Distinguishing Enemies From Brothers, And How We Deal Differently With Each
I am still working over this whole matter of forgiveness, and these articles on this subject are really intended to include all of you in my thought process on the subject, not to try to dogmatically lay my conclusions on you. I know, as you do, that this subject has caused all kinds of grief for victims of abuse, especially if they are genuine Christians and truly desire to obey Christ fully. The source of the grief is un-biblical teaching on forgiveness, not so much some desire within us to remain angry at those who have wronged us. As Christ’s sheep, we hear His voice. It is agreeable to us. If He says forgive, then we want to forgive. But I think that there are some voices out there claiming to be speaking for Christ, telling us that we must forgive an unrepentant enemy, when Christ is not saying this. And by “forgive,” these voices are telling us to not regard him as an enemy any longer, even though he remains an enemy!
As I look through Scripture, it seems to me that there is a consistent distinction made between the Christian’s “brother” and the Christian’s “enemy.” And I think I am finding that the Lord makes it plain that we do not deal with a brother and an enemy in the same manner. I think we have been failing to make this distinction, and this is due to us not paying close enough attention to Scripture. Notice the following Scriptures and how they do in fact distinguish between a “brother” and an “enemy.” See if you can discern how they teach that we handle an enemy differently than a brother in Christ.
Matthew 18:21-22 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.
Matthew 5:22-24 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Matthew 5:43-47 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
Matthew 12:48-50 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
Luke 6:32-36 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
John 20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
Colossians 3:12-13 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Romans 12:20-21 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
2 Thessalonians 3:15 Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
Do you see it? To a large degree, I think we get all muddled up in this matter of forgiveness because we fail to realize that Scripture instructs us to deal differently with a brother in Christ who sins against us (his repentance is assumed and thus we forgive him) and an enemy of Christ. Most abusers are enemies of Christ, as they refuse to repent. But so often the victims are being told that they are to treat this enemy as if he were a brother. Not so. The one we forgive. The other, while we do not seek revenge against, while we pray for him, while we do good toward — we do not forgive. And by “forgive,” I mean we do not announce and assume that he is no longer an enemy.
Let me add one additional thought I have had to day about all of this. I will state it in the form of a question: Is un-forgiveness in its essence, that is, by definition, an evil and sinful thing? Think about that. When you hear the term “un-forgiveness/un-forgiving, you immediately sense that it is sinful, right? To be unforgiving is not Christlike. Well, let me suggest to you that such thinking is wrong. Un-forgiveness is not in and of itself a sin. How do we know? Because God Himself is really quite un-forgiving! Yes, He is abundant in mercy. He desires all to come to repentance. He abounds in the desire to pardon. But God is firmly and staunchly un-forgiving when people refuse to repent of their sin and turn in faith to Christ. So un-forgiveness not only is not inherently evil, it is glorious justice in many cases.
Unforgiveness is a sin when someone (i.e. a brother) comes to us in repentance and we refuse to forgive him. That is evil and it really evidences a heart that is unchanged by Christ. But then there is this kind of un-forgiveness that is holy and glorious:
Exodus 20:4-6 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Therefore, I still propose this conclusion to you: When it comes to forgiveness, we do not treat everyone the same. The brother who sins against us and comes in repentance, we forgive. The enemy who wars against us and refuses to cease from that war, we do not forgive and pretend thereby that he is no longer an enemy.