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Monday
Oct052015

The Fundamentals of Forgiveness, Part 7 - Jer. 18:18 - 23 & I John 5:16

In this seventh entry on the doctrine and practice of biblical forgiveness, we come to a very practical question.  What do you do when the offender is not repentant and even goes to the next step?  Here at the beginning, we know at least one thing.  We know that if what we have learned to this point is biblical, our conclusions now must be likewise biblical and consistent.
Context is always important and in the text in Jeremiah, context is HUGELY important.  The first context is conspiracy.  The people did not know who the real enemy was.  They heard the truth and the truth encouraged their rage.  Truth does this sometimes.  Secondly, the people attacked.  As a way to cope with the truth, they seek to attack the truth-teller, they seek the hurt of the truth-teller and, they seek to avoid the message at all costs.  To sum it up, the people responded with prideful rejection.  This was an indication of their spiritual state.  It was also an indication of effects of turning away, not from the man Jeremiah, but from God.  All of these responses are, sadly, too common anytime someone speaks the truth to one who is in the wrong.  It is quite possible that if you confront an offence, even if you are kind, gentle, and loving, the response may be one of anger toward you!  What are you to do then?  In part, the answer is found in what Jeremiah does next.
In verse 19 through 23, Jeremiah responds with calling upon God in prayer.  In verses 19 and 20, Jeremiah proclaims before God that he is faultless and faithful.  He says that he did good to his enemies.  He confesses that he followed the Lord's direction.  That is, he knows that he is not the one who is in the wrong and that he is the one who is persecuted without a just cause.  So it is natural that he now places himself in God's hands.  Likewise, if we speak the truth and we are trying to uphold the good and right according to God's word, we are to place the matter in God's hands.  This means that there may come a time when we cannot pursue the matter further and, rather than seek our own revenge and justice, we must leave it to God's perfect justice.  But this is not the end of the matter because of what we read next.  In verses 21 through 23, Jeremiah prays that they would be punished.  It is true that he does not seek his own revenge, and he does not take matters into his own hands and that the Lord who is judge, but he also prays that they would not be forgiven.  This is the most startling imprecation of all of what Jeremiah prays.  This is a serious matter.  It is an awesome thing to come into the presence of God at any time, but to do so to beg God's eternal destruction on another is not a light thing.  But the question is, should we do the same thing and pray the same prayer?  First, the prophetic voice does this even now when the word is read and faithfully preached.  II Cor. 2:15-17, "For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.  To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?  For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ."  Secondly, the prophet was divinely inspired to pray and record this prayer.  We are not likewise inspired, but we do have the Scriptures and if the Scriptures tell us to do it, they also tell us how we are to do so.  The question is whether or not the Scriptures tell us to.  There is a difference between example and command.  Thirdly, this is NEVER, EVER, the first action.  In the examples in Scripture, this happens only after the Lord's enemies "fill up" their iniquity.  Jeremiah did not just forgive them anyway and unconditionally.  But perhaps more importantly, he also did not seek personal vengeance or harm.  This brings us to I John 5:16.
It is common to think that the actions and attitudes of Jeremiah were something that was for that time, but since the coming of Christ, it no longer applies.  This verse would indicate that this is not entirely correct.  In this verse we see two circumstances.  The first, "If anyone see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death…"  This speaks of a unique circumstance:  The commission of a sin (as opposed to a life of sin).  It also speaks of a unique person:  a brother in Christ.  So notice first of all that the question is not a question of sin versus no sin.  All believers sin and sometimes we sin greatly.  So John is not contrasting sinning and not sinning.  The second circumstance is not speaking of the "ordinary" sins and offences which are a sad, but "normal" part of the Christian walk.  In the second, the circumstance is sin of a different character.  So how do we know the difference?
What is meant by a "sin unto death"?  We know that in the context of John's writing, the death referred to is a spiritual death.  (e.g. I John 3:14, 15; 5:12)  Also, this exact phrase appears in the ancient Greek translation of Numbers 18:22.  In that verse, the indication is that it is a knowing and presumptuous sin worthy of death.  One that is committed even after one knows the truth and knowingly and wantonly pursues it anyway.  This was the situation with Jeremiah and appears to be the same kind of sin.  "Whatever breaks the fellowship between the soul and Christ, and, by consequence, between the individual and the body of believers, is unto death, for there is no life apart from Christ. It is indeed true that this tendency inheres in all sin. Sin is essentially death. But a distinction is to be made...between sins which flow from human imperfection and infirmity, and sins which are open manifestations of a character alien from God...It must be carefully born in mind in the study of the passage, that John is speaking of sinful acts as revelations of character, and not simply in themselves...'Such sinning as is characterized, not by the object with which it is connected, but by the disposition from which it proceeds.'"  (adapted from Vincent's Word Studies)  In this case, the apostle says "I do not say that [we] should pray for that."  That is, we leave it to God's judgement and, while not forgiving, neither do we seek their harm.
What are the implications?  Like Jeremiah, we may need to turn aside from the one who responds to the truth with rage or further sin.  And like Jeremiah prophetic example and John's apostolic instruction, we recognize that we do not forgive.  For those who have set themselves against God and His people, and are seeking their destruction, we may appeal to God that He convert them or judge them, but we are never to seek personal revenge.  We also are to do good to them and pray for them (Matt. 5:44), but we do not forgive them.  That is, the offense remains.  There is much confusion in this regard.  Withholding forgiveness does not mean we seek their harm, nor does it mean that we never forgive.  But it does mean that the relationship is broken as long as the offense remains and is un-repented of.  Also, for those who are brothers or sisters and have sinned, upon confession and repentance, we must forgive.  We ought not try to be more merciful than God, nor more forgiving than God.  It often sounds pious and godly, but it is actually not more pious and godly at all and can actually cause harm.
All For Him,
Pastor Schlegel

 

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