The question today is “do we need to forgive someone who has not asked to be forgiven?”. The question is valid, and arises from my recent post, “how many times”.
I find only one place in scripture that seems to indicate that my forgiveness of someone’s sin against me is contingent upon their repentence. Luke 17:3-4 – “So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
On the other hand…
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14-15
“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:12-13
I find it curious that Luke 17:3 begins with “So watch yourselves.” This tells me that what follows is about me, not about someone else. In other words, the scripture is about my willingness to forgive, not their repentance. If the emphasis were on their repentance, I wouldn’t need to watch myself, I’d need to watch them. Which is what I’m usually doing. And that’s why Jesus has to keep turning it back to me, to my heart, not theirs.
I am commanded in scripture to forgive. I have yet to find a scripture that commands me not to forgive, for any reason. Yet the common sense in me says that there must be something in exchange for forgiveness. If we are to forgive “as the Lord forgave”, then we should require repentance first. This is how our mind works, and it becomes the way our heart works. Before you know it, we hold onto our forgiveness, doling it out only when someone has met the demand for proof that they deserve it. Forgiveness not given away becomes unforgiveness, which turns to bitterness. Bitterness makes unity very unlikely, and love even more unlikely. This is why forgiveness is more about us than about the one who sinned against us.
And, there is one major difference between God’s forgiveness and my forgiveness.
I didn’t have to die so that you could be forgiven. I just have to give you what has already been given to me. I’d much rather have a heart that gives it freely, than to have one that demands you ask for it.