Jesus Warns of Offenses
17 Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. 3 Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4 And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him. (Luke 17 NKJV)
Here it is in black and white – or red – depending on your bible version.
- Offenses are COMMONPLACE.
- Offenders will be JUDGED.
- If you offend somebody REPENT.
- If somebody offends you REBUKE.
- If somebody offends you and repents – FORGIVE.
The big lie on the internet at the moment is that forgiveness should happen regardless. This lie is perpetuated by both Christian and secular writers and speakers.My guess is that the reason Christians perpetuate this lie is that they are taught by others who have not taken the time to really look at this issue. Which is a shame, because it is a fundamental teaching in scripture.
The worldly lie is: Forgiveness is universal, unconditional and unilateral. The emphasis is on the person who has been offended, shall we call them the victim for ease of use. If the offender does not repent, the victim should forgive them. If they do not apologise, the victim should forgive them. If they continue to offend without either repentance or apology, the victim should forgive them. The underlying false teaching is that forgiveness is for the sake of the victim. The almost unvarying corollary to this is that the victim cannot move on with life unless they forgive the offender regardless of what actions the offender has taken to either repent or make reparations for their offense. The upshot of this is – if the victim doesn’t forgive, then they have sinned. Invariably it is insinuated that the victim will also end up with a root of bitterness, in scriptural terms, they will fall away from the faith. So long and short, forgive all offenders or you will end up in hell. This is not just eisegesis, it is a completely ridiculous assertion based on careless handling of the word by generations of believers who have not checked their sources.
Not only is this assertion theologically unsound, it is not even morally sound. Psychologists will preach (rightly) that it is imperative to both recognise and honour the other person’s right to boundaries and emotions regardless of the inconvenience it presents. Therefore, even before you act, you should be aware of those rights and act accordingly. Should you offend another person you should apologise right away and ensure the apology is sincere. Going purely by the number of articles on the subject of fake apologies on the internet even a non-Christian gets upset when presented with an apology which avoids either recognition of wrong or repentance. Further, people get really really upset when the offender continues to offend the same way after having just given a fake apology. So this is a big subject.
A sincere apology involves specific recognition of the offence and an offer to do something about it. It also involves a reassurance that they will not re-offend. This proves that the offender has learned something about other people and themselves. It proves that they are able to change their behaviour for the sake of another. People who refuse to apologise sincerely also prove that they neither recognise boundaries nor consequences. They are also usually repeat offenders. They reason that they have done nothing wrong and if the other person is offended it is their fault. The other person is too sensitive, or they can’t take a joke, they are fundamentalist oddballs, they are killjoys, they need to get a life and so on.
The foundation of the false teaching of unconditional forgiveness is really not about the victim at all. It is about the offender being allowed to get away with their sins the first time, and then also being allowed to continue sinning. The excuse is always, Jesus taught that you have to forgive me, so if you, the victim do not forgive you are actually the bad person. The offender then continues on their merry way habitually sinning and giving themselves a get out of jail free card. In actual fact of course, they don’t get out of jail at all, their sin will continue to affect them and in the end cause all manner of difficulties in their spiritual lives. If they are not Christians, they will simply continue to increase in their attitude of rebellion against God and hardened hearts against their fellow human beings.
Now. There IS a difference between somebody who does not forgive an unrepentant repeat offender and somebody who refuses to forgive a repeat offender who sincerely repents. You might think that genuine repentance means that you don’t continue to offend. But let’s get one thing clear. There is a huge difference between repeat offenses regarding the same sin and the issue of sin continuing to affect us while we are in the flesh. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We do still sin. The hope and prayer is that we sin less and less as we continue to mature. Part of doing this is to recognise what scripture actually teaches. It is not a sin to not forgive an unrepentant sinner. If we hold their behaviour as a reason to hold grudges and act badly towards them then we are at fault. Here is an example. This is a true story.
I notice my neighbour is having a party – balloons and tent in back yard. I go to my neighbour and ask if they are intending to have loud music at this party because in particular there was a loud party elsewhere the night before and it spooked our animals. The neighbour assures me assiduously that they are NOT going to have a loud party, they are not the type to have loud rock music and upset the neighbours and they agree that the ignoramus behind both them and you also upset their own animals. The neighbour points out how much they appreciate you coming to talk to them personally because somebody in the neighbourhood recently put an anonymous note in their letterbox complaining about their dog barking. So you leave the neighbours house feeling good that you are on the same page.
At about 10 p.m. that night, the party, which had been progressing well, a bit of loud yelling and talking and some fairly quiet music, suddenly becomes a disco. The music is turned right up and some very loud noises then ensue, right at the time you and your family are going to bed. So you go next door to ask them to turn their music down. The woman you spoke to a few hours previously is now drunk but still cogent. She proves to be a very nasty drunk and begins to verbally abuse you for asking her to turn the music down. She also makes a comment about the fact that your dog was barking very early the other morning. You point out to her that a) you immediately hauled your dog inside as soon as you heard her barking and b) that this has nothing to do with her current noise. She starts to get really hostile. Her boyfriend/partner/husband comes to the door, tells the woman to let him handle it, thanks you for coming personally to ask them to turn the music down, and asks if there is anything they can do to help the situation. So you, recognising the irony of the situation, (he is clearly drunk but not as drunk as the woman), attempt to explain again politely that he needs to turn down the music. The male neighbour promises to turn the music down but tells you that he cannot promise to keep the verbal noise to a minimum without asking the guests to leave.
The neighbours then turn the music down. About midnight they turn it up very very loud to the point that it freaks out your dog and cat just before they decide to shut down the party. The next day it turns out the party was a ‘sleepover’ so the point the neighbour made about ‘asking the guests to leave’ was a lie as well since they were obviously intending to stay the whole night.
Three days later, a very small box of chocolates together with a very small card saying ‘sorry about the noise’ appears on your front doorstep. What do you do?
Here’s the thing. If you offend me to my face, you apologise to my face. You recognise that a) you were the one who promised you would not have a loud party and that you really appreciated people complaining to your face and did not like anonymous complaints and b) when we did complain to your face you abused us verbally. You also recognise that you created even more noise after you promised to turn down the music the second time. So in effect, you not only continued to offend but you turned the offence volume literally and metaphorically to eleven.
A five word sentence with a box of chocolates is not a sincere apology. Further, waiting three days (??) to deliver said box of chocolates and micro-card without either waiting to talk to us personally or even knocking on the door is not only further offence, it is cowardly and hypocritical. THEREFORE: – this is not an apology which warrants a second glance, and these are people who have proven their fickle and anarchic character and with whom you do not have any further communication unless absolutely necessary. PS. Some might feel that the chocolates somehow prove sincerity because well, everybody loves chocolate and they at least made an effort right? Cut them some slack. But this isn’t even an argument. Chocolate is not a substitute for attending to the breach in trust and integrity which has been visited upon unsuspecting neighbours whom you have previously manipulated and assuaged with feigned assurances that you are in agreement with them about protecting pets from undue stress and enjoying neighbourhood peace and quiet. These people are not good neighbours, they are habitual liars and have no consideration for anyone other than their bad selves. If they re-offend we will not bother coming to them personally, we will simply report them to the authorities. People write anonymous notes for a reason, and in this case, the reticence of the other neighbours to engage with these people has been proven right.
Here is an example of a genuine apology. This is also a true story.
Recently we have been attending a Pentecostal church, something we have not been used to for some time despite having grown up in these circles. We were used to attending Baptist churches with their usual quiet and traditional services and people. One of the elders at this church greeted the females in our family with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. We were not expecting it, and our daughter showed that she was not comfortable with the interaction. The elder seemed not to notice that she was reticent and went ahead and hugged her anyway. We talked about it afterward, and later Steve went and had a quiet word with him about the appropriateness of his actions. He apologised to Steve profusely and offered to also apologise to us. We did not really want this interaction, but realised he was attempting to attend to the offence he had caused.
He came to us and apologised unreservedly, and such was the sincerity of his words, we told him that we appreciated that he actually offered to come and apologise for his actions and that it meant a lot to us. His face said it all, and as he went away, we all felt good that there was no intention to ignore personal boundaries and that he normally treated women at the church in this manner. In fact, he went so far as to say that his wife was always telling him that not everyone appreciates being hugged by strange men, despite the fact that we were in church. We all had a laugh, but the thought has occurred to me since then. If he is ignoring his wife’s sensitivity and emotional intelligence when it comes to other women, he is going to continue stepping on people’s toes. We hope and trust that he has learned from this admittedly uncomfortable situation.
One thought I should add to this is that our elder friend did not go through all of the steps required for a sincere apology. He did not have to. His heart was clearly in the right place, and love covers a multitude of sins. In other words, when somebody immediately proves that they regret an offence by their facial expression and words, you know you are in safe hands. Obviously time will tell whether he learns from this experience not to hug strange women, but that is between him and God and presumably his wife. We doubt very much whether he will hug us again, and frankly, even if we end up being the best of friends, we still would not want to hug him. In today’s climate, it is better not to give full body hugs to brothers in the Lord regardless of the circumstances. Scripture makes it clear that we need to be avoiding even the appearance of sin and the less physical contact that men and women in church have, the better for everyone. That probably sounds puritanical, but you can still love and relate well between genders without physical touch.
So, the point about sincerely apologising is really only important when you are dealing with insincere apologisers. Kind of redundant really. Genuine brothers and sisters don’t need to be lectured on this topic. Genuine Christians will automatically be sensitive and loving to each other, and if personal or cultural backgrounds mean that there is a misunderstanding, these can easily be dealt with if there is a mutual desire for a loving relationship.
When dealing with the unscrupulous unsaved, and lets face it there are a lot of them, we need to be forthright and open and then when somebody shows you who they are, believe them. We can pray for our neighbours, but when they lie and manipulate, they are showing you they are actually hostile and aggressive and looking for ways to control you. Be aware and fight the demons accordingly.
Update: The neighbours who sent us the ‘apology’ woke us up last night at 1.30 a.m. standing outside their house talking at the tops of their voices and slamming car doors. Our dog who sleeps in the garage went off at them. This simply serves to underline our contention that people will tell you who they are all you have to do is believe them.
Further Update: The neighbours who sent us the ‘apology’ spent the next Saturday afternoon in their garden with their music turned up loud enough for us to hear it in our house with the doors and windows closed. We discovered that their speakers had been deliberately turned towards our house. Our response? We prayed for our persecutors and turned on praise music – quietly enough so that only we heard it. The neighbours noise stopped soon after that.