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How much do you know about forgiveness? You can’t tell until you are done reading these five truths about this important Christian virtue. This post is a bit lengthy, but definitely worth reading. Let’s go.
1) Forgiveness is a command for all Christians. And this command is from no one other than the Master Himself (Matthew 5:43-48). Forgiveness is never optional; it is ever mandatory. Forgiving those who have wronged us is not something we do some of the time; it is something we do all of the time. We have to practice forgiveness regardless of whether it is convenient for us or not.
Jesus hit Simon Peter with this same truth in Matthew 18:21-22. Peter went up to the Lord and asked Him how many times must his brother sin against him and he forgave him. He then quickly suggested as many as seven times. But Jesus told him without mincing words, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Jesus then went further to tell a story which profoundly illustrates the importance of forgiveness in the life of a Christian.
Here is what Jesus was telling Peter (and is still telling us today): “I want to you to learn to be endlessly forgiving towards others, just as I have always been towards you.” Jesus Himself laid a fine example for us to follow when He forgave His enemies while still hanging on the cross (Luke 23:34a). Christians have been commanded to forgive because it was God who, through Christ, first forgave us, cleansing us from all our sins.
And be kind to one another tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 4:32; see also Colossians 3:13
2) Forgiveness changes only the forgiver, not the forgiven. Forgiveness is about us. We are only helping one person when we forgive, and that is us.
Refusal to forgive hurts not the person we are denying forgiveness but us. Holding grudges against those who hurt us is the quickest way of damaging our health. When we refuse to forgive, we let others determine our happiness. We give them the power to control us. Unforgiving attitude makes a prisoner of us.
Forgiveness is a call from the bondage of resentment, bitterness and hatred into a victorious life.
Christina Puchalski, M. D., wrote on the Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine Web site:
There have been many studies looking at the role of forgiveness in health. Unforgiving persons have increased anxiety symptoms, increased paranoia, increased narcissism, increased frequency of psycho-somatic complications, increased incidence of heart disease and less resistance to physical illness. . .The act of forgiveness can result in less anxiety and depression, better health outcomes, increased coping with stress, and increased closeness to God and others.
3) Forgiveness is supposed to be unconditional. We do not have to wait until the wrongdoer apologies or returns the stolen item before we forgive. No matter how long we wait, some people will just not come right the wrong done to us. It is either they have deliberately chosen not to repent or do not see the need for repentance. In fact, they may even falsely believe that it is us who need to come beg them for forgiveness. Obviously, insisting that such persons come reeconcile with us is an exercise in futility. That is why it is important that we learn to forgive readily, graciously, and unconditionally.
4) Forgiveness is a heart thing, not a mouth thing. When we fail to practice genuine forgiveness, we lock our offenders up behind the brazen bars of our hearts. They remain there as prisoners, unable to escape. And the longer we keep them in our hearts the more they mess us up. The more they pollute our hearts and alienate us from God. If you didn’t know, your heart is either a prison or the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.
Telling someone we forgive them a million times changes nothing when it doesn’t come from the heart. Forgiveness must flow from the heart through the mouth. The person needing our forgiveness must first be set free where we lock them up in our hearts. Until we do this, we have not truly forgiven.
5) Forgiveness doesn’t render the law useless. It doesn’t mean we should let others trample on our rights and civil liberties at will. It doesn’t mean someone can defame us and go scout free without facing the wrath of the law. The command to forgive doesn’t make it a sin for us to seek legal redress in a court of law. Yes, I believe Christians can go to court for the right reasons.
Sadly, many so-called enlightened Christians are ignorant of these self-evident truths. They have out of sheer ignorance literally become a refuse site and take all sort of rubbish from every Tom, Dick and Harry. No matter what evil or injustice they suffer from others, they must look away and pretend as though nothing has happened. Such mentality only promotes a culture of lawlessness and impunity.
A speeding truck hurtles off the roadway and collides head on with an oncoming car, killing all occupants of the car. Police blame the crash on drunk driving on the part of the truck driver and charge him for culpable homicide. Church members and the pastor go to commiserate with the devastated father who lost his family in the nasty crash. The pastor encourages him to be strong in the Lord and also forgive the truck driver. He tells him frankly that he must persuade the police to release the man or else he will risk going to hell. After all, letting the man rot in jail will not bring back the dead.
This is not the message Jesus preached while on earth. God is not the author of confusion. He hates chaos, disorder, evil and lawlessness. His love of mercy and compassion certainly does not negate His sense of justice. Forgiving lawbreakers doesn’t mean we should let them go without facing the consequences of their lawless deeds. It only means we set them free from the prison of our hearts. It means we do not harbour even an atom of bitterness against them who have hurt us.