If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him.” Luke 17:3
I am going to say, right off the bat, that I am no expert on forgiveness. In fact, I have a very bumpy track record on the matter. This is a very sad fact, and hard to admit. None-the-less, I do try to obey the Lord’s teaching and forgive those who have wronged me, even if I don’t get it right the first (several) times. The honest to goodness truth is, I find it very difficult in some cases.
My most recent battle with forgiveness was with someone who had “demanded” forgiveness from me. Gary Chapman wrote in his book, The Five Languages of Apology, “There is a difference between asking for forgiveness and DEMANDING forgiveness. When we demand forgiveness, we tend to forget the nature of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a choice the offended party is supposed to make. Demanding forgiveness takes away the sincerity of asking for it.” You can imagine that it didn’t make it any easier for me to forgive after she told me I “had to” forgive her- especially when she added, “for you, not me”.
If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him
In an article titled “Forgiveness” on the Solutions Christian Counseling website, it stated, “forgiveness is a transference of a debt to another. The debt is now owed to them instead of us. The offender is not released from paying for what they have done; instead they now owe the debt to Christ. We take their debt and we forgive it by giving it to the Lord. The person who hurt you isn’t involved in this decision, it is yours alone”.
When I understood that forgiveness on my part is between me and Christ, I was able to let go of the guilt (and anger) I felt. It was no longer mine to pardon, but Christ. My friend had offended Jesus, not me. Matthew 6:14-15 says, “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” This makes perfect sense to me now. My forgiveness of others requires trust and faith in Christ. I give the offense to Christ, and I have forgiven them. And the same goes for me. God will forgive me when I give Him the offense. It seems so simple. So why is it so hard?
There is no reconciliation without repentance
Forgiveness is a two-fold action. The first is our responsibility: letting go of the offense. The second is on their part: repent and ask for forgiveness. It is this second part where reconciliation can be initiated.
“Repentance is not a mere apology. Anyone can do that, and then go right back to doing exactly what caused the problem in the first place. Repentance is looking within and re-evaluating one’s life, turning from one’s sinful ways, showing true remorse, making amends, having a change of heart, changing one’s behavior from unloving to loving, etc. not just giving these things lip-service. Repentance takes effort. It is also erroneous to think that forgiveness means the relationship must automatically be reconciled. A victim may forgive in her heart and choose never to reconcile. Forgiveness does not require exposing oneself again to someone who has damaged you in the past. It is perfectly fine to forgive someone in your heart and still not want to be with them anymore. Sometimes, as you grow in the Lord, you come to see that you need to be selective in your relationships in order to progress and not regress in your walk with God.” (Luke 17:3 Ministries)
We may never receive an apology for the wrongs done to us. No matter how forgiving we are of others, it is still their choice to seek forgiveness from us. I have often struggled with the idea of living at peace with those I am at odds with. But more than that, I have wondered if it is okay to separate from someone you just can’t seem to get along with.
Rick Furmanek writes in his article “Walking in the Spirit of Forgiveness”, “Where at all possible, live at peace with others. This is a biblical command. If we find ourselves in a place where we find it impossible to maintain peace we must entrust the situation to God’s ability to work mightily against the impossible. We are to be peacemakers for sure but we’ve got to maintain the proper perspective that while we are to be about making peace with others at the same time we should not presume it is permissible to compromise the Truth found in Scripture just for the sake of maintaining peace. That is an unhealthy approach to God’s idea of being a peacemaker. Peace is a priority but not at all costs… Admittedly, there are some battles that must be fought, forgiveness or no forgiveness. If this were not the case, there would be no need for us to put on the armor of God daily as Ephesians tells us to do… Discovering where God has drawn His line in the sand between peace and compromise is a constant challenge to know. Becoming a serious student of the Word can be of real help in determining where that line is so that when we, as Christians, enter the battlefield, which we will, we’ll know what is worth fighting for, where to take a stand without compromise, and what things in life just aren’t worth the conflict. Again, we are to make peace wherever we can, but without compromise. Entrust the seemingly ‘answerless and unsolvable conflicts’ to God and His sovereign ability move in lives.”
Give it to God, and Give it Time
I’m learning that I can’t do it on my own. Even in the act of forgiving others, I need to rely on God to provide me with the power to do so. And each day I’m leaning on God to show me the “log in my eye” (Matthew 7:4-5). “If you love only the people who love you, you will get no reward. Even the tax collectors do that. And if you are nice only to your friends, you are no better than other people. Even those who don’t know God are nice to their friends. So you must be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:46-48)
In her book, “The Silent Cry of Christian Women”, Dee Brown gives us a list of what forgiveness is, and what it is not. She writes:
• Forgiveness does not mean you deny, excuse, minimize, justify, or rationalize the offender’s responsibility in hurting you.
• Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is a choice and an act of will.
• Forgiveness is an intentional commitment to the process of change and to step away from being the victim.
• Forgiveness may bring you to an open door to show empathy and compassion for others.
• Forgiveness does not always lead to reconciliation. Reconciliation may be a challenge or impossibility; if the offender has died, remains relationally toxic, or is unwilling to communicate with you to bring healing.
• Forgiveness is not an automatic process when you have been attacked, abused, or betrayed. It will take accountability, support, prayer, and a Holy Spirit intervention.
One thing is for sure, God’s message to me continues to be, “Read, study, and obey the Word”. The more I know and understand His Truth, the more I trust Him to guide me in my ways. And the more I trust Him, the more I see the “bigger picture”. God calls us to forgive because He forgives us. “Be kind and loving to each other, and forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ.” (Ephesians 4:32) “Get along with each other, and forgive each other. If someone does wrong to you, forgive that person because the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13) We should have so much joy in our salvation that forgiving others is an act of love and thanks to God.
Remember, forgiveness is giving the offense to Jesus. “Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you”. (Psalm 55:22) When we trust God’s word, and do what it says, we will find peace. Proverbs 16:7 says, “When people live so that they please the LORD, even their enemies will make peace with them.”