Forgiveness can be a very difficult subject for many people. God has made us to be relational beings, but because of sin, we have become very adept at hurting one another in the midst of our relationships. And when we are hurt, forgiveness is not our natural response. Our natural human tendency is to withdraw and retaliate when we have been injured by someone. We also tend to think that to forgive someone who has sinned against us is to forgo justice.
All of us have had difficulty forgiving someone at some point in our lives. Perhaps we suffered injury over something small; maybe we have held a grudge against someone because of a perceived slight, an unkind word, or a harsh action. For others, the issues are much, much greater. Some have suffered incredible forms of abuse, been neglected or abandoned, severely taken advantage of, personally degraded, professionally shunned, or financially ruined.
Regardless of the circumstances or the degree to which we have been injured, the command and call of God upon our lives is to forgive those who have sinned against us. But forgiveness is not easy; to battle against our fleshly tendencies and extend forgiveness is a struggle common to all believers. As with every other struggle we face, it is important for us to look to God and His Word for His guidance to meet this challenge. Thus, I wanted to recap Sunday’s sermon by reiterating some of the practical biblical directives on the subject of forgiveness.
1. We must forgive because our God is a forgiving God. As God’s children through faith in Christ, we are called to reflect God’s Person, and because He is a forgiving God, His people must also be characterized by a willingness to forgive. There is nothing that could ever be done to us that compares to the innumerable number of heinous sins we have committed against God. Every one of us has blasphemed His name, spit on His grace, and trampled His holiness. Yet He has forgiven us, though we do not deserve it; so we must likewise extend this same grace to those who have sinned against us. To harbor bitterness and resentment and unforgiveness against another after being forgiven so much is to act like a lost person, not a saved person. (Matt 18:23-35, Eph 4:32)
2. Forgiveness is the clear command of Scripture. In Matthew 18:21-22, Christ taught Peter that there was no limit to how many times he should forgive the brother who sinned against him. God has furthermore told us that we are to love our enemies. He has commanded us to be merciful, kind, and loving. To withhold forgiveness is to directly disobey God’s Word and to quench His Holy Spirit. To continue unrepentantly in unforgiveness and bitterness invites God’s discipline, and it may mean that you were never truly saved. On the other hand, to grant forgiveness embodies the very person of Christ who even prayed on the cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
3. Unforgiveness does more harm to us than the one who has hurt us. Some people hurt us without knowing it. Those who hurt us intentionally and maliciously often don’t care. In both situations, we can end up harboring a bitterness that literally rots our souls and that even spills over to those around us. Withholding forgiveness does more harm to us than to our adversaries, so we need to release our bitterness and trust that vengeance belongs to God and that He will protect His children. Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.”
4. Forgiveness reflects trust in God’s good sovereignty. In the last chapters of Genesis, we find the story of Joseph, a young man who was beaten and sold into slavery by his family, falsely accused of rape, imprisoned for years in an Egyptian dungeon, and finally risen to a position of prominence second only to Pharaoh. After Joseph’s father died, his brothers fear his vengeance, but Joseph expressed to them again his forgiveness and trust in God: “And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones. So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (Gen 50:20-21)
It is very difficult for us to think that our experiences of suffering and pain are ordained by God to fulfill His purpose, but that is exactly what Scripture teaches us. Thus, what right do we have to hold a grudge or to be unforgiving when God has ordained our experiences to glorify His name? Letting our hearts rest in this reality of His sovereign goodness releases us from the bondage of worry and regret and bitterness. So heed His call and His command, and walk in the freedom of forgiveness!