Forgiveness has the power to heal hurt feelings, it’s a balm for injured relationships. For some it may be bitter medicine at first, but for all of us it’s necessary, vital, essential to our emotional, mental and spiritual well being.
Each of us needs to ask himself a very important question. The answer for you individually will likely have a great deal of bearing on your personal happiness and success in life.
Here is the question: Have I learned the art of forgiveness? If not, will I learn to forgive? And will I practice the principle of forgiveness? This question is one we must not take lightly. It goes to the very heart and core of Christianity. How we handle this matter of forgiveness can tell us a lot about how converted we really are.
The answer to this question can have a great deal to do with the unity or disunity of God’s Church, and our effectiveness as instruments to do his work. The answer even may determine whether you or I will ultimately be in God’s Kingdom in the resurrection.
Scripture declares that Jesus Christ is coming at the end of this age to establish God’s Kingdom on earth (Matthew 24:3, 30; Revelation 11:15). It will be a kingdom of universal peace and tranquility (Isaiah 2:4; 9:7).
In that respect as in many others it will be different from — and opposite to — the past 6000 years of recorded history. For thousands of years individuals, tribes and nations have been feuding and fighting. The pages of man’s history are soaked with blood. What factors will account for the difference between the 6000 years of mankind’s bloody self-rule and the 1000 years of peace under the reign of Christ?
One important factor is that men will learn to forgive. An attitude of forbearance and forgiveness is an essential key to people learning to live together harmoniously.
Who’s going to teach mankind how to forgive? Perhaps you will, under Christ’s direction, if you have learned yourself how to forgive. The time for Christians to learn this lesson is now. Our time to begin practicing forgiveness is now, for as Peter wrote, “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17).
It’s inevitable that in life there will be differences of opinion, there will be slights, misstatements, errors in judgment. If you’re the one who’s been slighted, if you’re the one who’s been falsely accused, if you’re the one who’s been hurt, are you going to stay hurt, or are you going to get well?
Do you nurse grievances? Do you condemn those who have made mistakes and errors in judgment? Do you seek to hurt those who intentionally or unintentionally have hurt you? Or do you forbear? Do you forgive? How magnanimous, how noble, how charitable are you in your treatment of others?
What is forgiveness? It is, according to one dictionary, “compassionate feelings that support a willingness to forgive” (Wordnet). Various definitions of forgiving or forgiveness include the ideas of ceasing to be angry or resentful toward someone who has done wrong, to grant pardon, to stop blaming, to absolve from payment.
Forbearance is to act with patience, to withhold a penalty or claim against someone.
We’re told those who are in the first resurrection “shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him” (Revelation 20:6). If we are to rule under God we must become like God. The Eternal our God is a forgiving God, a merciful God.
God would be fully justified in blotting everyone of us out of existence, yes, all mankind. Yet God’s plan is to save, not destroy, mankind. David wrote: “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You” (Psalm 86:5). And Daniel observed, “To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against Him” (Daniel 9:9).
Notice how God described himself to Moses at Mount Sinai as he showed himself to him. In part he said, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7).
While God holds us accountable, he is more than willing to forgive us our sins if we repent. Often God withholds punishment upon a people or nation for several generations, giving ample time for them to come to their senses and turn from their transgressions. There are a number of examples of this in Scripture (e.g., Genesis 15:16; Nehemiah 9:29-30; Daniel 5:17-28; 2 Peter 3:9).
God’s willingness to forgive is manifested in the fact that he sent his beloved son, Jesus Christ, to give his life in payment for our sins, that we, despite our sins, might be saved. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).
Jesus did not die for us because we are righteous, but because we were sinners in need of forgiveness. As Paul wrote, “Christ died for the ungodly…. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6, 8).
Jesus, even in his hour of suffering, asked forgiveness for his tormentors (Luke 23:33-34).
We’re to imitate God’s example of mercy even to those who are undeserving. Jesus taught, “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:35-37).
Each of us has and will do things for which we need God’s forgiveness. God tells us that if we expect to be forgiven we must forgive those who have offended us.
In the model prayer Jesus teaches us to pray, “…forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors” He went on to comment, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:12, 14-15).
History abounds with examples of wars fought, kingdoms destroyed, populations decimated, because of man’s unwillingness to forgive.
Jacob’s sons Levi and Simeon killed all the men of the city near where they dwelt in Canaan because the two brothers refused to forgive Shechem, a young prince in the area, for engaging in sexual relations with their sister, Dinah. This was done even though the young man had done all he could to make amends, and sought to marry Dinah (Genesis 34).
Jacob later pronounced a curse on the angry and unforgiving spirit that had provoked the crime of his two sons, and their descendants in the latter days were to be left scattered among the Israelite tribes. “Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; And their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob And scatter them in Israel” (Genesis 49:5-7).
Another more recent example of the consequences of an unforgiving spirit is that of Adolf Hitler, who was embittered over the German nation’s surrender in the First World War.
Hitler largely blamed German Jews and Marxists for Germany’s capitulation. Indeed, nearly everything that was wrong in Germany could somehow be blamed on the Jews in Hitler’s twisted logic. And for this and other reasons in Hitler’s view the Jews had to be gotten “rid of” (Mein Kampf, Adolph Hitler, Trans. James Murphy, 1.11; 1.12).
“There is no such thing as coming to an understanding with the Jews. It must be the hard-and-fast ‘Either-Or.’ ” (Mein Kampf, 1.7).
Hitler also saw France as a mortal enemy, and foresaw a need for the Germans to one day “rally together for a last decisive contest with France” (Mein Kampf, 2.15).
Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in January, 1933. After rearming Germany and absorbing Austria and Czechoslovakia, Hitler launched an attack against Poland on September 1, 1939, in league with Soviet Russia. This, along with Japanese aggression in the Far East, ignited World War II, the most destructive war in history.
Though there were additional factors, resentment, bitterness, and hostility toward perceived enemies on the part of Hitler and people like him played no small part in initiating the catastrophe of World War II, and the Holocaust which accompanied it. Many millions died, and the lives of many others were irreparably damaged.
Hitler himself died of his own hand in an underground bunker in Berlin, the capital city which had been largely destroyed by bombing and shelling. Though spewing forth venom to the end, Hitler was a sick, defeated and broken man. Germany lay prostrate before the nations she had attacked or threatened, with millions of Germans dead or maimed, many German women brutalized, and its cities in ruins.
In a chaotic world filled with hatred, anger, violence, bitterness, and division, it’s imperative that we practice forbearance, forgiveness, mercy, compassion and tolerance. I’m not talking about forsaking sound principles or abandoning truth. I’m talking about our treatment of those who are weak, who are hurt, who are blind, who are in need of nurturing. I’m also talking about our attitude toward those who offend us, perhaps without meaning to, and also those who deliberately do evil against us.
People have left the Church, or even turned completely from God, because of some slight or fault of someone else they were unwilling to forgive. Often it involves petty things, human weaknesses, personality quirks, a minor affront, a difference of opinion over a matter of relative insignificance. Each of us will almost certainly be challenged by slights, offenses, and injustice in our lives, and we will have to show God which is more important to us, salvation, or nursing a grudge.
We must make judgments about what is true and what is false, what is right and what is wrong according to God’s word (Luke 12:57; John 7:24; Acts 17:11; 1 Corinthians 5:12; 6:2-3; 10:15). But we must avoid slander and condemnation. “Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge” (James 4:11-12).
The law forbids us to falsely accuse or spread malicious gossip about others. “You shall not go about as a talebearer [slanderer, calumniator] among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:16). When we do so we, in effect, become judges of the law, and take on prerogatives which are not ours. There are times when sinful conduct must be confronted and censured, but only within the parameters of the principle of love toward God and loving one’s neighbor as oneself. “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:17-18; cf. Matthew 22:37-40).
If we acknowledge God’s sovereignty over all of us, and trust him to judge righteously, it is easier to bear with the faults and mistakes of others (Romans 14:10-12). If God has forgiven us, how can we be justified in refusing to forgive a brother? “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (Colossians 3:12-13).
All genuine Christians are servants of Christ, and it’s from him that we will be rewarded, or, if warranted, punished. “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality” (Colossians 3:23-25; the Greek for “does wrong,” adikeō, is in the form of the present active participle, which in this context implies to keep on doing wrong, i.e., someone who persists in wrongdoing and will not repent).
When and how often should we forgive? We should at all times be of a ready mind to forgive and have a forgiving spirit. When we pray, we are to pray in a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation toward even our enemies, as well as anyone against whom we may have a complaint. “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45). “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:25-26).
If you don’t have a forgiving spirit, you are likely to begin harboring resentment, hatred and bitterness, and perhaps even plotting vengeance. Cain out of anger and envy hated his brother Abel and murdered him, though in truth Abel had done him no wrong (Genesis 4:1-8; 1 John 3:11-15).
But we are to do good even to those who hate us, and pray for them, trusting God to judge them (Romans 12:17-21). An example of someone who did not harbor bitterness toward those who had done him a terrible wrong is Joseph.
Of all his sons, Jacob (Israel) showed preference for Joseph, and as a result his older brothers “hated him and could not speak peaceably to him” (Genesis 37:4). When Joseph related to his brothers dreams he had indicating that the other members of the family would bow down before him, they hated him even more (Genesis 37:5-11).
It happened that Israel sent Joseph to check on the well being of his brothers as they were out in the countryside tending flocks. When some of the brothers saw him coming they conspired to kill Joseph out of envy and hatred. However, when the oldest brother, Reuben, heard of the plot he sought to save Joseph by suggesting they cast him into a pit instead of killing him outright, intending later to deliver him back to his father. When some Midianite traders came by in Reuben’s absence, the other brothers sold Joseph to them, whereupon he was taken to Egypt and sold into slavery (Genesis 37:12-36). He was about seventeen years of age when this happened (Genesis 37:2).
Joseph spent years serving his Egyptian master, Potiphar, a high ranking officer of Pharaoh. Eventually, Joseph was cast into prison on false charges. But through all this tribulation Joseph was being watched over by God, and despite his difficulties, he received favor from those he was subject to (Genesis 39-40).
When he was age thirty Joseph was given an opportunity by God to interpret a dream of Pharaoh in which it was revealed that there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, and Joseph proposed a plan to prepare effectively for the lean years. Whereupon Pharaoh made Joseph second in the land of Egypt, subject only to Pharaoh himself (Genesis 41).
When eventually in the time of famine Joseph’s brothers came down to Egypt to buy grain, Joseph did not seek to “get even,” but treated them with compassion. Eventually Israel and his family moved to Egypt and with Joseph’s help resettled in the “land of Goshen.”
After Israel’s death, Joseph’s brothers thought that he would seek vengeance for their crime against him (Genesis 50:15-18). But he said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones” (Genesis 50:19-21).
Note that Joseph did not seek to usurp God’s place to execute judgment on his brothers, rather he treated them mercifully and with kindness. Joseph’s suffering was in the context of a larger picture that God had in mind, as Joseph himself eventually came to realize.
Similarly, Jesus’ suffering was allowed with a larger picture in mind. And likewise, we may also be allowed to suffer with a larger picture in mind, so we must retain a forgiving spirit and let God work out his purpose without allowing resentment and bitterness to destroy us (James 5:7-11; Ephesians 4:30-32).
Many slights and offenses can simply be forgiven and overlooked (Ecclesiastes 7:21-22). Sometimes, however, there may be major issues that require resolution. Where it is a personal matter between you and your bother, go to him first, then if necessary, seek judgment from the Church (Matthew 18:15-18). “Will be bound,” and “will be loosed,” (as translated in the NKJV) in the Greek are future perfect passives, properly translated in some modern translations, such as the English Majority Text Version: “Assuredly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” In other words, the judgment made must be made in accordance with God’s own judgment (cf. Basics of Biblical Greek, William D. Mounce, p. 115; Isaiah 8:20; Ezekiel 44:24; Malachi 2:7-9).
In all cases, even if the guilty person is unrepentant and must be separated from fellowship, a willingness to forgive must be maintained on our part (Matthew 18:21-35; Luke 17:3-5).
As we’ve seen, God is very merciful, and ready to forgive. He is kind even to the unthankful and evil. Even so, in terms of eternal salvation, God’s forgiveness is predicated on our willingness to repent (1 John 1:9; Proverbs 28:13). Though God is merciful, he is also just, and he will recompense evil upon the heads of those who do not repent (Psalm 37:34-40; Malachi 4:1-3; Matthew 3:10-12; Romans 2:4-9; 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10; Revelation 22:12-15).
Sometimes, the nature of sins committed is such that even though God extends forgiveness, he exacts a penalty to teach lessons about the seriousness of our sins (2 Samuel 12:1-14; 2 Kings 23:26-27; 24:3-4; 2 Chronicles 33:10-19).
However, God’s judgment on sinners is his to make. We need to be very careful that we do not condemn others in our hearts, but that we leave their judgment to God. This applies even to those from whom we must separate ourselves due to unrepentant and sinful conduct (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15).
If you have trouble forgiving others ask God for a forgiving spirit. Peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness are fruits of his Spirit. Pray that God will increase your faith and grant you the fruits of his Spirit, including forgiveness.
Numerous problems between people could be settled or avoided by a simple willingness to forgive. Marital problems, family problems, problems among Church members, among members of your community, or nation, even problems between nations, tribes, races and cultures, could often be solved if we learn to forgive one another.
One day, that lesson will be learned by all peoples and nations (Isaiah 2:2-4).
But if you are a Christian, or seek to become a Christian, now is the time to learn and practice the art of forgiveness. God’s Kingdom will be one of peace partly because all who are in it will have been forgiven and will have learned to forgive.
Unless otherwise noted Scripture taken from the New King James VersionTM
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.
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Copyright by Rod Reynolds 2015
Messenger Church of God
PO Box 619
Wentzville, MO 63385