Character Trait: Forgiving/Forgiveness
“The greatest risk we face as a church in these days is not that we may lose an organ, or that we may lose money, or that we may lose members, or that we may lose staff, or that we may lose reputation. The greatest risk is that we may lose heaven. Because one way to lose heaven is to hold fast to an unforgiving spirit.”
•to give up all claim to punish or exact penalty for (an offense)
•To give up resentment against or stop wanting to punish (someone) for an offense or fault; to pardon
•a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.
Greek: (noun) Aphesis
Short Definition: deliverance, pardon, complete forgiveness
Definition: a sending away, a letting go, a release, pardon, complete forgiveness.
Greek: (verb) Charizomai: to show favor, give freely
Short Definition: show favor to, forgive
Definition: (a) I show favor to, (b) I pardon, forgive, (c) I show kindness
("favor that cancels") is used of God giving His grace to pardon. This is freely done and therefore not based on any merit of the one receiving forgiveness
Forgiving others: a command not a request. It can be very difficult, especially if an individual has undergone traumatic events such as surviving a crime, childhood abuse, loss of a loved one due to negligence/accident/or abuse, separation or divorce. However, as we focus our efforts on becoming true followers of Christ, the decision to forgive is one that we must make. The deeper the hurt, the more difficult it is to truly forgive.
Jesus said that if we do not forgive others, our Heavenly Father will not forgive us (Matt. 6:15; Mark 11:25).
The Bible teaches that unselfish love is the basis for true forgiveness, since love “does not keep a record of wrongs.”—1 Corinthians 13:4, 5.
What Forgiveness Does not Mean
- Condoning the offense: The Bible condemns those who claim that bad actions are harmless or acceptable. (Isaiah 5:20)
- Pretending that the offense never happened: God forgave David of his sins, but he did not spare him from the consequences of his actions. (2 Sam.12:9-15)
- Allowing others to take advantage of you: If someone repeatedly commits an offense against you it is important to forgive them, however, wisdom dictates that you do not allow it to continue. (Prov. 22:3)
- Pardoning with no valid basis: people who are guilty of willful, malicious sin and who refuse to acknowledge their mistakes, change their ways, and apologize to those whom they have hurt.(Prov. 28:13; Heb. 10:26)
Let go of anger and abandon rage.” (Psalm 37:8) While not excusing the error, refuse to be consumed with anger. Trust that God will bring the person to account. (Heb. 10:30, 31)
Aspects of Forgiveness
Forgiveness can sometimes involve a process, however it requires a deliberate decision.
- Release the offender of the guilt of sin: When God forgives us, He declares us “not guilty” and the case against us is dismissed. He never condemns us (Rom. 8:1)
- Refuse to bring up the offense to use against the offender: When God forgives us He does not remember our sins. He will not bring up any of our offenses against us in the future. (Heb. 8:12; 10:17) This does not exempt us from consequences of our sins. (2 Sam.12:9-18)
- Do not spend time thinking or talking about the offense: May produce resentment and bitterness. (Phil. 4:8)
- If at all possible (or according to the dictates of sound wisdom) aim for reconciliation. (Rom. 12:18) This does not always mean becoming best of friends, but it should at least mean that we are cordial toward the person.
Examples of forgiveness in the Bible and lessons learned
- Jacob and Esau: Jacob cheated Esau out of his birthright and blessing. However, when they met again, Esau was willing to forgive Jacob because he had experienced a change of heart. (Genesis 33:1-9)
- Lesson: Forgiveness can be difficult but not impossible. It requires a change of heart. Our old nature (unregenerate heart: not spiritually or morally reformed; sinful or unrepentant) may not be able or willing to forgive every offense, but a heart that is transformed will dare to try.
- Joseph and his brothers: Joseph’s brothers had sold him as a slave, because of their jealousy, resentment and bitterness towards him. His master’s wife told a lie which caused him to suffer imprisonment, then the person who promised to help him forgot about him. However, Joseph did not harbour any resentment, but he forgave them as he recognized God’s sovereignty over all that had happened to him.(Gen. 50:15-21)
- Lesson: Recognize God’s sovereignty (To be sovereign is to possess supreme power and authority so that one is in complete control and can accomplish whatever he pleases) over our lives.
- David and Mephibosheth: Although Mephibosheth was Jonathan’s son, he was also Saul’s grandson. Saul had hunted and tried to kill David on many occasions, yet David chose to show kindness and compassion towards Mephibosheth and acted with integrity in ensuring that everything that belonged to Saul was passed on to him. (2 Sam.9:1-10)
- Lesson: We should act with kindness, love, compassion and integrity towards those who have wronged us.
- The Prodigal Son and his father: According to Moses’ law, the sharing up of the father’s wealth is usually done at the father’s death. It can be done before if the father decides to hand over the management of his estate and retire early. However, that decision should only be initiated by the father and not the son, showing a complete disregard for the father’s authority as head of the family. The son acted in rebellion and selfishness yet his father joyfully and lovingly forgave him. (Luke 15:11-32)
- Lesson: We should be ready and willing to forgive despite the offense.
- Jesus: Asked God to forgive those who beat and crucified Him (Jewish leaders, Roman politicians, soldiers and bystanders). Salvation was made available even to those who murdered Him. (Luke 23:34)
- Lesson: Remember God’s grace (unmerited, undeserved favor) towards us. Because He freely forgives us we should do the same for others. With God’s help
- we can forgive any offense.
- Woman caught in sin of Adultery: (Jn.8:1-11) The law stated that both the woman and the man caught in the act of adultery should be stoned to death. The Jewish leaders stood in judgment of her, but faced with their own sinfulness they had to retreat. (Matt.7:1-5) Jesus did not condemn the woman, neither did He condone her sin. (Jn. 10,11)
- Lesson: The measure we use to judge others will be used to judge us. God is the only One who can judge justly. (Matt. 7:1-5)
Benefits of Forgiveness
- According to the Mayo Clinic, forgiveness brings with it plenty of health benefits, including improved relationships, decreased anxiety and stress, lower blood pressure, a lowered risk of depression, and stronger immune and heart health. Letting go of negative emotions can often have a remarkable impact on the body.
- It is necessary for our own forgiveness and is the key to our relationship with God: When we don’t forgive others, we are denying our common ground as sinners in need of God’s forgiveness. As we seek to imitate Christ, this is an essential aspect of His character that we must practise. (Mk. 11:25-26; Matt.6:14-15; Eph.4:32; Eph.5:1-2)
- It is a step of obedience that expresses our love for God and leads to life: To forgive is a command and Jesus says that those who obey His commands love Him and will never die (speaking of spiritual death and living eternally with Christ) (Jn. 8:51; Jn. 14:15)
- Forgiveness changes bitterness to joy: The father in the story of the prodigal son received joy as he forgave his son, but his brother, the Bible says, expressed anger and bitterness toward his father and he refused to partake of the celebrations.
- Forgiveness is the way to God’s power: (Acts 8:9-22) The people of Samaria had received and accepted God’s message (they repented) but when Simon the sorcerer saw the great power at work through the apostles he thought that he could purchase it with money. Peter rebuked him and told him to repent because his heart was not right. Peter preached to the crowd at Pentecost saying “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)
Opposite Trait: Unforgiveness
Unforgiveness is the single most popular poison that the enemy uses against God's people, and it is one of the deadliest poisons a person can take spiritually.
- Having or making no allowance for error or weakness
- A grudge against someone who has offended you
- Not having the compassion to forgive.
- A resentful attitude that spews out all types of evil.
Spirit(s) in Operation/Symptoms/Behavior: resentment, bitterness, rage, anger, malice, pride
A spirit of unforgiveness causes a hardened heart and exists in a person who has been deeply hurt. When a person refuses to forgive, the unresolved anger develops into a fortified place or stronghold in the heart. Unforgiveness is a form of pride, is of Satan and his demons, grieves the Holy Spirit, and keeps us in bondage to sin.
Matthew 18:21-35 (NLT): When we withhold forgiveness we are like the servant in this parable who, having been forgiven, then turns around and decides to execute judgement against someone who has committed an offense against him. Can the debt of sin that we owe God measure up to the offense committed against us? Which is greater? When we sin against a Holy God (millions of dollars) or when others sin against us (a few thousand dollars)?
Consequences of Unforgiveness
- breeds bitterness which defiles. (to damage the purity or appearance of, to mar or spoil, to make unclean) Heb.12:14-15. Proverbs 4:23 tells us to guard our heart with all diligence because out of it flows the issues of life. Bitterness will affect our relationships with others. It affects our attitude. It causes us to be short and angry with those around us, often without cause. It also affects our ability to trust those around us whom God has placed in your life for a purpose. God doesn’t want us to be hurting from the pains of the past! He desires for us to be whole and healed.
- separates us from God. (Heb.12:14)
- prevents God from forgiving our sins (Matt.6:12, 14-15)
- hinders prayer since it is sin (Isa. 59:2)
- causes us to become bound and oppressed. (Matt.18:33-35)
- causes us great harm and loss.
- Judas did not forgive himself nor open himself up to receive forgiveness (Matt.27:3-5)
- Is an act of disobedience therefore it brings curses (Deut.27:26; 28:15-68,45)
- causes division in the home, church family
- Unforgiveness causes diseases: Deut. 28:21
Unforgiveness is classified in medical books as a disease. Of all cancer patients, 61 percent have forgiveness issues, and of those, more than half are severe, according to research by Dr. Michael Barry, a pastor and the author of the book, The Forgiveness Project. "Harbouring these negative emotions, this anger and hatred, creates a state of chronic anxiety," he said. Chronic anxiety very predictably produces excess adrenaline and cortisol, which deplete the production of natural killer cells, which is your body's foot soldier in the fight against cancer," he explained. Barry said the first step in learning to forgive is to realize how much we have been forgiven by God.
- Forgiveness begins with a decision.
- We cannot forgive without depending on the power of the Holy Spirit. It's too hard to do on our own. If we are truly willing, God will enable us, but we must humble ourselves and cry out to Him for help.
- Obey the Word of God which tells us several things we are to do concerning forgiving our enemies: (Lk. 6:27-38; Rom.12:14)
- Realize that God has forgiven us and we are deeply loved, free from condemnation and God commands us to do the same for others.(Jn. 3:16, Rom. 8:1, Jn.13:34-35, Ps. 86:5)
- Recognize that unforgiveness is sin that separates us from God, is an act of disobedience, brings curses, leads to death. (Heb. 12:14; Rom.6:23, Deut. 27:26; Eph. 4:32)
- Let go of the need for revenge. (Rom. 12:17-19)
- Recognize the real enemy. (Eph. 6:12)
- As much as it is possible seek reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:18-21, Matt. 5:23-24; Luke 17:3-5)
- Recognize our responsibility to forgive even if the person doesn’t ask for forgiveness. (Lk. 23:34, Matt. 5:44-48
- Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles. (Prov. 24:17)
How Do I Know If I Have Forgiven
- Do I secretly rejoice when I hear the person is having problems?
- Do I avoid the person on purpose?
- Do I constantly think about the wrong committed against me?
- Do I hesitate to pray for the person?