Thoughts on Forgiveness
Updated: Aug 31
Philippians 4:7 describes a “Peace that passes all understanding”. When we surrender our will to the power of Holy Spirit, our life will become one lived beyond understanding. Galatians 5:22-23 details a list of admirable qualities that are the “fruit” of Spirit-led life: love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Imagine a person that exhibited all these qualities; wouldn’t you want a person like that to be your friend, spouse, or co-worker? The most interesting thing to me here is that we are not asked to “try” to “be" or “do” any of these qualities. They are the product of allowing the Holy Spirit to His work in our hearts.
We live in a broken, sinful world and will no doubt be left hurting many times. Forgiveness can be awfully hard. But with the power of the Spirit working within us, unforgiveness can be replaced by a peace that passes all understanding. Today we’ll explore what the Bible says about forgiveness.
Matthew 16 tells the story of a servant that was forgiven an enormous debt, then turned around and refused to forgive someone that owed him a much smaller amount. I encourage you to check out the story in verses 21-35. Clearly there is an expectation to forgive others, while keeping in mind that God has forgiven us for so much more.
Romans 5:8 is one of my favorite verses. It says “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” The amazing concept of this verse is that Christ didn’t wait to come as our Savior until we got it all together. He didn’t wait until we at least showed a small level of holiness. He died for us while were were “yet sinners”. I believe this verse guides our practice of forgiveness. Christ has always been ready, and eager to forgive us- we ought to do the same. When we act in unforgiveness it is a refection on our own character- not the character of the offender. Be eager to forgive.
Romans 12:17-21 tells us not to take revenge, but to leave room for for God’s wrath. A few years ago I struggled with being hurt by a friend. Attempts to reconcile the situation were dismissed, no apology was offered, and after spending far too much time angry, I asked the Lord in a time of prayer why there hadn’t been justice in this situation. An overwhelming sense of shame immediately enveloped me. While I didn’t hear the voice of God audibly- I clearly heard Him speaking to my heart in that moment: “Do you believe I’m not just?” My anger was a complete lack of faith. I confessed my sin, and I was finally able to let go of my anger. In faith, I decided from that time forward I would trust that God saw and heard everything was said- and that His memory and justice are perfect. That He loves not only me, but my friend- and I can trust His justice. When I allowed myself to let go of the anger, God replaced those feelings with love for my friend. I began to pray with earnest concern for what consequences he may someday face should his hidden sin remain unrepented.
How often should we forgive? Luke 17:4 says “Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns and asks for forgiveness, you must forgive.” In Matthew 18:21 Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone- asking if seven times was appropriate. Within Judaism, three times was sufficient to show a forgiving spirit. Peter’s recommendation of seven times would have been considered extremely generous in his culture. But Jesus’ reply to the question? Seventy times seven. True disciples of Jesus are to forgive without keeping count. (ESV Study Bible Notes)
What should a conversation of reconciliation look like? Ephesians 4:14-15 teaches us the importance of speaking the truth in love- the two attributes must be included in balance. Honesty can sting, speak it in love. In an attempt to love, we sometimes fail to be truthful- maintain honesty in the conversation. Both must be included in our communication. Say it all, but say it in love.
Is it ok to walk away from a relationship that remains unreconciled or is harmful to you? Absolutely. Matthew 18:15-18 offers a step by step guide specific to dealing with fellow believer that has hurt you. This passage teaches that if all the listed measures to reconcile have been unsuccessfully, you are released from relationship with them. In all situations, step away from physically harmful situation- but in doing, we should still find a way to forgiveness and trust God’s justice. It’s ok to step away from a situation in which your attempts to reconcile have been unsuccessful. It’s ok to drop social media contact if it only serves to tempt you to return to bitterness. But it isn’t ok to harbor anger, or use the opportunity for gossip and slander. Instead we are commanded in Mathew 5:44-48 to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.”
In the book “Chasing Vines” Beth Moore states an unforgiving Christian is the embodiment of an oxymoron. We all have people we struggle to forgive, often because the hurts are too deep and the perpetrator’s repentance is too shallow. She encourages us that when dealing with issues of forgiveness, should keep in mind that all of us are wounded. Jesus prayed from the cross “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” His accusers weren’t shouting apologies- He forgave them in the midst of their cries to crucify him. Moore goes on to say “The way of the cross is forgiveness- raw, and bloody, and gasping for air.”
Maybe until today, forgiveness seemed unthinkable. May I encourage you to stop expecting yourself to do do difficult things like this on your own? Lean into the power of the Holy Spirit, and allow Him to empower you with love, humility, and forgiveness. In this unique time of social distancing our calendars have been cleared, and our priorities have been re-arranged. I encourage you to do a hard thing. Pick up the phone, send a message, or host a “virtual” talk. Do what it takes to reach out from a balanced place of love & truth, and start the conversation. Take this time of physical social distancing and use it to reach out and seek reconciliation with others. Even if they reject your efforts, your conscience will be clear, and you can move forward from a place of peace knowing you did your part.
Blessings to you, Kathy