First let’s define forgive. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
- to stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong) : to stop blaming (someone)
- to stop feeling anger about (something) : to forgive someone for (something wrong)
- to stop requiring payment of (money that is owed)
To forgive is to stop feeling anger toward someone or about something, to pardon them. To forget is to not remember or think or care about something, to unlearn or disremember.
Forgiveness in the Bible
The Bible does, in many places, command us to forgive each other. Here are two examples:
- Matthew 6:14 (HCSB) “For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well.
- Ephesians 4:32 (HCSB) And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.
Jesus’ comment to Peter when he asked how many times we should forgive implies constant forgiveness without holding it against the one we forgive.
Matthew 18:21-22 (HCSB) 21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 “I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus said to him, “but 70 times seven.
Why should we give anybody a clean slate who has wronged us? Because God, who is our example for how to forgive, does. He forgives and overlooks everything that we have done and do against Him, through Jesus, so that we can have eternal life and an eternal inheritance.
Micah 7:18 (HCSB) Who is a God like You, removing iniquity and passing over rebellion for the remnant of His inheritance? He does not hold on to His anger forever, because He delights in faithful love.
Forgiveness is an act of the will and since God commands us to forgive we must make that choice. We must forgive even if the person who offended us doesn’t ask for or doesn’t even want forgiveness.
Matthew 5:44-45 (HCSB) 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Revenge is God's Alone: 7 Lessons from Scripture on Forgiveness
Anne Peterson Poet and Author
Editor's Note: Some full scriptures added by Faith The Evidence
You feel like someone just kicked you in the stomach. You can’t believe how easily they let the words slip from their mouth. And sadly, it wasn’t the first time. Oh, how would you like to pay them back. Wouldn’t it be okay, just this once?
No. God has a different route for you to take.
“See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.” (1 Thessalonians 5:15).
God wants us to seek after good, even if we’ve been wronged. Revenge is God’s alone. Here are seven lessons from Scripture on forgiveness.
1. We are to forgive as Jesus did.
Have you ever heard the line, “Do as I say, not as I do?”
Well, you never heard that from Jesus. He lived to please his Father. And he always chose the higher road. God tells us to forgive, just like Jesus did.
Ephesians 4:32 ESV Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
God explains the way we’re to forgive. It’s not that the other person deserves forgiveness. But we didn’t deserve to be forgiven either. God wants us to forgive just as we were forgiven.
2. Forgiveness is not a one time thing.
“Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’” (Matthew 18:21-22)
Peter thought he would put a number on how often we are to forgive. Maybe Peter thought he was being generous asking about forgiving seven times for the same offense. Peter was mistaken.
Forgiveness is not possible apart from God. When a person continually hurts you, it is only by God’s strength that you can forgive. And the more you know the person, the harder it can be. That’s why we need the Holy Spirit to guide us through the process.
3. Forgiveness should be bathed in prayer.
The first step to forgiveness should always be prayer. We need to pray our hearts will be in the right place. We need to pray for the person who wronged us. To forgive without prayer is a bad idea. Let God lead you. If we keep bringing our concerns to the Lord, he is the only one who can truly help us. We’re encouraged to acknowledge him in all our ways. Then he can lead us, making sure our words are drenched in grace.
Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
To attempt forgiveness without prayer is like doing something blindfolded. When God instructs us to do something, he also empowers us to do it. We don’t have to try doing it by ourselves.
4. Forgiveness is not just for the other person.It’s easy to think forgiveness is only for the one who has wronged us. But God wants us to be free as well. He knows without forgiving, that a seed of bitterness can grow in us.
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” (Ephesians 4:31)
If we refuse to forgive we can hold onto those wrongs, continually thinking about them. And before we know it, we are full of resentment. God tells us to “put away” bitterness as well as anger and wrath. It won’t be easy, but God is right there to help.
The enemy of our souls, who revels in discord and dissension, doesn’t want restoration. He likes division and chaos. When you choose to forgive, you are pleasing the Lord and displeasing God’s enemy.
5. Forgiveness is not condoning the wrong one.
Many people struggle with this area the most. If you even bring up the idea of forgiveness they protest, “But you don’t know what they did to me!” Forgiving isn’t saying what they did was okay. Instead, you are making a choice to not hold it against the person’s account.
One time, I remember saying, “But Lord, someone needs to pay for this!” And the Lord said, “I paid.”
I saw that refusing to forgive is saying what Jesus did was not enough. That his payment didn’t cover this offense. The sacrifice Jesus made covered every sin committed. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” he was talking about the payment for sins.
Hebrews 10:12 ESV But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,
John 19:28-30 ESV After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), "I thirst." A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, "It is finished," and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
6. Forgiveness may not be acknowledged.
God tells us to forgive one another. But the results are not up to us. And yet, God still requires forgiveness. If we want to be Christ followers, we need to obey what he tells us in Scripture. Then leave the rest to him. Our job is to forgive; God takes it from there.
There may be times you forgive someone and the relationship is still broken. Then what? Remember your job is to obey. We may hope for a gracious response when we’ve finally taken that step of obedience and forgiven someone. But we must graciously accept whatever response is given.
Romans 12:17-21 ESV Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (emphasis mine)
I love that God tells us as much as it depends on us. God is acknowledging sometimes it will be difficult, maybe even impossible.
7. Forgiveness is not easy.
Often when we are mistreated, we have a tendency to believe the the action was deliberate. We are hurt and convince ourselves the person meant it. When this occurs, it is crucial to remember Jesus forgave freely. He asked God to forgive those who hung him on a cross even though he had done no wrong.
Luke 23:33-34 ESV And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." And they cast lots to divide his garments.
He even said that his crucifiers didn’t know what they were doing. If we took this attitude when people hurt us, it would make it so much easier to forgive. Wouldn’t you want to be forgiven?
It may be very difficult but God wants us to forgive each other every time just like He has forgiven us through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Once we do what it says in;
Romans 10:9-10 (HCSB) 9 If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation.
God treats us as though we never sinned at all and doesn't hold our sins against us. So, in a sense, He "forgives and forgets everything every time"
In the same way when we forgive need to act as though they never it never happened. We do still remember the offense, and we should learn from it, but to truly forgive, we should treat the person as though it never happened.
Father, I pray for those who are reading this article. I pray if there is someone they need to forgive that you would prepare their heart. I pray that you would go before them and give them the words to say, and help them to simply give forgiveness as Jesus showed us. God, I pray this, not because of who we are, but because of whose we are. For we pray this in Jesus’ precious name. Amen.