Ephesians 4:32 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Most would agree that forgiving does not come easy at times. Our imperfect condition of leaning toward our fallen state means that our natural desire is not to forgive. When we think of the world that surrounds us, we think of the chaos, the crime, the injustice, and the difficulties of life. When we contemplate the people of this imperfect world, we think of persons who are only out for themselves, greedy persons, persons that expect too much from others, and persons who look down on the underprivileged. Then some persons seem to lack any goodness, close friends, and family that would quickly betray us, persons, who are reckless, persons that are full of pride. There is little wonder that forgiveness is a quality that is lacking among humankind.

Yes, we have things outside of us that can contribute to an unforgiving spirit, but we also have some things within. The apostle Paul bewailed about himself, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Romans 7:19-20) This is because all of us are mentally bent toward the doing of wrong, instead of the doing of good. (Gen 6:5; 8:21; Rom 5:12; Eph. 4:20-24; Col 3:5-11) Jeremiah the prophet informs us of the condition of our heart (our inner person), “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?” These factors contribute to our being less forgiving than we may like.

One online person wrote, “I honestly won’t forgive someone for hurting me. Forgiving someone for their mistakes is like accepting them to do it all over again.” This may seem unfriendly, unfeeling, and even distrustful. However, it is the result of the wicked world that we live in, which is filled with hurt and disappointments. Another online comment from Yahoo Answers wrote, “I personally do not forgive because if they are truly sorry, then they should be sorry enough to accept the repercussions of their actions.”[1]

Therefore, let us not assume that because we struggle to forgive, we are somehow worse than others are. No, we are probably more like others in this area. However, as Christians, we have a duty to be the looking for opportunities to forgive, and we must possess a forgiving spirit. The apostle Paul had advice for the Corinthian congregation, who was slow to forgive an unrepentant brother, who had been expelled for adultery. He exhorted them, “so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.”

Failing to Forgive

When we hold onto the pain that will not allow us to forgive another, there are emotional, mental and physical consequences. It actually causes us as much stress as the one we have failed to forgive. IDEA Health & Fitness Association writes,

In study after study, results indicate that people who are forgiving tend to have not only less stress but also better relationships, fewer general health problems and lower incidences of the most serious illnesses—including depression, heart disease, stroke and cancer. Why? “Because not forgiving—nursing a grudge—is so caustic,” says Fred Luskin, Ph.D, a health psychologist at Stanford University and author of Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness (HarperCollins 2002). “It raises your blood pressure, depletes immune function, makes you more depressed and causes enormous physical stress to the whole body.”

While we may walk around, giving everyone the impression that everything is fine, resentment, internal anger, and malice are eating the unforgiving one up inside. Moreover, if we withhold our forgiveness to one, who is worthy, it will also affect our spirituality, our relationship with God. Let us take a moment and read the parable of the unforgiving slave.

Matthew 18:21-35 Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

22 “I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus said to him, “but 70 times seven. 23 For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began to settle accounts, one who owed 10,000 talents[2] was brought before him. 25 Since he had no way to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt.

26 “At this, the slave fell face down before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything!’ 27 Then the master of that slave had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan.

28 “But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him 100 denarii.[3] He grabbed him, started choking him, and said, ‘Pay what you owe!’

29 “At this, his fellow slave fell down and began begging him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ 30 But he wasn’t willing. On the contrary, he went and threw him into prison until he could pay what was owed.31 When the other slaves saw what had taken place, they were deeply distressed and went and reported to their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then, after he had summoned him, his master said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And his master got angry and handed him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay everything that was owed. 35 So My heavenly Father will also do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from his heart.”

If we refuse to forgive those whom are worthy of our forgiveness, our heavenly Father will not forgive us of our transgressions. If we cannot show mercy to others, it will eventually affect our Christian conscience. “I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.” (2 Timothy 1:3)

Develop a Forgiving Heart

Our ability to forgive another comes from the heart, our inner person. Jesus himself said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” We have to release the other person or persons, setting aside our need for payback through holding onto their debt of offending.

Romans 12:19 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

19 Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath;[4] for it is written: “‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay,’ says the Lord.

The good thing is the Bible makes it all too clear that while our heart leans toward wrong, we can put on the new person, and train our heart to make the merciful decisions. The Prophet Jeremiah that tells us about our heart condition also tells us the source that will aid us in the transformation, when he writes, “O Jehovah, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walks to direct his steps.” (Jer. 10:23) As the Psalmist prayed for a change of heart, so can we,

Psalm 119:26-27 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

26 I told of my ways, and you answered me;
teach me your statutes!
27 Make me understand the way of your precepts,
so I will meditate on your wondrous works.

Psalm 103:8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

Jehovah is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in loving-kindness.

13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
so Jehovah shows compassion to those who fear him.

We can learn to forgive, by fully understanding that God forgives us on a daily basis. We need to be a student of the Scriptures, as we discover how he has forgiven in the past. We see hundreds of times that Jehovah God had forgiven the Israelite nation for some of the most horrendous behavior. As was said earlier, we need to forgive those that are worthy of our forgiveness. This presumes that there are circumstances when one is not worthy of forgiveness.

When to Forgive

First, it should be stated that we are to forgive serious sins as well, just as God has and continues to do. We need to consider the counsel that Jesus gave,

Matthew 18:15-17 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

15 “If your brother should sin, go reprove him between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two more, in order that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every word might stand. 17 If he should refuse to hear to them, speak to the congregation.[5] If he does not listen even to the congregation,[6] let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector

If someone has committed a serious sin against you, if it is a crime, it must be reported to the leadership of the congregation and the police. Regardless, the steps above must be followed. If the sin is serious, but not a crime, you can still go to him alone. However, you may choose a public setting. It is your hope that the two of you can reconcile, and he will be repentant of his wrongdoing. If he does repent, you have gained a brother. However, if he is still in denial, rationalizing and minimizing, the next step is taking two spiritually mature Christian brothers or sisters along with you. Here again, if he listens, you have gained a brother, if he is still refusing to own his transgression, the next step is to take it before the pastor(s), who will then deal with it privately. If he comes to his senses, and truly repents of his wrongdoing, you have gained a brother. However, if he remains unwilling to repent, he is to be expelled from the congregation. If you have followed this correctly, you may appropriately have some sadness from losing a brother to the world, but know in your heart that you followed the God-given course.

Let us look at a case of serious forgiveness for very serious sins,

[Manasseh was] Thirteenth king of Judah (696–642 b.c.) and Jesus’ ancestor (Mt 1:10, kjv Manasses); notorious for his long and wicked reign, described in 2 Kings 21:1–26 and 2 Chronicles 33:1–20. His father was the godly king Hezekiah, and his mother was Hephzibah (2 Kgs 21:1).

At the age of 12, he became co-ruler with his father. In 686 b.c., his father died and he became sole monarch at only 23. His 55-year reign (2 Kgs 21:1) is dated from the beginning of his co-regency, so he ruled 11 years as co-regent and 44 years as sole king—longer than any other king in Judah or in Israel. Regrettably, he was the most wicked of all the Judean kings, even resorting to a series of murders, presumably to stay in power (21:16; 24:4).

In addition to murder, among his sins listed in 2 Kings 21:2–9 are: rebuilding the high places for pagan worship; encouraging Baal, sun, moon, and star worship; and burning his son as a child sacrifice (v 6; cf. 23:10; Jer 7:31).[7]

What happened that brought about God forgiving such sin as this? Manasseh in the end became crestfallen and repented of his abhorrent ways,

2 Chronicles 33:12-13 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

12 And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of Jehovah his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. 13 He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that Jehovah was God.

Our guide for true repentance is God’s Word, the Bible. This includes a genuine adjustment in one’s heart attitude, a profound remorse over any damages they have committed. An example of a repentant one, who sought to make restitution for his wrongs, was Zacchaeus, the Jewish chief tax collector.

Zacchaeus himself accrued great wealth (largely by illegitimate means) from his customs enterprise at Jericho, a significant center of commerce, stationed along a major trade route connecting Jerusalem and its environs with the lands east of the Jordan.

Luke in his Gospel records Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus (Lk 19:2–8, NASB Zaccheus). Seeking Jesus but unable to see him over the crowd because of his small stature, Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore tree, near which Jesus would pass, to get a better view. To his astonishment, Jesus stopped under the tree and after ordering him down, invited himself to the publican’s house for the night. Subsequently, Zacchaeus repented and followed Jesus, promising to restore fourfold to those whom he wrongfully exploited and give to the poor. According to Clement of Alexandria, Zacchaeus later became the bishop of Caesarea (Hom. 3.63).[8]

Luke 19:7-10 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

When they saw this, they were all muttering: “He went as a guest to the house of a man who is a sinner.” 8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord: “Look! The half of my belongings, Lord, I am giving to the poor, and whatever I extorted from anyone, I am restoring four times over.” And Jesus said to him: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Paul spoke to of the repentance of the Corinthians and what resulted,

2 Corinthians 7:11 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

11 For behold what earnestness this very thing, this sorrow according to God, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.

7:11. Paul reflected further on the Corinthians’ repentance by noting eight results their godly sorrow had produced: (1) earnestness (or sincerity); (2) eagerness to clear yourselves (a readiness to make amends); (3) indignation (repulsion from former practices); (4) alarm (trepidation over past sin); (5) longing (desire for the ways of righteousness); (6) concern (caring about the terrible conditions of their church); (7) readiness to see justice done (a commitment to doing what was right in the church); and (8) they proved themselves to be innocent in this matter.[9]

If the transgression against us is slight, a minor personal offense, Scripture expects us to overlook it, regardless of the number of times involved. (Lu 17:3, 4; Eph. 4:32; Col 3:13) What we need to gather from scripture is; God does not forgive the unrepentant ones. Therefore, God does not expect Christians to forgive deliberate ongoing practice of sin from unrepentant ones. – Hebrews 10:26-31

Psalm 139:21 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Jehovah?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?

Psalm 139:22 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

22 I hate them with complete hatred;
I count them my enemies.

Ezekiel 18:30-32 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

30 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares Jehovah God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin.31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares Jehovah God; so turn, and live.”

When one is going through the process that Jesus spoke of at Matthew 18:15-17, for serious transgressions, the victim need not live in extreme emotional hurt, walking around painfully wounded and distressed while waiting for the offender to accept fully and deal with his actions. The progression of the healing may be less painful when the transgressor recognizes and admits his wrong and repents. We need to understand also that to forgive the sin of another does not mean that we are condoning the sin itself. As we wait to see if the offender will begin dealing with his offense, we can find satisfaction in knowing that the justice of God is being followed, meaning that God is pleased with us.

Moreover, just because we may have forgiven someone of serious sin against us, and they were genuinely repentant, this does not mean that everything will go back to the way that it was before, or the pain and distrust will go away immediately. The saying ‘time heals all wounds’ is relatively accurate, but it depends on what one chooses to do with that time. There will be an effort required on both parties, to get over the wounds of a transgression.

The Biblical Advantages of Forgiveness

Psalm 86:5 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

For you, Jehovah, are good and forgiving, abounding in loving-kindness love to all who call upon you.

Most fittingly, Christians are repeatedly admonished throughout Scripture to show kindness. We need to be ready to forgive.

Ephesians 4:32 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Forgiveness encourages good relationships. By doing this we do God’s will now on earth.

Romans 14:19 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

19 So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.

Forgiveness will result in peace, as well as peace of mind.

Colossians 3:13-15 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

13 putting up with one another and forgiving one another. If anyone should have a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these things put on love, which is a perfect bond of union.

15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,[10] to which also[11] you were called in one body. And be thankful.[12]

Forgiveness comes from God first. MacArthur writes, “as Christ forgave you. See notes on Matthew 18:23–34; Ephesians 4:32. Because Christ as the model of forgiveness has forgiven all our sins totally (1:14; 2:13, 14), believers must be willing to forgive others. bond of perfection. A better rendering is “perfect bond of unity” (see notes on Eph. 4:3; Phil. 1:27; 2:2 ). Supernatural love poured into the hearts of believers is the adhesive of the church. Cf. Romans 5:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:9.[13]

Romans 3:23 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Without forgiving others, who rightly deserve it, how could we expect that God would forgive our sins?

Matthew 6:14 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

After a horrendous beating, and in the throes of execution, Jesus forgives.

Luke 23:34 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

34 [But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”][14] And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.

[1] http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20081031204355AA7bkuL

[2] Matthew 18:24 A huge sum of money that could never be repaid by a slave; a talent = 6,000 denarii. The Greek of 10,000 talents is 375 tons or 340 metric tons of silver. In other words, the slave owed his master about $40,000,000.

[3] A denarius was a day’s wage for a laborer. In modern day terms, a hundred denarii is about $70 dollars, which was nothing in comparison to what the master forgave him.

[4] I.e. God’s wrath

[5] Gr ekklesia (“assembly;” “congregation, i.e., of Christians”)

[6] Gr ekklesia (“assembly;” “congregation, i.e., of Christians”)

[7] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, 1389 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988).

[8] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, 2175 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988).

[9] Richard L. Pratt, Jr, vol. 7, I & II Corinthians, Holman New Testament Commentary, 388 (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000).

[10] Or control your hearts

[11] Or indeed

[12] Or show yourselves thankful

[13] MacArthur, John (2005-05-09). The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Kindle Locations 58699-58700). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

[14] Some important early and diverse manuscripts omit 34a, such as P75 B D* W Θ ita, d syrscopsa, bo mss al