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Question 41

Q: I am 71 years of age, and all my life I’ve been so surprised what learned Christian men say about forgiveness.

I’ve read several books and many articles on the subject. So far it’s beyond my grasp and I don’t think I’m alone, or there wouldn’t be so many divorces. If forgiveness is the thing to do, why would it say in Titus 3:10, “Warn a divisive person once and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.” 

Asked by: Kathleen, Iowa

A: Kathleen, thank you for your question. And I’d like to start my answer by saying that I get the impression that you’re equating forgiveness with reconciliation.

They are two different issues. Let me try to clarify things.

When I say that we ought to forgive people, for example, a wife ought to forgive her husband for divorcing her, for adultery, etc., I don’t mean that they can, on that basis be reconciled.

By forgiveness, I’m talking about a one-sided kind of forgiveness, where we lay down our bitterness and give it to God. When we do that, He releases us from the kind of bitterness that can be really destructive to us—the kind that blocks the ministry of the Holy Spirit and corrodes our soul. That’s what I mean when I say we ought to forgive everyone.

But reconciliation—that’s an entirely different matter. I always say that reconciliation involves forgiveness, but it also involves trust, and respect. If you don’t have those three elements, you can’t have true reconciliation.

You see, when the Apostle Paul said what he did about false teachers—rebuke them and then have nothing to do with them—he is saying that these destructive people are so toxic that you should stay away from them because they are misleading others and will do damage to you too. Most assuredly you can’t be reconciled to them because you can’t be reconciled due to their lifestyle and their false teaching—there’s no trust and no respect in that situation.

However, I believe Paul would tell us, “Don’t go around with bitterness toward false teachers; forgive them in the sense that you lay down bitterness toward them….but the fact that you forgive them does not mean that you should be reconciled to them.”

So if we distinguish between forgiveness and reconciliation, I believe that Paul can both speak about forgiveness and shunning false teachers at the same time. I hope this clarification helps.

Scripture references

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