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Forgive – But How?


Few Jesus-followers would dispute the fact that we need to forgive those who offend or wrong us. However, just how and when to do this can be very problematic.

I am  writing this article, not just as a pastoral teaching, but as a means of working through a practical issue that has affected me and many others. Unforgiveness destroys relationships and can cause mental and even physical health problems in the offended party, so it is something we cannot ignore or postpone for too long.

Jesus’ Teaching

The Lord Jesus taught that we should forgive. He included it in the prayer format that he gave his disciples (Matthew 6:12-15) and ended with, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” This sentiment is repeated in Mark 11:26 and Luke 6:37.

Oh, OK, so I just need to pray, “Lord, I forgive so-and-so for this-and-that” and everything will be fine? No, that won’t do because Matthew 18 records a story Jesus told to illustrate the concept of forgiveness, which he concluded with: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”  (18:35). The key phrase here is ‘from your heart’, and that is where the rubber hits the road (or as we say in South Africa ‘the tackie hits the tar’). It is easy to forgive in the mind, but the ‘heart’? … not so much.

There is no doubt that Jesus instructs us to forgive in a real and heartfelt way.

The Problem

The problem is not in knowing that we need to forgive, but in knowing how and when to do this.  Matthew 18:15-19 sets out the Lord’s instructions regarding sin that affect the church community or its Christian reputation. It starts with ‘If your brother sins against you…’, but the better translations all add the footnote that the words ‘against you’ are omitted from some manuscripts. This omission makes more sense of the passage because the process that Jesus sets out lands up under the purview of the local church and has a form of ex-communication as the ultimate negative outcome. It does not make a lot of sense to omit the words ‘against you’ if the ‘sin’ in question is a purely interpersonal matter. So, this passage does not give us much help when it comes to personal offence and forgiveness.

Another problematic aspect is when the persons who have ‘sinned’ against you might not be aware of the hurt they have caused.

Jesus’ instruction on this is in Luke 17:3, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him“. So, if you have reason to think that the offender does not realise that they have offended you, then bring it to their attention and perhaps they will ask for forgiveness. However, I have found from painful personal experiences that it is often very hard to accept that the person in question could be unaware of the impact of his/her words. It is seems so obvious to you that anybody could be unaware of the damage done to your self-worth or sense of identity. This then raises another obstacle to approaching the offender … rejection and counterattack from them. Sometimes you even have the evidence of experiences to lead you to conclude that your challenge, no matter how gently made, will be aggressively rejected. Of course, the only way to find out is to approach the person anyway … and this risks further pain and humiliation.

Of course, if you are the offender, and know it, then the Lord’s clear instruction is that you immediately go and ask for forgiveness: “if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).

So, you see, forgiveness is not always as simple as it may seem.

A Solution to the Problem

Full forgiveness in any relational sense is impossible to grant if the one causing the offence does not ask for it. However, Mark records something Jesus said that is helpful here. He said: ”When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in Heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:35)  It is hard to imagine, in this example that the man was supposed to stop praying, dash off to find the person he held a grudge against, forgive him although he may not have asked for forgiveness, and then resume praying. A more likely explanation is that Jesus requires an offended person to adopt an attitude of heart that is willing to forgive if so asked. In other words, prayerfully commit to forgiving if asked to do so.

This conforms to the pattern we have in God’s attitude towards us; we ask him to forgive us and he does so because his heart is disposed towards this. ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9). Luke 17:4 confirms this approach: “Even if he wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, forgive him.” NLT

Kevin Carson, department chair of biblical counselling at the Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri, writes:

The process is a little more complex though. Although we try forgiving in our hearts before God, often the subconscious mind interferes with the integrity of this ‘attitudinal forgiveness’. We catch ourselves in moments of reflection remembering the pain and we even create an imaginary dialogue where we tell the offenders just how we feel and how they have wronged us. Sometimes, this can only be resolved when transactional forgiveness has taken place. Until then all we can do is pray for God to bless (not correct) them and, continue to restate our willingness to forgive whenever these thoughts intrude, and ensure that we are sufficiently in contact and available to receive a request for forgiveness if and when the person is convicted of the need to do so .

There are some obvious exceptions to this principle of ‘transactional forgiveness’. For instance, the person may be dead or otherwise uncontactable, or mentally unable to process and respond. In these cases, ‘attitudinal forgiveness’ must simply have to suffice and the Holy Spirit will over time deal with any residual negative emotions.

Another aspect I have not dealt with is the idea of ‘self forgiveness’ epitomised by the phrase “I just can’t forgive myself for….”. As I see it, the simple truth is that we cannot forgive ourselves for anything, but we can confess and ask forgiveness for everything. The biblical assurance is clear that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) To continue to live in a state of self-condemnation is surely an affront to God and a lack of faith is the scriptures?

Process and Assumptions

Let me share with you two insights that I recently acquired.

The first is that forgiveness is a process. The sort of events or incidents that create serious mental anguish cause relationship failure. If we lose relationships that we have cherished then we mourn in some way. Mourning is a process that has no fixed expiry date. Often the process involves stages of denial, anger, depression, and finally acceptance. So, although we, and others, know that we need to confront the problem and approach the offender, it takes time to do. Our hearts need to be prepared, as does the heart of the offender. If we are open to the possibility of reconciliation then the Holy Spirit will work in all the lives concerned until the time comes when things can be positively resolved.

The second insight is that we often make assumptions about the state of the other person, which turn out to be untrue or one-sided. For instance, he/she may view the break in the relationship as our fault: we walked away, we didn’t care enough to try, and so on. This coupled with a lack of awareness of the damage they have done to you can result in them taking offence and feeling that you need to ask their forgiveness.


Forgiveness is required of us by God. It starts with an attitude of preparedness and commitment to forgive the person who has caused the offence.

However, it can only be effective in its fullness when forgiveness is sought and granted. When we release the offenders and give up the right to exact a penalty, then our conscience is clear before God and our relationship with him unsullied. When forgiveness is asked for and granted, the heart is then healed and a way open to restore the relationship.

Unforgiveness is a serious threat to our mental and spiritual health and negatively affects our relationship with Jesus and his people. Unforgiveness is a double-whammy problem because it impoverishes both the offended and the offender in some way irrespective of the merits of the case. Sometimes it even affects family and friends who grieve or take offence on behalf of one party or both. It is something we just cannot ignore.

‘Our Father in heaven:

May your holy name be honoured;

may your Kingdom come;

may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today the food we need.

Forgive us the wrongs we have done,

as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.

Do not bring us to hard testing,

but keep us safe from the Evil One.’


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Looking at divorce through Jesus-tinted spectacles


Divorce through Jesus spectacles

Any way we look at it, divorce is a problem.

It is a problem for the vast number of Christians who experience divorce, it is a problem for the pastors to attempt to heal the wounds caused, and it is a problem for theologians who cannot agree on how to deal with it. In three decades as a local church pastor, I never encountered even one divorce that was not painful and destructive at some level.

What makes it even more painful for those experiencing divorce is that often their theologians and teachers judge them harshly and condemn them to a future life of celibacy and loneliness.
The only parties who get a free pass in these circles are those who’s spouses have committed adultery; the rest are told to suck it up and persevere, or divorce and incur God’s judgement and the churches censure.

I have written a 2,600-word article on the subject of divorce, which you can find HERE, but for those who just want the high-level points, here they are:

  • Matthew 5:31-32 records Jesus’ statement concerning divorce within the context of the Sermon on the Mount, and more particularly, within the context of the true nature of the Law concerning adultery. The subject matter is adultery, not divorce, and Jesus’ objective was to show the Pharisees that their righteousness was fake because when they divorced their wives they were guilty of breaking the 7th Commandment.
  • Matthew 19:3-12 presents the account of how the Pharisees tried to draw Jesus into taking sides with one or other of the prominent teachers of the time. One taught that only adultery provided grounds for divorce while the other held that a man might divorce his wife for any reason. Jesus responded by defining marriage as God-given and inviolate. When questioned about Moses’ sanction of divorce, Jesus informed them that this had only been allowed because of the hardness of their hearts, but that this did not make it acceptable.
  • Those who present divorce almost as an unpardonable sin often cite Malachi 2:13-16. However, this passage does not constitute an absolute ban on divorce, and how could it when Moses later sanctioned Certificates of Divorce and prohibited only one particular practice concerning divorce.
  • In 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 Paul only approves of divorce when a non-Christian spouse initiates it.
  • It is clear to me that God does not approve of divorce. However, divorce is not the 11th Commandment and does not constitute an unpardonable sin. It appears from Moses’ reference to a certificate of divorce that although God finds it very displeasing, He does provide for it in order to protect His people, and particularly the women. Jesus made it clear that this concession was only because of the hardness of heart and not because He or His Father approved of it.
  • The Lord Jesus dealt with a woman caught in adultery in a very compassionate and forgiving manner (John 8:10-11). From this, and other passages that deal with repentance and forgiveness, we cannot argue that adultery constitutes a sin that God will not forgive, or that He will not fully restore a repentant adulterer.
  • Jesus does teach that sexual union between either one or both parties in a post-divorce re-marriage constitutes an initial act of adultery, but there is no indication in His teaching that re-marriage creates a condition of ongoing adultery.
  • 1 John 1:9 has, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”. This is a well-established biblical principle and must apply to every class of sin except for attributing the supernatural works of Jesus to the devil (Mark 3:29).
  • May a divorced person remarry? My answer is ‘yes’, provided the parties concerned realise that they have broken covenant and that God is not at all pleased with this. Additionally, they need to repent and seek to correct the attitudes and circumstances that lead to the divorce. Their pastor should be involved in preparing them properly for the new marriage covenant and pray with them for forgiveness and restoration.
  • When is it acceptable to initiate divorce? In my opinion, physical or severe emotional abuse or rape are reasons to initiate a divorce. This would certainly also be the case if children were being harmed or in real danger of harm. Unrepentant and repeated adultery would also give grounds for divorce. But, in all these cases I would strongly suggest counselling or professional intervention before a divorce is finalised. Severing a marriage covenant is greatly displeasing to God and very harmful to all involved, and so divorce should always be a last resort.

Divorce is usually painful, destructive, and a negative influence on children, family and friends.

People who have experienced divorce, other than the callously self-seeking, should be treated more with compassion than with legalistic censure.
If you would like to read the full article then you will find it HERE, next week I will publish a TruthTalk dealing with this controversial subject.

Looking at divorce through Jesus-tinted spectacles Read More »

Suicidal message

The Sin of Suicide

The sin of suicide

Over one million people worldwide commit suicide every year, and for every one of those, there are another 25 people who attempted suicide but failed.

But surely, you say, this problem does not exist in the Christian community to anything like the same extent. Well, according to an article in Christianity Today ‘suicide occurs among Christians at essentially the same rate as non-Christians’.

As a retired Pastor, I just hate to acknowledge that suicide is a problem for Christians… but it is.
Just over a month ago I spent two days ministering to a beautiful young Christian woman who had attempted to take her life three times in as many weeks. This last Sunday a Christian man gave testimony in the church service of how Jesus had recently changed his life, and then mentioned that just a couple of years ago he had tried to end it all. The reality is all around us and we dare not ignore it!

Some folk who believe in ‘the perseverance of the elect’ don’t believe that a Christian is not capable of committing suicide. So, if someone in their circle takes his own life, then he is deemed to have been ‘unsaved’ and his family and friends have to bear the pain of this judgement along with the agony of loss and guilt. I think that this sort of denial is singularly unhelpful, and actually very cruel.

The Roman Catholic church used to deny burial to those who took their own lives: They still hold that suicide is a mortal sin but have softened in how they deal with this tragedy. Some‘evangelicals’ are, I am sad to say, even more hard-line than 19th century Roman Catholics and label suicide as ‘a quick ticket to Hell’.

Is suicide offensive to God? Yes, I believe it is; it is a violation of His command not to murder (Exodus 20:13), and suicide is self-murder, and it is also a rejection of His gift of life. The violation of any of the Ten Commandments is surely offensive to God so why then is self-murder regarded as an irredeemable sin condemning the offender to Hell but, say, giving false testimony is not? The answer given by the ‘fast ticket to Hell’ brigade is that a person who commits suicide has no opportunity to repent and thus cannot be forgiven. But what then do Pauls’ words mean when he says; ‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:38-39)?

When I counsel a woman wanting to divorce her husband, I tell her that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) but that it is not the unforgivable sin and it will not consign her to Hell. Similarly, I would beseech someone contemplating suicide to NOT DO IT, and would certainly point out that it is offensive to God and devastating to loved ones… but I would NOT tell them that they will go to Hell if they act out their morbid wishes.

It is commonly said that suicide is the most selfish of sins because it leaves behind so much hurt and devastation in the lives of others, so why do people take their own lives? Here are some of the reasons I have encountered:

  • God is loveSome Christians are so beset by demonic powers, and so unaware of the authority they have in Christ Jesus, that they succumb to the voices in their heads and act to end their lives.
  • Others are brought so low by addictions and failures that they just cannot see a way to rise above the chaos they have created for themselves and others.
  • Yet others have come to the end of their resources and cannot face another day of living with crushing pain, poverty, or guilt.They are not will not be able to see even a glimmer of the hope we have in Jesus Christ and find thus their lives unbearable.
  • Some people even take their own lives because they truly believe at the time that it is the best solution to the problems confronting those they love most.
  • In many cases, it is a combination of several of these factors, and in most instances, alcohol, drugs or deep chemical depression play a major role.
A person contemplating suicide needs our love, compassion, and practical help, not our condemnation and judgement.Those who were close to a person who has committed suicide need our support, not our theological opinions.
We need never compromise our belief or sugar-coat what we understand the Bible to teach BUT we surely need to represent Jesus in such circumstances and talk and act as we know He would.

Do you know why I regard the suicide of a believer as such a tragedy? It is because a Christian who ends their own life is cutting short the opportunity that only this life on earth can offer; the opportunity of coming to know Jesus, becoming like Him, and helping others to do likewise. It is also tragic because it leaves behind a legacy of guilt, confusion, and excruciating emotional pain, and it breaks God’s heart.

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The Sin of Suicide Read More »

About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.