Sometimes, the act of forgiveness is easy. We are hurt by something someone says or does. We realize they don’t have a clue that what they did caused pain. Other times, however, the pain is deep. We feel betrayed, misrepresented, or falsely accused. Those are the times it is harder to forgive.
There’s no easy cure, and no three-step method that guarantees a quick forgiveness without visiting the pain. There are, however, some words in scripture that show us the way. I have visited and re-visited these verses too many times to recall, and they always, always, bring perspective and direction. When I turn to Ephesians, my Bible automatically opens up to the page with those verses. Does that tell you how often I need to go there?!
Direction on forgiving
When Paul was a prisoner, he wrote a lot of letters – to individual people and to churches. In the letter to the church at Ephesus, he addresses them as holy people and grants them grace and peace through God and through Jesus Christ. Two-thirds of the way through the letter, Paul addresses “the way you should live”. He challenges them to stop telling lies, to stop stealing, and to earn an honest living. He finishes the chapter addressing both emotions, attitudes, and actions. Paul addresses anger, slander, malice, and forgiveness.
The New Century Version of this passage says: “Do not be bitter or angry or mad. Never shout angrily or say things to hurt others. Never do anything evil. Be kind and loving to each other, and forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ.”
The ESV says: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
The NKJV says: “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”
How to forgive
I have discovered that the only way to get rid of anger, evil speaking, and bitterness is to forgive. When I forgive someone, the desire to gossip, backbite, or throw them “under the bus” goes away. Oh, I’m here to tell you that Satan does not let this rest. You can be sure he keeps bringing it up, reminding me of the hurt. That’s when I have to choose to forgive again – and again – and again. When I remember the incident without pain, I know forgiveness has taken root in my heart.
Forgiveness is “a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.”
Willingness to forgive is a command. Jesus said that God forgives us in the same way we forgive others. For the believer, there is no choice, but to forgive. If we want to be forgiven by God, then we must forgive others.
When Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was being stoned, he prayed, “Father, lay not this sin to their charge.” [Don’t put this on their account.] Hanging on the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Forgiveness empowers us to admit and recognize the pain we suffered without allowing that pain to define us. Click To Tweet. It removes the weight in our hearts and allows us to move forward. Forgiveness releases us from anger and from the bondage of keeping the fire going.
Forgiveness is not
Forgiveness does not gloss over or deny the seriousness of an offense, nor does it mean that we forget. It does not mean we condone what the person has done or excuse them. Forgiveness does not obligate us to reconcile with the unrepentant who has harmed us, nor does forgiveness release them from legal accountability.
You can steal my wheelbarrow and ask my forgiveness. I can grant forgiveness for the theft, but you are still obligated to return the wheelbarrow or pay for damages. You can take someone’s life and ask forgiveness. The family members can forgive you, but you still have to face the legal consequences of your crime.
For Christ’s sake
Ephesians gives direction on forgiveness and on the why. We are to be kind, to be tenderhearted, and forgiving. The reason is because of Jesus Christ. “Even,” Paul writes, “as God for Christ’s sake as forgiven you.”
There are no excuses that negate the command given to me. I’ve tried them all:
- But you don’t know how much this hurts!
- But you don’t understand how false those accusations are!
- If only they would admit it, then I could forgive.
- When they quit gossiping and telling lies, then I’ll forgive.
- But this is sooo unfair!
I have to reckon with the command:
- Be kind
- Be tenderhearted
- Be forgiving
BECAUSE of Jesus. God, for the sake of Jesus’ blood, has forgiven me.
That is reason enough to forgive.
Photo credit: Gerd Altmann via pixabay.com