Forgiven People Forgive

by Tullian Tchividjian


By now you’ve probably heard of Riley Cooper. Until last week, Cooper’s was a name known only to die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fans; now it’s a household word. Last week, a video surfaced of a drunk Cooper (who is white) using a racial slur (the racial slur) while claiming he wanted to fight all of the African-Americans at a Kenny Chesney concert.

In a statement following the video’s appearance on the internet, Cooper said, “I am so ashamed and disgusted with myself. I want to apologize. I have been offensive. I have apologized to my coach, to [Eagles owner] Jeffrey Lurie, to [General Manager] Howie Roseman and to my teammates. I owe an apology to the fans and to this community. I am so ashamed, but there are no excuses. What I did was wrong and I will accept the consequences.”

To most observers, Cooper seems sincere and legitimately contrite. Only God knows, of course. But it’s not the quality of Cooper’s apology that interests me, it’s the reaction of Cooper’s teammates to the apology.

Two very different reactions from two different teammates (both African Americans) illustrate very powerfully some very famous words of Jesus.

The first reaction to Cooper’s apology came from his quaterback, Michael Vick. You remember Vick? The quarterback who spent nearly two years in prison for running an illegal and deadly dog-fighting ring? Vick said:

“As a team we understood because we all make mistakes in life and we all do and say things that maybe we do mean and maybe we don’t mean. But as a teammate I forgave him. We understand the magnitude of the situation. We understand a lot of people may be hurt and offended, but I know Riley Cooper. I’ve been with him for the last three years and I know what type of person he is. That’s what makes it easy, and at the same time, hard to understand. But its easy for me to forgive him.”

Vick also tweeted: “Riley’s my friend. Our relationship is mutual respect. He looked me in the eyes and apologized. I believe in forgiveness and I believe in him.”

On the other end of the spectrum is LeSean McCoy, the Eagles’ star running back:

“I forgive him. We’ve been friends for a long time. But in a situation like this you really find out about someone. Just on a friendship level, I can’t really respect someone like that…I guess the real him came out that day. The cameras are off, you don’t think nobody’s watching or listening, and then you find out who they really are. And to hear how he really came off, that shows you what he’s really all about.”

Now, I know that LeSean McCoy used the words, “I forgive him.” But he completely (and immediately) undercuts those words: “You really find out about someone…I can’t really respect someone like that.” Listen to the most important difference between Vick’s and McCoy’s statements:

Vick: “We all make mistakes and we all do and say things…”

McCoy: “That shows you what he’s really all about.”

Notice that where Vick says “we,” McCoy says “he.” Michael Vick puts himself in a category with Riley Cooper. While LeSean McCoy seeks to distance himself from a former friend, Michael Vick puts himself next to the accused.

The difference between Vick and McCoy? Twenty-one months in a federal penitentiary and a deep knowledge of what it feels like to need forgiveness.

In Luke 7, a sinful woman anoints Jesus’ feet with oil. As she did so, she wept and wiped her tears from Jesus’ feet with her hair. To answer the disgust of Simon the Pharisee, his host, Jesus tells him a story and asks him a question:

“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” Jesus said, “You have judged correctly.”

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little” (v. 42-47).

Michael Vick has been forgiven much. When he was a social pariah, the Eagles gave him a second chance. LeSean McCoy is apparently less in touch with his own brokenness. His reaction reveals that he doesn’t think he’s a gross sinner in need of gigantic forgiveness. I’m sure he would admit that he’s not perfect. But he clearly sees Cooper as worse—less righteous—than he is: “That shows you what he’s really all about.”

To the extent that we ignore (or run from) our own sinfulness, we will be unable to care for other sinners. We will be unable to extend forgiveness to others until we are honest about the extent to which we are forgiven. The most forgiving people are those who are coming to daily, deeper terms with their own need for forgiveness. Ungracious people are those who haven’t come to grips with their own dire, daily need for grace.

Michael Vick knows that he (and we) are more like Riley Cooper—foul transgressors in need of forgiveness—than McCoy would like to admit, which is why Vick’s first instinct was to forgive. And whose reaction do you think will inspire Cooper to deal with whatever issues he has? Vick’s or McCoy’s? Who will he confide in? Who will he listen to? To which player will he turn? Who’s in a better position, therefore, to guide him, help him?

“I tell you, her sins–and they are many–have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”

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27 Responses to “Forgiven People Forgive”

  1. This is an absolutely wonderful post; well done, and thank you!

  2. Christina says:

    This is awesome! Thank you! So, I think we can all forgive Paula Deen now too. I know I’ve been guilty of saying things I wish I could take back now. Maybe we can all learn from Michael Vick.

  3. When it comes to forgiveness, a lot of people want answers to these questions:

    1. Is forgiveness a feigned effort to erase or ignore the action of the one who wronged us?
    2. Does it require us to become morally neutral about right and wrong?
    3. Is forgiveness an imaginary zone of forgetfulness?

    Jesus went to the heart of forgiveness when he taught about it in a context of worship. He said,

    “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25).

  4. the Old Adam says:

    “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

    If everyone on that team could have their most stupid or embarrassing moments played back for public consumption, you might have different reactions.

  5. Bill Emanon says:

    Matthew Henry (1662-1714) on Matt. 18:21-35:

    Though we live wholly on mercy and forgiveness, we are backward to forgive the offences of our brethren. This parable shows how much provocation God has from his family on earth, and how untoward his servants are.

    There are three things in the parable: 1. The master’s wonderful clemency. 2. The servant’s unreasonable severity toward his fellow-servant, notwithstanding his lord’s clemency toward him. 3. The master reproved his servant’s cruelty.

    The greatness of sin magnifies the riches of pardoning mercy; and the comfortable sense of pardoning mercy, does much to dispose our hearts to forgive our brethren.

    We are not to suppose that God actually forgives men, and afterwards reckons their guilt to them to condemn them; but this latter part of the parable shows the false conclusions many draw as to their sins being pardoned, though their after-conduct shows that they never entered into the spirit, or experienced the sanctifying grace of the gospel.

    We do not forgive our offending brother aright, if we do not forgive from the heart. Yet this is not enough; we must seek the welfare even of those who offend us. How justly will those be condemned, who, though they bear the Christian name, persist in unmerciful treatment of their brethren!

    The humbled sinner relies only on free, abounding mercy, through the ransom of the death of Christ. Let us seek more and more for the renewing grace of God, to teach us to forgive others as we hope for forgiveness from him.

  6. Interesting story. Notice what Riley says, “I owe an apology….” Notice what he doesn’t say, “I need forgiveness from….”
    Apologies are nice and helpful, having their place. But, to approach someone you’ve GIVEN offense to and ASK FOR forgiveness is another thing entirely.
    Anyway. Two cents. Particularly important among believers…not so much among pagans.

  7. PG says:

    During sermon prep I read a lot of sermons on line every week looking for ideas and insight. So many times I’ve found that by substituting “we” “I” or “us” for “you”, or “you all” changes a message and tone from judgement and accusation to humble unity.

  8. Seabrook Morgan says:

    Matthew sounds a bit judgmental towards “pagans.” Jesus came for “Pagans.”
    We were ALL once “pagans.”

    • Barbara says:

      Aye, the apostle Paul speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (which is Christ’s spirit) also contrasts the behavior of God’s people with that of pagans/unbelievers, ie: 1 Cor 5:1, 1 Tim 5:8. As believers walking in the Light, we are held to a higher standard than those who remain in darkness, even as Scripture teaches that darkness is a result of their active hostility toward God. Through Christ’s work, those bonds can be broken, but it doesn’t change the fact that unbelievers do remain under judgment for as long as they remain unbelievers.

      • Barbara says:

        Sooo…he’s not being judgmental, he’s just addressing the reality. Ephesians 2 is also helpful there:

        And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus…..

        (Ephesians 2:1-7 ESV)

  9. Carl Mathews says:

    Tullian, this is a very insightful and intersting post. Thanks for taking the time to speak biblicaly on a culture issue. It “seemed” to me that it was a shift from what Riley said to how we should respond inlight of what was said by Riley. I agree God is more concerned about our response than what is said to or done to us as believers. It just seems this post centered not on Riley comments but on the response of McCoy. He said he forgives him and that they been friends for a long time. It’s like he felt betrayed by his friend (Riley) not that he didn’t forgive him. If someone does something out of character it would prompt you ask what is going on? Jesus said,….for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Lk6:43-45) Could Riley still respect Mcoys statement in be truly broken hearted and purse him to regain the trust of a distraught and offended friend? I would hope so! So, to the point of the post I agree the forgiven should forgive! But, to use McCoy as a spacegoat or rather an example was not helpful. The goal of forgiveness is reconcilation for the sake of the relationship and I think aslong as McCoy is open to building the relationship his comments don’t reflect that he is less intouch with his brokenness. If God “only” know if Riley repentance was of attrition or contrition than should that have been said of McCoy comments? Tullian, you seem more “sure” that McCoy has not forgiven Riley? My point in this reply is say we are to be full of grace and truth…I am going to go now in figure out what that means! Thanks for the privilege to interact!

  10. Ruth says:

    Amen to that !

  11. [...] Forgiven People Forgive What a great modern illustration of Luke 7v42-27. [...]

  12. Carl, I think Tullian is merely pointing out that true forgiveness does not continue to dwell on the wrongs done. “I will forgive their sin, and remember it no more.” If you say “I forgive you” and then keep bringing up the wrong done, the forgiveness is suspect. That is what I got out of Tullian’s post.

    • Carl Mathews says:

      Mike, thanks for your response! What do you think about this definition of forgiveness…its means not to forget but so cease to feel resentment toward a person? If you cut me on the face I can never forget what you did to me that dreadful day. I can still have fellowship with you if you repented and cease to feel resentment towards you but, everytime I look in the mirror I am reminded of what happen! I think in the post McCoy was only a decoy to not talk about repentance/forgiveness but what forgiveness “doesn’t” look like and I think it was unhelpful soley because McCoy didn’t fit the premise.

  13. Amy says:

    @Carl– I think the point was not that forgiven people SHOULD forgive, but simply that they DO. They can’t help it, forgiveness flows out of them without effort. And the greater the offense for which they have been forgiven, the quicker they are to fully forgive. If we really saw the depth of our sin and the magnitude of what He has forgiven, we would never have to choose to forgive, we wouldn’t be able to help it. God, give us eyes to see!

    • Carl Mathews says:

      Amy, thanks for your comment! I agree the more we are moved by the gospel the more we will be moved to love others and forgive! Amen, may God give us eyes to see our sins in light of the cross in produce humility within our hearts! But in this case the offense was not directly to McCoy nor Vick. Both there comments only reflect their relationship with Riley based on his slur. Which both perpectives were helpful and shouldn’t have been set against each other. Neither seem to be holding a grudge against Riley?

  14. Paula says:

    The thing is, Vick forgave him based on what he knew of the guy the rest of the time and based on the fact that he was no better.

    The other guy’s forgiveness was also true, given in spite of what really is inside of a man.

    Which one is better? I can’t say for sure. I’m torn. They’re both human and forgive imperfectly. I actually tend to think the last one is closer to the truth, because sin really does show what is on the inside of us (in spite of the nice controlled outward appearance we put on the rest of the time). And Jesus forgives us even that stuff.

  15. [...] Forgiven People Forgive: By Tullian Tchividjian – If you keep up with sports you probably have heard about the recent [...]

  16. [...] we have to do in life is forgive others. Many of us have a list of personal Hitlers in our lives. Here Tullian illustrates the truth that people who are forgiven, [...]

  17. [...] Forgiven People Forgive – a modern-day example of Luke 7 and the woman who was forgiven much: [...]

  18. [...] is a post from Tullian Tchividijian at Liberate. I liked it so much, though I thought I would share [...]

  19. […] my son Alec sent me a link to a blog by Tullian Tchividjian, Forgiven People Forgive, on the same theme. (Tchividjian is the grandson of Billy Graham and the senior pastor of Coral […]

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