Rebuke, but forgive
There is a misunderstanding around Jesus’ words, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” The idea is that Christians have no right to call out anyone when they sin, since we all sin. Well, that’s not what Jesus teaches, and his words in Luke 17:1-5 prove it.
Jesus does not want sin within the Christian community to go unnoticed. In the same text where he tells us to forgive the brother or sister who sins against us, he also instructs us to rebuke them! The rebuke comes before the forgiveness. When we address the sin in others, the goal is to win back the brother or sister, not judge them. Yet, without the rebuke, the opportunity for reconciliation may never materialize.
Many times when we feel someone has sinned against us, instead of bringing it to the attention of the other person, we let it fester inside of us. We may talk about it with others, but that only increases the resentment and hurt. When we fail to go to them and let them know how we feel, there is little chance of repentance. Without repentance, how can there be forgiveness? God calls us to live in a community whereby we rebuke one another when necessary, but then, upon repentance, forgive each other without fail. God is the judge, but we have the responsibility to keep each other focused on the faith.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” As an explanation to this petition, Martin Luther wrote, “We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look upon our sins, nor deny such petitions on account of them; for we are worthy of none of the things for which we pray, neither have we deserved them; but that He would grant them all to us by grace; for we daily sin much, and indeed deserve nothing but punishment. So we will also heartily forgive and also readily do good to those who sin against us.”
It is the natural inclination of the human heart to hold grudges and to withhold forgiveness. Therefore, Christ himself commands us to not only rebuke, but forgive. To the church in Ephesus, Paul wrote: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” To the church in Colossae, he wrote, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other.” The Holy Spirit inspired these words because our sins against God are worse than any sin anyone could ever commit against us. We are guilty of so much, and yet God holds nothing against those who repent in Christ. How can we withhold forgiveness from those who repent to us?
So, rebuke, dear Christian, when necessary, but do so in love and with an eye toward reconciliation. Jesus taught, “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.” No wonder the disciples cried out, “Lord, increase our faith!”