Forgiving means letting go: not holding others accountable for the wrongs they have committed against us. In other words, any time we think of forgiving or not forgiving another, we’re admitting that we’ve be wronged.
The Usual Responses to Offences
What are the usual responses to offences? We can choose to confront the offender and resolve the issue; take offence, but never confront or forgive, resulting in giving cold shoulders; or never confront, but forgive and go on with life as if nothing ever happened.
The Outcome of Not Forgiving
● Resentment and avoidance:
When we feel hurt, we can harbor resentment, whether or not we address it with the offender. That resentment can put us on the path to avoidance, and we might never get the relationship restored.
When we don’t forgive, we have the tendency to share our hurt with others, seeking their sympathy, and that often leads to gossip, which can cause others to resent our offender as well.
How to Handle Our Hurts:
1. Admit we are hurt
2. Identify the offender
3. Identify how we were hurt, and the reason we were hurt
4. Pray for wisdom to know how best to respond and have a restored relationship.
5. Pray for grace to be willing to forgive, and to forgive, even if the offender does not admit wrongdoing.
Why We Should Forgive:
We should forgive because:
1. God says so: “Forgive others, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37 NLT). Have you ever prayed the Lord’s Prayer? Most people can say it from memory; part of it says: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” (Matthew 6:12 NLT). God says to forgive, and we ask to be forgiven, both being contingent on us forgiving others.
2. Choosing to not forgive others is sin, and it has consequences. The psalmist says: “If I had not confessed the sin in my heart [and forsaken], the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18 NLT).
3. God is our example. We offend Him more times in a day than others offend us, and if He, a holy God, forgives us when we confess, we should obey Him, follow His example and forgive those who sin against us. Let’s also remember that we’re not perfect, and do sin against others.
The Scripture tells us: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger … Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 4:31-5:1-2 NIV).
It is possible to honestly forgive. I speak not only from Scripture, but also from experience. I’ve tried it and it works! It dawned on me one day that there were a couple of people who had offended me, but I had never addressed it with them or faced them: I never forgave them in my heart; I just stayed away from them, responding to their ‘hellos’ from a distance. I emotionally distanced myself from them. How sad! I wonder how many of my prayers went unanswered because of that.
My response to this revelation was to confess it to the Lord, asking for forgiveness and grace to forgive these people. Then, while praying, I said these people’s names out loud, and told them and God that I forgive them. I believe God answered, because now when I think about them, I no longer have a funny feeling about them; I honestly feel forgiveness toward them. What a relief!
It is possible to forgive, because our abilities and strength to do anything are based on Jesus already having won the victory for us. “Apart from me,” He said, “you can do nothing” (John 15:5 NIV). First we need to be willing to forgive, and then ask Him for grace to forgive the offender. We then need to go out of our way to reach out to these people in love, allowing the Holy Spirit to heal us and restore the relationship we had with them.
Every sin is sin, but the sin of not forgiving I think, is in a category all by itself, although we so often give it very little thought. I’ve concluded that we cannot afford to not forgive, because we cannot afford the consequences--God not forgiving us, and not hearing our prayers. Finally, let us take this admonishment seriously: “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:14-15 NIV).