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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
It is all too common today for a preacher or someone in high place of authority or maybe in the "lime-light" of society to cry out for forgiveness and love when they have been exposed for their sin or wrongdoing. Especially in the religious world it is hotly debated and argued from the standpoint that if somebody openly, publicly, rebukes and exposes one's sin, then that particular person is absolutely unforgiving and unloving.
I'm afraid that the Biblical principles of forgiveness and brotherly love have been grossly abused and taken out of context to the point that one feels guilty or ashamed for having rebuked, reproved someone. We must realize that rebuking, reproving is just as Scriptural as forgiveness and brotherly love. There is a time to forgive & forget but also there is a time to rebuke & remember.
Study the passage in Matt. 18:21-35. Earlier, Christ had taught His disciples a lesson on forgiveness prior to this occasion and Peter knew that he must not only learn to not bear a grudge against his brother or get revenge but he must also learn to forgive and forget. Peter wanted to be sure he didn't over-do a good thing, so he asks the Lord this question in vs.21, "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?"
The Lord's answer in vs.22 was to show Peter He never intended to set up any boundaries in the area of forgiveness. "I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven." The "seventy times seven" was used to represent an indefinite number of times. He was not to sit down and keep the count of the offenses that was committed against him.
We must realize God is the One who keeps the count because He is the Judge and vengeance is His. To show the necessity and importance of a forgiving attitude and spirit, our Lord uses a parable to explain, illustrate, and press the matter or forgiving one another. It's our Christian duty.
The king sat down and began to compute, put together, take an account of all his servants who owed him money (vs.23). As he began to go down the list, the first one at the top of his list was one who owed him 10,000 talents (vs.24). His debt was so enormous, the king knew this servant would never be able to pay him back. So the king decided that this servant, his family, and everything he possessed be sold and by this his debt would be cleared (vs.25). This servant, after hearing this punishment being pronounced upon him & his family, is startled and surprised and immediately falls at the king's feet & worshipped him (vs.26).
According to vs.27, the king was moved with compassion, "loosed him, and forgave him the debt." His debt was wiped clean, cancelled. He forgave him of it, considered it settled & paid for.
The second part of this story begins the same way with a fellowservant being in debt to this servant who had owed the king. In vs. 29 this fellowservant says the very same thing that this other servant said in vs.26 but the servant refused to give this man a second chance, refused to give him another opportunity to pay him back, refused to forgive him. When the king finds out about this (v.32-33), he strongly rebukes the servant for his unforgiving attitude & spirit. This servant was not only thrown into prison but even delivered to the tormentors (vs.34).
Here's the case in Matt. 18 with the servant that owed his lord 10,000 talents: was it right for him to do what he did in vs.30 with his fellowservant which owed him a 100 pence? Should it be argued that he was forgiving but at the same time rebuking this man? No, because he was guilty of committing the same crime as this fellowservant had done. Jesus said in John. 8:7, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." Of course, this is a favorite passage with those who argue that we should forgive & forget and not set in judgment on anyone.
But the fact is that they pull this verse out of context and forget to realize that the woman caught in adultery did repent of her sin but those accusing scribes & Pharisees refused to repent of their sin and believe on Christ. But with the situation in Matt. 18, the king did rebuke the unforgiving servant, not because the king did not forgive but in order the servant may see and understand his mistake. When a preacher takes the Biblical approach of rebuking, reproving somebody, he is not casting stones nor sitting in judgment; God & His Word takes care of that. Gal. 6:1 says, "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." That restoring process may involve rebuking & forgiveness as well; one cannot be properly restored if there is no repentance and confession of sin.
I am not ignoring the abundant evidence of Scriptures that teach the need of forgiving one another (Matt. 6:12, 14-15; Luke 6:36-37; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:12-14). In each of these instances the matter of forgiveness is dealt with on a personal, one-on-one relationship. But when one sins against the church as a whole or causes harm, disgrace to the cause of Christ, that person must not only be forgiven but also rebuked for it, especially if there is no repentance–Luke 17:1-4, "Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him."
A classic example of dealing with the "touchy" issue of rebuking & forgiving is found in I Cor. 5:1-13. There was a man in the church of Corinth that was guilty of committing fornication with his father's wife. Paul said in vs.3, "For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed." Then towards the end of this chapter he continues on by saying, "For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person" (v.12-13).
Here Paul clearly sets the guideline on dealing with church discipline and explicitly declared that this man was to no longer be a part of the fellowship of this church in Corinth. They were to judge & rebuke him. Does this mean they were to never forgive this man? Not at all because I believe at some point later on this man did repent of his sin. See II Cor. 2:4-10. Notice v. 7-8 says, "So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him." Then Paul declares, "To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ" (vs.10). See also Matt. 18:15-17.
Some declare it is unchristian, unloving to rebuke and reprove but the Bibles says it is our duty to do so – Lev. 19:17; Eph. 5:11,13; I Tim. 5:20; II Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:13; 2:15.
We should pay particular attention to the warnings in the Scriptures in regards as to how we should respond or react towards rebuke, reproving – Prov. 10:17; 12:1; 13:18; 15:5,10,12,32; Eccl. 7:5; Heb. 12:5.
One can be forgiving and yet rebuke at the same time (I Thess. 5:12-15). This is no easy task but I believe a proper balance can be maintained – Rev. 3:19, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent."