I’ve been hurt by a lot of people. Sin is a reality in this world, no one is immune, so people hurt people. This truth doesn’t reduce the pain. A betrayal by a best friend. Being mistreated by a family member. People going back on their word. Gossip. I’ve had to do a lot of soul searching when it comes to forgiveness.
I’ve recently experienced being hurt by someone that was a part of my family’s daily life. Out of the blue, trust was broken and we’re reaping the consequences on a daily basis, and will be for some time. To make matters worse, they are mad at me and my family when the broken trust was their choice. In the days after this incident I realized that I needed to forgive this person, but it wasn’t easy.
Forgiveness is a Command
Forgiveness is not a feeling. I did not feel like forgiving this person. I was very angry, hurt, and confused about why they did what they did. I did not have warm feelings toward this person. But I knew that I would not be able to move forward and seek God’s righteousness if I had an unforgiving heart. I needed to be obedient. What’s more, I didn’t feel any less angry, hurt or confused after forgiving them. I did, however, feel more at peace about the situation.
God commands us to forgive. It’s not an option. God takes forgiveness very seriously. The Lord’s prayer clearly states, “Forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors.” [emphasis mine] Then Jesus tells us,
Matthew 6:14 (ESV)
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
Renowned Bible commentator, Chuck Smith, explains this well.
“We must forgive, as we hope to be forgiven; and therefore must not only bear no malice, nor mediate revenge, but must not upbraid our brother with the injuries he has done us, nor rejoice in any hurt that befalls him, but must be ready to help him and do him good, and if he repent and desire to be friends again, we must be free and familiar with him, as before.”
Then Peter came to Him and said, “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.Matthew 18:21-22 (NKJV)
Peter wasn’t trying to get out of forgiveness. In fact, he was being very generous in his forgiveness. According to Jewish law, one only had to forgive three times before they washed their hands of the offending party. Jesus takes forgiveness to a whole new level. I think this is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ ultimate forgiveness. He instructs his disciples to reconcile with others to the same extent that he was preparing to forgive him. No one is going to keep count of someone’s sin up to 490 times. That would be ridiculous and nearly impossible. We are not God, so it’s not our place to judge someone’s sin. However, it is our job to forgive them. Our hearts will never be pure enough to forgive as fully as Jesus, but we are to follow in his example.
Forgiveness is Vertical and Horizontal
Forgiveness goes two directions. It’s both vertical–between you and God–and horizontal–between you and the offender.
Before anything, you must get right with God. You need to pray about the situation and choose to be obedient by forgiving the person between you and God. This way, if and when the person comes to you with repentance, you are ready to forgive.
Surely, if a person is repentant, you should forgive them.
Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”Luke 17:3-4 (ESV)
Since, as I said before, forgiveness is not a feeling, forgiving a repentant person isn’t going to automatically erase hurt feelings. You aren’t automatically going to start trusting them again. However, it is the start of reconciliation between you and that person. It’s a process.
Forgiveness is harder when the other party is unrepentant. However, it’s vital that you make things right between you and God by forgiving them. This doesn’t mean that you must go to the person and say, “I forgive you,” but you must make things right in your heart between you and God. If you are right with God, you are ready to say, “I’ve already forgiven you,” if the other person comes to you in repentance.
More importantly, there are consequences to an unforgiving heart.
“But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”Matthew 6:15 (ESV)
This seems really harsh, but think about how grave your own sins are, and yet Jesus suffered and died on the cross, endured hell, and rose again to forgive you of your sins. If Jesus can forgive you for all of that, surely you can forgive others. Not forgiving is like telling the other person that Jesus’s sacrifice was good enough to cover my sin, but not theirs. If Jesus can forgive them, so can I.
Chuck Smith says, “Christ came into the world as the great Peace-Maker, and not only to reconcile us to God, but one to another, and in this we must comply with him. It is great presumption and of dangerous consequence, for any to make a light matter of that which Christ here lays such a stress upon. Men’s passions shall not frustrate God’s word.”
Unforgiveness is a sin. If we are truly repentant for our own sins, we will forgive others theirs.
Forgiveness is Ongoing
Forgiveness is a continual act. I sometimes start to feel bitterness towards a person who hurt me, especially if I’m still dealing with the consequences. When the resentment creeps in, I need to fix my gaze upon Jesus and forgive the person all over again.
I think the ongoing need for forgiveness is why people confuse forgiveness with a feeling. There’s not usually a sudden complete peace when you forgive a person. The more hurtful the person was, the longer it takes to find any kind of peace about the situation. Peace is especially hard to find when you are still dealing with the consequences of the hurt. Or, it could be that this person is continually hurting you. Each time they hurt you, you have to go back to God and forgive them again. And maybe they are repentant each time and, while it’s harder to believe in their sincerity due to the lack of change, you have to accept their apology.
In my recent situation, I ended up having to suddenly go back to work because of what this person did and I’m not happy about doing the job or the drastic change in my routine. I’m daily reminded of the hurt and, therefore, will daily need to forgive them.
A continual practice of forgiveness refocuses my heart. I’m able to turn around and look at the situation from the other person’s perspective. I don’t think that the person who recently hurt me is aware of why what they did was wrong. It frustrates me because I think the consequences of what they did should have been obvious to them, but the person is young and inexperienced. Even though it still hurts, forgiving them allows me to give them grace.
Following God’s commands for us as believers is really hard. Forgiveness is one of those demands that we all struggle with because it’s surrounded by so many emotions. However, we have been forgiven so thoroughly that denying others the same is wrong. Forgiving makes us right with God and it unifies us in Christ with others. Who do you need to forgive today?