Have you ever had trouble forgiving someone? I have. When I begin to think back on the harm I experience by their actions or hurtful words, the feelings of resentment can come flooding back. The hurt may be because of the physical or emotional harm that was received. It could be the lies that they told or the deception they used. It could be how selfish and inconsiderate they were. It could be that they never admitted the wrong that they did or that they showed no remorse. It could be the loss that they caused. It could be the hatred that they showed. It could be how inconsiderate they were or how unloving they were. I suppose there are many reasons why we can find it hard to forgive. But we are taught by God to forgive. Let us consider some of the things that the Bible says about forgiving.
Jesus gave His disciples what is known as the Lord’s Prayer. Matthew 6:9b-13 “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” Tucked in the middle of this model prayer is the sentence “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Jesus comments about this in Matthew 6:14-15 “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.” I do not want to have my debts to God held against me. I do not want to go through eternity suffering the consequences of my sins. I need forgiveness; I want forgiveness! Therefore, I am highly motivated to forgive others because I want to be forgiven by God. How about you?
You may say “But you don’t know what they did to me!” Look at the example Jesus gave us when He was falsely accused, spat upon, mocked, reviled, tortured and nailed to the cross to die a most cruel death. Luke 23:34a “Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’” How does the harm you received compare to what Jesus was given? And yet, Jesus asked the Father to forgive them. No offense is too big; you can still forgive.
Peter seems to have had trouble forgiving others. He knew he was supposed to forgive but he thought there had to be a limit to forgiveness. Matthew 18:21-22 “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.’” Don’t do the math; Jesus is not teaching that there is a specific number of times we need to forgive, but instead is teaching that we should be willing to forgive many, many times.
Jesus also taught in Luke 17:3-4 “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” You may reason that the one who sinned against you didn’t come to you and say that he repented or that he was sorry for what he did so you don’t need to forgive him. Did the people who put Jesus to death say they were sorry? And yet He asked the Father to forgive them while on the cross.
If we don’t forgive others, it leads to bitterness. When we don’t forgive, we remain resentful in our hearts. Bitterness can lead to all kinds of physical ailments such as stomach problems, heart problems, and sleeplessness. No one wants to be around an openly bitter person. Ephesians 4:31-32 “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Forgiving and giving up bitterness is beneficial for your physical and spiritual wellbeing. We are reminded that we are to forgive one another, even as God in Christ forgave us.
Maybe you think “I can’t forget what they did to me.” Although forgetting and forgiving are related, they are not the same. You can forgive even when you still remember. The apostle Paul remembered those who harmed him. 2 Tim 4:14-16 “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works. You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words. At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.” You can forgive and let go of the resentment even though you remember what was done to you. Just like the apostle Paul, I advise you to beware and seek to avoid being hurt again, if you can. Even so, forgive. When you continually talk about the offenses that you remember, have you really forgiven? Let the offenses lie in the past.
We should never take vengeance but forgive and let the Lord exercise vengeance. Romans 12:19-21 “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” God will see that justice is done in the end of things. Where there has been evilness, overcome the evil by doing good.
A final thought about forgiveness. Sometimes we judge another’s actions thinking that they did something evil or for an evil reason, but we may misjudge them. Jesus taught us in Matthew 7:1-2 “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” Our judging can be misjudging. How foolish to be unforgiving when no offense really occurred.
My encouragement to you is to forgive. You want to be forgiven by God, so forgive others their trespasses against you.