Have you ever been harmed by another person? Maybe it was physical. Maybe it was emotional. Either way, you were hurt. How did you respond? Did you forgive the person or hold on to your anger and resentment? Our natural instincts are to recoil and go into self-protection mode. As Christians, we are to respond differently. Unfortunately, pouring out love and grace to the person who harmed us is not an easy move to make.
Forgiveness is such a simple word yet the complexities of the act of forgiving are quite difficult. Forgiveness is defined as
the process of concluding resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offense, difference or mistake, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution.
So what does that mean? Probably something different for each person who reads it. We like to think we can forgive rather easily. In fact, many of us throw the word around quite casually. But if we really look at how forgiveness works within our lives, we would embrace the deep meaning of forgiveness in a much more intense and purposeful way.
The Bible says in Colossians 3:12-14:
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and early loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
I really love this because it is a direct order about what to do when we have been wronged. “…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” The fact is, we can expect failure and hurts from even the most incredible people. But there is no failure that can trump the grace God has promised us. If we all “clothed” ourselves as God directs, we would not feel the weight of the world on our shoulders like we do. Marriages would be more solid. Friendships would be repaired.
So how do we go about forgiving? In Matthew 18:21-22, Peter asked how many times could his brother sin against him and he forgive. The Lord answered.
I tell you, not as many as seven but 70 times seven.
I don’t know about you but I find forgiving one time to be difficult, depending on the situation. I used to hang on to my anger and resentment like a badge of pride. Even today, I might cross paths with someone and realize that I have held on to a resentment for far too long. The problem is, we all want to be right. But being right isn’t as important as being merciful. God showed mercy on each of us when he forgave us our sins. In the Lord’s prayer, which many of us recite weekly, if not daily, we say, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us….” Read that again. If we really understand that line, we are saying to God, “forgive me like I have forgiven.” I don’t know about you, but that’s not how I want to be forgiven by my Lord and Savior. I want to be completely forgiven for my failures and sins. I want God to see me with loving eyes and know that I am doing what He wants from me. So, if I withhold forgiveness, I’m asking God to do the same.
So to clothe ourselves in compassion is, literally, to fully bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior, according to Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionary. We must start by forgiving what is inferior to our standards. We have the right to expect certain behaviors. But we must also expect failure from time to time. By doing so, we give up the demands we place on other people and they no longer have to live up to an expectation set by us. Second, we must remember that we are not morally superior then the person who has harmed us. Only one has walked the Earth who is morally superior. Other than Jesus Christ, we are all equal in our inferiority. So, by stepping off the soapbox, we can begin to see that we cannot out-sin God’s ability to forgive us. How awesome is that?!
How do we deal with someone who refuses to forgive us? We love them. In recent months, I reached out to someone I had sinned against. I had judged this person unfairly and he knew about it. After asking God for help and strength, I stood before this person and offered my apologies. It wasn’t easy because I didn’t like the feeling of having my pride hurt. But I knew that it was the right thing to do. Unfortunately, this person did not accept my apology. In fact, when I see this person now, he does not speak. He does not look me in the eye. There is no forgiveness. At times, I find my anger rise about that. What I have to remind myself during those moments is that sometimes we have to forgive and then forgive again and again. I cannot control his feelings or behaviors (as much as I would like to, at times). Instead, I can only control my own reactions. I have failed, at times, Sometimes, I’m just as cold as he is. That is not what God wants.
Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons (and daughters) of your Father in heaven.
Yep, you read it right. You are supposed to pray for your enemies. Hard, isn’t it? With the grace of God, you will find this action to be one of great strength and comfort. No, we cannot control others. We can control ourselves. We are responsible for our actions. God is responsible for the results, if you let Him in.
Lord, please forgive me for my refusal to forgive as I should. Help me, Lord, to recognize my inferiorities and hand those over to you for guidance. Amen.