Forgive As We Forgive
Have you ever had the privilege of watching a person respond to an altar call? It’s just beautiful to witness the Holy Spirit at work, gently convicting at the same time drawing a lost soul toward the altar. You can almost hear Him. “Come,” He pleads, “to the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.” As that man, woman, boy, or girl responds and steps out in faith, they come, oftentimes weeping as they feel, for the very first time, the love and presence of God. Once at the altar, they are led in the sinner’s prayer: “Dear God in heaven. I come to You in Jesus’ name. I’m sorry for my sins, for the way that I’ve lived, and for the things I have done. Please forgive me ….”
And God, in His amazing grace—and for Christ’s sake—forgives.
From that moment on, every child of God knows how to ask for the Father’s forgiveness, and how happy and relieved he is to receive it.
The thing is, when it comes to forgiving others, a lot of Christians think it should work the same way—the offender comes to the offended, repents, and asks for forgiveness. Otherwise, they say, forgiveness cannot be granted.
But this type of thinking is completely untrue.
Forgiving One Another
When someone hurts or offends you, it doesn’t matter if that person ever asks for your forgiveness—and, by the way, most people won’t. Still, as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we need to forgive.
Think about it. When someone offends you, hurts you, or causes you heartache, and you refuse to forgive, your only alternative is unforgiveness, and that’s a sin.
Ephesians 4:30-32 says, “And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
When we choose unforgiveness, we commit nearly every sin listed in the verses above. Worse yet, the Lord calls an unforgiving person “wicked.” That’s the word Jesus used in Matthew 18 when he told of a man who was forgiven a monetary debt—in the millions, if not billions, in today’s money—but then refuses to forgive a fellow servant a debt of a few hundred dollars. Let’s pick up the story in verse 29 out of The Expositor’s Study Bible:
“And his fellow-servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay you all (basically says the same thing, as the first debtor had said). And he would not (would not forgive him the three hundred dollars): but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt (which means that him being in prison makes it virtually impossible for him to pay the debt; so he will likely stay there until he dies). So when his fellow-servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done (to be sure, the Lord always knows what was done).
Then his lord (Christ is Lord of all), after that he had called him (the one he had forgiven the ten thousand talents), said unto him, O you wicked servant, I forgave you all that debt, because you desired it of me (unforgiveness of others is wicked, and puts one in the category of a “wicked servant”): Should not you also have had compassion on your fellowservant, even as I had pity on you? (We must never forget how much the Lord has forgiven us, and likewise, show the same spirit toward others, who owe us much less than we owe the Lord.) And his lord was wroth (angry), and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him (lack of forgiveness of others revokes the forgiveness of God to us—a sobering thought!).
So likewise shall My heavenly Father do also unto you, if you from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses (true forgiveness comes from the heart, and God knows when it is true) (Mat. 18:29-35).
What the Lord is saying here is very, very serious because if we don’t have a forgiving spirit and attitude, then the Lord is not going to forgive us. So where does that put us when we go to Him and say, “Lord please forgive me for doing thus and so”?
I Just Can’t Forgive
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “Frances, if you only knew what so-and-so did to me, then you would understand why I can’t ever forgive—or forget.”
Believe me when I say that I do understand how deeply people can hurt one another. For all of our time in ministry, not a day goes by that we don’t receive calls, letters, and emails from believers who are trying to cope with the pain attached to a wrong they’ve suffered at the hands of another. Here’s a sampling of what we’ve received in days past:
• A drunk driver killed my best friend.
• My father raped me, more than once.
• A doctor prescribed the wrong medication and my grandfather died.
• My mother left me when I was 4 years old, and I don’t know why.
• A coworker lied about me in front of our boss, and I was fired.
• My children live nearby and could visit me, but they don’t.
• My parents made me get an abortion when I was 15.
As you might imagine, the details of such trespasses are heartbreaking and—without the Lord’s help—the pain from these kinds of cuts keeps right on hurting. Why? Because the offense and the offender are locked up tight in the heart of that believer. Even if you did nothing wrong and even though you were the one who was deeply hurt, still, holding to an offense will, over time, build an internal prison around your own heart.
Think for a moment about what a prison is and what it does. A prison has high, thick, cement walls and steel doors purposely designed to confine, enclose, and restrain anyone or anything from coming in or going out. Therefore, as jailers, we make it extremely difficult for others—including the Lord—to help us.
So the person who refuses to let others go free remains, himself, in bondage.
If you still think that you can’t forgive someone who has hurt you, then think about Joseph. He was hated by his brothers. His own brothers—his family—hated him. They wanted to murder Joseph, but settled instead on selling him into slavery. So there Joseph was, a slave in a strange land. He became a servant in the house of a nobleman where he was falsely accused of attempted rape. Joseph was completely innocent, but he was still sent to prison. Yet in all of Joseph’s trials, he never once blamed his brothers or anyone else. Instead, he forgave, and I believe it was his forgiving spirit that kept the Bible repeating, “and the Lord was with Joseph.” Eventually, the Lord promoted Joseph to the high position of viceroy of Egypt.
When Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers became fearful and said, “Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did unto him” (Gen. 50:15).
Anyone who trespasses against another knows in his heart “all the evil” he has done. But look at what Joseph said to them:
“Fear not: for am I in the place of God? (The question of Joseph, in effect, says, “I am not the judge and, therefore, I do not punish. If any punishment is meted out, it will be God who does it, and not me. You have nothing to fear from me.”) But as for you, you thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. (This verse holds one of the greatest promises found in the entirety of the Word of God. God can take the evil which is planned against the believer, that is, if the believer will fully trust, and turn it to good, until there is nothing left but good.) (Gen. 50:19-20) (The Expositor’s Study Bible).
So we see here that the very one whom Joseph’s brothers sold into slavery and wanted to kill was the same one whom the Lord would use to preserve their lives. That’s powerful!
As we see in this story, forgiveness doesn’t mean the offender gets away with anything. But like Joseph, we need to understand that we are not judges. The Lord knows all that’s been done and He will always do what is right.
Also, it’s important that you realize this: Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that you have to go back into a relationship with the person who offended you. In fact, depending on the circumstance, that may not even be possible; the person who hurt you may be unreachable, or perhaps even passed away. The important thing is for you to forgive, for your sake.
Fruitful In The Land Of My Affliction
Finally, the next step after forgiving someone is to forget what was done to hurt you. Will the offense you suffered be wiped clean from your mind? No, but the Lord is able to take the sting and pain of that trespass away to where seeing that person no longer triggers hurt or anger in your heart.
This became a truth to Joseph in the naming of his children: “And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: For God, said he, has made me forget all my toil, and all my father’s house (this speaks of his brothers who sold him into slavery). And the name of the second called he Ephraim: For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction” (Gen. 41:51-52).
Notice that the Lord made Joseph fruitful after he forgot.
Paul said, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).
Paul is telling us that it’s more important to let the past be the past and press forward with the Lord. God’s going to take care of the people who have trespassed against us. Our job is to forgive, forget, and press on toward the Lord Jesus Christ who has forgiven us of so much.
As Charles Spurgeon once said, “Some of us have had so much manifest forgiveness, so much outward sin forgiven, that for us to forgive ought to be as natural as to open our hands.”