I once read John Stott write something like, “Why should we forgive someone who hasn’t asked for forgiveness?” This kind of took me aback, because it has been said that we’re supposed to always forgive.
Later on I read blog posts about where people will come out and forgive a mass murderer, even if they weren’t directly affected by the killer and how this kind of steps in front of the victims and their loved ones and may in a way cut off their process of forgiveness, whatever that entails. And if someone is unrepentant and doesn’t want our forgiveness, does it make sense to give it to them?
There has obviously been a lot written about this, and I’m sure there are as many opinions on it as there are real life variations in circumstances. But here is a quote I just read by R.C. Sproul that’s helpful:
It’s important that we look closely at this directive from Jesus regarding forgiveness. It is often taught in the Christian community that Christians are called to forgive those who sin against them unilaterally and universally. We see the example of Jesus on the cross, asking God to forgive those who were executing Him, even though they offered no visible indication of repentance. From that example of Jesus, it has been inferred that Christians must always forgive all offenses against them, even when repentance is not offered. However, the most that we can legitimately infer from Jesus’ actions on that occasion is that we have the right to forgive people unilaterally. Though that may be indeed a wonderful thing, it is not commanded. If we look at the commandment that Jesus gives in Luke 17:3, He says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him.” Notice that the first response to the offense is not forgiveness but rather rebuke. The Christian has the right to rebuke those who commit wrong doing against him. That’s the basis for the whole procedure of church discipline in the New Testament. If we were commanded to give unilateral forgiveness to all, under all circumstances, then the whole action of church discipline to redress wrongs, would itself be wrong. But Jesus says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents…,” — here is where the command becomes obligatory — if the offender repents, then it is mandatory for the Christian to forgive the one who has offended him.
–R.C. Sproul, Christians Should be Forgiving People
As far as smaller offenses go, or people who just annoy us, I like how the NLT renders the first part of Colossians 3:13:
Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.
On this one I will be reading Moo’s commentary, along with others.