“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32, NKJV).
Have you ever watched a parent intervene in a childish squabble? With a stern voice they instruct, “Say you’re sorry.” Head down and mumbled, a reluctant “sorry” is finally squeezed out. The other child mumbles a quick “okay” as things are uneasily patched up.
Why is it so difficult to say, “I’m sorry. Forgive me.” Perhaps just as difficult is to say a sincere, “I forgive you.” All of us will face both sides of the forgiveness problem at some point in life. Sometimes we may be the offended party, and at other times we may be the offender. Hurts and wrongs alter relationships, sometimes forever, unless we learn to build a bridge of forgiveness to the other person.
God’s Word provides us with guidelines on how to deal with offenses, even if the other person never acknowledges the wrong.
We must forgive others to receive God’s forgiveness. “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you (Matthew 6:14). The parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:23-35 demonstrates the need for mercy to receive mercy. (Also read Colossians 3:13.)
Take the first step, even when you are the wronged party. From our viewpoint, this seems backward. Why should the innocent person “give in”? But take note of what the Lord says in Matthew 5:23-24. I have heard of family feuds lasting for years, even generations. No one could remember what precipitated the quarrel, but neither was anyone willing to make the first move toward reconciliation. How foolish to let problems go unresolved because no one will take the first step.
Do not limit the number of times you will forgive. We become impatient when someone continually offends and hurts. Enough, we think! Peter questioned the Lord: “How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” No doubt Peter thought this a generous amount. But the Lord replied, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22). Four hundred ninety times! Forgiveness is not justifying or overlooking a wrong. It is a promise to not keep score, to follow the Lord’s example of not remembering (Isaiah 43:25).
Do not seek revenge. “Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing” (I Peter 3:9). As Isaac Friedman said, “The sweetest revenge is to forgive.” (Also read Proverbs 24:17, 29; Romans 12:14-21.)
Guard your heart against bitterness. (See Hebrews 12:15.) Remember as a child if you fell and skinned a knee and Mom would caution,” Don’t pick at the scab”? This is sound advice for emotional wounds as well. It is easy to keep hurts open and bleeding. This allows infection—bitterness—to get into our soul. We become reluctant to let the offender off the hook.
We cannot pray effectively with an unforgiving spirit. How can an unforgiving heart commune with the One who forgives unconditionally? Perhaps we are not even aware of the wrong attitudes that have crept into our heart. That is why we must cry as David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts” (Psalm 139:23). (Also read Matthew 6:23-24; Mark 11:25; Psalm 66:18.)
Remember, forgiveness is not a feeling or emotion; it is a conscious decision of our will to reconcile to another. Be willing to build of bridge of forgiveness toward reconciliation.
Lord, help me to face hurts and offenses with mercy and forgiveness. Show me when my attitude is wrong and keep me from allowing bitterness and thoughts of revenge to creep in. Give me wisdom and guide me through the difficult situations that come my way. Help me to forgive like You forgave.
(Additional scriptures to study: Matthew 18:21-35; Romans 12:14-21; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13)