A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

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.

21 Comments

  1. joepote01

    Jeff, for me, the issue has been more one of learning to distinguish between forgiveness and trust.

    I feel compelled by Christ to forgive. My forgiveness is given freely, regardless of the other person’s spiritual state, whether or not they ask for forgiveness, or whether or not they have repented.

    I am not compelled by Christ to trust someone who has repeatedly and intentionally hurt me, nor am I compelled to place myself in a position of being vulnerable to, or dependent on, that untrustworthy person’s “good graces.” In fact, God’s wisdom compels me not to.

    My forgiveness is given freely. My trust must be earned…and I am not even compelled to give the opportunity to earn my trust.

    I do not owe vulnerability or relationship to someone who has repeatedly proven themselves untrustworthy.

    This position of forgiving without entrusting gives me great freedom and peace of mind.

    I do not feel compelled to try to judge whether or not the abuser has truly repented or is simply trying to manipulate emotions (again). It is neither my concern, nor my responsibility.

    I have forgiven, and I am not trusting. If they have truly repented, then they are free to pursue a relationship with God, or with anyone else to whom God may lead them…except for me…because I don’t trust them…and I have good reason not to.

    God knows their heart, and I can trust Him to treat them as He sees fit. I do not want or need to know their heart, because I am not in relationship with them.

  2. I think that a great deal of the confusion can be resolved if we realize that there is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. It is possible to release a person from his ‘debt’ to us and still hold him accountable for his sins. (Now the abuser will cry that we are unbiblical in this application!) Consider the relationship, for example, between Paul and Alexander the coppersmith, or John and Diotrephes. One would be hard pressed to say that the apostles had an un-Christian view of the matter, yet they were not reconciled to these men because they were behaving wickedly. Or, consider the issue of a believer under the discipline of God for sin. God has forgiven him for Christ’s sake, yet they are not truly reconciled until there is real and demonstrable repentance.

    • joepote01

      “I think that a great deal of the confusion can be resolved if we realize that there is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.”

      Yes! Same concept as what I described above as the difference between forgiveness and trust. Reconciliation and relationship require trust. Forgiveness only requires letting go of past hurts…which is difficult enough…but much easier if we realize that it does not require intentional vulnerability.

  3. Jaell

    While I do understand the concept and usage of trust in this life, the post about ‘trust’ has initially set off my radar. I’ve lived long enough to know that when I seek what God has to say, then I’m on much more solid ground to navigate a broken world full of minefields and quick sand.

    For example “I feel compelled by Christ to forgive.” What does this mean?

    Also: “I do not feel compelled to try to judge whether or not the abuser has truly repented or is simply trying to manipulate emotions (again). It is neither my concern, nor my responsibility.”

    While this might sound good on paper, I’m not sure how it would play out in real life. Whose concern is it? I experienced (recipient) a whole lot of ‘not my concern’ over the decades, and it never worked out well for me.

    How do we then discern between and practice Luke 17: 3, 4 or Lev 19:17 or I Tim 5:20 etc.? Whose concern and responsibility is Matt 18:17?

    • joepote01

      Jael, my comments were made from the point of view of a victim of abuse, not of a pastor or church elder.

      From a stand point of church discipline and protecting the flock, yes this discernment is a serious responsibility.

      However, as a victim of an abusive marriage who is no longer married to the abuser, I do not feel responsible for monitoring her behavior, nor trying to judge her heart. In fact it would be both ineffective and unhealthy to continue obsessing over that which is neither my responsibility nor under my control.

  4. Anonymous

    Yes, I agree with the others. When people urge forgiveness, what they are urging is a tearing down of barriers so that two people are united. That to me seems more like reconciliation. Then there are those that urge forgiveness while accepting that distance has to be maintained. In that case, it seems more like having an attitude of not being vengeful.

    But I can see that Pastor Crippen is taking it one step further. To forgive is to act upon the forgiveness offered by Christ, and that is only really possible to those who are repentant. So when we say we don’t need to forgive, what we mean is that while we maintain an attitude of love (ie doing good) and not malice, we also can’t extend what we don’t have the authority to extend, that is, forgiveness to an enemy. In this case, unforgiveness means not being able to reconcile and trust – it does not mean harboring bitterness.

    • Jeff Crippen

      What I said, only better! Thanks Anon:)

  5. One of the reasons that I carefully distinguish between forgiveness and repentance is that abusers hammer their victims on the subject of forgiveness, quoting the scriptures concerning it over and over. I can show them (the victims) that they can let go of their own improper resentments (there is proper anger and proper resentment) and, at the same time, hold their abusers accountable and not feel obligated to put themselves back in a situation to be harmed. It, so far, has given the victims something solid to hold on to and not feel that they are being unbiblical.

  6. Jeff Crippen

    Larry – right on. It seems like there are few Christians or pastors who understand this. I am not sure why, but it must have something to do with thinking too lightly about sin and definitely minimizing the need for repentance. This is why the study of abusers has helped me so much — it is really a study of sin and the psychology of sin and it lays to rest inadequate ideas about forgiveness, reconciliation, and so on. It needs to be required study in our seminaries. The typical counseling courses normally offered just don’t get to it. Have you noticed how light on pastoral experience many seminary faculties are?

    • One could make a long list of the deficiencies. The main one, I believe, is inadequacy in the understanding of repentance. Once a person has truly experienced it, once he truly knows in his soul what it is, he is able to counsel others concerning it. Our ‘Christian’ culture, for the most part, does not comprehend the subject. Their own experience, I believe, amounts to telling God “I’m sorry,” and assuming that is repentance. Therefore, many preachers see little difference in the ‘repentance’ of the abuser and their own. Since they assume that God forgives them on the basis of this puny apology, they are almost forced to assume that the abuser should be forgiven.

      But when one experiences and truly knows the gut-wrenching power of God-given repentance, he clearly sees the error of his training and the examples he has seen. He also can ‘smell’ the fraud of false repentance, since it is burned into his soul through his interactions with God.

      • Jeff Crippen

        I have to say that in all of my seminary years (5 of them), I never had a single professor discuss repentance in what the Puritans would have called “experimental” terms (close to our “experiential”). I am sure there are far better seminaries than the one I went to however. Still, the environment was far too academic, sin and its evil were not examined in depth, and all in all the training was geared more along the lines of a CEO being prepared to manage a growing enterprise. Another thing that I think is typically lacking, and it is connected with the deficiency regarding repentance, is that few, if any, faculty had actually truly suffered for Christ in the trenches of ministry for preaching Christ, and calling sinners to repentance. I had been a pastor for some 12 years when I went back to finish my degree and when I would tell fellow students about my experiences and the abuse I suffered in my churches as a result of preaching Christ’s truth, they were floored. They didn’t know what to say. And I am not sure that the atmosphere in the seminary really was one that encouraged such talk. Most of them, I think, just chalked it up to my failures and my excessive harshness with people. If I had just been a better pastor and spoken more tactfully, I wouldn’t have been abused and attacked as I was. Hey, where have we heard that line before! It’s the very same line the church so often tells women who are married to abusers.

      • The failure to understand, proclaim, teach and affirm the biblical doctrine of repentance is systemic. It reaches every corner of ‘Christian’ life. No wonder we are having problems dealing with unrepentant souls who think they are true believers. They have been taught to believe in a God Who grants forgiveness to apologetic but unrepentant people. The problem is much wider than marital abuse but this subject is a crucible in which the failures concerning the gospel are painted out in loud colors.

      • “He also can ‘smell’ the fraud of false repentance, since it is burned into his soul through his interactions with God.”

        “They have been taught to believe in a God Who grants forgiveness to apologetic but unrepentant people.”

        Thank you Larry for these wondrous words! You have it! You know it! You’ve lived it! I’m going to memorize these two sentences and use them when I talk to others.

  7. Anonymous

    Larry, just a couple of questions from reading your posts. Firstly, what is biblical resentment? Secondly, what does fraudulent repentance “smell” like?

    • Biblical resentment is a disapproving and active remembrance of an evil done because one hates evil and is angry about it, even though he has released the offender from his debt.
      3 John 9-10
      9 I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.
      10 Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church. KJV

      I use the word ‘smell’ to speak of a gut reaction that reconizes something vile because one has gagged on it and vomitted it out. How would one describe the smell of vomit? Difficult maybe to one who has never smelled it, but absolutely identifiable to one who has been exposed to it.

      • Anonymous

        Interesting. A few friends warned me about being resentful but I’m not sure why, because I never thought I was. I guess they never considered those verses!

        Regarding “smelling” fraudulent repentance, I think I know what you mean. It’s hard to describe, but you know it smells awful and you want to puke. Still can’t believe how it can fool so many people, even right now.

        I see that the next few posts give a lot more clarity, so thanks, Jeff.

    • The longer I go in my Christian walk, the more I am listening to my gut feelings. Well, if you don’t want to call them ‘gut feelings’, call them ‘promptings of the Spirit’ (but that’s a bit super-spiritual for my taste), or call them ‘the inner sense that something is not right’. What is not right is that the person’s words, body language, eyes, tone of voice, and vibes are not all giving out congruent messages. There is a mis-fit somewhere, a mis-match. This is what my gut picks up on.
      Maybe the vibes I’m picking up are different from the words the person states. Maybe their long-term conduct doesn’t match their stated intentions. Maybe their eyes are showing something contrary to what their mouth or deeds are showing. The differences can often be really subtle, but over time I’ve learned to notice the subtleties, and the commonalities, with these kinds of people. For example, I’ve met quite a few people in my time who had powerful stories to tell about how difficult their lives had been, but all the time there was a look of controlling power coming from their eyes. Their story would be trying to elicit sympathy from me, the listener, but all the time their eyes were boring into me with the message: “I dare you to disbelieve me! If you disbelieve me, I will curse you!” – I think this is demonic.

      • Barbara, Scot Peck talks about noticing how the interaction with evil people impacted him and thought that it was a significant part of the analysis. I think that you are onto something. One of the things that abusers do not ‘get’ is that they are not unique. It is almost like dealing with an adolescent who thinks that his lame excuses and lies are ‘bullet-proof’ and gets surprised when and adult does not ‘buy’ them. Rather than being unique, abusers are often so similar they could have been cut out of the same mold.

      • Yes, Larry, indeed! Cut from the same cloth. All been to the same devilish boarding school where they got A’s in corruption and manipulation.

  8. Anonymous

    Elders to victim: “He has said he is sorry and even cried over his sin. We saw it. He has even stated it to be sin. He is baptized. He is a member of the Church. What more can we look for in him, to be a Christian? We must believe he is a Christian. He is in the covenant community. He is a sinner, just like you! Shame on you for not granting him forgiveness and encouragement and loving him back to right living. It is your fault now, if he falls back into this sin.”

    No wonder there are so many wolves among the sheep, demanding the sheep forgive them, while they bathe in their sin, and continue to enjoy it.

    • Jeff Crippen

      If they don’t get it from their Bibles, then they better pick up Watson’s The Doctrine of Repentance. Every single one of these supposed indicators of repentance is discounted by Watson as not constituting true repentance. Tears alone mean nothing. Baptism? Do those elders actually believe baptism makes a person a Christian? If so, they need to go join up with the Pope. They have taken their “covenant” community into the realm of baptismal regeneration. And it calls a wicked man a Christian!

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