How often do we say: “I’m sorry; please forgive me?” Rarely, is my guess, based on how often I hear it. I suspect that no longer seeking forgiveness is the result of permissiveness seeping into what used to be common practice almost everywhere. That’s not to say that these words aren’t still necessary for good relations with others.
Most of us know that my standard is the scriptures, and specifically, in this case, the Gospels. Here, we see how the Lord’s disciples tried to evade this very burden; but He didn’t let them do it:
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22 English Standard Version (ESV)
“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.”
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Luke 17:3-6 (ESV)
We’re all prone to doubt others’ motives when they keep repeating the same offenses and “seeking forgiveness” time and again. We’re not to be punching bags, after all. However, the Gospel of Matthew lays out a clear process of reconciliation for us to follow:
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go.
First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24 (ESV)
“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.
But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17 (ESV)
So, if they refuse to listen to the church and continue to persist in their sin then, as the Apostle Paul states, do not associate with them:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.
But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.
For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (ESV)
Until, perhaps, the Lord may grant them repentance, or even salvation, if that’s what’s lacking.
Now such a reconciliation process should not be an occasion for gloating; rather, it should give us pause to reflect on our own behavior. We should be humble toward one another:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3 (ESV)
And this sacrificial love (i.e., agape) is, for the professing church, the mark by which we are to be known:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 (ESV)
We have to remember right relationships require humility and not anger:
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:19-21 (ESV)
To do this, we must exercise self-control:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, Titus 2:11-12 (ESV)
We must make our actions agree with the words we profess:
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. James 2:18 (ESV)
So, then, let us press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call in Christ Jesus.
The Return of the Prodigal Son, circa 1668, Rembrandt (1606–1669), Public Domain in the US