Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. — Luke 17:3
By Rick Renner
When I was a young boy, I had a baseball coach who really disliked me. No matter how hard I tried to please him, he poked fun at me and tried to embarrass me in front of my teammates. His words and behavior would hurt me deeply, but I can remember my father telling me to forgive him. My dad would gently urge me to “grin and bear it” because these things happen in life. So when my coach insulted me, I’d do my best to forgive him and then muster the strength to wipe away my tears and walk back onto the ball field. It was wrong of that baseball coach to treat me in that way, but his negativity provided a good learning experience to help prepare me for life. I’m so thankful my father taught me to forgive, get back on the field, and not let the words of others affect me too much.
In life, we will experience many moments when we are tempted to leave the playing field because of the way others have treated us. But just like my father taught me, we have to forgive those who wrong us instead of letting a root of bitterness take root in our hearts. Sometimes the only course of action available to us is to “grin and bear it” and resolve not to throw in the towel on account of someone’s hurtful words or actions. Life is beckoning us to do great and adventurous things, and we can’t let the actions or words of a few people sidetrack us from what God has planned for our lives!
In Luke 17:3, Jesus gave instruction for how we are to respond when we perceive that someone has done something wrong to us. I emphasize the word perceive because our perception may be incorrect — but whether it is right or wrong, it is still our perception. So what are we to do in such moments? Should we ignore it? Should we let it continue to eat away at us? Or should we take some other route altogether?
Jesus began His instruction by saying, “Take heed to yourselves….” Jesus commanded us to deal with ourselves before we respond to anyone about a perceived wrong. Jesus then continued by telling us how to proceed once we have gotten a grip on our own emotions, saying, “…If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.”
The word “trespass” means to violate or to cross a line. In the context of this verse, it refers to crossing a line with one’s words or actions in a way that leaves the other person feeling hurt and violated. When we perceive that someone has “trespassed” against us, we are to first take a moment and get a grip on our own emotions. However, if you still feel that someone has crossed a line with his words or behavior after you’ve taken the time to think over the situation and pray about it, the next course of action is to lovingly confront the behavior that you’ve found inappropriate.
Specifically, Jesus said we are to “rebuke” such a person. In English, this word sounds very strong and harsh; however, in the original Greek, the tone is much softer. The word “rebuke” is a translation of the Greek word epitimao, which describes a frank but gentle way of politely telling a person that he has done something that you perceive to be wrong.
You see, confrontation doesn’t have to be ugly. If you address your offender from a place of love, the conversation can actually be a healing experience. Simply say, “My feelings are hurt, but I recognize that I might have misconstrued your intentions. I need to tell you about it and ask you if this is really how you meant to make me feel.” When you go to someone in this way, the person will often express regret for his actions and ask for forgiveness.
Now, let me mention here that in Mark 11:25, Jesus came at the subject of forgiveness from a different angle and made it clear that God expects us to forgive others, no matter what, if we want our prayers to be answered. But today let’s focus on what He said in Luke 17:3 about how we should respond to our offender if he repents. Jesus continued, “…If he repent, forgive him.” This word “repent” is the Greek word metanoeo, a compound of the word meta, which denotes a change, and the word nous, meaning mind. When the two words are compounded, the new word depicts a person who changes his mind and, ultimately, his behavior.
Jesus was saying that if your offender apologizes for his actions and promises to try not to do it again, you are to “forgive” him. Jesus never said that the offender had to meet your requirement for repentance, so don’t require what Jesus didn’t require. If your offender expresses true sorrow for his words or actions and asks for forgiveness — if he exhibits a change of mind and heart about his actions — you are to forgive him and to let it go.
The truth is, God has already given you all the faith you need to forgive others when they offend or hurt you, whether or not they ever apologize or seek reconciliation themselves. But you still have to make the decision to use that faith to pull out every root of bitterness while it’s still a little seedling. Don’t wait to “lay the axe to the root” until you have a huge tree of anger and bitterness defiling your life!
That brings us to the word “forgive.” What does it really mean to forgive? The word “forgive” is the Greek word aphiemi — a simple, yet powerful word that means to dismiss, to release, or to let it go. In other words, if your offender offers you a sincere apology and asks for forgiveness, Jesus says you need to let it go! Rehashing the issue is not an option. Don’t waste your time and energy on something that has been dealt with according to the Word. Rather, put a smile back on your face, and get back on the playing field of life.
But what should you do if the same person offends you again in the same way? Jesus said, “And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.” Or to paraphrase this statement in modern English: “And if he violates and crosses a legitimate boundary seven times in a day, and seven times a day repents for his behavior, you are to let it go.”
If a person repeatedly hurts you after apologizing and asking for forgiveness, you might be tempted to judge his repentance as insincere. However, you must be careful not to put yourself in a position where you are judging the character of a person’s heart. That is only for God to decide. Perhaps God is dealing with a difficult aspect of his character or with his dealings with other people. Or maybe the person was truly sorry, but he just keeps stumbling again and again.
If the person is willing to acknowledge his error and ask for forgiveness, Jesus said we are obligated to forgive them every single time. We must dismiss it, release it, and let it go.
Jesus’ message may be a difficult pill to swallow in the heat of a conflict, but when you consider your options, it is the only path that makes sense and brings peace into your life. Would you rather be in strife constantly with a person who upsets you? Would you prefer to harbor unforgiveness and develop a hard heart? Of course not. Hardening your own heart will never change the heart of your offender; it will just produce problems in two people’s lives instead of one. It’s far better to let the offense go as many times as necessary and keep your own heart pure and free.
The devil wants to sidetrack you with little problems that will knock you out of the game of life, but you don’t have to let him do it. Follow Jesus’ instructions, and you will achieve victory in your relationships. If you perceive that someone has wronged you, pray about it, frankly and politely confront the situation, and then give that person the opportunity to repent and ask for forgiveness. Your job is to let the offense go and be free of it. And no matter how many times that person offends you, Jesus requires you to forgive him each and every time.
It’s time for you to shake it off and get back on the playing field of life!
Rick Renner is a prolific author and a highly respected Bible teacher and leader in the international Christian community. He is the author of more than 30 books, including the bestsellers Dressed To Kill and Sparkling Gems From the Greek.
In 1992, Rick and his family moved to what is now the former Soviet Union. Two years later, he and his wife Denise founded the Riga Good News Church in Latvia before moving on to Moscow in 2000 to found the Moscow Good News Church. In 2007, the Renners also launched the Kyiv Good News Church in the capital of Ukraine. Today, Rick serves as Bishop for this group of churches.
In addition, Rick and Denise pioneered a Bible school, and a ministerial association that serves thousands of Russian-speaking pastors throughout the former USSR as well as parts of the Middle East.
Rick also founded Media Mir, the first Christian television network established in the former USSR. Its broadcast capabilities via terrestrial stations in Russia, Ukraine, Mongolia, Estonia, Poland, Latvia, Armenia, Georgia, and Moldova, and as well by satellite means millions of people are reached with these messages. It has since expanded into book publishing and managing social media accounts.