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How to Forgive Someone who Keeps Sinning

Reflection Lk 16:15-18 & 17:1-4 ("If your brother repents, forgive him.")


“You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts; for what is exalted

among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Lk 16:15-18, RSV). Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees as they were scoffing at him, just after He’d said, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” He’s saying that you can’t serve riches or money, and still serve God; you have to make your choice – and the Pharisees were lovers of money, so they began scoffing and belittling this teaching, and He’s warning them that their hearts are an abomination to God, despite them being exalted and praised and well-known. Apparently we also have to choose our standard, as well as our service. He continues teaching, then tells the parable of the rich man in purple and the Lazarus, the beggar, and how their roles got reversed after they died. We may suppose the Pharisees were still listening. (I know that we’re still listening.)

Then he speaks to his own disciples about temptations to sin, which are sure to come. We’ve got

our work cut out for us, coping with temptations and urges and such. He’s pointing out that it’s also a sin, to tempt someone else to sin. “Better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin,” He says (Lk.17:2). I take “little ones” to mean “dear ones,” ones who hadn’t been sinning, and dear to our Lord on that account.

And He adds, “Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive

him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you even times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Lk.17:3-4). It would be tempting to not forgive such a brother! What kind of repentance is that, when he keeps on sinning against you? Shouldn’t you withhold forgiveness till he repents in earnest?

Indeed there was a pastor from a Protestant church whose wife noticed he’d begun talking more

and more about a new woman working with her husband and the others at the pastor’s office, and called him on it, seeing how that woman was worming her way into his heart – as his wife, she wasn’t about to let that pass or grow worse! For days he thought nothing of it, and figured his wife would learn it was just ordinary office talk, but it wasn’t, and she didn’t: she kept up a campaign of showing her displeasure, day after day, and he knew her reason. No more smiles, more banging of pots and pans: he knew. At long last, he paid heed and took it more seriously, and investigated: he paid attention at the office, and it dawned on him that his wife was quite right! So he repented, and began treating the new woman only on the official level, all business, and kept his personal feelings and personal life for himself and his wife. He could tell that the new woman was puzzled for a few days, then realized how things had changed. Soon she left to find work in some other church office. I think the pastor published this episode, to give other pastors fair warning. He said his wife was right, and pastors should listen to their spouses! And although they might

forgive in their hearts, it was right to keep up such a campaign of apparent unforgiveness, of showing actual displeasure, to pressure their spouses into waking up and seeing for themselves: it’s a good way to protect the marriage! I think she was in her heart forgiving, but behaving so as to rebuke and correct, and it worked splendidly. The dire case deserved a dire cure.

And yet, we’re to forgive as often as our brother repents, however many times a day it may be.

Otherwise, we might be on the wrong end of the teaching, “Judge not, lest you yourself be judged.” It’s tempting to not forgive a repeat offender – and yet, don’t we hope to be forgiven from on high, despite our own repeat offenses? I know that I do.

So let us “keep up the good fight” and take heed to ourselves. We may rebuke, but let’s remember

always to forgive the repentant, and aim to be just before God, and avoid tempting others to sin. Yes, we sure do have our work cut out for us, but the Master is most gracious, and sure does teach us well!

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