Letting go of past hurts isn’t the easiest thing we are called to do. But let’s make no mistake about it, we ARE CALLED to do it. God is VERY clear on this subject.
Matthew 6: 14-15 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
What we are to take from this verse is quite clear….there’s something on the line if we hold on to bitterness. A life in bondage to the person who’s hurt or betrayed us, and the clear and present danger of being unforgiven ourselves.
I personally don’t think our only motive to forgive should be to clear our own name, I think putting ourselves in that situation diminishes just how beautiful the act of forgiveness can really be. If we can make ourselves, our feelings, and our rights tertiary to Christ, and our offender then we not only will find it easier to forgive, but the act of forgiving will likely become a more immediate response.
Let’s take a look at that practically, I mean saying something and doing something are often quite different. Learning theory is great, but the lesson can really only be fully realized once put to practice. So let’s practice! What does forgiveness from a tertiary position look like?
First place will always go to Christ. He is our starting point and should always go before our own understanding. He’s told us very clearly that we are to forgive. I don’t suspect it’s a selfish request on His part. He knows what happens to an embittered heart that doesn’t forgive… death not life. He’s not commanding we forgive in order to make Himself feel better…he knows it will refresh our lives when we do. Acts 3:19-20 tells us that when we repent from our sin (unforgiveness in this situation), that times of refreshing will come our way through Christ our promised Savior…those refreshing times are a result of us throwing away our understanding for Christ’s. Putting Christ’s reasoning first before our own. Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
When we are wronged it’s our sinful nature to want recompense….to demand it, however Christ tells us to reject our understanding to turn the other cheek and to forgive…70 times 7 (Matt 18:22). So let’s turn the saying “I have to look out for # 1” to mean something new and fresh…when we say that from now on we are saying we are looking out for Christ…as He is our number 1.
Second place will go to our accused offender. After we put Christ first and acknowledge His ways as higher than our ways we are able to see how precious our offender is to Christ. The person we are having a hard time forgiving has the same chance to be forgiven by Christ as we once had. What I’m saying here is if they are born again believers their sins are covered by the blood of Christ, just as our sins have been covered. Then if Christ has forgiven them why can’t we? Flipping that train of thought…if we don’t forgive… why should Christ forgive us? (just as Matt 6:14-15 teaches) Thankfully we don’t need to worry about that. Once we accept Christ as our Savior we are 100% forgiven….past, present and future infractions (sins) are covered and forgiven. So we must forgive our offenders in light of that.
Now on the other side of that coin what if the person who’s hurt us isn’t forgiven by Christ? They haven’t put their eternal trust in Christ so they are condemned to face not only God’s judgement but God’s wrath. How can we, for a second, think that our unforgiveness is any punishment at all in comparison to that? What are we accomplishing then? Only our own immediate feeling of justice….false as it is. What if our unforgiveness teaches them a way that isn’t God’s way of forgiveness? Could they then respond to Christ the way we have to them? We must weigh the eternal cost of being a false representation of Christ to the lost and hurting. Our forgiveness is a living example of Christ’s forgiveness and as ambassadors (representatives) of Christ we must offer the same forgiveness he’s offered us.
Third place now goes to us. We can finally look at how forgiving our offenders pertains to us. The time we once spent desiring revenge, or at least the acknowledgement of being wronged, can be freed up for other things that are much more valuable. We can use that forgiveness as a chance to extend grace and mercy to someone who may not deserve it. We can be a living example of Christ’s forgiveness….be more like Christ.
Now please understand me Christ isn’t calling us to be foolhardy and jump back into a full trusting relationship with someone who’s deeply wounded us. We can proceed with caution, and guard our hearts from future damage. Forgiving doesn’t mean all rights and privileges the offender once had must be fully restored in order to have been really forgiven. Sometimes a total separation is required, just like the separation of Abram and Lot described in Genesis 13. That separation doesn’t free us from forgiving though, we still must extend forgiveness.
Having personally had great heartache and, what I perceived as, just cause to not forgive, led me to an embittered heart for months. That unforgiveness seeped into every aspect of my life. My relationship with God was affected negatively, and my relationship with family and friends suffered as well. It took me finding myself joyless and hardened to realize I wasn’t hurting the person by not forgiving them….I was the only one losing out. You know the saying “holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”. I was dying inside and it had to stop. Thankfully Christ used a dear friend to gently show me His way. That’s exactly what I want to be to you….a dear friend to show you Christ’s way. My prayer is that you no longer will be a prisoner of unforgiveness and an agent of death, but rather a living example of Christ’s grace and an ambassador of life.
With love, <3