“If your brother sins, rebuke him. And if he repents, forgive him.” Luke 17:3
Two if-clauses here. First if-clause:
If your brother sins — chapter-and-verse disobedience to the Bible — and the sin is against you, rebuke him. Not a demeaning humiliation. Just sit down with him and say, “Brother, here in [biblical text], God says . . . . But last Tuesday, you and I were in that meeting and, as I recall, you said/did . . . . Brother, I can’t see how that behavior lines up with this verse. How do you see it?” No vague generalities, but verifiable facts, clearly addressed by the Bible.
We need to have the freedom to rebuke one another’s sinful and foolish behavior. But let’s be gentle and respectful. Let’s offer the brother an opportunity to explain himself. After all, there might be more to it than one realizes. And let’s avoid the verb “to be” (“You are . . .”) or “always” and “never” (“You always/never . . .”). Those categories are too absolute to be fair. They blast the brother to smithereens, with no dignity left.
If he repents, forgive him. Conditional forgiveness? Yes. The Lord is explaining how to restore the relationship. We must forgive unconditionally and absolutely within our hearts. But for the relationship to be restored, there must be confession of sin. How can a sin be forgiven, if it’s never been confessed? So hopefully the brother says, “Darn it, you’re right. I didn’t see it that way at the moment, but there it is in the Bible. I was wrong, I’m sorry, and it won’t happen again. Is there anything I can do now to fix the situation?”
What he needs to hear is, “Dear brother, thank you for receiving what I said so humbly. It’s why people respect you. I do forgive you, and wholeheartedly. Thank you for asking about follow-through. Yes, there is something positive that would help. Let’s work on it together. What would you think of . . . ?”
The Lord makes these practical things clear. He is wise. Let’s follow him.