Some More Thoughts on Wrong Thinking About Forgiveness

Look carefully at this statement by the Apostle Paul:

Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. 2Tim 4:14-15

We know that Christ calls us to forgive one another. We are to love our enemies and do good to them (Matthew 5:43ff; Romans 12:19-20). We are not to take vengeance against them, but to leave it to the Lord to effect justice. (I am still researching whether or not we are commanded to forgive our enemy.  We are to love our enemy by doing good to them, not returning evil for evil 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Peter 3:9).

Therefore, we can certainly assume that Paul acted in love toward his enemy Alexander the coppersmith. Alexander had done Paul great harm. He was an enemy of Christ, opposing the gospel. Notice however that Paul’s actions here do not square with the following widely held notion of what forgiveness is:

  • I will not dwell on this incident.
  • I will not bring up this incident again.
  • I will not talk to anyone about this incident.
  • I will not let this incident hinder my personal relationship with the offender.

This fourfold formula definition of forgiveness appears in articles and books that are widely circulated among Christians. Yet these two short verses in 2 Timothy clearly discount at least three, if not all four of these supposed elements of forgiveness. Paul is, in a sense, “dwelling” on what Alexander did. He isn’t just forgetting it. Paul IS bringing Alexander’s sin up again. Paul IS talking to someone about it. Paul IS letting Alexander’s evil hinder his personal relationship with him! Big time! There is no relationship! Are we supposed to charge the Apostle Paul with bitterness and unforgiveness? Hardly. In fact, Paul’s actions in regard to Alexander are a very wise and right guideline for an abuse victim’s attitude toward their abuser. Watch out for him. Don’t trust him. Recognize that what he has done is evil and has effected great harm. Have no relationship with him. Warn others. Dwell on what he has done in the sense of being reminded of his true character, thus not succumbing to the common temptation and pressure to imagine that it is the victim that has been wrong.

The fact is that we do not treat our enemies in the same manner that we treat a brother or sister in Christ who wrongs us. When Paul instructs us to forgive one another just as God in Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13), we must remember who the “one another” is! Fellow believers. Repentance then is assumed. There is no repentance in the case of an enemy else they would no longer be our enemy! And yet we are being told by prominent Christian teachers that there is no difference in how we are to forgive an enemy or a fellow believer. That is, we must say, preposterous and in the case of an abuse victim, dangerous and naive. Forgiveness, in its essence, is simply agreeing to not seek vengeance for the wrong committed. In some cases we will reconcile the relationship, we will never speak of the wrong done again, we will never mention it to others. But all of that is “gravy” on the real meat of forgiveness and must not be insisted upon in every case.

7 thoughts on “Some More Thoughts on Wrong Thinking About Forgiveness

  1. Still Reforming

    “…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

    In these verses I see we are to forgive brothers in Christ only when genuine repentance is present – yet even brothers are to be rebuked. There is no liberally given forgiveness that I read in Scripture. Repentance is required. And to the best of my knowledge, repentance isn’t granted to enemies of Christ.

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  2. Tony

    Amen
    Does God forgive the unrepentant sinner?
    NO
    does He hate them?
    NO, at least not in the sense that we have come to understand hatred.
    Will He forgive them if they repent?
    Yes.
    Repentance is a gift from Him.
    All we can do is be willing to forgive someone should Father grant them repentance and they act on that gift.

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      1. Tony

        Exactly
        I think it was you that wrote about making decisions based off what is now and not on what may happen in the future.
        Its taking God for granted, putting him to the test.
        I was once in a conversation with a person who I thought was a wise man who was a church counsellor.
        We were talking about repentance inside a married relationship.
        The victim a woman wanted to give up after many years of no change yet once again her husband had demanded her to forgive him and give him yet another chance to change.
        I asked this man how long must the victim wait till they can give up hope and move on.
        He told me it could take years and years for an abusive husband to change and the victim has no right to judge if any change had, or was taking place as she would not be able to judge her husband’s motives accurately.
        Only a person not directly involved could have the responsibility to judge the man’s progress.
        I lost all respect for that man that day.
        He expected her to live under her husband’s abuse for some undetermined time.
        I called him on that, the woman has since filed for divorce and good on her.
        She cannot wait for any more years for the man to change.
        In fact she has no right to continue in her relationship once God had given her a chance to finally live in freedom to pursue her calling in God.
        What God has set free should do everything to maintain that freedom to be who He has called them to be.
        One day her soon x husband might change but that’s a big maybe and we cant walk out our calling on maybes.

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