Rebukes & Forgiveness
Chan Gin Kai
“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” (Luke 17:3b-4)
Why We Rebuke
Jesus said that if people sin against us, we are to rebuke them.
But before we think this is a license to retaliate or vent our anger, we need to remember that the fruit of the Spirit includes “forbearance” (Galatians 5:22), the ability to exercise tolerance and restraint. In legal parlance, ‘forbearance’ is the action of refraining from exercising a legal right.
So we don’t rebuke because we have the right to. We don’t reprimand because the other party deserves it. And we certainly don’t do it to enforce God’s righteousness, only God has that right.
We admonish with the goal of helping the other party repent. It has to be for the good of the other party. We rebuke them in their interest, not ours. So how we do it should not be dependent on how we feel, but on what helps them.
It is what Hebrews teaches us to do for each other, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).
This mindset has a tremendous impact on HOW we rebuke. Does screaming at someone really help them? Does belittling or humiliation really work? They may work on some rare occasions, but more often, these methods incite fear, shame or guilt. And these feelings never really help people change. They are more likely to produce worldly sorrow than godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10-11); they may make temporary changes in their actions, but it will not be a true change of their hearts.
We have on the other end of the spectrum, a resistance to giving or receiving admonishments. It is a fact that neither is easy. And for those of us who have had bad experiences with excessive or unreasonable rebukes, the mere mention of the word puts us off.
But Jesus did give the instruction to rebuke, and we mustn’t shy away from it when necessary. It is one of the things we have to do, along with teaching, correcting, training, encouraging, inspiring, influencing, counselling, and more.
We have to apply what works best, according to the person and the circumstances, remembering that the goal is helping them towards repentance.
Why We Forgive
After we rebuke them, we are supposed to forgive them. But we may be quick to catch what we think is a caveat or exception above: “and if they repent”. So do we need to forgive them if they do not repent?
Jesus went on to say that if the other party “sins against you seven times in a day”, and each time says “I repent”, we must forgive them. But how sincere is the person’s claim of repentance if they do it again and again, on the same day?
We are quick to misuse what Paul said in Acts 26:20, “… I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.”
We demand deeds as proof of repentance. We say that if the deeds don’t prove it, the repentance isn’t real. We self-righteously appoint ourselves as “spiritual judges” of whether a person has repented. Do we dare to take the place of God?
How would we have judged the person who sins against us seven times in a day and each time says that they repent? They apparently pass Jesus’ standard, but do they pass ours? Do we claim to have higher standards than Jesus? Or was Jesus focusing on something else?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not in anyway undermining the need for action. Obedience to God cannot be mere lip service and that is evident throughout the Bible. You will also find many of my articles emphasising the importance of leading godly lives.
What I’m trying to get at is this: as we stress so much on the deeds, we lose the focus of repentance — “turn to God”.
Repentance starts with turning to God, and demonstrating our repentance by our deeds lasts a lifetime. In any case, we are demonstrating our repentance to God, not to men. Let God decide if a person has truly turned to Him. Only He knows what is truly going on in a person’s mind.
That’s why Jesus taught that we must forgive each time a person says, “I repent”… even if they go on sinning again and again. We leave it to God to decide if their repentance is genuine. Our job is to forgive. Let God judge their repentance, we will be judged on our forgiveness.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
When people sin against us, we don’t forgive because they have repented, we forgive because we are forgiven.
Chan Gin Kai
Gin Kai is a film producer who believes in the power of media to inspire positive changes. He has spearheaded disaster relief and capacity building projects in impoverished communities across Asia. He serves actively in the Central Christian Church and describes himself as “just a sinner who wants to get right with God”.