In the last blog I wrote that I can forgive if I know what forgiveness is not. That is because many people have an uninformed view of forgiveness. In this blog I am saying that I can forgive if I know how to forgive.
In plain English, forgiveness means we give up feelings of resentment against another person. It means we renounce anger against another person. Forgiveness means we refrain from imposing punishment on someone who has offended us. We do not demand satisfaction. That is how God has forgiven us.
Throughout the New Testament the followers of Jesus are repeatedly called to forgive those who wrong them. Jesus said we are to forgive our brother. Who is our brother? Jesus does not spell it out for us. Jesus intends for us to forgive others as he as forgiven us. In Mark 11:25 Jesus said “you must forgive what others have done to you. Then your Father in heaven will forgive your sins.” Apparently, God’s willingness and ability to forgive us is limited by our unwillingness to forgive others. More about this later.
Paul wrote to the Colossian Christians “forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you.” [3:13]. Notice that Paul does not identify who anyone is. We are not to forgive only family or friends; we are to forgive anyone. This means that if God dismisses or lets go of our offensive behavior toward him, we must dismiss the offensive behavior toward us from other people.
Forgiveness is costly and that is why we don’t like to forgive. So, I want to forgive, but how do I do it?
First, I forgive repeatedly. In Matthew 18 Peter suggested, probably with pride, that it was a great thing to forgive someone 7 times. This was being very kind, because according to Jewish tradition, one is expected to forgive only 3 times. This belief was based upon a misunderstanding of a text in the prophet Amos. In chapter one Amos repeatedly uses this formula starting in verse 3: This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Damascus, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. In verse 6 the same thing is said about Gaza. Then in verse 9 the same pronouncement is made against Tyre. In verse 11 it is Edom and so on. God brings judgment upon such-and-such a city. So, the rabbis taught, God himself never forgave more than three times. Jesus turned that teaching on its head.
We are expected to forgive, again and again – it’s a commitment that is to be sustained every day of our lives. It is not a single action, feeling or thought. Forgiveness is a way of life!
Second, I forgive even when I don’t feel like it. Peter had gone the extra mile when he says “up to 7 times.” But Jesus surprised him and said, “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Jesus was making it clear that you forgive even when you don’t feel like it.
How do you forgive the same person seventy-seven times? Not by feelings, I assure you. You do so out of the conviction that God has forgiven you by choice and because you are responding to his love and forgiveness. It’s a matter of deciding to obey God.
One outstanding example of forgiving when we don’t feel like it occurred when Corrie Ten Boom met a former Nazi Officer who had abused her and her sister when they were in a prison camp during World War II.
After the war, Corrie had been traveling from place to place speaking on the need for forgiveness. After one speech, a man came up and said, “Yes, it is good that God forgives us.” The man was recognized instantly. He said he had become a Christian and asked Corrie to forgive him. As he reached out his hand towards her, Corrie resisted. Then, in obedience to God, as she extended her hand towards him she felt the surge of God’s Spirit pour through her in a supernatural act of forgiveness. Corrie could let some things go and give forgiveness.
Third, I forgive for the sake of my own well-being. In my anger or pain, I may feel that I should withhold forgiveness until the other person has said, “I’m sorry” and ask for forgiveness. This really isn’t very helpful. It sets me up to be a victim twice. I am giving power to the person who has hurt me. Hanging on to grudge is like parking it in the living room. To withhold forgiveness is like taking poison and thinking the other person is going to die.
I should forgive for the sake of my own well-being and inner peace. All of that anger and disappointment doesn’t hurt the other person at all, but they are making a nervous wreck out of me – and you. Forgive them for your own sake.