Forgiving others

Why we should forgive others
Forgiving others is a commandment. Not forgiving others is a sin.

(Colossians 3:12-13)  Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. {13} Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

God will not forgive us if we do not forgive others

(Mat 6:12 NIV) Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

(Mat 6:15 NIV) But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

When we know that we have sinned against God, we usually want God to forgive us immediately. We ask God not to give us any of the punishment that comes as a result of our sin.

However the verses above says that God will forgive us only after we have forgiven others.

If we don't forgive others, God will not forgive us and the punishment that comes with sin will reach us.

This truth is also taught in the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt 18:12-25).

Unforgiveness will cause us to suffer

If we do not forgive others, the person that suffers the most is ourself. The person may hurt us once but by not forgiving, we are allowing that person to hurt us many times, every day.

Only forgiveness will release us from the suffering that the offender has inflicted.

Unforgiveness will affect our relationship with God

Unforgiveness is a sin that gives Satan access into our lives, creating a stronghold or bondage that will choke our relationship with God. That is why Jesus taught us that we couldn’t worship God if we harbor ill feelings against our brother.

(Mat 5:23-24 NIV) "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, {24} leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

(Ephesians 4:26-27)  "In your anger do not sin" : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, {27} and do not give the devil a foothold.

Forgiveness is a mark of Christian love

If we forgive others, we are demonstrating Christian love.

(John 13:34-35)  "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. {35} By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

When people see that Christians are able to forgive others, they will also be interested in the Jesus that we have.

Forgiveness may cause our offender to be embarrassed and change his ways

(Romans 12:19-21)  Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. {20} On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." {21} Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Forgiveness breaks the vicious cycle of revenge

When you do not forgive someone and execute revenge on him, he will in turn execute revenge on you. Eventually the hurt becomes so deep that it perpetuates for a long time.

There have been cases when families remain as archenemies for a long time because no one is willing to forgive.

Imagine if someone forgave and chose not to forgive. That would have prevented generation of hurt and anger.

Facts to consider which make it easier to forgive others
Remember that we are also guilty people who have been forgiven.

(John 8:3-11 NIV) The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group {4} and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. {5} In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" {6} They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. {7} When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." {8} Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. {9} At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. {10} Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" {11} "No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

The people, who would not forgive the adulterer and insist that she be stoned to death, have forgotten that even they are filled with sin. When they are forced to acknowledge that they also have sin, they suddenly could not condemn another person.

When you have difficulty forgiving someone, remember that we too may be guilty of a similar sin or if not another sin that is as bad.

(Eph 4:32 NIV) Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Paul reminds his fellow believers to forgive others as they contemplate on how Christ has forgiven them.

We ask God to give us love for our offender so that we could forgive

From the story above, we see that all the people had no reason to condemn the adulterer because they themselves are sinners. Only Jesus had the right to condemn her. Yet He did not. Because He had love for that sinner.

When we see Jesus forgiving His tormentors at the cross or Stephen forgiving people who are stoning him, we know that none of that is achievable without a lot of love for the people who offended us.

(Col 3:13-14 NIV) Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. {14} And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Try to understand their position.

Some people do things that hurt us because they are still under the bondage of sin. We must understand that Satan also has a part to play and not blame the person totally.

Jesus gave us an excellent example when He asked His Father to forgive the people that are crucifying Him because He knew that Satan had a big part to play in this.

(Luke 23:34 NIV) Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

Some people hurt us unintentionally. We must have had experiences of people telling us how much we have hurt them and we don't even know it! Yes, it is possible to hurt others intentionally and people do sometimes hurt us unintentionally as well.

When we need to forgive someone, remember that that person may have hurt us unknowingly and there is no real intention to harm us.

What does it mean to forgive others
Forgiveness means that we do not take revenge.

(Rom 12:19 NIV) Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.

It is human reaction to think : How can I let that person go scot-free? Justice would not prevail if I do so?

It is true that justice should prevail but that justice should be executed by God or an institution commissioned by God, like our court of law. It is wrong to take revenge into our own hands.

We do not keep recalling the incident and stir up negative feelings

(Micah 7:18 NIV) Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.

If we say we have forgiven someone but continue to feel angry each time we think about the incident, then we can be sure that we have NOT forgiven. We have to ask God to help us to truly forgive.

We do not use past incidence against the offender

(Jer 31:34 NIV) No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."

When God forgives our sins, He also forgets them. Likewise when we say we have forgiven someone but continue to use that incident against them, we have not really forgiven that person.

We do not forgive someone only after he has repented and come to us for forgiveness

Jesus set an example for us to follow when He forgave His torturers even though they were far from feeling sorry for their sins.

(Luke 23:34 NIV) Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

We cannot set a limit as to how many times we will forgive someone

(Mat 18:21-22 NIV) Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" {22} Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

In rabbinic discussion the consensus was that a brother might be forgiven a repeated sin three times; on the fourth, there is no forgiveness. Peter, thinking himself big-hearted, volunteers "seven times". Jesus is not saying that seventy-seven times is the upper limit within which we should forgive someone and beyond which we should not.

In giving such a high number Jesus is in effect saying that we should forgive someone without any limit. The parable that follows goes to show that we are forgiven far more than we are ever called upon to forgive.

Even though we are asked to forgive someone "seventy-seven" times, this is small debt compared to the big debt we have been forgiven of.

Forgiveness is not just about not taking revenge, it is about doing good deeds towards those who have offended us.

Jesus is always setting new standards on how one should behave. The Pharisees think it is such a big deal to forgive a person three times. Jesus taught that one should not place a limit on how many times we should forgive.

Humans think that it is a big deal if we do not do anything negative to our offender. Jesus teaches that we should not only withhold negative actions, we should act positively towards our enemies.

(Rom 12:20-21 NIV) On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." {21} Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Forgiveness is an act of the will. You may not at first feel positive thoughts towards your offender. It would be most unnatural if you can switch from negative to positive thoughts immediately.

We can, however, make a decision to forgive someone by doing kind deeds to that person. Many times you will discover that when you start to do the kind deeds, you will also start to FEEL kindness. In other words, the right actions lead to right feelings.

Forgiveness is more a process than a one time event

Emotions can be resurrected by any incident that reminds us of the hurtful event and forgiveness may need to be repeated over and over again.

Practical Application
Repent of our sin of not forgiving others.

Dear God, I thank You for forgiving me of my sins. I confess that I have not extended the same grace and mercy to those who have offended me. Instead I have harbored bitterness and resentment. As a result, I have been in spiritual bondage. Please forgive me and set me free. I pray that during this time of prayer, You will bring to my mind people that I need to forgive, so that I can forgive them and bless them from my heart.

Identify the people whom you need to forgive
Think of how we can pray for this person and show kindness towards this person.

It is impossible to pray sincerely for a person for a period of time without moving down the path of forgiveness.