Matthew 16:19-22, And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Then he said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER; YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY; YOU SHALL NOT STEAL; YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS; HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; and YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.
We see in this discourse that Jesus is separating the issues in the rich young ruler’s life. What the young man thought was the issue was not the only issue. We think that there is only one issue in our life to be resolved, and even if we discover that there are actually several, the mistake is made of looking for the one thing that will fix all of the issues at once. The same tool will not fix a flat tire, a sink, a bicycle spoke, and a computer; they all have separate problems that need different tools to repair. One answer does not work for every situation, and any one event carries with it several issues, each with a separate answer. The sign that a believer is looking for the magic elixir that will fix every issue is confusion. Therefore, the issues must be separated and dealt with accordingly, such as when an injustice occurs and spawns the need for blessing those that curse, loving the enemy, forgiveness, and the process of reconciliation that will bring closure. Let us take a look at those issues and break them down one by one. 1. We must bless those that curse us or they live in our heads and pay no rent. 2. Loving our enemies is commanded, for He makes His sun to shine on the just and the unjust. He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. 3. Forgiveness is a package. Just as a person cannot hold a tire and tell me he owns an automobile, since a car comprises many parts, so forgiveness has many parts. There is an offense, a break in relationship, confession by the offender, forgiveness given by the offended (there is no forgiveness for unforgiveness), all ending in restoration. Due to its very nature, there is no forgiveness without confession, since the purpose of forgiveness is restoration. “If we confess our sins,” “repent for forgiveness of sins,” and “as often as your brother comes to you,” all show the context of the giving of forgiveness. We must carry a heart of forgiveness so that when it is asked for, we can dispense it freely. Does God forgive without confession? (I am not teaching here about the common concern of, “What if I die and I forgot to confess a sin?” Once a person is in Christ, Jesus died for all of his sins.) Confession for man is cleansing and releasing, but there is a common teaching that believers should go to an offender and offer forgiveness without any acknowledgement from the wrongdoer that a sin was committed. Instructing a young woman that has been abused to go and tell the uncle, “I forgive you,” when the uncle has not asked for forgiveness, usually has a detrimental outcome. I have heard many stories of believers who went to someone to forgive him when it was not in the offender’s heart to ask for it; the offender actually denied it, walked off, and/or condemned the hurt person for making such an accusation. This is soul killing anew for an injured believer. Many will argue that forgiveness is unconditional, but those two words do not go together, for “unconditional” implies that there is no sin, and if no sin, there is no forgiveness. Yet all have sinned, and through confession, “He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The Prodigal Son asked for forgiveness and was restored. Today there seems to be more emphasis on the need for the offended to forgive when it is not asked for, thus loading responsibility on the victim. Why not call attention to confession of the offender as something that is cleansing and restoring? Those that have sinned against another are cheated when there is no mention of confession. Confession and forgiveness are two words that are inseparable and should remain together. However, the victim is not stuck; there is something to do when confession has not, and may never, come. “Bless those that curse you,” “do good to those that harm you,” and “pray for those that persecute you.” All of these things set us free and make us all the more excited about forgiving, should the occasion arise. 4. Forgiveness must be given when asked for. “Forgive us (See? We are asking) as we forgive our debtors.” However, there is a process after forgiveness that brings closure. Let me explain. A man has an affair; once it is over, for three years he is tormented. He repents before God and then tells his wife, asking, naturally, for forgiveness. She must forgive. However, this has taken her completely by surprise, and she is extremely hurt. Yet, if she asks any further questions or gets angry in the future, he accuses her of walking in unforgiveness, which covertly shifts the load of the whole event to her shoulders. The children have been hurt, the wife has been embarrassed and betrayed, there is a break in trust, and she has many unanswered questions; she needs closure. Though I do not want to camp at the event and want the couple to move forward, there are a few things that need to be said about forgiveness. Talking will help bring closure. Yes, she must move on, but talking and getting a few answers will help her do so. The same is true for the believer who has lost a loved one due to an injustice such as murder. We hear many stories about murderers asking for forgiveness, which must be granted by the family. However, normal questions ensue, such as, “How did he die? Where did you put the body?” (This was the question asked by the women at the grave of Jesus.) Some believers use an injustice and the lack of repentance to get stuck at a point of hatred and condemnation; there is no profit in that. Hearts are revealed through injustices, confession and forgiveness. 5. We must and will forgive. However, that does not mean that a lawbreaker should not go to prison. I Peter 3:17, “For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.” A couple told me of a man that killed their daughter. From prison the criminal sincerely confessed what he had done and asked for forgiveness. The parents asked what they should do. I said that the couple must forgive and must also let the man serve his prison sentence. Forgiveness and staying in prison are separate issues. Judging the man and putting him in prison is the job of government in order to protect the populace. “For (governments) are a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for the sake of conscience.” The thief on the cross was forgiven but not taken off the cross. Lawbreakers are not victims, but it does amaze me to watch the news and see how the world is consequence conscious and not cause conscious. It seems as though the treatment of those who have caused atrocities (consequence of their actions) is more important than the cause of their being treated that way! The victims of their crimes are looking for assurance that it will not happen again, and that security will not come as long as those that violated them do not ask for forgiveness. (Of course, the opposing danger is that victimization is a religion; it is very addictive.) It reminds me of the Great Depression. It left such an impact on my grandmother that she still saved newspaper, jars, rubber bands, bread wrappers, and more. She never forgot what it was like and never, looking at unrepentant government, regained the confidence that it would not happen again. 6. Facts do not oppose each other. It is a fact that birds fly and a fact that I cannot. We separate the facts. It is a fact that I love my enemy, it is a fact that I bless my enemy, a fact that my enemy must ask for forgiveness, a fact that when I am asked I must forgive my enemy, and it is a fact that wounds do take time to heal. Each of these facts will come to fullness in our daily lives as He makes them alive according to His own timing.