Hosea 2:14-15; Matthew 18: 21-35; Colossians 3:13
In the last article, we looked at three aspects of what forgiveness looks like. We saw, from God's most precious Word, that forgiveness is challenging, because, it demands a surrender of our rights to get even. Forgiveness is complete, so that we, as Christians, are released from our personal desire for retribution. Forgiveness is costly, yet, there is no cost we could ever incur that could compare with what we cost Him. When we put forgiveness into practice in our relationships, whether with family, friends, church people, or our coworkers, we refocus our plans for our pain to God's plan, and God's ways. So, our pain becomes relieved, and our life can go on in a better direction. We can live better quality lives by practicing forgiveness. Our relationships can grow. We can become more useful to others, and especially to God. Forgiveness is even worth the agony we may go through, because it will heal wounds and relieve pain. We need not fear forgiveness, or its results, even if it scars us. We can take to heart and realize that scars can be badges of honor to help us grow and mature, and to redirect our wrong path onto the right direction. Now, we can see how forgiveness searches for, and actually goes in pursuit of us, and how we can put it into practical action in our relationships.More On What Forgiveness Looks Like
We, as Christians, must extend ourselves to other people with love, and that which flows out of love-forgiveness!Fourth: Forgiveness Pursues
Hosea tells us,
Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt. (Hosea 2:14-15, NIV)
There is possibly nothing greater and more dramatic to us, as Christians, in regards to God's character, than His capacity to forgive! Most non-Christians cannot fathom this quality, and do not believe God can, or even should, forgive them. So, they blatantly reject His forgiveness. Other Christians only see a small facet of God's forgiveness, because they refuse to apply it in their lives, and hold onto bitterness and strife as their identity. Or, perhaps they understand it a little, but think, If someone wants my forgiveness, they have to come to me and seek it. Or, I do not have to do anything, because I am the person who was wronged. But, these attitudes are wrong and unbiblical. The Bible tells us that the Christian has an obligation to actually pursue forgiveness. Even if we are the ones wronged, it is our duty to go after the person who wronged us--not to retaliate, but to forgive! We have to see why this is important, and from our human point of view, how forgiveness will help end the vicious cycle of revenge and pay back. Even when we cannot or refuse to see His plan! We may think it is not worth it, but God says otherwise. We may think it is unfair, but was it fair for our Lord to go to the cross? This may go against our pride and our culture, but this is what we are called to do. God expects us to entice forgiveness from the person we offend, or the person who offends us.
I had a run-in with an Elder at a church where I was on staff a few years ago. I took his daughter, along with twenty other youth, to a winter camp. On the way home, the daughter realized she had forgotten her gloves. This Elder was furious with me because she had forgotten her gloves at camp. I apologized to the dad-the Elder-and took responsibility for the gloves. I told him I would contact the camp the first thing in the morning, and arrange to get the gloves back. But, this just seemed to infuriate him even more, and from then on he persisted in a very condescending and mean attitude toward me. Although I took responsibility, I asked him to forgive me, even though I felt I had done nothing wrong. After all, I was responsible for twenty kids, their safety and spiritual growth, and, according to that Elder, all of their articles of clothing, too.
This Elder just would not get it when it came to forgiveness. From his perspective, I did a great wrong toward him since his daughter did not bring back the expensive pair of gloves; therefore, as the leader, I was responsible. Even though we received the gloves in the mail a few days later, he would not forget the incident, and this tarnished not only our relationship, but also my reputation with him and with several other people in the church. He made it a point to let everyone know what a bad youth Pastor I was, because his daughter's gloves were left at camp. Ten of those kids came to know the Lord, including his daughter, and this was one of the best camp experiences I have been a part of; but, the gloves incident is what everyone remembers.
Romans, chapter twelve, tells us:
"Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." And the Lord will reward you." (Romans 12:19-20; Proverbs 25: 21-22 NIV)
This experience gave me the chance to realize, firsthand, what the term, burning coals, was all about. The more I was nice and forgiving to this Elder, the more he was insolent and belligerent. In contrast, he had an issue with another pastor at this church, and this pastor decided not to follow Scriptural principles, but rather, the ways of the world. They came to a mutual understanding and respect of one another. So, I wondered if forgiveness was worth it. Then I realized that probably neither of these men knew the Lord, or, at the very least, did not have a growing, effectual relationship with Christ. So, they did not know how to express themselves in a godly way. All they knew was Galatians 5:19-20. Verses 22-23 taught a foreign concept they did not want to pursue or acknowledge. So, I realized, that is why we are to offer forgiveness freely, (as I tried to with that Elder I offended) even when we are not in the wrong. Forgiveness models Christ. People do not like Christ, because He calls us from our complacency and comfort into conviction and growth, where few are attracted or willing to go. So, we have to chase down forgiveness, because, out of our pursuit of forgiveness, we will build better relationships and reconciliation A few years later, that Elder came around, and actually helped me when my car broke down. (Before that, he was more likely to run me over.)
The typical response from society is, "I could care less," or, "forget about it (in a cynical tone)." These are expressions of hurt, even though they verbally say otherwise. The burning coals will convict them or punish them. Because they do not see the cost that the Lord paid for them, they are unwilling to respond to the gift of Grace. Christ pursues them, and all they have to do is respond to His call. The world's desire is to tell the person off and seek revenge. To observe this, watch the daytime talk shows. We, as Christians, are called to a higher standard-one that builds, edifies, and reconciles!Fifth: Forgiveness Is Continual
Luke tells us,
"If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, `I repent,' forgive him." (Luke 17:3b-4, NIV)
For the Hebrew, seventy times seven meant infinity, not just 490, because 490 has a limit. For Christ, there is no point beyond which our accumulation of sins becomes unforgivable. So, our response is to forgive others, as there is no cap, or limit, or expiration to forgive. As followers of Christ, neither the intensity of, nor the number of wrongs should have an impact on us. If we were to place a limit, then our effect of building relationships would have a chain attached to it, instead of having a chain reaction to grow. With a limit, you cannot grow. We must have the realization and capacity to understand how much we have been forgiven by Christ in order to forgive each other; this is crucial to the Christian experience. As our Lord continues to give us grace and forgiveness, are not we to do the same with each other? We show ourselves to be extremely selfish and prideful when we do not practice continual forgiveness!
God's forgiveness is not some cheap markdown or bargain; His cost was immeasurable. Paul, in Colossians 3:13, tells us to forgive freely, as Christ has forgiven us. We must be willing to forgive as Christ has forgiven us. We must be willing to bear the cost, just as our Lord did. Forgiveness demands a substitution. So, how could we ever back away from forgiving each other? If we do, it is a bigger insult to our Lord than for the non-Christian to turn his or her back on His grace-because we know better. Remember, knowledge brings responsibility.
Sixth: What Forgiveness Is Not
In 2 Timothy, we are told, "Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message." (2 Timothy 4:14-15, NIV)
We know why we must forgive. So, the question is, what must we forgive? I do not believe we need to forgive trivialities, because, forgiveness is not trivial; its cost is high. So, things like bumping into someone, or typos and minor mistakes, should not call us to forgive. Just a simple, polite apology is given, and then, you move on. If a person was offended by an honest mistake, such as his or her name being misspelled in the church bulletin, he should not expect forgiveness, because it was an honest, un-purposed mistake, with no malicious intent. There must be a reason for forgiveness, such as a hurt, where malice and forethought were at work.
Forgiveness does not minimize the offense. When we forgive, we are not saying, "Hey, that was OK." The offense does not need to be accepted; however, we are to embrace the person who committed the offense. It is like sin; we are to hate sin but we are still called to love the sinner-unless it continues, and they refuse to repent. Forgiveness is not the approval of the wrong; it only offers the grace of love, rather than vengeance. Forgiveness may not bring us to the level of trust that we had before. If a spouse cheats on you, you are called to forgive and reconcile. But, that trust will be eroded, and will take time to rebuild. Just forgiving the offender will not bring instant restitution of the relationship; perhaps the relationship will be severed completely. Perhaps a business partner embezzles and causes you to lose the business. You are to forgive that person, as we previously discussed, but this does not mean you would enter into a business relationship with that person again.
Forgiveness is directed to people, not causes or institutions. I, as a pastor, cannot forgive the victims of the Medieval Church for some of its notorieties, such as the Inquisition. If I worked for McDonalds, I could not forgive them for someone slipping on their floor, unless I represented them in a legal capacity. Forgiveness will not erase the past. As for that man in last month's article who lost his wife, he will suffer greatly in her absence until they meet again in Heaven. She will not be brought back to life. We are to forget the past, so the resentment will not build up, but, we also need to realize the event will not be undone.
"Not just human fairness, but excusing those things that could not be excused…" (C.S. Lewis)
When we do not forgive, we walk a path of self-destruction, brought on by the build up of resentment, and the unfulfilling nature of revenge. Nothing will wither our soul more than storing up this disease of unforgiveness. Pride and arrogance will take over, control, and ruin you. A Chinese proverb says, "First, before seeking revenge, you must dig two graves." The cost and pain of forgiveness-even though we may be the victims of it-will be far easier than the path of not seeking the forgiveness. We read in Job 5:2, "Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple." The goal of forgiveness is allowing Christ to transform us to our full potential. Because we may go through bad stuff in life, it is not meant to be a personal attack, rather, a strengthening of our character so we can be better used by our Lord. Consider this, Christ has defeated Satan, so the sins we incur can be turned around to His glory. Forgiveness will refocus God's plan, and make it our plan. Then, our sufferings will not be in vain, and can be turned around to further the Kingdom of God. The joy and happiness of who we are in Christ will bubble over, covering the pain and hurt.
Romans tells us,
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died-more than that, who was raised to life-is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: 'For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:28-39, NIV)
How do I know I have forgiven someone properly?
We do not keep these commands to earn our salvation. Salvation comes only on the basis of the altar, which represented Christ's death in space and time. We must accept salvation with the empty hands of faith. Rather, the commands are the conditional statement in the midst of the unconditional promises. For example, do you as a Christian want to be forgiven existentially by God? Then have a forgiving heart toward other men. That is what Jesus was saying. - Francis Schaeffer
"When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed." (1 Peter 2:23-24, NIV)
God does not ask us to minimize the wrong, but He does call us to forgive the person. We are not to repay evil for evil, rather, evil for good, just as our Lord did for us.The Biblical Steps In Forgiving
Now that we have discussed the why and what of forgiveness, we need a practical way to apply it to our lives. Remember, we need to have the Biblical mandates in mind, and be willing to surrender our desires for revenge, and the storage of wrongs for future bitterness.
First: Know what Christ did for you.
In the book of Romans, we read,
"This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:22-24, NIV)
For us to grasp the idea and call of forgiveness, we must have a deep sense of the price that Christ paid for us. Christ paid the ultimate price for us, and forgave us for acts deemed unpardonable. When we grasp what Christ has done for us, we should be motivated into overdrive, always seeking forgiveness. When we have the proper perspective of Grace, what it cost and what it is, we then should be able to reciprocate to those around us. God forgave us for our failures, so, why not forgive others? This realization must precede any of our efforts to reconcile, because, with the knowledge of what and why we are forgiving, we will be able to follow the Will of God, and actually forgive with a willing and loving heart. We are not to let our emotions rule us, or to over- react, making the situation worse.
With the understanding of what Christ did for us on behalf of forgiveness, we can put a bigger piece of trust and reliance onto our Lord. We must be able to fully trust, rely on, and surrender the control over to Christ. Thus, our dependence becomes who we are in Christ. When we then take the risk, we need not worry about the results or consequence of that action. We are to lean on and trust in our Lord, allowing His Grace to flow through us to those around us; this is the mark of a healthy Christian.Second: We must be willing to take the risk.
"Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord." (Romans 12:19, NIV)
"But a witless man can no more become wise than a wild donkey's colt can be born a man. Yet if you devote your heart to him and stretch out your hands to him, if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, then you will lift up your face without shame; you will stand firm and without fear." (Job 11:12-15, NIV)
Forgiveness is a risky business. The person who we choose to forgive may not realize, or admit to the wrong. Nor, will they always accept our forgiveness. But, their response is not our responsibility; we are only to be obedient to our Lord, and give the forgiveness out of love, not expecting a warm response. That Elder who refused to forgive me for a perceived wrong I did to him is responsible for his actions to the Lord, I am not. I am responsible for my response. So, I sought the forgiveness, and he refused. That is a risk we all have to take. Also, the person who we forgive may continue in the offense, such as that Elder who kept spreading rumors about me. He refused to stop; but, again, this is not my responsibility. We are to allow others the freedom to disappoint us and to fail our expectations.
"Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. So even though I wrote to you, it was not on account of the one who did the wrong or of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are. By all this we are encouraged." (2 Corinthians 7:10-13a, NIV)
We need to be willing to put aside the concern that forgiveness will minimize the wrong brought against us. Sin is ugly. We should recognize that fact as well as the fact of its corrupting nature. But, just forgiving someone does not make the sin go away. Forgiveness releases the guilt, and stops the cycle of bitterness and dysfunction.Third: We need to cancel the betrayal.
"Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs." (Proverbs 10:12, NIV)
"He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends." (Proverbs 17:9 NIV)
We have to give up our perceived right of revenge and retaliation. This can be a tough process, but one that we can accomplish through prayer, and self-surrender. Try to look at it this way; the offense against you is actually an offense against God. As God's child, you are in His protection and care. When someone offends you, it also becomes an offense against God Himself. Thus, we are to surrender our rights to His, and cancel the debt-completely out of existence, and, out of our heart and mind. Give it over as if it never happened. You will be surprised that once you do this, you will feel the load lifted off you and you can rest in the comfort of the Lord.
When you pray to God, you need to be actually requesting that He would take the desire of revenge away, then relinquish your desires of revenge!Fourth: We need to offer personal forgiveness.
"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:2, NIV)
We must be willing to go to the person who offended us, and, both verbally and non-verbally, forgive them. Then, seek an appropriate reconciliation to that individual. Offer the love and acceptance to the person, not necessarily to what they did. God desires that we be involved in growing positive and healthy relationships, the primary purpose of our existence is relationships, relationships with God to us and then us to others. In relationships we can model, grow in, make known and glorify our Lord. This should be a driving force of who we are as Christians, saved by Grace. It is the responsibility of the person who did the wrong to repent-not the person offended. You cannot force repentance from someone; you can only pray for him or her, and offer the forgiveness. The relationship can only positively continue when repentance and forgiveness are pursued.
If the offender refuses to repent, or refuses to accept the forgiveness, then this means their nature is in denial. They feel no wrong was committed, or see you as trying to manipulate their Will. They may be a sociopath, that is, have some form of mental disorder where they may enjoy inflicting hurt and hardship on people. In any case, the reason is not your responsibility, nor are you responsible for their acceptance. Your responsibility is only to genuinely offer forgiveness. We need to accept the fact of human nature; some people just will not play ball God's way, especially Christians. So, if this is the case with your forgiveness, then it still remains between you and Christ, as it is anyway, because we are God's children.
Fifth: We need to recognize the picture of Forgiveness.
"The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." (1 Peter 4:7-8 NIV)
The result of forgiveness is letting go of the offense, and, wishing blessings and compassion to the person who wronged you. Repentance simply means, Biblically, to change one's perspective. In other words, you turn-from your way of thinking to God's way. That is, we change our minds and hearts-from our desires to Christ's desires. When we do this, then we have truly forgiven that person. Leaving out any of the above steps, and only forcing your Will into the situation, means you are deluding yourself into thinking that you have forgiven; you have not. It is not about us, it is about God, and His desire for us is to live in peace and love.
We always need to keep reminding ourselves of our status in Christ, as we previously discussed, because this is paramount to continuing to go on in our lives without the hurt and bitterness. "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8, NIV) This does not mean that we will not feel the pain, or perhaps suffer consequences from someone else's actions. What it means is, we are saved by Grace, by what Christ has done. So, we need to reciprocate grace and peace to those around us, even though we may not want to.
"This is what the LORD says: 'Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,' declares the LORD." (Jeremiah 9:23-24, NIV)
We need to keep ourselves tuned into God constantly and continually, and allow Him to carry us through.If you are the offender:
If you are the person who hurt someone, and that person is unwilling to forgive you, it is up to you to make it right. You may not receive that person's forgiveness, but that is between them and God, and not you. You need to go through the steps of forgiveness, but with the emphasis on earnestly repenting and offering restitution. You need to confess, openly and publicly, before the person you offended. Then, you need to go to the person in private. Do not rationalize what you did, or minimize it in anyway. Then, go to Christ, humbly and with a repentant attitude-which means, you make a commitment to change your heart, mind, and actions!
If going to the person is impossible because of distance, death, or restraining order, then we need to totally rely on God. Take your lead from 2 Corinthians 7:8-11. This allows Christ to be your Mediator, and, know you are not off the hook for truly seeking repentance. Just because you may not be able to physically go to a person does not mean you do not have to forgive them. You can use a third party such as a pastor or a letter and definitely though repentance and prayer.
When we refuse to forgive or refuse to repent, then we are holding ourselves back from God and His best for us. We rationalize the reality of the infection of sin, and its destructive nature to our being, and to those around us. We create a wall to shut ourselves off from God, and one another. Thus, we turn on ourselves with the consequence, without any reprieve or comfort. Because we become consumed with animosity and vengeance, we then suffer with the guilt and bitterness. Our personal lives dissolve, and our impact on the community, as Christians, becomes a hindrance instead of a blessing. Take a serious look into Psalm 32. Meditate over it carefully, and then surrender yourselves over to the love of Christ. Allow the sin to be forgiven and released. Be courageous. Seek out forgiveness and public confession and reconciliation. Allow yourself to grow and mature to be the best, whole person Christ desires for you to be. There is simply no better way. This is liberation and true comfort:
"Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the LORD'-and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. Many are the woes of the wicked, but the LORD's unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him. Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!" (Psalm 32, NIV)
Richard Joseph Krejcir is the Director of "Into Thy Word Ministries," a discipling ministry. He is the author of the book, Into Thy Word, and is also a pastor, teacher, and speaker. He is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena California. He has amounted over 20 years of pastoral ministry experience, mostly in youth ministry, including serving as a church growth consultant.
©2003 Richard Joseph Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, www.churchleadership.org/