‘If your brother sins against you’

This is the fifth week of a Lenten series. Today, we focus on forgiveness. 

By: Rev. Robert Wagner, Guest Contributor

When someone sins against us, what is the proper Christian response? Throughout the Gospels, Jesus teaches us the importance of forgiveness as both a reflection of God’s mercy and a means for healing and unity among all people. He speaks to us of turning the other cheek, praying for our enemies and showing mercy to our persecutors.

forgiveness Lent blog

In His darkest hour on Calvary, Jesus offers us an extraordinary example of mercy when He prayed: “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they do” (Lk 23:34). Jesus offers mercy to those who sentenced Him to death and nailed Him to the cross. When we find it challenging to forgive another person, praying with this Scripture passage is a powerful and fruitful source of healing and motivation.

Jesus also teaches us that our salvation is directly related to our ability to forgive:

“If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you,” He says. “But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14-15).

Forgiveness requires great virtue, including the exercise of humility, courage and compassion. It is in forgiving others that we grow in holiness and allow God’s grace to heal bonds that are so easily broken through our sinfulness and the sinfulness of others. Over and over again, we will have the opportunity to grow in holiness through the practice of forgiveness as Peter found out when He tried to find a limit to how often a Christian needs to forgive a person who sins against them:

“As many as seven times?” Peter asked. “Not seven, but seventy-seven,” Jesus replied (cf. Mt 18:21-22).


In light of Christ’s teaching on forgiveness, the lesson we hear in the Gospel seems odd. Jesus tells us, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” Our first instinct is to think this is the opposite of forgiving. Why would we confront the sinner if we are called to turn the other cheek? We assume they already know what we are going to tell them, that their sins have damaged us and others. What do we gain from this interaction?

This post first appeared on the Encourage and Teach blog on September 22, 2014. View the full text here.

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