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Ask A Pastor: When are we Obligated to Forgive?


We are always taught to forgive. When someone slaps our cheek we are to turn the other to them. If someone wrongs you physically without consent, even if it is just invading your space and touching you where they shouldn’t be, are we to forgive them? How do we go about doing so? It seems the one being invaded has done nothing wrong yet are left with this burden to work through.


Forgiveness is an important theme in the Bible, and we are instructed to forgive one another even as God in Christ has forgiven us (Eph. 4:32). Not every situation we confront in life requires forgiveness, however, and, unless someone repents of his offensive behaviour, we are not (strictly speaking) even in a position to forgive him. I will come back to this.

But first, let’s consider a few random situations. Prov. 19:11 speaks of overlooking a transgression. Some things are just too small to be upset about, and, when we consider the enormity of our own sins against our Maker, it certainly makes much of what others do to us seem pretty insignificant – indeed, too insignificant ever to hold such things against them in the first place.

Luke 6:29, which is about turning the other cheek, is not to be taken literally, nor is it what the Lord Jesus did Himself (John 18:23). Luke 6:29 is best understood in its context. It’s about attitude, about loving your enemies, doing good to those who hate you, blessing those who curse you and praying for those who spitefully use you (v.28); it’s about what we have come to call the golden rule, which is doing unto others what it is that you would have them to do to you (v.31). Rom. 12:19-21 gives us a most helpful commentary on how we are to behave toward our enemies.

Now back to what I mentioned earlier. If someone touches you where he shouldn’t, that is an egregious offence which is not covered by any of the general comments given above. This is a very different matter, something very specific, and is to be treated in a different way. Such a person is to be sharply rebuked. If he repents and asks you to forgive him for what he has done, then do so, but let it be understood that, if his repentance is genuine, he will never attempt to do that again.

And what if he doesn’t repent or express any regret for his inappropriate behaviour? In that case, he has aggravated his offence – effectively, he has sinned against you twice – and he should not expect his relationship with you, as long as he remains impenitent, to be what it was before. This doesn’t mean that you should harbour any resentment or ill-will toward him. In point of fact, you must be very careful not to allow any bitter root to grow up within you, and I say that because his sin should not become an occasion for sin in you! Nevertheless, forgiveness is a peculiar blessing, a special favour reserved for specific situations, a grace to be bestowed only on those who turn from their sin and put it right away.

May God give us to repent of any and all sin of our own, and to stand ready to forgive others who repent of their transgressions against us!


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