Forgiveness is for Giving
Updated: May 1, 2019
Forgiveness is for giving, not just receiving...
For the past few weeks at my internship, I have been facilitating a group on forgiveness - what it is, what it isn't, why it is important and what the benefits are when we forgive. Following the series, I could not help but stop and reflect back on the Biblical perspective of forgiveness. Forgiveness is something that I and many others have struggled with, or may even be struggling with now. So in this Easter season, on this crucifixion Friday, I wanted to speak on forgiveness.
I wanted to share some of what God has taught me concerning forgiveness that helps me whenever I find it difficult to forgive and let go.
A couple of years ago, I was having a hard time forgiving some people who had hurt me and God said:
"Extend the same grace you wish to receive."
That was so profound to me, in that we so often make excuses for our words and actions, we want people to forgive our negative attitudes and behaviors, and for them to let go of our wrongs... but how many of us freely reciprocate that? We accept forgiveness but reject forgiving. We make excuses not only for why we should be forgiven, but also make them for why we should not forgive someone else. Two of the most common ones we use are "I don't want for them to think what they did is okay" and "if I forgive them, they will just continue to do wrong".
- Forgiving someone is NOT us condoning what they did. When I forgive, it is not me saying that you did not wrong me, it is me saying that I will no longer harbor resentment nor hold that wrong against you.
In 1 John 1:9 it says that when we confess our sins, God forgives us and "cleanses us from everything we've done WRONG." Meaning, forgiveness is not saying that what was done is not wrong. God clearly states that sins/offenses are wrong and not okay...BUT they are forgivable.
- Though we would love the idea that if someone hurts us once, they'll never do something else to offend us again, it just is not true. However, we are no different. How many times have you asked God to forgive you for something but then went back and did it again just to find yourself at the feet of Christ once more asking for forgiveness? Yeah. Me too. None of us are perfect and we all hurt and offend others (repeatedly) which is why when Peter asked Jesus how many times we should forgive others Jesus responds in the way He does.
21 Then Peter came to Him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone[a] who sins against me? Seven times?”
22 “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven![b]
God doesn’t have a 'one and done' rule where He throws us aside if we hurt or offend Him once, rather, out of love, He CHOOSES to continue to forgive us and He calls us to extend that same grace to others.
(Now this is not to say that if someone is intentionally harming or is abusing you in any way that you should stick around and continue to take it. Forgiveness does not mean that you have to remain in the friendship or relationship. You can forgive someone and realize still that you must distance yourself for your own well-being and that it is totally okay. I just wanted to throw that out there.)
Many of us are like the debtor in Matthew 18.
23 “Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. 24 In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars.[c] 25 He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.
26 “But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ 27 Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.
28 “But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars.[d] He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.
29 “His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. 30 But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.
31 “When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened.32 Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.
Shouldn't we have mercy on those who offend us, just as God has mercy on us when we offend Him? Should we not extend the same grace that we receive daily?
Notice how the first debtor had received forgiveness of millions but refused to forgive another of thousands. This relates to us in how the perfect God of all creation has forgiven us of all our many sins but then when a fellow imperfect being sins against us, we don't desire to forgive them. Those who have been forgiven much, love much (Luke 7:47), and love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).
Love covers a multitude of sins...including those of the one who wronged you.
It's not about "feeling like forgiving".
We won't always "feel like forgiving" because forgiveness is not a feeling, it is a choice.
What if I told you that Jesus did not feel like enduring the agony of dying on the Cross for the forgiveness of your sins and mine?
I don’t know of any verse in the Bible that says God feels like forgiving, but there are plenty that show that He chooses to forgive. There’s a difference. Forgiving others isn’t just for when we are no longer hurt or bothered by what they did, and it is not for when we feel that someone has earned the right to be forgiven. Grace is a gift that cannot be earned (Eph. 2:8-9). True grace can be given in the midst of the agony, when our flesh doesn’t feel like it. I’m reminded of Jesus hanging there beaten and bloody on the cross. His persecutors below Him, a sinner to the right and left of Him...in the midst of it all He chooses to look up and say, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He did this out of love. Love will lead you to do things you don’t feel like doing... including forgiving. Again, love covers a multitude of sins. The patience that comes from love (1 Cor. 13) allows us to overlook offenses (Prov. 19:11).
For those reading who may wonder how I can say Jesus didn’t feel like going through the agony of dying on the cross for our sins, turn to Luke 22:41-44 where He prays and asks the Father to take the cup from Him. [Side Note: I think sometimes we forget that Christ was fully human along with being fully God. He felt every whipping, beating, tearing, hammering... every agony was fully felt. But He did it for the joy that was set before Him (Heb. 12:2).]
32 Two others—criminals—were also led away to be executed with Him. 33 When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified Him there, along with the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. [34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.”][i] And they divided His clothes and cast lots.
35 The people stood watching, and even the leaders kept scoffing: “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked Him. They came offering Him sour wine 37 and said, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!”
38 An inscription was above Him:[j]
THE KING OF THE JEWS.
39 Then one of the criminals hanging there began to yell insults at[k] Him: “Aren’t You the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!”
40 But the other answered, rebuking him: “Don’t you even fear God,since you are undergoing the same punishment? 41 We are punished justly, because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me[l] when You come into Your kingdom!”
43 And He said to him, “I assure you: Today you will be with Me in paradise.”
Before I close out, I do want to say that I know not all of us struggle with forgiving others. Some of us struggle with forgiving ourselves. And to that I want to say, receive the same grace that you extend. Christ died and rose again for your sins. He paid your debt, you don't have to keep working to try to repay it - because you never could.
Forgiveness is for giving...to others AND to yourself. God has already forgiven you. Forgive yourself. Don't hold on to your sin, when He has already let go.