What Forgiveness Does Not Mean

“Pay attention 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 seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him”  (Luke 17:3-4).

God never commands us something that contradicts another passage of Scripture. For example, we do need to freely forgive others:

“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25).

But notice the following passage:

“As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him” (Titus 3:10).

How can we forgive and then not forgive? To understand how, we need to distinguish forgiving from holding someone accountable. How many parents have struggled with drug-addicted children? They love their children, but cannot give them any money. In some instances, they have to ask them to leave the house lest they endanger other family members. They love their child, and from the heart forgive them, but reckless behavior requires discipline of one sort or the other.

The same holds true for church matters. Sometimes the church elders must apply discipline to members who, by their actions, bring division to the body. The elders may love the erring brother or sister, but in love must administer discipline to both protect the body and to help the offender. So we can love someone without encouraging their sinful behavior.

The goal of discipline, whether church or family, is restoration. Sometimes people will simply not repent of reckless behavior until, and unless they face discipline and consequences. In love we discipline, with the prayer that they might once again be restored. God disciplines us for our good (Hebrews 12:10), and sometimes the only way we listen to Him is through pain. But He still loves us and, of course, will forgive us.

We can still love someone while enforcing rules and proper behavior. In fact, God actually says if we fail to discipline a child, we don’t really love them (Proverbs 13:24). Forgiving people does not mean we allow them free run to commit numerous offenses. Sometimes our greatest love is to hold them accountable.

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