Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a “conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve it.” Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses, it simply means letting it go, choosing to look over an offense.
The question I’ve had, particularly when someone has seriously injured me and caused lasting damage is, “If I forgive them, does this mean I’m acknowledging what they did as being, O.K.?”
We so often hold onto the anger, hatred, and bitterness toward those who have offended. These feelings of resentment become who we are, they influence how we react toward our offenders or toward others who might offend and we feel justified.
The attitude is often…we feel pain therefore we are justified in harboring hatred in our hearts.
So what happens when we allow our past to determine our present?
Matthew 6:15 “But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” The first time I read this I thought it sounded like Jesus was giving us a form of works required to earn salvation. I know that we are saved by grace alone as it says in Ephesians 2:8, so what is Jesus saying here?
Jesus is showing us what a heart that is turned toward God looks like.
If we can’t forgive others, the bitterness, hatred, anger and resentment will fill our hearts and leave very little room for the love of God. When Jesus was asked, “what is the greatest commandment of all?”, Jesus answered in Mark 12:30-31 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment, and the second, like it is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The love for God is expressed in part by the way we treat others….not in how they treat us.
Ouch, this is a hard one for me. I want to see vengeance, I want others to know just how much they hurt me by making them feel equally as bad, and consequently we are never really able to accomplish this. By tearing down others to justify our pain, we only serve to damage ourselves further. When I inflict pain on others, I withdraw deeper into the hateful, vengeful bitterness that I’m trying to relieve—I dig deeper into the pit of despair I’m trying to get out of.
When I hold bitterness I harbor a heart of hatred. So what is hatred?
In God’s eyes, hatred is simply sin.
1 John 3:15 “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”
When we hate others, we break God’s moral law and God’s moral law says “You shall not kill.”
So what is our recourse? The only solution is forgiveness.
If we understood the magnitude of God’s forgiveness shown us, we would understand how minor our forgiveness is comparative to others offenses. Jesus illustrates this point in Matthew 18.
Matthew 18:21-22 “Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Jesus went on to illustrate the parable of the unforgiving servant. A story about a man who was forgiven much couldn’t forgive others for very little. At the end of the parable the conclusion was a bit sobering.
Matthew 18:32-35 “Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Unforgiveness separates us from fellowship with God, it leads us down a path of unrighteousness, it tarnishes the image of Christ we are commanded to represent to the world and ultimately it will lead us toward eternal judgement if we can’t resolve it.
To forgive others begins in the heart. The Lord looks upon the heart, He makes that abundantly clear throughout His Word and when we forgive others, He is pleased with us and draws near.
Choosing to Forgive
How many times do we forgive? Jesus said, 70 x 7…seven, representing completion multiplied times seventy represents a form of forgiveness that lasts for eternity. This measure of forgiveness is what God has granted us, and God likens it to Him casting our sins as far as the east is from the west in Psalm 103:12.
The way practical forgiveness looks is for me no longer hold an account for the harm that’s been done to me.
Isaiah 43:25 “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”
Forgiveness is to be pardoned for something you don’t deserve being pardoned for, casting it behind you and moving on…it represents true power, character and love.
Forgiveness represents Christ.
Just as Jesus has rescued us from our offense and the result is peace, so we make peace with our brother, whether they deserve it or not because it is the least we can do. We then move on in peace with God and allow Him to heal us and let His vengeance be the recourse for the evil that has been done.
Matthew 6:12 “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
The model of prayer Jesus gave us is how we are to model the attributes of Christ in us. The character of God is one of mercy and grace, as He freely gives we are to follow His example. Don’t forget that as much as God loves you, He loves your offender.
Forgiveness is the mark of true Christianity.