15″If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private ; if he listens to you [FORGIVE HERE], you have won your brother.16″But if he does not listen to you [NOT HERE], take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED.17″If he refuses to listen to them [NOT HERE], tell it to the church ; and if he refuses to listen even to the church [NOT HERE], let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. – Mt 18:15-17
A man was being tried for a horrific crime he committed. The only thing left was for the jury to say so. On Sunday morning, the preacher was saying, “Fellow Christians, we have been called to forgive. And so I forgive him for his crime.” The preacher did a damaging thing by his words which makes light of true forgiveness. It costs him nothing but feel good words.
Why was the preachre wrong? First, the man is unrepentant. He’s committed horrific crimes and he’s not sorry to man or God. Second, God hasn’t forgiven him. He’s a sinner and he’s going to hell for his crimes. God doesn’t get things out of order by forgiving before the man has repented and been baptized. Third, the preacher does the easy thing of saying words which the Scriptures don’t instruct him to do. Fourth, the offense was not against him and he has nothing to give. What the Scriptures say and is being entirely ignored is that you bring the sinner to repentance and then if he listens, you have won your brother.
Just like there is something called “cheap grace”, there’s something called “cheap forgiveness”. It’s forgiveness in name only. It’s not the forgiveness of the Bible which restores souls and relationships. The preacher who forgives a person hasn’t been confronted, who isn’t sorry, hasn’t healed any relationship, is only making himself feel good. That’s not what forgiveness is about. Feeling good should only come by correcting sinners and healing relationships. With biblical forgiveness there is restoration. The preacher’s pronouncement of words serves only to make himself look very holy and it places him above others who have the good sense to withhold forgiveness.
Did I say it’s right to “withhold” sins? Yes because Jesus said, “whatever you retain, shall be retained in heaven.” “Loosing” and “retaining” are the only two choices when it comes to church discipline. But let’s not be confused by those who say “retaining” isn’t an option. If you forgive your brother before you have confronted him, you have disobeyed the Scripture. If you forgive people of trespasses when it wasn’t you who was harmed by the crime, you just make yourself feel good. No real good is done. In fact, you do harm.