Forgiven Peolpe Must Forgive Too!
By Pastor Phil Hills (Belfast Northern Ireland)
Even if someone has hurt you very badly, you can still find the peace and inner healing that comes by forgiving, says Phil Hills. This is something that you choose to do, and it requires your obedience rather than extraordinary faith.
ANYONE can overcome offences and live free from the pain of past hurts. But, for some, holding on to those hurts seems to be a preferred option. They treasure the wounds and recall them often – poring over the detail and examining the offence from every possible angle – to nurture the injustice. And in doing so, they reinforce their right to feel resentment and anger.
Then there are others who desperately want to let go, but who don’t know how to break free from the bitterness that binds them. Words like “I forgive” fall freely from their lips, although hurt still weighs heavily on their hurts.
GOD NEVER ASKS US TO DO THE IMPOSSIBLE
But there is good news: God never asks us to do the impossible. Were it beyond our ability to forgive from the heart, Jesus would never have directed us to do it.
The concept of forgiveness is a great deal easier than the practice. Well-known theologian C.S. Lewis commented, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.” Forgiveness can be difficult because it runs counter to the perceived wisdom of the world. Offering to overlook an offence is an attitude easily ridiculed in a society where revenge is understood to be the right of the injured. Sometimes, family or close friends encourage us to pursue “our pound of flesh” rather than to forgive, and so we need to take courage and act on God’s Word.
Another difficulty is the desire for justice. Often, what we have suffered may indeed be unjust, and allowing that to go unpunished seems wholly unacceptable. That sentiment was felt by the Psalmist as he lamented the prosperity of the wicked (Psalm 94:3 ). But, that desire for justice can be a little one-sided. Because, when we are offended, justice may be uppermost in our minds, and yet, when we are the offenders, it’s amazing how quickly we desire mercy! Whether it is from the all-seeing lens of the speed camera, or from the hurting heart of a friend, we greatly appreciate our offences being overlooked.
There is another significant obstacle to forgiveness. There are those who have made hurt their identity – because they receive care, compassion, love and sympathy for the pain that they have suffered. They are given attention and time that they might not command if theirhurts are healed. Such people fear being overlooked - or not being cared for - if they no longer have needs. And this stifles the desire to extend forgiveness. God does not want us to find identity in our hurts, but rather through our identity as His children.
HOW MANY TIMES SHOULD WE FORGIVE?
Incentive to overcome a reluctance to forgive can be found in Jesus’ words. When Peter asked Him how many times we should forgive someone, the Lord’s reply implied that we must forgive as many times as necessary. Then He illustrated forgiveness with a parable about a man who, although forgiven by his master of an overwhelming debt, refused to forgive another for a meagre debt. When this man’s master heard about his ingratitude and injustice, he was outraged and had him thrown to the tormentors. “This is how My heavenly Father will treat each one of you, unless you forgive your brother from your heart,” Jesus concluded (Matthew 18:35 ).
The parable reinforces Matthew 6:14-15 . If we forgive we will be forgiven and if we do not forgive we will not be forgiven. That alone should be sufficient motivation for any of us to forgive others. But added to that, we have the knowledge that the full weight of our sin against God has received forgiveness. Surely, by receiving such a massive pardon, we should not be so mean spirited as to withhold forgiveness from others. Rather, we should emulate the example of our Saviour.
FORGIVING IS A CHOICE - AN ACT OF THE WILL
Forgiving is a choice. Offering forgiveness is an act of will, and failure to acknowledge this will encourage us to defend disobedience. Forgiveness is not fruit that needs time to grow in our lives, and nor is it the result of a special encounter with God. Jesus makes this clear in Luke 17 when He commands that if someone sins against another seven times in one day and repents as many times, that person should be forgiven (v.4). Forgiving someone for the same offence several times in one year would be a significant test of sanctification, so seven times in one day drives Jesus’ point home. The disciples, staggered by this teaching, immediately requested an increase of faith (Luke 17:5 ). Jesus responded by telling them what tiny faith can achieve, and by explaining that a servant does not receive commendation for carrying out orders – for simply doing his duty. His implication is this: you do not need great faith to forgive, because you simply have to choose to carry out your Master’s instruction.
FORGIVING IS AN ACTION
Forgiving is an action. “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing,”Jesus cried on the Cross (Luke 23:34 ). Similarly, Stephen asked that those who were stoning him be forgiven (Acts 7:60 ). It is our unconditional action. It is neither conditional on being asked for, nor on seeing fruits of repentance. The crowd around the Cross was not asking for forgiveness and neither was that stoning Stephen. And obviously, someone who sins against you seven times in one day is not demonstrating fruits of repentance.
EXTENDING FORGIVENESS RELEASES US!
We may be tempted to withhold forgiveness until it is asked for, or until we are satisfied that the offender really wants it. But, we would do well to pronounce forgiveness before we are ever asked for it. Then we are set free and we can begin with the process of healing. In Mark 11:25 Jesus says, “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your sins.” The action of extending forgiveness releases us and allows us to receive forgiveness. To wait until we are asked may mean we never get an opportunity to forgive and would also prevent us from being forgiven.
It is imperative that we realize that forgiveness is not a feeling. Offences can be very hurtful, and choosing to declare forgiveness does not immediately destroy the sting.Should someone accidentally trap your finger in a door, an instant apology will not remove the pain. And so, wounds to the spirit also take time to heal, but this hurt should not be interpreted as a failure to forgive. The healing process is aided by the choice not to remember the offence. Since it takes a deliberate act of the will to call to mind information that is in our memory, we should determine not to recall the circumstances of hurts that we have suffered. There are occasions when they present themselves to the forefront of our minds without being invited, and at those times we should choose to focus our thinking on something else entirely.
PRAY POSITIVELY FOR THOSE WHO HAVE HURT US
Finally, it is important that we pray positively for those who have hurt us. Although prayer can be used as an excuse to rehearse the details of an offence, we should pray specifically for God’s blessing on those who have hurt us. Then we are thinking of them regularly in a positive context and providing the Holy Spirit with opportunity to heal our wounds.