Meet the Makarioi (Dispensers of Grace)

BLESSED ARE THE FORGIVEN

Forgiveness is by far the most complicated term among conscientious and sensitive people in our world. Every culture, race, and creed has their philosophy what it takes and what it means to be forgiven. Ultimately, all realize that forgiveness lies in the hands of a higher power. Christians are perhaps the most blessed because the grace of God covers all of their shortcomings. This, they derive from the Apostle Paul, stated in his Epistle to the Romans chapter four and verses seven and eight, “Blessed (makarioi) are those whose lawlessness has been forgiven and whose sins have been covered. Blessed (makarios) is the man whose sins the Lord does not add up.”

Forgiveness is at the heart of human redemption. It has to do with reconciliation, restoration, justification, and sanctification. For those who have put their faith in Paul, they need to be reminded that he may have over simplified the act of forgiveness. And if he has not simplified forgiveness, then we have grossly misunderstood and misinterpreted him. It is necessary that we examine the Greek text, the background, and the original source of the idea of God forgiving all sins.  Underlying our search is the question, “what role does man play in his own forgiveness? Paul’s answer was with sobering questions, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may overflow?” And, “How can we who died to sin still live in it” (Ro. 6:1-2)? We can, if we do not forgive, then we have not been forgiven. Forgiveness sets us free of the sins we have committed, and it continues to do so. As long as we are in this earthly body, we will stumble into each other, and we will remain in need of forgiveness. It is a negotiating tool, which at times, we may have to use seventy times seven per day. That is what Jesus told Peter he had to do (Mt. 18:21-22). In the eyes of God, we are like children, who keep on bruising each other and go on playing with each other.

Paul identified with David, the most famous and popular King in the history of Israel. He had broken many rules, committed serious crimes, including murder, adultery, and violated his own trust with his people. The end justified the means. He was used to get what he wanted, and those that followed him overlooked his indiscretions. Fortunately, the human conscience, which God installed in all human beings, can only take so much, and then our conscience breaks down under the load of sin. David threw himself on the mercy of God and cried out in desperation, “Blessed is he whose violations are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sins the Lord does not hold against him, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Ps. 32:1-3).

When we read the preceding verses and those that follow David’s declaration, we find no statement in which he felt righteous or justified by any act of mercy. Rather, it was the cry of a repentant sinner, who had come to the end of his wits, and he hoped that God would deal with him more gently than his fellow men would. That was how Paul must have felt; for, he, too, had heavy sins on his conscience. He never forgot that he once had persecuted the followers of Jesus and that he had consented to their death. Like David, Paul trusted in the mercy of the Lord, and he hoped that the Lord would not add up his sins. It also was one of Paul’s characteristics to make Scripture to support his thinking, even if it did not quite fit the context. In this case, quoting David appears out of line; yet, the end result of justification by faith demanded it. Paul did not have the four Gospels to assist him in his conclusion, like we do. The Gospels were edited very likely after Paul had passed on. We are indebted to Paul for making the remarkable connection between justification by faith and forgiveness. It was Paul, who told the followers of Christ that they were in the ministry of reconciliation (II Cor. 5:18-19). Paul claimed that he has his instructions from the Lord (Gal. 1:12). Peter (Mt. 16:17-19) and the other disciples were authorized to administer forgiveness (Jn. 20:23).

We have been raised, with the assurance, that Christ has done it all. What is there left for us to do? We are saved by grace through faith and not of works lest anyone should boast (Eph. 2:8-9). If works are a hindrance; then, why does it affect our forgiveness? To begin with, we are not saved from works, but from doing the wrong works. It all depends on what works we are doing. What we eagerly overlook, when we quote Paul, is the conclusion of the same portion of Paul’s writing that ends with, “created … unto good works” (Eph. 2:10). The same Paul held, “… forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). “Forgive just as the Lord has forgiven you” (Col. 3:13). “God will give to each person according to what he has done” (Ro. 2:6). “For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat,” and “… each one of us will give an account of himself to God” (Ro. 14:10,12). And, why did the Apostle keep working out his salvation with fear and trembling (Eph. 6:5)?

Jesus emphasis was that forgiveness was the only door to a happy life and a sure ticket into the kingdom of God. In fact, God should not be approached until one had been forgiven by forgiving In reality, we are debtors to each. We put ourselves in debt to others by what we do and. We are held responsible for the sins or transgressions we commit against others, and so are those against whom they were committed. Before we expect God to accept our gift, we must be reconciled with each other (Mt. 5:23-24). That is, no forgiveness can take place until reconciliation, restoration, justification, and sanctification have occurred. In fact, before we pray, we are told to forgive even the things that we have against others; that is, if we want God to forgive us (Mk. 11:25). And we are to make it a daily routine to forgive before we expect to be forgiven (Mt. 6:11-12).

Jesus used awesome Words to single out those who do not forgive. Here are some paraphrased from the Greek for us today, “I tell you, if you are upset with your brother, you will face a jury. Also, if you seek revenge against your brother, you will answer to the highest authorities on earth. But, if you call your brother incompetent, your life will be like hell” (Mt. 5:22-24). It is not just brothers or close relatives that require reconciliation; but, also adversaries. Our idea of freedom of speech is not excused, if we insult or defame others. Those, whom we degrade, have the right to drag us into court, and we have to pay for their damage. News reporters could benefit from reading what Jesus had to say on the subject (Mt. 5:25-26). This comes from a higher authority than from any Supreme Court in any land. 

There is an equally powerful text, which deals with even picking on our brother. Let us put it into our own behavior and see where we are headed. “Why do you pick on your brother for small mistakes and overlook your own mistakes, which are huge? How dare you say to him with tinny errors, ‘let me correct them’, when you cannot get rid of your large errors? Hypocrite! First, deal with your own big problem and then help others with their small ones.” Our brother is holy, like a pearl, in the eyes of God and our knit picking is like throwing him to dogs and pigs. What we do not realize is that our own reputation is not only ruined but destroyed” (Mt. 7:3-6).

Does this mean that I cannot help my brother with his mistakes? The answer is, yes!  But before we do, we must make certain that we have not been the cause of his transgression. This was how Luke understood Jesus (17:1-4). “It is impossible to avoid scandals, but woe to the one who causes them. It would be better for him to hang a weight around his neck and drown himself than bring about the fall of ordinary little people. Therefore, watch yourselves! Now, if your brother has caused you harm, remind him of what he has done. If he is sorry, forgive him. Even if he hurts you seven times per day and apologizes seven times, you forgive him.” We judge others by our faults. Sooner than later, they will reciprocate. And they will judge us by the same rule that we have applied to them (Mt. 7:1-2). By the same token, if we are forgiving rather than judging, we shall receive an added measure of blessings (Lk. 6:37-38). There are sins and there are sins. The major sins that we commit are due to our own ignorance, and we are reluctant to deal with the problem for fear that it may hurt us. The Jewish leaders, and not the people, had Jesus crucified for fear that He could hurt them. Jesus understood their ignorance and prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34). Ignorance has been bliss for far too many transgressors. Ignorance is on a rampage in persecuting people that differ in faith, culture, and political persuasion. Ignorance breathes discontent, hatred malice, and mayhem. To stop ignorance from devastating human relationships, we would have to admit to being ignorant and that is unlikely to happen. Dumping our ignorance on the grace of God has intensified the problem of problems. We have concluded that we are simply not good enough to please God. To the contrary, God regarded man worth saving and turn them into makarioi (Jn. 3:16).