Christian Churches of God
(Edition 3.0 19950413-19980723-20070823)
The concept of forgiveness is central to the relationship we develop with God through prayer. This paper examines forgiving others, including our enemies, in order to achieve forgiveness from God. The flow of mercy from repentance and the parables in relation to forgiveness are also examined.
We begin with a poignant true story.
It was in a church in Munich that I saw him - a balding, heavily-set man in a grey overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.
It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land. ...........
The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room.
And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the centre of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!
The place was Ravensbruck and the man who was making his way forward had been a guard - one of the most cruel guards.
Now he was in front of me, his hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, Fraulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’
And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook, rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course - how could he remember one prisoner amongst those thousands of women?
But I remember him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face to face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.
‘You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying. ‘I was a guard there.’ No, he did not remember me. ‘But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well, Fraulein,’ - again the hand came out - ‘will you forgive me?’
And I stood there - I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven - and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place - could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
It could not have been many seconds that he stood there - hand held out - but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. For I had to do it - I knew that. The message that God forgives us has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. ‘If you do not forgive men their trespasses,’ Jesus says. ‘neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.’
I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.
And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion - I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘Jesus, help me!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
‘I forgive, brother!’ I cried, ‘With all my heart.’ For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then. But even so, I realised it was not my love. I had tried, and did not have the power. It was the power of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Romans 5:5, ‘...because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us.’
This was taken from Corrie Ten Boom’s book Tramp for the Lord (Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1971, pp. 55-57) in which she spoke of her missionary work after the war. She described her war experiences in her previous book The Hiding Place. It is a personal experience that any one of us could face when confronted with someone who had caused us hurt or offence. How would we handle a similar situation?
We have considered the concept in the Lord’s Prayer: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us". One is conditional upon the other. But what is forgiveness? The Oxford Universal Dictionary defines forgiveness as:
1. The action of forgiving; the condition or fact of being forgiven.
2. A disposition or willingness to forgive ME. b. In pl. (a Hebraism.) 1611.
Thus it is understood both as a reciprocal condition and also as a disposition or condition of the mind. The mind itself must be forgiving. However, what does it mean to forgive? What is a trespass or a debt?
Forgive is comprised of two words for and give, and is defined in the OUD as:
2. To give up, cease to harbour (resentment etc.) ....
3. To remit (a debt); to give up claim to requital for, pardon (an offence)...
4. To give up resentment against, pardon (an offender). Also (now rarely) to abandon one’s claim against a debtor.
So then, forgiveness is actually an act of surrendering our right to hold another person accountable for what he or she did. When we forgive we stop holding bad feelings against another, and let go of bitterness and hurt. Forgiveness does not come naturally to us but we can do it with God’s help. It takes time to develop mercy, and if we allow bitterness to rule our hearts it becomes harder to forgive. However, forgiveness is crucial for emotional and spiritual health.
A critical aspect to the understanding of forgiveness is that all acts that require forgiveness are offences against the Law of God. As each of us has sinned, so each of us is in need of the forgiveness of God. David covered this aspect in Psalm 51:4.
Psalm 51:4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. (KJV)
Our past sins are forgiven when we repent and are baptised. The important point of this text is that repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins are conditional for receipt of the Holy Spirit. Thus the elect must be in a state of forgiveness to retain the Holy Spirit –it is that important.
Acts 2:38 And Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (RSV)
Colossians 2:13-14 And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (RSV)
The acknowledgment of our own sinful condition is a prerequisite. God faithfully forgives us when we confess our sins to Him. Thus, self-righteousness prevents the individual from achieving the levels of self-awareness necessary to the establishment of an honest and loving relationship with God and with humanity.
1John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (KJV)
God is ready to forgive those who ask.
Psalm 86:5 For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee. (KJV)
Forgiveness is the prerogative of God – it belongs to Him.
Psalm 130:4 But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. (KJV)
Daniel 9:9 To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against him; (KJV)
We have forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and blood.
Ephesians 1:7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; (KJV)
Colossians 1:14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: (KJV)
The power of judgement has also been delegated to Jesus Christ; he has power to forgive sin.
Matthew 9:6 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. (KJV)
Mark 2:10 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,) (KJV)
Those whose sins are forgiven are blessed.
Psalm 32:1 A Psalm of David, Maschil. Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. (KJV)
All sins will be forgiven except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 12:31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. (RSV)
Mark 3:28–29 "Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin" -- (RSV)
The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is akin to the forms of self-righteousness that refuse to acknowledge the spiritual condition of self; more particularly, that there is no requirement for justification from God through the Spirit. It is in fact this self-righteousness that grieves and quenches the Spirit (cf. Eph. 4:30; 1Thes. 5:19).
Luke also mentions this.
Luke 12:10 And every one who speaks a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. (RSV)
God will forgive us as we forgive others.
Mark 11:25-26 And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses. (KJV)
Luke 11:4 And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. (KJV)
Matthew 6:12-15 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. 14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (KJV)
The relationship of each person with God is directly dependent upon their relationship with their neighbours. How can we love God whom we have not seen unless we love our neighbours whom we have seen? (1Jn. 4:20). Love arises out of forgiveness. It harbours no ill will and endures all things (cf. the paper The Basis of Christian Living (No. 85)).
1Corinthians 13:1-8 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; 5 it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. (RSV)
We are to forgive others because God has forgiven us for Christ’s sake. Christ was sent to reconcile us to God, and through his example and selflessness we are reconciled. Because Christ asked for our forgiveness in his death, so too we are to forgive even unto death. Only through that process can we develop the love of God which stems from His nature and which confers on us the capacity to be sons of God and co-heirs with Christ.
Ephesians 4:32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. (KJV)
Colossians 3:13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. (KJV)
We should endeavour to see the other person as God does. From Christ’s parable in Matthew 18:23-35, we should learn that God judges us on how we treat people in our debt.
Matthew 18:23-35 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. 24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. 28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. 29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. 32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: 33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? 34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. 35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses. (KJV)
The servant forgot that he was forgiven a debt. The spiritual equivalent is that instead of looking at his own shortcomings he was concerned with those of someone else.
Christian teaching obliges us to see our part in any problem and to look for the “beam” in our own eye.
Matthew 7:5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. (KJV)
Ecclesiastes 7:20-22 For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not. 21 Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee: 22 For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others. (KJV)
Holding on to the past that cannot be changed is not mentally healthy. Love keeps no record of wrongs. We refer again to the attitudes of love.
1Corinthians 13:4-5 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; (KJV)
Holding a grudge does more psychological damage to us than to the offender. It means we do not understand God’s forgiveness and also we can not pray effectively to Him while the root of bitterness is there (see the paper Teach Us to Pray (No. 111)). It interferes with our spiritual development and our relationship with God. The Spirit withdraws from evil. Hatred and malice, which arise from an unforgiving attitude, prevent the Spirit from dwelling within us or working effectively towards our perfection. Hence, we need to clean out the old leaven of malice and wickedness from our house so that the new leaven of the Holy Spirit can dwell within us. We rend our hearts, which is symbolic of repentance.
Joel 2:13 And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil. (KJV)
Mark 11:25 And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. (KJV)
It is very easy to react according to our emotions, but we should be aware of our own shortcomings. People will offend us and we need to learn how to deal with that in God’s way. When we repent God forgives us and it is forgotten.
Psalm 103:3 Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; (KJV)
Hebrews 10:17 And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. (KJV)
And Psalm 103:12.
Psalm 103:12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (RSV)
This concept of removing sin is that of bringing them no more to mind in self-reproach. The east/west analogy is used because the directions are ways of travel, which are mutually irreconcilable. God forgives a sinner on repentance, and it is only the self-righteous that refer to the sins of the past. Such an act seeks to establish a ground for accusation against the brethren. By that process it attempts to justify the self. That thought process is satanic. The angels term Satan the accuser of our (their) brethren (Rev. 12:10), which shows us that we are the brethren of the angels as well as other humans. Satan and the demons are finally cast out for their accusations, which arise from self-justification and self-righteousness.
If we repent of our sins daily we will partake of God’s mercy and so be able to be more merciful to others. Pride interferes with forgiveness. We often want the offender to suffer before we forgive. Christ suffered injustice from friends and enemies alike. However, he didn’t even judge his murderers.
Luke 23:34 Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. (KJV)
Revenge should have no place in our lives; we ought to repay evil with good. Only by good is evil overcome. Judgement and vengeance are solely the prerogative of God, who delegates it to Christ.
Romans 12:17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. (KJV)
Romans 12:19-21 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. 20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. 21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. (KJV)
Hebrews 10:30 For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. (KJV)
1Peter 3:9 Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. (KJV)
The concept of “an eye for an eye” is one of relative compensation and justice. Forgiveness comes from repentance, but restitution comes from responsibility under the Law. We forgive injury, however, there are standards of restitution that are to be employed by Christians. Those standards are all found in the Law. If we repent and ask someone’s forgiveness, we must go some way to restoring his/her position through loss. That is the concept in "an eye for an eye". Punishment must follow crime. Repentance mitigates the offence; forgiveness follows repentance.
Working through the stages of forgiveness takes time. We should go to the person honestly and humbly to get the matter settled.
Matthew 18:15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. (KJV)
When it is difficult to forgive we should ask God not only to forgive our offender and bless him or her but also to give us the power for genuine forgiveness. The process of forgiveness is necessary within us despite lack of repentance on the part of the offender. We should be willing to forgive others even if they repeatedly wrong us and/or remain our enemies. If the situation remains unresolved, we pray for those who despitefully use us.
Matthew 5:44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; (KJV)
The capacity to forgive and to love others extends to martyrdom, as we saw with Christ and with Stephen.
Acts 7:59-60 And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 60 And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (RSV)
Peace is an active concept that requires forgiveness as a prerequisite.
The whole process of forgiveness is not confined to the elect or those of one’s family and friends. However, there are actions that can be taken within the elect when offence occurs and remains unaddressed or unrepented of. The matter can be taken to the body of the Church.
Matthew 18:16-17 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. (KJV)
It may not be easy to forgive those who have not repented of their wrong towards us but we must not be bitter towards them.
Romans 12:14 Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. (KJV)
We can forgive others even if they are not aware of it, but reconciliation needs the co-operation of both parties. We often choose to remember sins, but we can ask God to wipe our memory clean.
1Peter 4:8 And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. (KJV)
Forgiveness involves both giving and receiving.
2Corinthians 5:19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (RSV)
The apostle Peter knew how hard it was to forgive and he asked Christ how often he was required to forgive.
Matthew 18:22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. (KJV)
This concept derives from Isaiah 50:6 and Lamentations 3:30.
Isaiah 50:6 I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting. (RSV)
Lamentations 3:27-33 It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. 28 Let him sit alone in silence when he has laid it on him; 29 let him put his mouth in the dust -- there may yet be hope; 30 let him give his cheek to the smiter, and be filled with insults. 31 For the Lord will not cast off for ever, 32 but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; 33 for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the sons of men. (RSV)
Thus the Lord allows affliction in the youth to develop character. So too does it develop the character of the elect. The bearing of offence and affliction develops the character; too much breaks it. God will intervene to uplift the afflicted, while our part is to forgive.
It is very frustrating and difficult to keep forgiving one who constantly offends us, particularly if it is the same action being repeated. Some people never learn from their mistakes, and in fact they choose their course of action regardless of the consequences. However, there is no limit to God’s forgiveness – and so it should be with us.
We will become bitter if we cannot forgive, but we cannot harbour bitterness and keep it hidden. Bitter seed produces bitter fruit and eventually we will suffer inner torment. A bitter person becomes anxious, tense, emotional and easily hurt. They choose not to forget. Experts have noted that people who have emotional problems often have an unforgiving spirit. This becomes evident when we talk unkindly about people and bear ill will in our hearts. If we hold on to negative emotion it can cloud our outlook.
Hebrews 12:15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; (KJV)
When offended we should not strike back.
Proverbs 15:1 A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger. (KJV)
Proverbs 16:32 He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city. (KJV)
Proverbs 19:11 The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression. (KJV)
Matthew 7:1-4 Judge not, that ye be not judged. 2 For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. 3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? (KJV)
Luke 6:37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: (KJV)
We should also avoid offending others in the first place.
Romans 14:21 It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. (KJV)
1Corinthians 8:9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. (KJV)
It is important to get things into perspective and let the little things pass. We should not be hasty to judge.
1Corinthians 10:32 Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: (KJV)
Offence can cause the weak to stumble in their conversion. If we are the offending party we need to acknowledge the wrong and repent. Instead of blaming others, we should take responsibility for the wrongdoing and try to repair the damage done. In other words, we need to ask for forgiveness and seek to be reconciled to our brother where possible.
Esau forgave Jacob.
Genesis 33:4 And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept. (KJV)
This example was of brothers who turned out to be leaders of tribes but were enemies through covetousness. This was another example of brotherly envy that was nevertheless used by God.
Joseph forgave his brothers.
Genesis 45:5, 15 Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life. …15 Moreover he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them: and after that his brethren talked with him. (KJV)
Also, in Genesis 50 we see God working out His purposes through Joseph.
Genesis 50:19-21 But Joseph said to them, "Fear not, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones." Thus he reassured them and comforted them. (RSV)
God brings good out of affliction. Evil is allowed for a greater good, but we can not always see the good.
Aaron and Miriam sinned. They were afflicted, and upon repentance were forgiven by God through Moses.
Numbers 12:11-13 And Aaron said unto Moses, Alas, my lord, I beseech thee, lay not the sin upon us, herein we have done foolishly, and wherein we have sinned. 12 Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother's womb. 13 And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee. (KJV)
David forgave Saul. He spared him because he was the Lord’s anointed. So too are the elect. We reverence each other through the Holy Spirit, for that is our anointing.
1Samuel 24:10-12 Lo, this day your eyes have seen how the LORD gave you today into my hand in the cave; and some bade me kill you, but I spared you. I said, `I will not put forth my hand against my lord; for he is the LORD'S anointed.' 11 See, my father, see the skirt of your robe in my hand; for by the fact that I cut off the skirt of your robe, and did not kill you, you may know and see that there is no wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you hunt my life to take it. 12 May the LORD judge between me and you, may the LORD avenge me upon you; but my hand shall not be against you. (RSV)
No one can stretch forth his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless (1Sam. 26:9). The Lord will deliver the righteous out of their hand.
1Samuel 26:23 The LORD rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness; for the LORD gave you into my hand today, and I would not put forth my hand against the LORD'S anointed. (RSV)
Solomon forgave Adonijah for his sins.
1Kings 1:53 So king Solomon sent, and they brought him down from the altar. And he came and bowed himself to king Solomon and Solomon said unto him Go to thine house (KJV)
Jesus forgives his enemies on a continuing basis.
Luke 23:34 And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." And they cast lots to divide his garments. (RSV)
Even blasphemy against his name could be forgiven.
Matthew 12:32 And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: (KJV)
That does not mean that he will not deal with them in the interest of the peace and prosperity of the planet. Most of the warring nations will be brought down and destroyed by their own evil, unforgiving attitudes.
Forgiveness of the leaders and the people are obtained through the intercession of the prophets and the priests in prayer. Jeroboam was restored through the intercession of the prophets.
1Kings 13:6 And the king answered and said unto the man of God, Intreat now the face of the LORD thy God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored me again. And the man of God besought the LORD, and the king's hand was restored him again, and became as it was before. (KJV)
Paul bound forgiveness to brethren in the name of Jesus Christ. Thus the elect were given the capacity to forgive by Christ in continuity through the Church. Forgiveness by the elect was thereby general to the Church, or bound upon the Church.
2Corinthians 2:10 To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; (KJV)
We are required to forgive our enemies
Forgiveness of one’s enemies is not simply an intellectual process. The act involves actual prayer and fasting and the physical aspects of doing good to them. The Commandments and the Law apply equally to them.
Exodus 23:4-5 If thou meet thine enemy's ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again. 5 If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him. (KJV)
Proverbs 24:17 Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth: (KJV)
Proverbs 24:19 Fret not thyself because of evil men, neither be thou envious at the wicked; (KJV)
Proverbs 25:21-22 If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: 22 For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee. (KJV)
Matthew 5:39-48 But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; 40 and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; 41 and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you. 43 "You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (RSV)
The restitution to those who would use us or have complaint against us must be done in greater level than sought. We are to restore more than is sought, and do better than is expected.
Luke 6:27-36 But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, 28 Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. 29 And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also. 30 Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. 31 And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. 32 For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. 33 And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. 34 And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. 36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. (KJV)
Luke 17:3-4 Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. 4 And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him. (KJV)
1Corinthians 4:12-13 And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: 13 Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day. (KJV).
The concept of forgiving and forgetting is noted in the book Forgiving Our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves by Drs David Stoop and James Masteller.
We have heard it said many times that we should ‘forgive and forget’, but it is not as simple as that. We need to remember in order to deal with the hurt and forgive the offending party. Then we can put it aside and get on with our lives. Hopefully we can learn from the past and not repeat the same mistakes. Major hurts are with us for life, but they need not occupy our every waking moment. Put into perspective, we can learn to live with them.
We can never change what has happened to us in the past. But we can change the way we respond to it in the here and now. That is the point of remembering: we remember so that we can accept and forgive. “Forgetting” is not the answer. It’s just another dead-end street. We feel regret over what happened, and we wish it hadn’t happened. But it did. Now we can accept it and let go (Servant Publications, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1991, p. 204).
God can forgive and forget (Jer. 31:34; Ps. 103:12) but the Bible does not command us to forget. God is perfect and makes no mistakes. He is all-wise and all-knowing so can learn nothing from us. He already knows our every thought.
Jeremiah 31:34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (KJV)
Psalm 103:12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. (KJV)
A person’s current behavioural problems may well be the result of pushing past hurts into the back of his or her mind. They are always there even though a person consciously chooses not to remember them. However, we all have to deal with past problems, although we are not allowed to deal with the past problems of others. Under no circumstances should we point to the perceived weaknesses of others as a reason for our own superiority. If God has forgiven, who are we to judge? We ought also to avoid the tendency to blame or accuse others.
When we’ve been hurt we want to blame someone. The more we blame or accuse, the more bitter and distressed we become.
Blaming is shifting onto others the responsibility that should be ours, or using the fact of others’ guilt to excuse ourselves from having to respond in healthy ways to what was done to us.
(Stoop & Masteller, op. cit., p. 253.)
If we don’t make the right choices in life, it is our own doing.
We need to express our feelings, especially our anger because anger is a destructive emotion. Anger is a normal human reaction to being hurt, yet working through it is an important part of forgiveness. We all experience anger but we do not always come out and admit we “are angry”. It is usually present under the disguise of “being upset”. Anger can be healthy or unhealthy. Anger is unhealthy when we “fly off the handle” for the least little provocation. It alienates us from those we love. See the paper Anger (No. 61).
When we release the other person from their debt, we also free ourselves from the effects of the offence. God is the ultimate forgiver. The mercy He extends to us on repentance we can pass on to others. It takes at least two people to have a conflict. When we forgive we let go of our end of the struggle and we are free. One party cannot “war” alone. Of course the ideal outcome of any conflict is reconciliation, but this is not always possible.
So forgiveness has to do with God, the other person and ourself. We need to deal with ourselves first and our relationship with God, so that we can then deal with the other person. If we go through life harbouring grudges, resentment, bitterness and anger, we have no place with God. We will not be exhibiting the loving, merciful and forgiving nature of our Heavenly Father. Our spiritual growth will be stunted.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32 is a good example of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation all in the one lesson. The young son returns home to his father after squandering his inheritance and admits his wrongdoing. He then asks for his father’s forgiveness and father and son embrace, signifying their reconciliation. But the older brother was not so forgiving. He chided his father for so easily forgiving the errant son and took no part in the celebration of his brother’s return. So, on the one hand there is joy and celebration for the forgiver, but on the other hand, bitterness and alienation for the unforgiving. The parable of the prodigal son was given for the reconciliation of the world and the heavenly Host to God – all of it (cf. the paper Lost Sheep and the Prodigal Son (No. 199)).
Forgiveness breaks the cycle. It does not settle all questions of blame and justice and fairness; to the contrary, often it evades those questions. But it does allow relationships to start over. In that way, said Solzhenitsyn, we differ from all animals. It is not our capacity to think that makes us different, but our capacity to repent, and to forgive
(Philip Yancey, An Unnatural Act, Christianity Today, 8 April, 1991, p. 37).
So, we should remember that, To err is human; to forgive is divine. The hardest thing is to forgive oneself for sin. When a sin or offence is dealt with in repentance, God forgives. We must accept that forgiveness and heal. The lesson is for non-repetition for continual guilt.
There are some five phases in the repentance cycle. These phases can be set out as a table that can serve as a useful guide to future problems.
Actions in Forgiveness
Consider: Is it a breach of God’s Law, or is it our or their pride, or a root of bitterness? Has it happened before?
Step 1. Go to God in prayer for guidance.
Step 2. Decide to ignore or decide to act. If we ignore, then forgive and forget. End the matter.
Phase 2: Establish individual responsibility
Step 1. What did we do? What could we have done? What should we have done?
Step 2. What did the other party do? What could they have done? What should they have done?
Step 1. Discuss both aspects.
Step 2. Their response:
Go to Phase 5.
Proceed to Phase 4.
Litigation is the process of settling dispute before authority. There are specific processes and authorities established for the resolution of dispute. Dispute should be resolved within the Church.
Step 1. Go to the person with witnesses. Establish the problem as in the first instance.
Step 2. If there is still no resolution then and only then proceed to the ministry and the council of the Church. Too often individuals run to the ministry before going to their brother. However, a minister can suffice for the witness phase if necessary.
Step 3. The case is decided by the council of the Church and the matter is resolved. Go to Phase 5.
Step 4. The matter is not resolved by the Church council and the matter is serious enough to warrant solution. Paul is clear that this is a last resort and that the Church is responsible for just resolution of dispute. We must decide matters between the elect, as we are to judge the world and angels (1Cor. 6:2-3). If the Church will not act and there is no repentance, then proceed to civil litigation, that is, if there is no other option and the matter is serious enough.
Step 1. Be united in the resolution of the matter. Proceed in brotherly love.
Step 2. Rectify the problem:
Step 3. Ongoing care of the relationship and guarding against further offence.
If offence is repeated then commence again. If forgiveness is requested, then forgive again and continue the relationship. Bring the offence to mind only if it is repeated.
The only exception to this sequence is that of the cessation of the doctrine of Christ and relapse into the doctrine of Antichrist through the view of the Godhead, which seeks to separate Christ’s divinity from his humanity. 2John 9 then requires that the offender be not even greeted. Repentance must be shown to be complete.