Smoother Sailing Article – Forgiveness
By Pastor Barry Black
“Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast.” Hebrews 6.19
All of us have either offended someone or have been offended by someone sometime during our lifetime. It is one thing to be hurt by an unbeliever and never even receive an apology or restitution from them. It is much more difficult to be hurt by a believer. I read or heard years ago that, “you will find the people that hurt you most in your Christian life will be other Christians”. If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you have likely experienced hurt from another Christian; and you may have caused hurt to another Christian.
The Bible has much to say about forgiveness. In the New Testament, forgiveness means to graciously pardon. Let’s look at some important, practical truths concerning forgiveness and unforgiveness.
Been there, done that!
It is very possible to forgive a person before they ask you to forgive them.
We are not told to forgive only if or when we are asked to forgive. The commands in Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3 are to forgive. We are told to forgive as we have been forgiven by our Lord (Colossians 3.13); and to forgive because we have been forgiven by our Lord (Ephesians 4.32). I have had times when forgiveness had already occurred before the offender asked my forgiveness, and you probably have done the same. Forgiveness is not based on feelings. If we wait until we feel like forgiving someone, we may never forgive them. Forgiveness must come from our love and obedience for our Lord, and the grace and mercy He gives us to be able to forgive our offender.
“But I said that I was sorry!”
Forgiveness does not mean that consequences are removed or nullified.
King David sinned, and was later confronted by his good friend Nathan (2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12). God forgave David of his sin, yet he suffered consequences (2 Samuel 12.1-23). An interesting side note is that another consequence was that David was unable to ask forgiveness of Uriah. Uriah went to the front of a heated battle in allegiance to David, and died in battle (one of the consequences linked with David’s sin with Bathsheeba).
“But what I did wasn’t near as terrible as…”
Forgiveness will likely make a difference in the life of the one who receives forgiveness.
In Luke 7.36-50, Jesus had been invited to dine at the house of a Pharisee named Simon. During the meal, a sinful woman brought a container of ointment and began to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears and anoint His feet with the ointment. Apparently she was looked down upon by the Pharisees (as were most people of that day!). Jesus knew the thoughts of Simon (7.41-43) and began to tell him a brief account of 2 debtors – both of whom owed money to the same creditor. One owed ten times the amount of the other. Jesus explained to Simon the Pharisee (verse 42) that the creditor forgave both debts, then he asked Simon, “which of them will love him (the creditor) most”? Simon replied correctly, “I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most.” There were at least three purposes of this lesson from Jesus. One purpose was to help Simon see that EVERYONE needs God’s forgiveness. Another purpose was to demonstrate the need to forgive others. Thirdly, he wanted Simon to see how the “sinful woman” showed great gratitude for being forgiven of much.
“You are forgiven, but I just can’t trust you anymore.”
Forgiveness may possibly result in a change of relationship.
A misconception concerning forgiveness is often stated, “if you have really forgiven him/or her, then things should be as before” (or something similar). When someone hurts you, even though you forgive them, you are not obligated to trust them. In fact, because we are all sinners, there may be a flaw in their character that you have come to realize is too harmful to your relationship with them. A change in relationship certainly does not mean that you haven’t forgiven your offender. In fact, there may quite well be some cases in which distance is not only good, it is necessary. There may be a time when the trust can be restored. However, more often than not it will probably require time and distance if trust is to be restored at all, or even in the smallest degree.
“I must make this right with everyone that I hurt.”
Forgiveness is only for both/all individuals involved.
It is just as important for the offender to acknowledge wrong doing as it is for the offended party to forgive the wrongdoing. When possible restitution should be made toward those whom we have hurt, however, it may not always be possible, and can even cause more damage.
“So why are you asking me?”
Forgiveness need only be asked of the individual/group that has been offended.
When we disobey God, we should ask His forgiveness. If you have offended an individual, then you should ask forgiveness of that particular person. If you have offended a group of people (a family, a group of co-workers, a church), then confession and request for forgiveness should be extended to the offended group; and even then caution should be used. For example, a “group” confession, though well meaning, can come across as an “emotional appeal”, or may appear to be motivated by pride.
“I don’t get mad, I get even!”
Unforgiveness (i.e. an unwillingness to forgive) results in deeper problems.
In Ephesians 4.31, the Apostle Paul says that we should remove “bitterness, and wrath, anger, clamour…evil speaking…malice”. These are consequences that stem from unforgiveness. Bitterness is a spiritual and emotional infection that poisons our thinking and our spiritual life. Left on its own, bitterness will get worse and worse until it controls us. The Greek word for “malice” is the word “kakia”, meaning, “ill-will, a desire to injure, a wickedness that is not ashamed to break laws”. It is quite apparent that an unwillingness to forgive can result in undesirable fruit (compareGalatians 6.7,8 ).
Jesus gave a parable concerning forgiveness in Matthew 18:21-35. In this parable, he tells of a man who owed a huge debt which he would never have been able to repay. The man was forgiven. The same man was owed a small debt by another person. The person who owed little was unable to pay it back his debt. The man forgiven of a huge debt would not forgive the one who owed a small debt. The man who was forgiven of much was unable to forgive one that owed little. The worst prison in the world is the “prison” of unforgiveness.
With these thoughts in mind, there are some further questions to ask:
Why would wrongdoers avoid an apology to those whom they have offended?
One reason could be fear. Maybe the offender fears that the one who was offended will not forgive them. The right thing to do would be to ask forgiveness of the offended party. Likely the offended party will forgive, if not immediately, at least eventually. But if they do not, you have done your part in asking their forgiveness. The rest will be between them and the Lord. A second reason could be denial. The offender may be living under the assumption that he/she has done nothing wrong, and therefore does not need to apologize. Another reason could be pride. If the wrongdoer offers an apology to the one whom they have offended, it would be a confession that they have indeed done wrong; and
Why would those who have been done wrong, refuse to forgive?
Forgiveness is not an option. As we have seen in the first point, the scripture commands us to forgive those who offend us (Ephesians 4.32, Colossians 3.13). However there could be some reasons (however faulty) as to why the offended party has difficulty forgiving their offender(s).
Maybe the offended party feels like he/she cannot forgive their offender. Our ability to forgive is not based upon our feelings.
Maybe the offended party
So what about revenge?
Is it wrong to seek revenge? If we have forgiven someone, then we will avoid revenge. The scripture is clear concerning revenge:
“Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Recompense no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.”
Paul commands us to bless those who have wronged us. Jesus said this in Matthew 5.44 and Luke 6.27, 28; and Peter mentions the same thing in 1 Peter 3.9. It is impossible to carry out revenge while at the same time obey the command to bless those who have wronged us.
Is it wrong to desire revenge? Desire for revenge is a very human emotion. For one reason, we want retribution because of the pain it has caused us or our family or friends. God brings retribution in His way and in His time. God will chastise the wrongdoer, and most importantly He will right that which is wrong.
So does this mean that the wrongdoer “gets away with it”?
Not at all. Romans 12.19:
“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”
How foolish to think that because an offender “gets away with it” in this life, that they will “get away with it” forever!
In the poem entitled, Retribution, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said it this way:
Though the mills of God grind slowly,
Yet they grind exceeding small;
Though with patience he stands waiting,
With exactness grinds he all.
God keeps perfect records, and He has ways of retribution that are much greater than any we could attempt on our own (hold that thought, more about that in the next paragraph).
“Not in a thousand years!”
It is tempting to want to exact retribution upon those who have hurt us, especially if they have never attempted an apology or restitution. However, we must understand that God will hold wrongdoers accountable. There may be chastisement in this life (Hebrews 12.5-17; Galatians 6.7,8), or there may be loss of rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 3.8-15; Romans 14.7-13; 2 Corinthians 5.9-11), or possibly both. The rewards given or lost at the judgment seat of Christ will be with us throughout eternity. Our position (and if I may say) our degree of enjoyment during the Millennial (thousand year) reign of Christ (Revelation 5.10; 20.6), is greatly dependent upon our obedience to our Lord here on earth (Matthew 19.29; 2 Timothy 2.11,12; Romans 8.17). If we really think about that, it will help us to realize the seriousness of disobeying our Lord. Our disobedience could result in chastisement here, and at the judgment Seat of Christ. Also, it helps us to realize that if others hurt us, they will ultimately give an account to God – now, later, or both. We are obligated to forgive when hurt, and to ask forgiveness when we offend others. Beyond that, the Lord will certainly take care of the rest.