Part 9: Paul & Forgiveness

Sin against the Lord or a person(s) + Teshuvah (repentance & a 180° change in conduct by the offender) + forgiveness from the offended = Reconciliation with Christ or an injured person(s).

The Apostle Paul Did Not Practice Forgiveness Without Teshuvah

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul instructs the Corinthian church to separate from its congregation those who are fornicators, covetous, revilers, drunkards, extortionists, or idolaters.  He did not instruct the church to automatically forgive these transgressors.  In fact, he even instructs them to not even eat with them (see 5:11b).

“But you should eat with persons inquiring into the faith [] and with fellow-believers in good standing[.]  David H. Stern, “Jewish New Testament Commentary”, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., pp. 449-450.

“Therefore put away from yourselves that wicked person.”  (1 Corinthians 5:13) (NKJV).

“Paul quotes [Deuteronomy] 13:5; 17:7, and other passages (applying to idolatry and other misdeeds) to justify expulsion for immoral behavior; he is not, however, advocating capital punishment.”   Stern, “Jewish New Testament Commentary”, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., p. 295.

In 1 Corinthians 6:1-6, Paul takes issue with those in the Corinth church who were setting a bad example by filing suit against one another in Roman (pagan) courts.  Basically he stated how bad it looked for the Saints who would one day judge the angels were, in their earthly walks, going to pagan courts because they were unable to settle their differences with each other peacefully.  This was another incident where when he saw a wrong he did not wholeheartedly forgive.

The idea that a person can profess belief in God or in [Christ] and still highhandedly go on sinning is repugnant to the writers of Scripture.  Overly easygoing congregations bring shame on the Messianic Community by soft pedaling the need for believers to change their lifestyles.  Such congregations produce complacent pseudo-believers.  Some take advantage of the notion that God is gradually changing them, thereby justifying continued indulgence in their sings.  God, has made his will clear, has provided through the power of the Lord [Christ] the Messiah and the Spirit of our God everything needed to overcome known grievous sins like the ones named in these verses [1-13].  Stern, “Jewish New Testament Commentary”, 450.

He instructed the faithful of Thessalonica to not associate with their brethren who did not conduct themselves properly (by not working & engaging in idle gossip).  He gave no instruction to forgive them:

“But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.”  (2 Thessalonians 3:6) (NKJV). 

“Here [Paul] takes a firmer hand (vv. 10-14); he has strong opinions on the subject (1 Tim 5:8).  Stern, “Jewish New Testament Commentary”, 631.

“And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed.  Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”  (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15) (NKJV). 

The practice of “shunning” found, for example, among the Amish in Pennsylvania, is based on passages such as this (1C 5:4-13 and 2C 2:5-11).  Popular journalistic accounts present it as cruel.  Without judging the manner in which it is actually done, we can see from this and the other passages cited that its purpose should not be primarily punishment but ministry. Stern, “Jewish New Testament Commentary”, p. 631.

[Paul warns they] should have nothing to do with them, perhaps ejecting them from communal meals.  However, they are not to regard them as enemies.  This appears contradictory, and no specific policies are offered, though the emphasis is on faithfulness to tradition, not rules for membership.  Amy-Jill Levine & Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, Oxford University Press, Inc. ©2011, p 382.

He taught Titus in Crete to rebuke false teachers, not forgive them:

“Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.”  Titus 1:13 (NKJV).

Another Pauline Example of Repentance by Way of Teshuvah

Paul was concerned that the church in Corinth was opposing his leadership and questioning his authority.  He sent Titus there with a strong letter of reprimand to try and bring the church into line.

Titus later returned with good news: “Paul, the people have really repented. They really love you, Paul. They really appreciate your love and concern for them. And they were grieving over these things that they had allowed to become a part of the fellowship there in Corinth.” And so, Paul speaks about the report of Titus just really rejoicing his heart.

“For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent” (2Cr 7:8)

Man, I was sorry for a while until I got Titus’ word. I was really sorry that I wrote that letter, because I didn’t know how the response was. And so at one time, I had really felt bad that I wrote it. Now I don’t.

“for I perceive that the same epistle [or letter] hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death” (2nd Cr 7:8-10).

And so, Paul draws a distinction here between sorrow and repentance. There is a sorrow; there is a godly sorrow that works repentance. There is a sorrow of the world that brings death. Repentance brings a change. True repentance is to change. We find in the Scriptures that Judas brought the money back that he had received from the high priest when he betrayed Jesus. And he said, “Take this back; I betrayed innocent blood.” And they said, “What’s that to us? It’s your problem.”  And so he threw it down at their feet and he went out and he said, “Now it’s your problem.” And he repented and went out and hung himself. (Matthew 27:3-5).

Judas was sorry for what he did, as many people are sorry for what they have done. But if you’re sorry and you keep doing it, that just brings death. If you’re sorry and you don’t do it anymore, that’s repentance. Godly sorrow that leads to repentance.

I dare say if you would go to San Quentin Prison and do a survey asking the question, “Are you sorry for your crime?” That you probably have a very high ratio of prisoners that would mark a “Yes, I am sorry for what I did.” But if they were totally honest, and your next question said, “Are you sorry for what you did, or are you sorry that you got caught?” That if they were truly honest, most of them would then put, “I’m sorry I got caught.” For when they get out, they go back and they do the same thing over again, only they would try and do it more cleverly so they won’t get caught the next time.

Now, make sure that you just don’t have a sorrow that you’ve been found out, sorrow that you got caught. That’s worldly sorrow. Godly sorrow brings a change [teshuvah], a changed life. “Godly sorrow works repentance to salvation, not to be repented of.”

For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter (2Cr 7:11).

So, the things that Paul wrote to them about: their carnality, their allowing into the fellowship evil conditions. And there was a real repentance there in Corinth over these things.  Chuck Smith, Senior Pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, founder of Calvary Chapel worldwide fellowship, graduate of Life Bible College, prolific author, courtesy of

“And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.”  (Ephesians 4:32)

How did God in Christ forgive us?  We repented, asked for forgiveness and changed our conduct totally.

“Though less common in the NT than ‘imitators of Christ’ (see Matt 5:44-45, 48) B. Shabb. 133b states that humans should be merciful in imitation of God’s mercy.  Paul urges his audience to imitate him in faithfulness (e.g., 1 Cor 4:16; 11:1; Phil 3:17).” Amy-Jill Levine & Marc Zvi Brettler, The Jewish New Testament, Oxford University Press, Inc., ©2011, p. 351.

Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.  Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.  (1Timothy 5:19-20).

Now, if every church’s leaders practiced what Paul was advocating in v. 20, the pews would be empty.  However, let’s not miss the point being made here:  The Apostle Paul was very serious about confronting trouble makers that were infiltrating the churches he established, not forgiving them for forgiveness sake.

John Calvin said:

For if any man shall offend against the whole Church, Paul enjoins that he be publicly reproved, so that even elders shall not be spared; for it is in reference to them that he expressly enjoins Timothy, to rebuke them publicly in the presence of all, and thus to make them a general example to others, (1 Tim v. 20). And certainly it would be absurd that he who has committed a public offense, so that the disgrace of it is generally known, should be admonished by individuals; for, if a thousand persons are aware of it, he ought to receive a thousand admonitions.

Here, in this a public matter, the Apostle Paul was calling for reconciliation, not a flat out forgiveness by fiat of any errant church elder.

Additionally, Did the Apostle Paul Forgive Without Requiring a Change in Conduct (Teshuvah) in These Instances?:

  1. When he encountered the sorcerer, Bar-Jesus, in Acts 13:6-12?
  2. When he was stoned in Lystra?  (see Acts 14:19)
  3. When the magistrates ordered him released from prison in Acts 16:35-40?
  4. When an angry mob tried to seize him in Acts 19:23-40?
  5. When he was dragged from the temple in Jerusalem, then beaten to the point that he couldn’t walk in Acts 21?
  6. When Jewish plotters planned to ambush and kill him in Acts 23:12-22.  Did he forgive them?
  7. When the high priest and the Jews who accused him before Governor Felix in Caesarea in Acts 23:10-21?
  8. Also in the book of Acts, when he appeared before Festus, and Agrippa, did Paul outright forgive his accusers, or did he instead tell how he was commissioned by Christ to seek the repentance of Jews and Gentiles so that they might receive forgiveness?
  9. Did Paul speak of automatic forgiveness for those who perverted the gospel of grace in Galatians 1:6-9?
  10. How about the time when Paul learned that Peter was being inconsistent in Galatians 2:11-21?  Did he just automatically forgive Peter for the double standard?
  11. Did Paul exhibit an attitude of forgiveness in 1st Thessalonians 2:16; or an instruction to forgive in 5:14?
  12. How about Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica that had instructions to it to withdraw from every brother who was acting in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but were busybodies in 2nd Thessalonians 3:6-15?  Did he not exhibit teshuvah when he instructed “do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother?”
  13. How about in 1 Timothy 1:20, 5:1, or 6:5?
  14. How about in 2 Timothy 2:16-18?
  15. How about 2 Timothy 3:5, 3:8-9, or 3:16?
  16. Did he speak of automatic forgiveness in regard to Alexander the coppersmith who did him much harm in 2nd Timothy 4:14?
  17. Did he speak of automatic forgiveness in regard to the false teachers in Titus 1:10-16?
  18. Didn’t Paul advise in Titus 2:1-15, to admonish, exhort, rebuke with authority, and in 3:10, to reject?
  19. How about Titus 3:15?

The answer to all of these questions is, obviously, No.  Also, I think it’s fair to say that Paul, demonstrated teshuvah big time by the way he lived his life after his Damascus Road experience, considering all the churches he planted around the Mediterranean Sea and the sufferings he endured.  He didn’t become a believer only to situate himself permanently in Jerusalem, or some other place for the rest of his life.  Instead he demonstrated a changed life conduct by promoting what he once tried to destroy.  That was the teshuvah ingredient in Paul’s walk of earthly repentance!

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