Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
“I forgive you…”
I typed the words and paused. As I reflected on the events that led up to the fresh wound in my heart, tears rolled down my face – drops of betrayal and hurt fell onto my hands and phone.
I wanted to hold on to them. Store them away for future use. Tuck them in my wallet as a reminder.
But, I couldn’t. Instead, I wiped them away and sent the message.
“Forgiven…” I whispered, as a reminder to myself of the debt I just cancelled.
I can’t think of a more difficult command than the one that Jesus gave when he said “forgive”. It’s the only command that guarantees a negative comes before it. Forgiveness means a hurt or offense has taken place, and that is the last time in our lives when we want to let our light shine.
In fact, Jesus’ own disciples had difficulty understanding the depth of this command. When Peter went to Jesus, he expected a legalistic response to forgiveness.
Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!” –Matthew 18:21,22
Jesus’ response was not to say we should keep a tally, and after 490 offenses, do as you please. His response meant that forgiveness is to be extended an unlimited amount of times. Rather than relying on rules, his command calls us to reflect the character of God – which is immeasurable. We are never to come to a point of refusing to extend forgiveness. EVER.
Yet, there are a few simple responses that get in the way of us doing this….
They will never learn if I don’t make them pay.
It’s interesting how the giant wagging finger comes out when others do wrong. We feel the need to admonish them for their wrongdoing. We measure their debt against our “righteousness” and count them unworthy.
But don’t you remember where you were when Jesus found you? Need we count the amount of times you’ve ignored God? Disobeyed God? Sinned? The scripture reminds us that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). You were pretty offensive and will continue to be as long as you’re here on earth! Yet, God forgave you. And since His justice was sufficient for our transgressions, it is no less adequate for the harms we face.
Forgiveness feels so….weak!
It’s ingrained in our culture to stick up for ourselves. It seems empowering and honorable to take matters into your own hands and release vengeance on another who has done harm. So, when someone tells us to forgive unconditionally, it sounds very contrary to the strength we are used to expressing. But, there is nothing simple, easy, or weak about forgiveness. To yield to forgiveness rather than being dominated by anger or resentment is not less powerful, in fact it is more! Proverbs 19:11 says that a sensible person, or one with wisdom, shows patience and “they earn respect by overlooking wrongs.” Sitting in the seat of forgiveness sounds like a more honorable one to me.
So, who is going to take care of the offense? The same one that took care of yours.
“Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, "I will take revenge; I will pay them back," says the LORD. – Romans 12:19
Ok, but I can’t forget.
So, even when we admit that forgiveness is the right response, we add conditions. We want to reserve the right to bring up or use the offense against the person when desired. That’s not an option when we truly forgive.
When we forgive, we are saying “I am giving up the right to use this hurt as a weapon against you, now or in the future”.
That comes with no strings attached.
As I whispered those words, a thousand “whys” entered my mind. Even when we make the choice to forgive, it’s not always easy. Human nature wants wounds to linger. So, to my unforgiving nature I began to answer the “whys” and I wrote:
I’m forgiving today because….
I’m viewing this mistake through my own broken glasses. I’m not perfect.
It takes more strength to lay down my sword, than to wield it in anger. It’s not my fight.
Unforgiveness would mean me drinking poison, but expecting the one who offended me to die. There’s a high cost to unforgiveness that I’m not willing to pay.
I didn’t deserve forgiveness, and God gave it to me anyway. Time to pay it forward.
And, as I wrote down those words, I felt a release; not only for the one who hurt me, but for me!
That’s what forgiveness does.
Forgiveness FREES us.
Do you want to be free?
Let’s pray: Father, Your Word tells us that if we forgive those who have sinned against us, then You will forgive us. But, if we refuse to forgive others, You will not forgive us of our sins. We want Your forgiveness. So today, we choose to forgive. We declare that we will be patient with people and forgive wholeheartedly. Where there is hurt, heal our emotions that have been wounded and teach us how to love unconditionally. We know that there are moments in the past where we have missed the mark on this and been vengeful, bitter, and unforgiving. Please help us. Forgive us for every evil thought and moment where we have sought revenge against people who have offended us. Forgive us for the moments of anger or hurt where we have not reflected Your character and walked in love. Forgive us for gossiping, lying and for rehearsing in our minds what was said or done to us. If there are people we have not released, show us and help us to forgive. We thank You for the power and freedom we have through Your commandments. In Jesus name. Amen.