saving Grace of God through the atoning Blood of Jesus Christ. Of course, as we should already know, in our modern day, this isn't the only meaning of the word "offend". In the Gospel of Luke, we find another account of these very same teachings from our Lord. Notice, that after speaking of offenses, Jesus continues His warning by discussing trespasses and forgiveness:
"Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him."
Luke 17:1-4, KJV
In the previous verses, the word "trespass" is derived from the Greek word "hamartano", which is correctly pronounced ham-ar-tan'-o. Of the forty-three times that it is used in the New Testament, it is translated thirty-eight times as "sin". Thayer's Greek lexicon offers a variety of definitions for this word. Consider the following:
----- Begin Quote -----
1) to be without a share in
2) to miss the mark
3) to err, be mistaken
4) to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honour, to do or go wrong
5) to wander from the law of God, violate God's law, sin
----- End Of Quote -----
As can be seen, the main thought seems to be to err, to be mistaken, to miss the mark, or to do or to go wrong. In the previous verses, we see that it is understood to mean to do these things against another person; and more specifically, to do them against a brother in the faith. If we closely examine Jesus's actual teachings in these verses from Luke, we see that He is describing a process which involves four key steps. These steps are the following:
1. the offense
2. the rebuke
3. the repentance
4. the forgiveness
If we were to behave ourselves like the rigid Scribes and the Pharisees of old, then technically-speaking, we cannot go directly to step four from step one; we must first go through steps two and three. In other words, if a person, -- meaning a brother or a sister in the faith -- offends you, you are to rebuke him. If he humbly receives your rebuke and repents of his sin, then you are obligated to forgive him.
At this point, it might be good to explain exactly what is meant in the Bible by the word "repent". In the world today, when we hear this word, we usually think of the act of being sorry for something we have said or done; however, as you will now see, the true meaning of the word is much deeper than that. Consider the following verses that are found in the New Testament:
"From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
Matthew 4:17, KJV
"I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."
Luke 13:3, KJV
"And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel."
Mark 1:15, KJV
"And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:"
Acts 17:30, KJV
"As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent."
Revelation 3:19, KJV
Over and over again we see this warning to repent, repent, repent; but exactly what does it mean? According to Thayer's Greek lexicon, the word "repent" is derived from the Greek word "metanoeo", which is pronounced met-an-o-eh'-o. The lexicon provides the following definitions for this word:
----- Begin Quote -----
1) to change one's mind, i.e. to repent
2) to change one's mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one's past sins
----- End Of Quote -----
Notice that "repent" does not simply mean to say you are sorry for something; it means to change your mind, and to wholeheartedly amend your ways. Exactly what does amend mean? In this case, it means to change something, just as when a new clause is added, or amended, to the United States Constitution. By adding a new clause to a particular Article or Section, lawmakers are in effect changing or expanding upon the meaning of the Constitution. In similar fashion, true repentance also involves a serious change in one's life.
Words are cheap. People say "I am sorry" to each other all the time; but how much do they really mean it? If we are truly sorry for something which we have said or done, then we are going to have a complete change of mind and heart about it as well. If this repentance is real, then it will be manifested by a genuine change in our lives. In other words, our actions will support our words. This thought is confirmed in the Scriptures by the following verses where we see a direct relationship between repentance and the works which follow it:
"But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance."
Acts 26:20, KJV
"Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent."
Revelation 2:5, KJV
"Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds."
Revelation 2:22, KJV
Thus, just as Jesus and the Apostle James both said, we must prove what we believe, that is, we must demonstate our faith, by our actual fruits, which are the works that we perform; otherwise, we are just like the hypocritical Scribes and the Pharisees who said one thing, yet did another. Consider these verses:
"Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them."
Matthew 7:20, KJV
"All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not."
Matthew 23:3, KJV
"Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."
James 2:17-26, KJV
Thus, it should be clearly evident to you, that saying that one is sorry for some particular deed is not always a true indication of repentance; particularly when we are dealing with people of the world who don't even know the Lord. They will insist that they are sorry regarding some offense that they have committed, yet their lives will never manifest any kind of real, long-term change. Such is often the case with hardened criminals. In some instances, these evil people are continually going through the revolving door of their local prison. They spend more time locked up in a jail cell, than they do being free on the street. Why? Because the time that they spend in prison does nothing to bring about real change in their lives. Some of them are simply abiding their time, until they can go out on the street and commit more evil.
But let's focus our discussion on a more personal level. What is one supposed to do when a certain individual, due to their pride and the hardness of their own heart, shows absolutely no intentions of repenting? What if said person is not even honest enough with himself to acknowledge the sin? This is precisely the problem which this dear sister had to face. At times like these, we can thank the Lord for the wonderful truths that are found in His Word; because they never steer us wrong. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said the following:
"For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
Matthew 6:14-15, KJV
If we were not aware of the previous verses I have shared from the Gospel of Luke, the above verses from Matthew would seem to offer a definitive answer to this problem; however, because we are already aware of the previous verses, we must now ask ourselves if Jesus might be saying that we should forgive the offender after
they have repented and sought for forgiveness. The only other alternative is that is He saying that we should forgive said person regardless of whether or not they repent and seek forgiveness. As I thought on this problem, I recalled another article where I also speak about forgiveness. In this article, entitled "To Pray Or Not To Pray, That Is The Question", I mention the fact that, in his Epistle, the Apostle James makes it rather clear that we are to confess our sins to each other, and to forgive each other:
"Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."
James 5:16, KJV
As can be seen, confession is sometimes a two-way street. In other words, we are to forgive those who have offended us, as well as ask for forgiveness of those whom we have likewise offended. This takes humility of the kind which only God can give. It also requires a special love which God alone is able to give us when we are truly yielded to Him. With His Love, we will be able to forgive anyone, despite the true desires of our evil heart. There is an old saying which states that love is blind. This idea actually originates in the Bible, and means that if we truly love someone, we will be able to overlook their faults and shortcomings, just as God overlooks our sins and shortcomings when we plead our cause through the Blood of Jesus Christ. Consider the following verses:
"And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you."
Ephesians 4:32, KJV
"And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins."
1 Peter 4:8, KJV
So again, it is only this mutual reconciliation which brings about true spiritual healing of the soul; and it is love -- God's Love -- which is the healing ointment. Of course, such healing also requires humble, honest communication between the various parties concerned.
Sadly, this is something which is severely lacking in many modern-day relationships. Instead of opening our hearts to each other in humility so that we can try to resolve our differences, we prefer instead to put up a defensive wall of silence around ourselves. Due to our self-righteous pride, we choose rather to keep things guarded in our hearts, where we use them as timely weapons to inflict further damage on the person who has offended us. We allow the root of bitterness to grow. One wrong word, or one wrong action from them, and we quickly remind them of their faults and their past sins against us. We become cruel, merciless, legalistic tyrants, just like the Scribes and the Pharisees of old who constantly criticized Jesus for His many acts of love, which seemed to contradict their cold hard law. But notice what Jesus said concerning this attitude:
"Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy."
Matthew 5:7, KJV
"But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
Matthew 9:13, KJV
To reiterate, it is only when we join our hearts in true humility, engage in an honest confession of sin, and show each other mercy, that we can destroy any remaining root of bitterness which may still be poisoning and destroying our relationship. Only in this way can personal relationships truly be healed. Furthermore, it is only then, after having made amends with the person we have offended, that the Lord tells us that He will also hear us and forgive us as well. Consider these verses:
"Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift."
Matthew 5:23-24, KJV
"And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us . . ."
Luke 11:4, KJV
So again, Jesus is clearly saying that before we can expect God to forgive us for our sins, we must first be reconciled with those by whom we have been offended, or against whom we have likewise done wrong. It seems that Divine Forgiveness is to some degree determined by our willingness to forgive others; and, of course, by our acceptance of Jesus' loving Atonement on the Cross for the sins of all mankind. If we forgive each other from our hearts, God will then forgive us through the Blood of Jesus Christ. Consider what the Apostle John tells us in his first Epistle:
"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
1 John 1:9, KJV
Please go to part two for the continuation of this series.
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