Forgiveness and Boundaries

"So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him." (Luke 17:3-4, NIV)

Luke 17:3-4
tells us to forgive if there is repentance.  However, repentance can become confusing in domestic violence, because repeated pleas for forgiveness and broken promises are often a part of the pattern of manipulation, control, and denial by the abuser.  Does forgiveness mean we must endure repeated abuse?  How do we apply this scripture to domestic violence?  

Webster's Collegiate Dictionary says that the word "repent" means "to turn from sin and to dedicate oneself to the amendment of one's life."  How can we tell if someone is sincerely repentant?  Repentance is different from being sorry or making promises.  John the Baptist, in preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins, emphasized that repentance must be accompanied by righteous actions (Luke 3:3,8-14).  He specifically said that manipulation, coercion, and false accusations (so common in domestic violence) must cease.  In the end, true heartfelt repentance is not just words or promises; it is proven by action.  

In Luke 17:3-4 Jesus taught that people need to be held accountable for their actions.  He said that we are to rebuke those who sin against us.  Websterís Dictionary defines rebuke as reproving, reprimanding, or forbidding. It is, in essence, setting boundaries!  We see a similar teaching in Matthew 18:15-17.  There we see we can set the boundary of ending a relationship with someone who will not stop being abusive.  

In Matthew 18:23-35, Jesus taught that forgiveness accountability, and drawing strong boundaries go hand in hand . Though the king in this parable forgave the servantís debt, he drew a boundary and held the servant accountable for his further offenses.  In an abusive relationship, maintaining boundaries and accountability may involve enforcement of a protection order or calling the police if there is a violent incident.  Forgiveness does not mean we should allow others to continue to abuse us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does "forgiveness" mean to you? Give a definition of forgiveness.
  2. Some people claim that forgiveness requires forgetting. Do Matthew 18:23-35 or Luke 17:3-4 support this idea? Why, or why not?

Copyright 2005   Judy Kennedy