Willing to Forgive

Forgiveness

Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4).

When Jesus taught His disciples about the need to forgive those who had sinned against them, they said, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). They recognized that it is not always easy to forgive, especially when others habitually or consistently sin against us – either “seven times a day” (Luke 17:4) or even “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22).

However, as the Lord’s disciples, we must be willing to forgive others as the Lord has forgiven us. Paul wrote, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).

We are to be willing to forgive, but what does this willingness to forgive look like?

In the Moment: Do Not Retaliate

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matthew 5:38-39).

When Jesus taught about turning the other cheek, He cited the law regarding punishment (Leviticus 24:19-21). Those who do harm to others must certainly be punished. This principle is also stated in the New Testament (Romans 13:3-4; Acts 25:11). However, Jesus was not talking about punishment, but retaliation. They are not the same. Punishment is about impartial justice. Retaliation is about a partial or biased form of vengeance.

When others sin against us, there is a temptation to react. Of course, reacting quickly is not always wrong; but it is easy to sin if we do not stop to think. Peter presented the example of Jesus as one who did not react in kind when He was crucified:

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:21-23).

Jesus was an example for us in this. We are to be “quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger” (James 1:19) and learn to practice patience. Paul told Timothy that we are to be “patient when wronged” (2 Timothy 2:24). We need to learn to exercise self-control when it is easier to react.

Short Term: Do Not Obsess

Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26).

There is often a tendency to dwell on some wrong that was done against us. This is why Paul instructed the brethren in Ephesus to “not let the sun go down on [their] anger.” It is natural to be angry when someone sins against us; but as we noticed in the previous point, we are not to react wrongly. However, this passage shows us that we are also not to hold onto our anger by allowing the wrong that was committed against us to consume our thoughts.

When others wrong us, there is a temptation to respond. There is a proper way to respond. Jesus said, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother” (Matthew 18:15). However, there is also an improper way to respond. Notice what Paul wrote immediately after the warning about letting the sun go down on our anger:

And do not give the devil an opportunity” (Ephesians 4:27).

By obsessing over someone’s sin, we “give the devil an opportunity.” We are tempted to do something wrong in order to “get even” with someone. However, we are not to take our own vengeance. Paul was clear about this: “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head’” (Romans 12:17-20). We are to fill our minds with what is good (Philippians 4:8). We cannot do this and obsess over some wrong that was done against us.

Long Term: Do Not Hold a Grudge

Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door” (James 5:9, KJV).

In the verse above, the translators of the New American Standard Bible used the phrase, “Do not complain.” Some people complain without thinking, but James was talking about something more than that. The word indicates a sigh, grief, or complaint from the heart. The same word was used by Paul to describe how we “groan within ourselves” (Romans 8:23). In the context in which James used the term, this referred to a deep-felt resentment against another.

When others have sinned against us, there is a temptation to remember. There is nothing wrong with not allowing others to take advantage of us over and over again, but this is about an unwillingness to let go of what someone did to us. Paul did not hold a grudge against those who refused to support him in his time of need:

At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them” (2 Timothy 4:16).

Similarly, Jesus did not hold a grudge against Paul for persecuting Him (Acts 9:4, 15). Instead, Paul was “shown mercy” as an example of the Lord’s “perfect patience” (1 Timothy 1:12-16). We need to remember what really matters: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Just as we are not to “worry about tomorrow” (Matthew 6:34), we cannot worry about yesterday and allow the past to hinder us – including those wrongs that were committed against us in the past. Instead, we must “[forget] what lies behind and [reach] forward to what lies ahead” and “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

Conclusion

The Lord is willing to forgive us, no matter what we have done. We must have the same willingness to forgive others. Jesus said, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14-15). Let us strive to be as forgiving as the Lord is toward us.


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