If a Believer Is Injured in Their Character, Person, Or Property by a Fellow Believer Are They to Forgive Them in the Same Manner That Jesus and Stephen Forgave Those (Unbelievers) Who Did Them Harm?

We have learned in the previous chapter that when a believer asked Jesus to “forgive” those (unbelievers), who had caused them physical harm, what they were saying was don’t punish them for their actions, but rather provide an opportunity for their salvation. 

     But what if we are injured by a fellow believer, what should our response be? The only way to find this out is to search the scriptures for the answer. With this in mind please go to Matthew 18.

15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee,…

     Matthew 18:15-17 talks about a believer being trespassed against by another believer. This word “trespass” means to injure another believers’ character by words, to injure their person, which could involve physical harm, or to do something against their property, that could possibly mean to damage it, break it, steal it, etc.                                                                                                                                                

     What should our response be if this were to happen to us?

15 … go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.

     The scriptures indicate that we should initially go to the offending believer alone mentioning their fault to them with reason and argument with the hope they will admit wrong and be gained (restored). This idea of restoration seems to not only have to do with the fact that the matter has been resolved, but it also gives the idea of providing the offending believer with godly instructions for them to appropriate mentally, which can help them in thinking with divine viewpoint in regard to their offense so that they will be better equipped to avert this type of inappropriate thinking in the future.

     Even though the word forgiveness is not used here the idea of forgiveness is being conveyed. The payment required in order to resolve the believer’s offense is for them to confess their fault to the victim. Forgiveness is provided toward them by the victim according to the word “gained” (accepting them back into fellowship with themselves).

16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.

     However, if the offending believer refuses to admit wrong and there is at least one other eye or ear witness to the offense, then the victim should go back to them and address the matter while being accompanied by either an eye or ear witness. If there is no admittance of wrong or if there is a refusal to meet with the victim again, then the matter should not be forgiven. I hope you got this. I’ll say it again, refusal to admit wrong or to meet with the victim again means the matter is not forgiven.

     Uh oh, are you ok with this statement?

     What do we do if this is the case?

17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: …

Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. (2 Corinthians 2:6)

But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person. (1 Corinthians 5:13)

     The next step would be to bring the matter before those in the church, who have been appointed to address these issues. In this case, the accused, the victim, and the witnesses would come before the judicial court of the local assembly in order to determine innocence or guilt. If the offending believer is found guilty, and admits guilt, then the matter is resolved between the parties. However, the judicial court of the local assembly could impose a disciplinary measure on the offending believer whereby they might be removed from the fellowship for a fixed period of time as was the case for the man who had sexual relations with his stepmother in 1 Corinthians 5, with the consequence of such being mentioned in 2 Corinthians 2:6.

7 So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.

     What would take place following the disciplinary sentence is the judicial court would let the assembly of believers know about the offense, who committed it, and the subsequent penalty. Once the allotted time of the disciplinary measures have been fulfilled, the offending believer would be contacted and encouraged to come back to the assembly. In this regard, this matter would now be forgiven. This idea of forgiveness would mean that the offending believer would be free from further punishment. I will restate this again. The idea of forgiveness in this case would be to free someone from further punishment.

17 … but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

   What if the offending believer still chose to not admit guilt after being found guilty? The judicial court would tell them to leave the assembly indefinitely. The assembly of believers would be reminded to not have any contact with them. As an analogy to this,   in the Jewish synagogue a fellow Jew, who did not admit their offense would be considered as a pagan gentile, which to their fellow Jews would mean they would have no religious contact or communion (not to associate, eat, or travel) with this person. This would be analogous to a Jew becoming a tax collector, who would be considered as someone not to have any association with. In this case forgiveness was not provided. Therefore, the idea of: restoration between the parties; providing scriptural instruction for the renewal of the thoughts; forgetting about the offense will not take place. 

     One more scenario to consider, what if the offending believer is approached alone by the victim and refuses to admit guilt with the reality that there are no other witnesses, what should our response be in this case? Our response should be to not forgive them. Our response toward them should be that we will have no religious contact or communion (not to associate, eat, or travel) with them. This can be difficult especially when the assembly gathers together to support church functions. All I can say is try to address this in a manner that works for you within these scriptural guidelines. Some might say that there is no scriptural basis for this kind of reaction. Take a look at Luke 17:3.

Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.                                                                              

     If the fellow believer repents (changes their mind, admits wrong), they are to be forgiven (to give up a debt). If they don’t repent, then the debt, their payment for their sin has not been made through admission of guilt. Therefore, they are not to be forgiven.

     This idea of forgiveness is quite different from the forgiveness that Jesus was praying for to God the Father, when he was on the cross. In our Christian walk, there will be instances which will occur that will involve forgiveness in regards to either believers or unbelievers. Depending on whether the offender is an unbeliever or believer will determine the forgiveness response.

      I want to tell you a story about forgiveness which involved myself and two pastors. This instance occurred when I was attending Bible college back in the early 80’s. At this time, I was approached by two pastors concerning managing a gold and silver store. I was previously trained by a fellow believer to detect how much gold was in an item, and somehow they must have found out about this. At this time, the company which I worked for was in the middle of a contract dispute. I was currently manning the picket lines. It appeared that resolution was forthcoming. I had no desire to want to leave. The pay per hour was one of the highest in the town. So when I was approached by the two pastors to work for them they made an offer to me of a 35% commission. I told them that this wasn’t enough. The minimum amount that I would consider taking would be 50%. After they hesitantly agreed with me I asked them if they were sure they would hold up to the agreement. They said they would. So, I let my current boss know that I would not be returning to work when the strike ended.

     I started this gold business from scratch. I was asked to look at the surrounding towns and cities in order to determine which area might support this type of business. Eventually, I found a town and after visiting it located a vacant store front right on the main street. I got in touch with the owner and worked out a rental agreement. After a period of about three weeks, the store was ready for customers.

     When the first week ended I brought any gold and silver that I purchased to a nearby refinery. They would weigh each metal and give me a monetary amount based on the price/ounce. I then proceeded to take half of the profit for myself and bring the rest to the pastors. When I gave them their share of the profit they said I had made a mistake. I responded by saying, what do you mean? They said the agreement was 35% for me and 65% for them. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I responded by saying that this initial offer was changed to 50/50. They agreed, but replied that due to the fact they were paying other people who were also working in the gold and silver business 35% they couldn’t follow through on this change.

     To say the least I was upset. In my mind I had been lied to. I couldn’t go back to my other job, because I told my former boss that I had secured new employment. I had one of three choices to make in response. The first was to quit, not associate with them again, and tell everyone about how I was misled. The second was to accept the change, but still tell everyone about how I was misled. The third choice was to accept the change with the mindset that maybe they didn’t intentionally mislead me.

      I went the avenue of choosing number two. I accepted the change, but told my wife that I believed I had been misled. Little did I know at the time, that she would harbor resentment and suspicion not only toward these two pastors, but toward anyone in church authority. In most cases a wife is going to believe her husband, if he has a disagreement with another believer. By telling her of this, I also opened the door of opportunity for her to tell others about this incident in an accusatory manner.

     Over the course of a few months, the gold and silver business was doing quite well. So well that the only nearby competitor, who was a fellow believer in the same church, made an offer to the two pastors to consolidate both stores. I was asked to consider closing the store I was managing and run the other gold and silver store. I didn’t respond at that time in a positive or negative way. I told them I had to think about it.

     In lieu of this consolidation, both owners decided to have a party in order to celebrate the collaboration. I decided to attend not only to enjoy the food which was provided, but also to give them a reply as to whether I would run the gold and silver store. After a short time had gone by, the two pastors spoke out loud about how wonderful this new adventure would be. Then one of them turned to me and said by the way we were given $5000.00 by the other store owner to close the one they were running. When I heard this, I became angry. In my mind here I was traveling about 60 minutes each way to and from work having to pay my own gas and only making 35% commission. Furthermore, it was because of the success of the gold and silver business I was managing that this consolidation proposal was made. I was of the opinion that I should have at least been offered by the two pastors some of the $5000.00 they received. At this point I told them I was done and proceeded to walk out. Some might say I could have handled this better.

     What did I learn from this? Whether we enter into a business agreement with an unbeliever or believer, they can change their mind. If we find ourselves pent up with anger, we probably should go somewhere else and try to calm our mind by thinking upon God’s word. Once we are stabilized in our thoughts we should go to God in prayer asking Him for guidance.

     Remember, when Jacob was swindled by Laban in a business agreement of which he should have married his younger daughter Rachel. While he was not happy with Labans’ trickery, he had assurance by God to accept the current circumstances and fulfill his obligation in order to eventually marry her. If you have been tricked by a fellow believer, go to him/her alone to discuss the matter. If they refuse to admit wrong and there are no other eye or ear witnesses, then go your own way and have no contact with them. Go to God in prayer asking him to bring about reconciliation and remember don’t tell anyone else about what happened.

     In the next chapter, we will look at forgiveness in regards to a believer catching a fellow believer by surprise when they are in the act of committing sin.

     How should forgiveness be applied in this case?

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If a Believer Is Injured in Their Character, Person, Or Property by a Fellow Believer Are They to Forgive Them in the Same Manner That Jesus and Stephen Forgave Those (Unbelievers) Who Did Them Harm?