To Forbear or Not to Forbear?

That is today’s question… While investigating last week’s issue of “jumping to conclusions,” we ran across a convicting passage in Calvin’s commentary on this all too familiar verse:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” Matthew 18:15 English Standard Version (ESV)

We’ve covered the mechanics of the confrontation–repentance–reconciliation process in “I’m Sorry, Please Forgive Me.” However, Calvin points out that there is a step prior to confrontation in which many of us fail.

But if thy brother shall sin against thee. [Since the Lord had broached the topic of] bearing the infirmities of [brothers and sisters], he now shows more clearly in what manner, and for what purpose, and to what extent, we ought to bear with them. [Without such guidance in the] way of avoiding offenses, every man [is abandoned to] winking at the faults of others, and thus what is evil would be encouraged by forbearance.

I find myself caught in this trap at times: not wishing to offend but knowing that the other is at fault to their own harm (as well as mine.)

Christ therefore prescribes a middle course, which does not give too great offense to the weak, and yet is adapted to cure their diseases; for that severity, which is employed as a medicine, is profitable and worthy of praise.

Having taken on our humanity, our Lord knows our own infirmities in these matters and provides a solution:

In short, Christ enjoins his disciples to forgive one another, but to do so in such a manner as to endeavor to correct their faults. It is necessary that this be wisely observed; for nothing is more difficult than to exercise forbearance towards men, and, at the same time, not to neglect the freedom necessary in reproving them.

Therefore, we see that we have an obligation to confront our brothers or sisters for their good.

Almost all lean to the one side or to the other, either to deceive themselves mutually by deadly flatteries, or to pursue with excessive bitterness those whom they ought to cure. But Christ recommends to his disciples a mutual love, which is widely distant from flattery; only he enjoins them to season their admonitions with moderation, lest, by excessive severity and harshness, they discourage the weak.

As we said last week, we have a duty to hope well of others, for we are not acquitted and shall stand before the Judge. And, yet, we must hold one another accountable for our mutual well-being, neither deceptively flattering nor harshly rebuking one another. Rather, Christ recommends to his disciples a mutual love: moderate admonition, that cures our diseases.

1280px-frederic_leighton_-_the_reconciliation_of_the_montagues_and_the_capulets_over_the_dead_bodies_of_romeo_and_juliet_auto_adjust

The Reconciliation of the Montagues and the Capulets, 1854, Fredric Leighton (1830–1896), in the public domain in the United States

The Samaritan Leper

The story where Jesus cleanses ten lepers is a familiar one. It’s unusual that it comes right before one of Jesus’s declarations of the Kingdom. Or is it?

On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” Luke 17:11-21 English Standard Version (ESV)

John Calvin has some interesting comments about the passage:

Thy faith hath saved thee. The word save is restricted by some commentators to the cleanness of the flesh. But if this be the case, since Christ commends the lively faith of this Samaritan, it may be asked, how were the other nine saved? for all of them without exception obtained the same cure.

We must therefore arrive at the conclusion, that Christ has here pronounced a different estimate of the gift of God from that which is usually pronounced by ungodly men; namely, that it was a token or pledge of God’s fatherly love.

The nine lepers were cured; but as they wickedly efface the remembrance of the grace of God, the cure itself is debased and contaminated by their ingratitude, so that they do not derive from it the advantage which they ought. It is faith alone that sanctifies the gifts of God to us, so that they become pure, and, united to the lawful use of them, contribute to our salvation.

Lastly, by this word Christ has informed us in what manner we lawfully enjoy divine favors. Hence we infer that he included the eternal salvation of the soul along with the temporal gift. The Samaritan was saved by his faith How? Certainly not because he was cured of leprosy, (for this was likewise obtained by the rest,) but because he was admitted into the number of the children of God, and received from His hand a pledge of fatherly kindness.

We see the extent of God’s common grace through healings. But, without faith, those temporal miracles do not result in salvation.

Further, Calvin notes:

The kingdom of God will not come with observation. …The word observation is here employed by Christ to denote extraordinary splendor; and he declares, that the kingdom of God will not make its appearance at a distance, or attended by pompous display. He means, that they are greatly mistaken who seek with the eyes of the flesh the kingdom of God, which is in no respect carnal or earthly, for it is nothing else than the inward and spiritual renewal of the soul.

From the nature of the kingdom itself he shows that they are altogether in the wrong, who look around here or there, in order to observe visible marks. That restoration of the Church,” he tells us,which God has promised, must be looked for within; for, by quickening his elect into a heavenly newness of life, he establishes his kingdom within them.”

And thus he indirectly reproves the stupidity of the Pharisees, because they aimed at nothing but what was earthly and fading. It must be observed, however, that Christ speaks only of the beginnings of the kingdom of God; for we now begin to be formed anew by the Spirit after the image of God, in order that our entire renovation, and that of the whole world, may afterwards follow in due time.

I urge you, turn back, submit yourself to Him, and give Him thanks.

The Healing of the Ten Lepers, Tissot

The Healing of Ten Lepers, 1886 – 1894, James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum, PD-Art-US