As Christians, living in a world of wickedness and sin, we have an obligation to be forgiving persons. We cannot be hard-hearted, stubborn, and refuse to forgive another when he/she has met God’s requirements for forgiveness. Forgiveness from God is never unconditional; there are conditions which must be met before forgiveness from God will be granted. This is true of both the alien sinner and the erring child of God. When these conditions are met, John tells us, “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). As long as man sins, there will be the need to forgive one another. Someone described forgiveness by saying, “Forgiveness is the scent that flowers give off when they are stepped on.”
1. Forgiveness is commanded. In explaining changes that must be made in our lives when we “put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts” and “put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness,” he instructs, “ Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:22, 24, 31-32). A similar statement is found on 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.”
Notice the qualities of a forgiving spirit: (1) Kindness: nothing blesses mankind much more than ordinary kindness. (2) Tenderhearted: This requires us to have sympathy with, and to be easily touched. We should never gloat over the sins of others. (3) Forgiving: No room in the heart of a Christian for resentment, grudges, malice, hatred, etc. We must never have a “getting even” spirit; but, rather, we must have a forgiving spirit, must always be ready and willing to forgive when the offender repents.
2. Our forgiveness depends on it. In the model prayer, Jesus taught us to pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). He expounds on it more as he tells us, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you”. Study Matthew 18:23 and following for more on this point. How important is it for us to have this forgiving spirit? Our souls depend upon it.
3. Our willingness to forgive must not be strained by many offenses. Peter asked, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:21-22). As long as the conditions are met, forgiveness must be granted. See Luke 17:3-4. There are no limits! And when God forgives, He forgets (Heb. 10:16-18); so should we! Those who say they forgive, but keep a running record of offenses committed simply bury the hatchet with the handle sticking out!
Study carefully and often God’s teaching on this vital subject, and be sure that we demonstrate it in our lives every day as Christians.
Paul M. Wilmoth