My first boyfriend cheated on me twice, that I know of. The second time he went to jail because, though they were both in high school, the age difference made the act illegal. My second boyfriend lied to me, his friends, and his family for a year and a half about graduating college. His family found out the night before graduation that he was a semester short of hours and I found out when I arrived at his house under the guise of walking over to the ceremony with his parents. One of my first good friends in college went after a guy that I had been seeing the semester prior. My first roommate lied to me about going through the recruitment process for an organization that I had been hurt by. I had a suspicion this was going on and had told her that if she wanted to join them I would support her and be thrilled if she got in. She told me that she would never consider joining that group. The National team of my sorority cut my presidency short because they wanted to revitalize the organization and, though it was never directly said but rather often implied, I was not of the same faith of which the organization had its beginnings.
My response was always to get even. For the cheater, I took him back multiple times and dumped him whenever he felt comfortable, throwing his cheating in his face over and over and over again. For the liar, I lied about the possibility of us being able to make it through that lie, dumping him over and over and over with claims that I just couldn’t trust him. For the friend, I promised I would call her to hang out after she called to humbly apologize. I never did. For the roommate, I cut her out of my life even though she did try to incorporate me into her new world. In terms of my sorority, I started a spirit organization that remains a highly successful group.
Sounds like I one-upped everyone doesn’t it? Most of these actions even pushed me down paths that led to success and happiness – I’ve had friends tell me they admire how healthy my current relationship is. I have been asked to be a bridesmaid in two weddings. I convinced a close college friend of mine to move to the town where I got my first job and be my roommate. My spirit organization is now represented on two campuses. If I truly one-upped these people, however, why do I carry these five instances around with me?
I want to focus today on forgiveness because for twenty-four years I did not do it right. When I turned 25, I decided it was time to change that and I turned to the Bible, prayer, and the guidance of my parents to learn how it was supposed to be done. For nearly a year I studied without any opportunity arising to test my new biblical understanding. It was not until the year was nearly over that a test presented itself and I did what was right. God truly works in mysterious ways.
The sin that has been committed against me is not comparable to the sins that I have committed against God, but God forgives my sins upon my repentance and acceptance of Jesus Christ as my savior. Should I not, therefore, forgive those lesser sins that are committed against me?
Matthew 18: 21-35 (Repentant Sinner)
Adapted From: bible.org’s Biblical Forgiveness by David Anderson
- The Question of Forgiveness (18:21)
- The Extent of Forgiveness (18:22)
- The Story of Forgiveness (18: 23-24)
- The Motivation of Forgiveness (18:33)
- The Application of Forgiveness (18:35)
Matthew 18: 21-35 is a lesson on relationships. In our relationships with others, we tend to question whether this is the time that they have finally gone too far and, because of that, perhaps we shouldn’t have to forgive them. In our struggle to understand how to apply forgiveness to others, we try to determine what boundaries we should set for our forgiveness, and we contemplate whether forgiveness is indeed an automatic gesture or if it needs to be earned. We further ponder over whether forgiveness was intended by God to be two-sided or one-sided, and what conditions we can set to protect ourselves in the future. Lastly, we become confused over how to apply the phrase ‘forgive and forget,’ and we seek to determine when it is appropriate to confront the wrongdoer and when we should just leave it alone.
Since sin is complex, forgiveness will always be hard. So how do we hate the sin but not the sinner? How do we keep sin from separating us? We turn to the Bible for a biblical direction on forgiveness. From the Bible we learn that there are consequences to sin but that we should never limit our willingness to forgive. Taking this particular parable into consideration, it is clear that while the Lord forgives infinitely, He does not do so without allowing the natural consequences of sin to take place. In this parable in fact, the “wicked servant” is thrown in jail until he can pay back the debt he owes.
Dictionary.com defines forgiveness as granting pardon to a person and ceasing all claim or resentment. In Unpacking Forgiveness by Chris Brown, this definition is further expanded upon offering up forgiveness as “a commitment by the offended to pardon graciously the repentant from moral liability, and to be reconciled to that person although not all the consequences are eliminated.” The method here is clear – the Bible, unlike our world, does not teach automatic forgiveness without consequence. God offers forgiveness from sin to all, but not everyone chooses to repent and be forgiven. We take our direction from God, and, therefore, our application of forgiveness must imitate His.
Dr. Timothy Keller says in his article Serving Each Other Through Forgiveness and Reconciliation that “when someone seriously wrongs you, there is an absolutely unavoidable sense that the wrongdoer owes you. The wrong has incurred an obligation, a liability, a debt. Anyone who has been wronged feels the compulsion to make the other person pay down that debt…Only after we see them suffer in some commensurate way do we sense that the debt has been paid and the sense of obligation is gone. The sense of debt/liability and obligation is impossible to escape. Anyone who denies it exists has simply not been wronged or sinned against in a serious way.”
Truly, forgiveness is not a feeling but a commitment. We should be open and willing to extend our forgiveness to anyone who seeks repentance. From Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
God’s grace does not only save our lives but a true acceptance of Christ changes them too. Our motives, values, relationships, and application of forgiveness evolve to be more Christ-like when we allow for our own reconciliation with God to take place.
Ken Sande identifies the four promises that Christians make when they forgive one another in his book The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict. They are:
- I will not dwell on this incident;
- I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you;
- I will not talk to others about this incident;
- I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder this relationship.
In closing to his podcast on forgiveness, David Anderson states that “there is hardly a better way to prove the reality of your christian life than to seek forgiveness and offer forgiveness” since “forgiveness is at the heart and center of what it means to be a christian.” We are able to extend forgiveness to the repentant because we have reconciled ourselves with God. In being born again, we have taken on a new life and adopted a biblical rather than worldly understanding for the application of forgiveness.
Luke 23:34 (Unrepentant Sinner)
Adapted From: Christianity Today’s Forgiving the Unrepentant by R.T. Kendall
Forgiving someone does not mean condoning their action. Things do not have to go back to the way they were. Sin does result in consequence and sometimes that consequence is a change to the relationship. Sometimes the other party doesn’t feel that they have wronged you, or they don’t feel that they should have to own up to it. This is what Luke 23:34 offers perspective on.
If your plan is to wait for the person who wronged you to apologize, then you are probably going to be waiting for a long time, if not indefinitely. If your plan is to confront them about their wrongdoing so you can force an apology, you might be surprised at how fast they deny and turn the blame onto you. Following either of these two routes is only done out of an effort to make us feel justified in our bitterness or grudge-holding. That is not christian. What is christian is remembering to love those who sin against us, like God loves us.
But how do we love those who sin against us? Most importantly, we love them in prayer, and honest hopes for their bright, happy, and successful future. How do you get to the level of honest hopes for a trespasser? By understanding that the greatest benefit of forgiveness goes more often to the forgiver than the forgiven. What is the greatest benefit of forgiveness? Peace.
How powerful are these words, how loving this concept: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In this moment, Jesus did not direct his forgiveness to those who caused him torment in crucifying him, but rather he directed it to God in prayer. We, as well, do not need to go to others and tell them of our forgiveness, rather we need to live this forgiveness. Forgiveness happens between us and God, and we live this forgiveness by letting go of our bitterness and temptation toward holding a grudge.
Signs of Forgiveness
- You no longer talk about the incident with others, or feel the need to;
- You do not re-hash the incident with the wrongdoer, or feel the need to;
- You pray for them.