“‘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!’” (Luke 17:3-5)
Jesus taught His disciples a lesson on forgiveness. Years ago, when I first read this passage, I thought it gave me an out, a way to rebuke those who hurt me and get away without forgiving them. After all, Jesus said that we are to rebuke those who sin and forgive only when they have repented. I was all in favor of rebuking and chastising people when they have wronged me. I wanted people to suffer as much as they have caused me to suffer. So here was a passage that would allow me to continue to nurse a grudge and get away with it.
The disciples knew that what Jesus said about forgiveness made it seem nearly impossible, so they asked for faith to obey. After all, forgiveness is a hard process that starts with a decision, but not a quick or easy one. Forgiveness is by faith for it is a Godward act in which I trust God to deal with the offender. I give up my desire for revenge.
Our decision to forgive takes place before God prior to any confrontation with the offender. We have to already decide before we confront, before he repents, that we will forgive. Logically, if we want to restore a sinner, we must have this willingness to forgive before we go to rebuke. We want to restore our brother, so we want him to repent and we are willing to forgive.
Many of us like to proceed eagerly to the rebuke, to confront people and tear them apart. But before we get there I think we need to engage in self-examination. Self-examination is the way to prepare oneself to administer a rebuke. It helps us to temper our actions with compassion and mercy for, when we look at ourselves, we realize that we too are sinners, weak, subject to temptation and in need of forgiveness. To pretend that we don’t sin is to become proud and legalistic like the Pharisees. Self-examination helps us to approach the rebuke aware of our own need for grace and mercy.