By Larry Ray Hafley
Zacchaeus, the little rich, notorious, conniving, defrauder and extortionist, has repented and been forgiven (Luke 19:8-10). Now, how do I treat him? He cheated me and my family out of a lot of money. Tell me, how am I supposed to act towards him? Should I coldly ignore him and hold him in contempt? Should I feel harsh toward those who forgive him and accept him back into the fold? Should I remain bitter and distrustful? What should I do? How should I act?
The most immoral woman in our town (Samaria), the one whose sinful deeds evilly affected and embarrassed our family, claims to have found the Christ (John 4:9-42). If this sexually impure woman has been forgiven, how do I treat her? She has ruined the lives of several families and has irreparably hurt and scarred the lives of the children involved. Should I continue to look down upon her as a “tramp”? Should I distrust and feel resentment toward those who receive her back into our community? Tell me, how am I supposed to act towards her now?
So this is what the music and dancing is all about (Luke 15:11-32)! My so-called brother has finally come crawling back home, but only after staining the family name and wasting our father’s fortune. He threw it all away on prostitutes, and, now, when he has no place else to turn, he comes back home and expects to be received! Well, don’t expect me to accept him back with open arms! No siree! Let him stew in his own juice. After all he has done to de- grade and destroy our family, I cannot understand how dad can allow him back on the property, let alone give him a welcome home feast! What a travesty of honor and justice! I am going to let dad know exactly how I feel! (Later, after talking to his father and expressing his bitterness, the elder brother silently may have wondered, “How should I treat my brother when I see him?”)
Saul of Tarsus, our nation’s Brutus, and the Jewish equivalent to Judas, after killing my wife and my mother and father, after causing me to live underground and lose my business, has now been converted to our Lord! How am I supposed to treat this man who was the lead assassin in the murder of our beloved brother Stephen (Acts 7:58; 22:20)? I hear he may soon be asked to address the church I attend. I cannot bear to think of all the sorrow his actions have brought and how he has ruined my life; so, how can I face him and listen to him preach?
Simon the Sorcerer, the long-time spiritual quack and con man, has been up to some of his old tricks and has been forgiven after his alleged conversion (Acts 8:9-25). Years ago because she believed in him, my mother turned over our family’s inheritance to this man. He swindled her out of every penny my father left us. Now, he has asked for forgiveness after lapsing back into his old carnal ways. Tell me how I should treat him? It appears that Peter trusts him and has said that his repentance would secure his forgive- ness, but how can I accept such a deceitful man?
Perhaps the most disgusting fornicator the world has ever known apparently has repented (1 Cor. 5; 2 Cor. 2:6-11). Even some of the vile, immoral pagans were sickened by this man’s evil! How should I treat him when the whole church is come together for worship (1 Cor. 11:20-29; 14:23; 16:2)? Since I find him utterly repulsive, should I give him “the cold shoulder” and purposely ignore him?
“Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:21, 22). “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14, 15). “For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy” (Jas. 2:13).
“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). “Forbearing one another and forgiving one another, if any man hath a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Col. 3:13). “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Gal. 6:1).
(After withdrawal from the fornicator in 1 Corinthians 5, it seems that he repented. Later, Paul commented on their action and on their present obligation.) “Sufficient to such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, lest somehow such a one be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him” (2 Cor. 2:6-8). “Love . . . does not take into account a wrong suffered” (1 Cor. 13:4, 5).
“Father, forgive them: for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). “And they stoned Stephen. . . . And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:59, 60). “God, be merciful.