We as Christians often hear others saying they will never forgive another for a slight or injustice. How often do we also find ourselves with a similar attitude? Do we allow ourselves to harbor resentments or hold grudges? Christians, although forgiven by Christ in baptism often fail to forgive others. Can we really be unforgiving of something that God has forgiven them? We need to look at the subject of forgiveness in order to remain faithful and pleasing to God in this area.
The August 2005 issue of the Gospel Advocate featured the theme of “Forgive to be Forgiven” based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:14-15. Five articles dealt with the attitude of forgiveness. Jesus’ words in the middle of His Sermon on the Mount followed His instructions on prayer and other Christian attitudes. In verses 14 and 15 Jesus continued, “For if you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”
Jesus tied repentance to forgiveness in Luke 17:1-4 saying, “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying ‘I repent, forgive him.” Also, in Matthew 18:21-22 Peter asked, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times? Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’” We do not have the right to be unforgiving no matter how badly we perceive the hurt. If another repents and is forgiven by God, we must forgive in order to be forgiven.
Nothing should be impossible to forgive if we have a forgiving attitude, a Christ-like attitude. Humanly, though, trust issues arise because of our human concerns for family members or ourselves who may be vulnerable to another. There may be safety issues involved wherein the offender must earn back the trust that has been violated. In such cases, the forgiveness process may require much prayer, time, and hard work.
Tommy South, in his article “Forgive to Be Forgiven,” pp. 12-14 quoted Lewis Smedes’ book The Art of Forgiving, which says, “Harboring anger in your heart is like carrying around acid in a plastic bottle. Eventually the acid will eat through the bottle, and then it will begin to eat you.” We imprison ourselves at the mercy of the one who has hurt us if we do not allow ourselves to move along in the forgiveness process.
Jesus never said that learning to forgive others would be easy for us. Leaving His heavenly glory, humbling Himself as a human child in subjection to earthly parents, living a humble peasant life, and finally teaching, being rejected, tortured, and crucified to become our Savior was not easy for Jesus. Yet during His suffering on the cross, He was ready to forgive His executioners. His love extended not only to His closest followers, but also to those who cared nothing for His physical and spiritual anguish. Amidst all of this, while on the cross, Jesus prayed to the Heavenly Father saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
On the day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2:22ff, we see Peter preaching the first gospel sermon in which he convicted the audience of the sin of putting Jesus to death. Even though it fell into God’s plan of salvation for mankind, the people were guilty and were told to repent and be baptized in order to be forgiven. Notice that Jesus’ forgiveness was not immediate. They were convicted of their sin 50 days later on the day of Pentecost. Their forgiveness came with repentance and baptism for forgiveness of their sin. The fact that Jesus can forgive them and us should motivate us to realize that nothing, no matter how bad, could ever compare to what happened to Jesus on our behalf.
How Do We Forgive?
Let’s look at some practical ideas that may help us to forgive others. In many cases we can simply give others the benefit of the doubt, choosing to overlook something that might have been unintentional. Next, let’s pray for the person who has caused the hurt. God loves them. It is hard to ask God for anything but good for another. I like to pray for God to mellow our hearts, realizing that often it is mine that needs to be mellowed. Then we need to look for the other person’s good traits and try our best to see the issues from all sides; the others, ours, and try to find the common middle ground. Rarely is anyone completely right in a dispute. It’s always easier to see our own sides whereas an impartial party would most likely see a third side. It may also help to journal our feelings to keep track of our progress in our attitude of forgiveness. Some of our feelings may need to be put down onto a paper that we can physically destroy in order to release them. We also could consult a Christian confidant in order to confess that we are struggling with trying to forgive. James 5:16 tells us, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” There is a need for everyone to allow time to work on the healing process, but realize that time alone will not do this. Seventh, we must replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts whenever they arise. Satan loves our negative thoughts. Philippians 4:8 tells us to let our mind dwell on positive things: whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, good repute, and anything that is excellent or worthy of praise. Eighth, we can fill our hearts with God’s word. Colossians 3:12-14 says it well.
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
Wow! How plain does Jesus need to be for us to get the point? If I want to be forgiven so that I can go to heaven, I must learn to forgive.
by Louise “Weezie” Burger
Weezie and her husband, Wayne, have served with the Columbine church of Christ in the Denver, CO area for over 20 years. She is an instructor in the Bear Valley Bible Institute women’s program and enjoys her three grandchildren.