Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Reconciliation Forgiveness



In a previous post, I discussed Personal Forgiveness.  Personal forgiveness is not tied to the person who offended you in that it is something you can do even if the offender is dead or the offender cannot or refuses to communicate with you. Personal forgiveness is referenced in the model prayer, and it is required to maintain a proper relationship with God.

Personal forgiveness is not reconciliation, and personal forgiveness does not provide reconciliation, although it will free one up to move towards reconciliation.

God has standards for reconciliation: first of all, it happens in the presence of repentance.

What Is Repentance?
Repentance is a change of thought and action to correct a wrong. It is a turning away from that which caused offence for the purpose of gaining forgiveness from a person who is wronged. For salvation God requires not only faith, but repentance of sins:
But go ye and learn what that means, ‘I will have mercy, and not sacrifice’: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Matthew 9:13)
John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. (Mark 1:4)
And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:20-21)
For godly grief and the pain God is permitted to direct, produce a repentance that leads and contributes to salvation and deliverance from evil, and it never brings regret; but worldly grief (the hopeless sorrow that is characteristic of the pagan world) is deadly [breeding and ending in death]. (2 Corinthians 7:10
The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
For Whom is this Forgiveness?
Reconciliation forgiveness is for the purpose of mending and possibly restoring a relationship between two or more people. This type of forgiveness is not for the person who was offended, but for the person who caused the offense.

In as much that personal forgiveness heals the damage caused in us by the offender, reconciliation forgiveness enables the healing of the damage in those who have caused the offense. This is why repentance is required: for without repentance, the offender is in denial regarding the offence they caused.

When an offender realizes and is sorry for their error, remorse sets in. In the presence of this remorse, forgiveness from the offended releases the offender from their indebtedness and frees them to begin the process of healing the damage they have caused within themselves.

When does reconciliation forgiveness occur?
Some people will tell you (incorrectly) that as soon as someone has sinned against you, then you go to them, you forgive them and that makes everything right.

You, the offended, must participate in personal forgiveness for yourself and your right relationship with God – that much is commanded of us. The question then, is this: when someone has caused you damage - and before they speak to you or admit their wrong - do you go to them and say “I forgive you for causing me damage …”?

The Short Answer: 
No, you do not.

The Reason Why: The Process
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 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)
That is a very clear process. But first you must recognize that you’ve been damaged when your brother sinned against you. That’s usually the easy part, figuring out when you’ve been damaged.

The next step is to go to your brother in private. How many times have you seen this step ignored? Instead of going to the brother in private, the person is brought before a committee, or the friend of the offended goes to a friend of the offender, or the offended starts spreading gossip, or in the at least telling everyone who will listen what so-n-so did to them.

God is a one-on-one type of person, and He expects you to be too. So do it. When your brother offends you, you do what God said to do: go to him in private. You, the offended are to go, not your father or your husband or your wife or your sister. No one else has a place in this until you’ve gone in private and your brother has refused to listen.

A Failure to Communicate
What does it mean to “refuses to listen?” It means there is no repentance. Not listening means you have explained your grievances to the person who offended you and the offender ignores what you had to say. They may even give you good reasons why they’re paying you no attention, at least from their perspective, such as you’re immature to even bring this up or you’re creating lies out of whole-cloth, and so-on and so-forth.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what excuse is presented. Any dialog in which some type of resolution could be obtained is forfeited when the person who offended you refuses to acknowledge the possibility that they may have committed wrongs against you, or refuses to have dialog regarding the situation.

When you confront the person who hurt you and enumerate their sins, you are giving them an opportunity to contemplate and understand what they did to offend you. In this process, several things could happen: they will agree with you, become remorseful and repent, you will understand they actually meant no offense and they will apologize for the mis-communication, or they will disagree completely and spurn you.

Take Some Witnesses
If your brother does not listen to you, then you take witnesses.

What exactly is a witness?
A witness is someone who has intimate knowledge of the offense. A witness is not someone to whom you enumerate your side of the story and thereby turn them into your champion. It may be that there are no witnesses to the offense other than yourself and the offender. In such a case, personal forgiveness may be all that you have in the presence of the un-repentant malefactor.

And the rest …
If being confronted by yourself and the witnesses of the offense does not lead one into repentance, then the next step is to bring them before the Church. By this point in the game, it’s probably already gotten sticky, and if you’re not full of mercy and grace you might as well forget the process until you are. The point of this process is not to prove your righteousness; the point is to restore the offender from bondage to sin and un-repentance to a place which can receive the healing of God.

Do I really have to do this?
Jesus was clear on this process:
Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4)
In this statement we have a warning, a process, and the possibility of two outcomes.

The Warning: You’re in a Pit
The first thing Jesus says of the person who has been sinned against is this: “take heed to yourselves.”

Read that again.

He did not say “take heed to your brother who offended you”. The first thing we are to do after having been sinned against is to “take heed to ourselves.”

What this means is that you’ve been pushed into a pit (example: Joseph) and you need to take inventory of where you are and how you’re going to get out. If you don’t, you will stay in the miry clay and your feet will sink deeper into the bondage of the damage inflicted upon you.

Once the average Christian has found himself in a pit, he usually tends to compromise himself further by offering forgiveness or an apology when neither has been sought by the malefactor, what-so-ever - typical co-dependent behavior. Can’t you hear Joseph screaming from the pit, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’ll never do that again,” all the while his brothers who never asked for an apology in the first place sat down to a tasty meal?

Job addressed the issue of taking heed to ourselves in this way:
Is my strength the strength of stones, or is my flesh bronze? Is it that my help is not within me, and that deliverance is driven from me? For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend; so that he does not forsake the fear of the Almighty. (Job 6:12-14)
Once you’ve been pushed into that pit, you typically do not have the ability get out on your own. You have been damaged by someone else, and they owe you a repair. In such a situation, it is imperative that someone come along side you and help you out of the pit, lest you ‘forsake the fear of the Almighty’.

Causing your brother to forsake God is the risk you take when you sin against your brother and refuse the process God has outlined for reconciliation – as the malefactor not only have you pushed your brother into the pit, you have forsaken kindness and prohibited God’s purpose of reconciliation and peace.

The Next Step: Rebuking and Condemning
Once you’ve found yourself in the pit, there is a process to get out: it’s called rebuking: “If your brother sins against you, rebuke him.”

Ouch.

That doesn’t sound fun, and it certainly is confrontational. Can’t we all just get along? Apparently not, else why were you pushed into the pit in the first place?  You have a right to call sin what it is. As a matter of fact, if you refuse to call sin wrong, you are denying your heritage in the Lord. Once you’ve found yourself in the pit, call it what it is: a pit. Don’t move in and setup the couch and big-screen television. That’s refusing to acknowledge the wrongs committed against you.

In Isaiah 54:17, God says it like this:
No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, says the LORD.
So what does it mean to rebuke, and what does it mean to condemn? A rebuke as sharp scolding, and to condemn is to pronounce something as wrong.  As a person in a pit, it is necessary to admit that the act of pushing you in that pit was wrong: that’s condemning the action.  But be careful that you do not condemn your brother – God is judge of hearts and of people, not us.

However, refusing to acknowledge a wrong done is tantamount to standing in front of a moving bus that has already hit you once before. When we refuse to acknowledge a wrong done against us, it is impossible to act out in personal forgiveness and reconciliation forgiveness. Furthermore, it prohibits God from repairing your damage.

Nevertheless, we must consider the whole counsel of God when we confront our brother, for He says “be angry and sin not” (Ephesians 4:26), so this rebuke is not license for an all-out assault of verbal abuse. It is better that you stop, wait, and consider carefully your words:
He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly. (Proverbs 14:29)
All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the LORD weighs the motives (Proverbs 16:2)
In the Presence of Repentance Forgive
… If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4)
Does God provide salvation and reconciliation to those who refuse to repent?  That's a patently simple answer: of course not.  Unequivocally no.

Does God require you to offer reconciliation forgiveness to those who refuse to acknowledge and repent of their sins against you?  Before we answer that question, read the scripture again:
… If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.
There’s a really, really big “IF” in that commandment.  This is not a conditional, if I feel like it process.  This is a mandate.  I cannot be stated any more plainly or clearly: “if  he repents, {then} forgive him.” And “if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”   The good thing about this part of this post is that God said it, and not me! Interestingly, the converse is true as well.

This isn't Personal Forgiveness
I will remind you that I am discussing forgiveness offered to those who have offended you and repented. I’m not talking about the personal forgiveness which we are commanded to exercise in order to provide a right relationship between ourselves and God.  There is a vast difference between personally forgiving an offence and offering reconciliation.

Forgiveness clears the offense in your heart which provides release from the damage.  It can be done with or without the participation of the offended.  For example, you offender may be dead, but you can still forgive them.  However, it is impossible to reconcile with them.  Reconciliation provides two things: assurances that the offender is aware of the wrongs committed, and that he/she has repented of those wrongs, and secondly, an assurance that the offence will not happen again.

What If He Doesn’t Repent?
Then you don’t reconcile. Jesus said, “if he repents”. He did not “when you think about the offence", or "when you go to him to discuss the offense, forgive him.” If an offender refuses to repent, then we must not offer them forgiveness for something they either refuse to acknowledge or do not believe was an offense.

To offer an offender forgiveness outside of their remorse and repentance towards you (not towards a third party) is to give the offender permission to offend you again.

Scripture is clear: if the offender repents towards you, then you must offer him forgiveness. If he refuses to repent, do not offer him forgiveness.  And again, I must stress that this forgiveness is for them - not for you.  If you have not personally forgiven your offender, it is not possible that you can truly be reconciled.

Nevertheless, in the later case where he refuses to repent, you will need to take your hurts and damage to God, thus continuing the process of healing through your personal forgiveness.

But first and foremost in this scenario where repentance is not to be found, we do not ever hold a grudge of un-forgiveness. In no way do we ever not forgive – in our hearts we forgive the offense and the damage, we practice personal forgiveness, which releases us from the bondage of the damage inflicted upon us by the other person.

What we’re talking about is making an offer of forgiveness to the offender who is repentant – for the purpose of initiating their healing and for the purpose of providing some type of relational reconciliation between you and them. Offering forgiveness to a repentant offender is never performed from a point of self-righteousness or false piety, or from a point of abusive power: it is offered in love and grace knowing that it will initiate a form of reconciliation and healing in the offender.

If you cannot offer forgiveness to a person from a point of grace (allowing them to repent), love (building them up) and mercy (offering them something they cannot earn), then you have not forgiven them, you have not first practiced personal forgiveness.

They Must Repent
It is impossible for anyone to be released from bondage when they chose to remain under their self-imposed yoke. Therefore, when we offer forgiveness to those who do not seek forgiveness, we implicitly provide them permission to offend and damage us again in the future. A co-dependent would offer forgiveness without change. A co-dependent would also stand again in front of a bus that just ran them over if they believed it would make the bus driver love or approve of them.


Conclusion
There are clear processes outlined in scripture for conflict resolution. We are to take heed of ourselves when we have been offended, lest the result of the offense become a worse thing than the offense itself. In the least, we are to go to those who have offended us (in private) and tell them how they caused offense. If they listen and repent, then we have won our brother and we must offer them forgiveness.

In order to continue the process, for someone who is unrepentant, we take witnesses of the offense, or in the least, an objective and unbiased third party. If they continue to refuse to repent, then they are to be brought before the church. Should they continue to refuse, they are to be treated as one who is not a brother in Christ, as one who would continue to do you damage. (Matthew 18:15-17)

In such a case as this, reconciliation forgiveness is not offered to the un-repentant offender because to do so would provide them permission to do more of the same damage in the future. Furthermore, by excluding this person from your life, you take an active role in protecting yourself from future offenses.

Conflict resolution is never easy. Personal forgiveness is for you and your relationship with God: it is always necessary and is never optional. Reconciliation forgiveness is given only in the presence of repentance.

You may find that your circumstance prohibit you from following through on all of the steps. In such a case prayer and counsel are advised. Always remember that God can heal anything, but you may be the only one who receives the healing. In such case, thank the Lord that He rescued you from the pit and set your feet on solid ground.


You can read my post on personal forgiveness, here.

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