Many Facets to Forgiveness
We are well aware of the importance of forgiveness. We are commanded to do it, and we have the greatest example of it in Jesus Christ and His atoning death on the cross for our sins. But do we understand the significance of genuine forgiveness? Do we understand why we are told to forgive one another? Do we know how to ask for it when we realize we have sinned against another person? Do we know how to forgive someone when they ask for our forgiveness? These are all questions that I have often assumed that I understood, but recently learned that there is so much more to it than I realized. I think we can all agree that the process of forgiving someone or asking someone for their forgiveness is not something we enjoy doing. As a result, we kind of muddle our way haphazardly through it to make amends and perhaps make ourselves feel better in the process. When we take this approach, we end up just "getting along" and "getting on" with our lives. We rob ourselves of having the kind of relationships that God desires for us toward one another. To better understand forgiveness, we must begin by looking at its basic components.
First and foremost, we need to recognize that forgiveness is much bigger than just having a right relationship with one another. It's all about having a right relationship with God. We can't expect to have a great relationship with God if we ignore His directive to forgive one another. In fact, Mark 11:25 tells us, "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins." "Forgive them" is in the present tense and means that you must forgive them on the spot, right away.
Jesus ended with, "so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins." This doesn't mean that God's forgiveness is merited by ours. Instead, it means that to be unforgiving reveals that we fail to understand and accept God's unmerited grace. Our inability to forgive others or our desire to seek revenge shows our lack of humility and our insubordination towards God.
Jesus also instructed in Luke 17:3-4 concerning forgiveness, "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins agains you seven times a day, and comes back to you seven time, saying, I repent, you must forgive him."
This shows that there are 2 responsibilities here. First, if someone sins against you, rebuke them. "Rebuke" means to confront. Then, if they repent, our responsibility is to forgive.
There is a proper way to rebuke or confront someone. It should always be done in love and with the goal of restoration. The purpose is not to humiliate or defeat the perpetrator. We shouldn't require their repentance to be a long, drawn-out self-flagellating event and we shouldn't be slow in our forgiveness.
The second responsibility is to forgive them. If they repent, we are simply to forgive them. We shouldn't set expectations or establish conditions in order to feel that they are deserving of our forgiveness. Easier said than done, right? However, if we yield to the Holy Spirit's guidance and recognize that God graciously forgives us and tells us to forgive. That is exactly what we must do, and all that we should do. It should go without saying that forgiveness must be done with the right attitude. What I mean by that is we must truly forgive from within our heart.
Instead of having a desire for pain or revenge towards the wrongdoer, we should have a desire for their good. This goes back to my point about how to go about confronting someone. It must be done in love and for the purpose of restoration. This ultimately results in joy and harmony within the church. Our forgiveness should also look like Christ’s. Forgiving requires letting it go and put it as far as the east is from the west.
So how do we do this and what does it look like? We know that we have a responsibility to confront or rebuke someone who has sinned, and we have a responsibility to forgive someone who has wronged us. But consider yourself on the receiving end of each of these situations.
If you are confronted by someone who feels that you have sinned or has wronged them, your initial response should be to listen. This goes against everything our intellect tells us. Our fleshly desire is to immediately defend or justify our actions. If there is some misunderstanding, it should be approached in a calm and loving manner. Remember, the initial rebuke should have been done in a loving manner.
Our response should also be done in the same way. If the person confronting you was hurt, whether your actions were intentional or not, ask for their forgiveness for making them feel that way. If there was a misunderstanding, there is nothing wrong with asking them to forgive you for giving them the wrong impression. What have you lost by doing so? Then consider what you have gained; a loving relationship. Even consider thanking them for bringing it to your attention.
If you find yourself having to confront someone for sinning or wrongdoing, begin with prayer. Ask God for wisdom, patience, and a loving heart, especially if they don't respond in a loving or kind way. Keep it simple and to the point. Pay attention to their verbal and non-verbal response. Remember, you are not there to punish them. If their response is repentance, forgive them. If their response is not favorable, follow the guidelines established in Matthew 18:15-20.
We should never harbor ill feelings towards one another. If you do, you are disobedient to God's Word and it could cause you to sin.
Westhill Church can and should exemplify the bride of Christ. Let’s be the Church.