January 9, 2023

Is Forgiveness Enough?

Leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:24

When General James Edward Oglethorpe said to John Wesley, “I never forgive,” Wesley answered, “Then I hope, sir, that you never sin.” Why did Wesley say that? Because sooner or later, you do sin, you say something you ought not to have said, you do something that hurts someone, perhaps someone you love, and you need to be on the receiving end of forgiveness.

George Herbert is often quoted as saying, “He that cannot forgive others, breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.” Many people, however, do forgive – sometimes quite grudgingly – realizing that unless they forgive, God will not forgive them; so they dole out the least possible amount of forgiveness as though it were gold dust from a purse that would be lighter with every expenditure. And though they have forgiven (at least in a measure) they still hold the person in contempt or, at least, at arm’s length, never letting the person come home, never taking things to the level of friendship or love which was once enjoyed.

Is forgiveness enough? After all, it’s not easy to forgive someone who has hurt you; but the question is, “Does God want me to go one step beyond forgiveness to restoration?” Forgiveness means I give up my bitterness and hatred for what someone has done. Restoration means reconnecting, reestablishing a relationship with the person who hurt you, who disappointed you, who wronged you.

Forgiveness is a mental act; restoration is an emotional one.

Forgiveness means burying the hatchet; restoration means reconnecting.

Forgiveness means ending the war; restoration means going back home.

Forgiveness means you cease hating your enemies; restoration means you re-establish a relationship with them.

For many people, however, restoration is going too far, too painful, too costly to extend. Though you may never have come to grips with this truth, the fact is that God not only requires you to forgive, He also asks you to go the second step and to be reconciled with your enemy.

Three times the New Testament talks of restoration. In the first, Jesus said that you should be reconciled with your brother. The second says that a husband and wife who are estranged should be reconciled to each other, and the third says that you should be reconciled to God. Surprised at that revelation? Then check them out for yourself.

In what we call the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talked about the person who had become estranged from a brother. What the issue of disagreement was, He didn’t say, but we know that two who had once been friends had become enemies. Then Jesus told about one of the two coming to offer his gift to God; today we would say, “He went to church.” Jesus said, “First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:24).

Going through the motions of worship is meaningless when you are estranged from a friend.

In the second passage Paul talks about a wife who has been estranged from her husband. He says, “She must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:11).

The third passage is 2 Corinthians 5:20 where Paul reminded them that we are Christ’s ambassadors; and then he urges, “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God.”

The story of the prodigal son illustrates the fact that forgiveness is the first major step in restoration, but to forgive isn’t enough. Remember how the son returned to his father, who not only embraced him, but threw a feast and celebrated because the son who was once lost was found, and the one who had been estranged had come home.

Restoration is coming home–to your husband, to your brother, to your God. It’s the end of the journey which God wants you to take.

Resource reading: Matthew 5:21-26.