Forgive & Forget?

Q. In Mt 5:24 What if the brother does not want to make peace? I was going to tell my friend that he is not sincere enough when he was trying to make peace with his co-worker who insists on not accepting his apologies. Should he go on trying to make peace with different methods?

In Mt 18:21-22 A sister in Christ says to forgive because God would revenge for us (Rom 12:19). I think when we forgive, we do not want God’s wrath to be on that person either, right? But I imagine eventually God would avenge because He is just. That means our blessing and prayer would not be effective, unless things happen like in Jobs 42?

Lk 6:27-28 Is it right to forgive but not to forget? I think when we forgive, we should try to forget. It would make it ridiculous to ask us to give an example from our experience in following Jesus’ advise to forgive (in a group meeting?

A. In Mt 5:23 the brother has something against you, i.e. you have offended him, so the onus is on you to make reconciliation. If he does not want to be reconciled, then the procedure in Mt 18:15-17 kicks in, but with a difference. The difference is that there your brother sins against you and he is at fault. You are not the guilty party but nonetheless take the initiative to make peace. First it is just between you and your brother in private (v 15). If that fails, then take one or two with you to try again (v 16), not to gang up on him, but as witnesses so that everything would be fair. If that fails, tell it to the church, starting with the elders (v 17). They have the discretion as to how to treat the grievance, whether keeping it low profile or bringing it to the open, depending on what is at stake. If that still does not work, then the brother who sins will be excommunicated (v 17).

Now, in Mt 5:23 you, not the brother, is the one giving offense. You wanted to reconcile but he refuses. He is not acting graciously in this case, but since you cannot force someone to forgive you, there is not much you can do if he keeps on refusing after repeated attempts. However, because you were in the wrong in the first place, he won’t be excommunicated. There remains a stain on him because of the lack of grace, but it also reflects poorly on the church. So be gracious as much as you can, It is in short supply these days.

Yes, when we truly forgive, we don’t want God’s wrath on our enemy. The context of Rom 12:19 is v 17-21:
17. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.
18. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
19. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord.
21. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Some misinterpret “heap burning coals on his head” as wishing something bad on your enemy. No, three times Paul said “never pay back evil” (v 17), “never take revenge” (v 19), and “do not be overcome by evil” (v 21), so how can he wish evil on anyone? Heaping coals on his head is not to burn him, but to keep him warm, to allow him to prepare his meals. It is overcoming evil with good (v 21). God will repay because He is just. We don’t need to take matters into our own hands.

The expression “forgive and forget” is actually not in the Bible. When we say to forgive and forget, we mean we no longer hold the perpetrator who wronged and harmed us responsible. We choose to move on with our lives instead of being stuck in the past. It does not mean we wipe our memory bank and can no longer recall the evil done to us as if it never happened. Human nature being what it is, we can forget a lot of mundane details, but not the way people treated us, both hurts and acts of kindness. We remember and can give glory to God as to how He delivered us from holding a grudge and remain bitter years after the evil happened. We got over it and won’t dig it up again. In this sense we have “forgotten”.

Legal Matters

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Q. Does Mt 5:23-26 only apply to our brethren in our real family and those in our church? Would this mean that it is ok to go to court with other people, especially a dishonest Muslim contractor? I have a dishonest contractor that substituted cheaper material and I have to swallow the tremendous cost of fixing it. Should I take it as a reprimand from God because of my past iniquities? just like God had given Judah into the hands of Babylonians. If it is so, then I should take the reprimand like an obedient child. When people insists to be paid with cash to avoid paying tax, should I avoid hiring them?

A. First let’s examine Mt 5:23-26:

Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.

Notice the following:
Who: first, it is “brother” in v 23 & 24, also twice in v 22. Then it is expanded to “opponent at law” in v 25 (twice), not just “brother”.
What: they have “something against you” i.e. you have wronged them. This is different from your case, which is “they have wronged you”.
How: first be reconciled to your brother. Deal with the grievance first.
Why: sin that is not dealt with obstructs worship; also its consequences are severe.

Now let’s see whether this applies to you. The dishonest contractor is an “opponent”; whether he is Muslim or any other faith is irrelevant. You have something against him because he substituted cheaper material. A Christian should act honorably in all matters so that others do not have something against you, but you are not at fault here, he is. Should you take him to court? That depends on many factors, not just Mt 5:23-26:

1. Your attitude:
Rom 12:17-19 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, …
The word “never” appears twice here – never pay back evil for evil, and never take your own revenge. I don’t think you are trying to do that, but only seeking justice. While we aim to be at peace with all men, sometimes it’s not possible. An example would be the widow going to the unrighteous judge in Luke 18:1-8.

2. His attitude:
Lk 17:3-4 Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
These verses address how to deal with a “brother” who sins. The principle is “if he repents, forgive him”, as forgiveness of sins is conditional upon repentance throughout the Bible. The contractor is not a brother. However, if you rebuke even a brother when he sins, shouldn’t that extend to a dishonest opponent? If he is not brought to justice, wouldn’t he continue to offend, cheat other customers, and more will suffer?

Based on what you described, I would not treat this as a reprimand from God:
Jer 31:34 They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
God forgives and “forgets”. It is true that sin always has consequences, and just as a cut would leave behind a scar even after it heals, sin has consequences even when forgiven e.g. David and Bathsheba. However, the chastisement is typically directly related to the sin, as God wants us to learn cause and effect and fits the punishment to the crime. Judah was unrepentant, that’s why God handed them to the Babylonians to teach them to repent.

I would avoid merchants who insists on being paid in cash to avoid paying taxes, as this betrays dishonesty. If he cheats on taxes, he can cheat on labor and materials as well. Sometimes contractors would quote a price including taxes (i.e. give a discount by absorbing the taxes themselves) to compete for the business, but that’s different from intending to evading taxes in the first place.