The Expository Files

Forgiveness Conferred By Humans

Luke 17:3


“Take heed to yourselves.  If you brother sins against you, rebuke him: and if he repents, forgive him,” (Lk. 17:3). 

This text came up briefly in a recent Bible class, but near the end of class as time was expiring, so more comment is needed. 

(1) Christians, of all people, ought to be forgiving. Our hearts should be ready to forgive and all our actions toward sinners and offenders, designed to bring them out of sin to God. Holding a grudge, withholding forgiveness, revenge, immature stubborn refusal to accept one’s repentance are all thoughts and actions we must not tolerate in ourselves or others. 

(2) While we are to be willing to forgive, we must not just overlook sin or lead someone to believe that their lost condition needs no attention, that everything is OK. So Jesus specified that in our reaction to the offender, “rebuke him.” The first response is not to just automatically confer forgiveness. Jesus says that comes after repentance. The order is – rebuke, repentance, forgiveness. 

(3) This spirit and willingness to forgive we are to have – we are to repeat as often as sinners repent. Jesus said, “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.” Be careful with this! Jesus is not asking us to count or keep track (the number is not intended to set a numerical limit). No, He is asking is to always be ready to forgive, no matter how many times. 

(4) The model for all of this is God, who loves sinners and has affirmed – over and over – His willingness to forgive sinners when they repent. When sinners first repent and submit to baptism, God forgives them (Acts 2:38). After that, when people who have been baptized fall back into some sin and repent, God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” (1 Jno. 1:9). {Most of us have had to repent and ask God to forgive us more than seven times, right?} 

Here’s an example of what we’ve studied. When Paul wrote to the church at Corinth about the man “among them” guilty of sexual immorality, he did not say, “just automatically forgive him.” While they were to have a heart ready to forgive, first came rebuke (discipline). Then when he repented, Paul and the members were to make clear they had forgiven him (see 2 Cor. 2:5-11 and 2 Cor. 7:10-13). 

It all fits what Jesus said: “Take heed to yourselves.  If you brother sins against you, rebuke him: and if he repents, forgive him,” (Lk. 17:3).


By Warren E. Berkley
The Final Page
From Expository Files 20.6;  June 2013