Practical Forgiveness

Introduction

What do you do after you have been offended? Someone has severely harmed you emotionally, physically, or psychologically. What do you do? Our first response is to retaliate. However, this is not usually the most constructive action especially since Jesus taught against it (Matthew 5:38-41). We are told to forgive is to forget but we can’t seem to forget about the offense so forgiveness seems impossible. How do I forgive someone and why should I forgive people for offending me? Wouldn’t it be better to give them a piece of my mind so that they will think twice about offending me?

We will find that the most effective course of action is forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean that you forget, as we will soon see. There is much more to forgiveness then what we are typically taught. Forgiveness will be of great value to you in managing the stresses in your life. It will help you to deal with situations in your life that you deem offensive or undesirable.

Forgiveness Defined

The word forgive means: to give up or release resentment of an offense. The Hebrew word for "forgive" means to pardon or spare. The Greek word for "forgive" means to send forth, lay aside, let go, omit, put (send) away. In general we can say that to forgive is to release the resentment caused by an offense.

We Are Supposed To Forgive

Matthew 18:21 through Matthew 18:22 (NKJV) 21Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" 22Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

Jesus told Peter basically that there is no limit to forgiveness. We are to forgive all of the time. Remember that forgiveness means to release resentment so this means that we should never hold resentment for anyone. This will harm us more than the offender.

Matthew 6:14 through Matthew 6:15 (NKJV) 14"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

God’s forgiveness is conditional on our forgiving others. If we forgive people for offending us then God will forgive us for offending him (sinning against him). The resentment that we hold for others binds the resentment for our offenses to us. We cannot experience the forgiveness of God for our sins if we don’t forgive others for sinning against us. See also Mark 11:25-26.

Luke 6:37 through Luke 6:38 (NKJV) 37"Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you."

This is a classic example of a scripture being taken out of context. Typically this scripture is used to show that God will give abundantly to you as you give to the church (or to others). It is true that God will bless you for your giving, however, that is not the context of this scripture. This scripture illustrates the Kingdom principle of sowing and reaping. Whatever you sow is what you will reap. If you sow condemnation to others then you will reap the same. If you give to others, then others will tend to give to you. If you are rude and stingy then you are most likely to receive the same for others. Likewise, if you forgive others then you will tend to receive forgiveness. People tend to treat you based on the way that you treat others. This scripture has little to do with the prosperity teaching of wealth by giving to your church.

Luke 17:3 through Luke 17:4 (NKJV) 3Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him."

Again we see that we are supposed to forgive others without limits. This scripture specifically talks about forgiving other Christians (in our context).

Scriptural Examples Of Forgiveness

Let's look at some scriptural examples of people actually practicing the art of forgiveness in the Bible. Notice what the results of their forgiveness were.

  • Esau forgives Jacob- See Genesis 33:4,11

  • Joseph forgives his brothers - Genesis 45:5-15, 50:19-21

  • David forgives Saul - 1 Samuel 24:10-12, 26:9,23

  • Solomon forgives Adonijah - 1 Kings 1:53

What Forgiveness is Not

  1. Forgiveness is not ignoring what someone has done to you as if he or she never offended you. This will only lead to increasing stress until one day you explode on someone. Remember that forgiveness is simply the release of the resentment for an offense, which is like dissipating negative energy.

  2. Forgiveness is not forgetting about an offense, which is very much related to ignoring it. This again will creep up on you one day when you least expect it, especially if the same person offends you.

  3. Forgiveness is not turning the other cheek. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you give the person an opportunity to offend you again. Again, forgiveness is the release of resentment and not the forgetting or ignoring what was done.

  4. Forgiveness is not inactivity. To forgiven someone does not mean that you don’t resolve the problem or do something about the offense. You can take action and release resentment.

  5. Restoration of friendship or relationship. You may find that you might not want to continue in the relationship with the person after they have offended you. This is not because of the offense, rather it is because of the person’s action, which you consider as data for maintaining the relationship or not. You might conclude that a true friend would never have done that to you so you don’t want to be friends with this person. You may totally forgive the person and hold not hard feelings for him or her but you just can’t be friends.

It is very possible to forgive someone and sever your friendship with him or her. You don’t hold resentment but their action has shown you that he or she is not the type of person that you would call friend. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that you act as though they never offended you, though in some cases (mistakes for example) you may restore the relationship.

The Source Of Resentment

Understanding the sources of resentment can help you deal with it more effectively. Why were you offended in the first place? You may discover that your resentment may be foolish.

There are many reasons why you may become resentful. I will list some below.

  • Misunderstanding: You misunderstood what someone says and therefore become offended. This is why it is important to communicate your feelings when someone offends you. A simple act of understanding what was really said or done could clear up the whole thing.
  • Violation of your ideals: Basically someone appears to challenge your intelligence or makes light of what your ideals are. This makes you feel inferior which in turn brings on resentment.
  • Violation of personal protocol: Someone violates what you consider to be a proper mode of operation in the social realm. Your friend may offend you because he acts "foolishly" amongst your friends. This is a common cause of resentment: Someone acts in a way that you deem inappropriate for one reason or another.
  • Violation of an accepted mode of communication: someone offends you because they said something that you consider to be inappropriate. This is a major mode of offense between the sexes. A woman may be offended because of what a man says to her when he may have meant no harm whatsoever. The same applies to men. You may be offended because someone uses profanity or talks too loud for example.
  • Induction Of Pain: You are offended by someone because they caused you pain. Someone may have done something that negatively affected you or simply hurt your feelings.

Identifying the source will aid us in our battle with and victory over resentment. Understanding these root causes (there are more) will help us identify when we are about to be offended or in the process of such. Comprehending this mode of operation will enable us to guard against unforgiveness because we can "see it coming."

The "How To"

OK. I know that I should forgive and that it is beneficial for me to forgive. I also know that the Bible teaches that I should forgive in order to be forgiven. But how do I forgive? What are the steps in forgiving someone for offending me? Let’s discuss that now.

Forgive The Situation

What difference does the offense make in your life? You may find that it will become a lot easier to forgive someone if you can "forgive the situation." This means that you regard the offense as insignificant in your life. Resolve to yourself that you just don’t care about the offense and that it makes no difference to you in your life. The act that caused you offense is meaningless and therefore you don’t need to hold resentment for something that means nothing to you. You can then throw the resentment away, thus forgiving the person that offended you. How do you regard the situation/offense as insignificant in your life? Trust God fully! Believe that God is able to keep you and prosper you. Believe that God can move in your life regardless of the situations around you. Trust God and I know that he is fully able to keep you regardless of your situations. This doesn't mean that you walk around inviting people to offend you. No! It simply means that when or if you are offended that you know that God is greater and therefore won't have to waste a second being upset or resentful about the situation. If you don't get resentful, then forgiveness is not very difficult to do. As a matter of fact, if you don't get resentful, then forgiveness is not even an issue because you have nothing to forgive (there is no resentment). That is the ultimate goal.

Here is a rough outline of the forgiveness process

  • Read, Study, and meditate on the word of God. Build a strong fellowship with your heavenly father. This brings faith and confidence that you will need when you are offended. This should be practiced on a regular basis and not when the offense comes. You may have already acted according to your resentment and there was no WORD to stop you.

  • Regard the offense or situation as insignificant. Know that God is greater than any situation or offense in your life regardless of how big you think it is.

  • Place God's ability to bless you above the offense. That is, trust God in your life and know that no situation can change what God has for you. Nothing matters except God. This is the attitude that you want to obtain. If God is greater then the offense (the effects of such) then it won't matter to you. This is not mental assent however. God's ability has to be real to you and not something that you conjure up in your mind.

  • Practice the love of God when dealing with people. If you love people, even your enemies (those who offend you), then it will be easy (or easier) to forgive them. You don't resent who you love (or you can't for long).

It is very important that you gradually learn how not to be offended in the first place. It is also important to realize that single incidences in your life are insignificant by themselves and therefore should be responded to as though they direct your life.

Time perspective

It might take time to forgive someone who has hurt you. It might take time to release the resentment for someone that has done you wrong. A major principle of life is that things operate on the seed principle. Nothing just happens or appears. Rather it grows. Therefore, your ability to forgive and the actual act of forgiving someone will grow as you practice the art of forgiveness and do what it takes to approach a point where you can forgive someone for wronging you.

Don’t let the fact that you still sense resentment deter you in your pursuit of forgiveness. Realize that pain hurts and that you have a lot to overcome in order to forgive. The larger the offense, the larger the energy required to forgive. As we said earlier, to forgive is not to forget. Let's talk about this in a little more detail so that you can get a better understanding of why you found it so hard to forgive people in the past.

THE MEMORY TRIGGER

I am sure that you have had a situation when you were offended and you declared that you would forgive the person. The pain associated with the offense rises inside of you every time you see this person or every time you think of what they did. What happened? I thought I forgave this person. Why do I continue to feel this way? The problem is that you didn't forgive the person. What you did was to suppress the offense as well as all of the pain and other emotions associated with it. Sooner or later the situation will smack you dead in the face bringing with it all of the pain and ill feelings (resentment). No you didn't forgive—you suppressed

There are two things involved when we deal with forgiveness. There is the offense itself and then the memory of the offense. The problem with "forgetness" is that you usually don't forget. You may not remember all of the details of the offense but you will probably always remember the pain associated with it or just that you were offended. One day or minute when you least expect it something will trigger the memory of the offense and all of that pain will rise. What then should you do so that when you remember the offense you won't remember the pain associated with it so that resentment won't rise? Neutralize your memory!

Neutralize Your Memory

All that you have to do is to strip all of the pain, ill feelings, and resentment away from that memory. This is the same thing as casting the resentment away from you. The resentment is connected to the offense and is the result of the pain inflicted by the offense. What has to be done in the natural is that the memory has to be neutralized so that when you remember the event there will be no associated resentment. Basically all you have to do is to strip the event or the memory of it of its pain.

We see that the only problem with forgiving someone is that we keep remembering the offense and the pain associated with it and then raises the resentment. If we could strip the pain then there would be no resentment. This is an application of counting or regarding the offense as insignificant in our lives. The thing here is not to forget but to replace. If you do that then you can remember the event as many times as you want but no resentment will rise because there is no pain associated with it.

Forgiving Yourself

We have a most difficult time forgiving when it involves forgiving ourselves. We hold guilt and condemnation for ourselves for past mistakes. We condemn ourselves for the sins that we have made in the past. Recognize that it is not God who condemns us. God forgives us. Let’s look at a couple of key scriptures to start this discussion off.

(Romans 8:1 NIV) "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,"

(1 John 1:9 KJV) "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

The word "confess" in the preceding scripture means to acknowledge our sins.

Unforgiveness of self is more of a holding of guilt then it is of resentment. We may tend to hold the guilt associated with something we have done whether hurting someone else or something that we deem is a great sin against God. If we hold guilt then we make ourselves vulnerable to the enemy. Guilt will keep us in a perceived state of unrighteousness (though we are not unrighteous).

The pain of unforgiveness of self can be very great and can destroy us in the same way as unforgiveness of others can destroy us. However, I have found that the road to unforgiveness is an obscure one if we do not consider the true source of our deliverance. I say deliverance because unforgiveness of self binds us to the actions of the past and keeps us from freely experiencing all that God has for us now and in the future. Therefore, we must learn to forgive self so that we can continue on our journey of fulfillment according to God’s will.

How To Forgive Yourself

The fundamental principle necessary to forgive yourself is the proper focus on God. Without this proper focus, we tend to try to release ourselves on our own strength. Furthermore, we may be prone to live out the guilt until, so we think, it will dissipate and all will be well again. However, unless we deal with our own guilt and eliminate it from our system, we will always be a memory away from experiencing the pains of that guilt

Now let me give you some suggestions for forgiving yourself. These suggestions come from my personal experiences and the information I received from talking to others. It is all based on Biblical principles applied to this area of unforgiveness of self.

  • Realize God’s loves you. Know and understand that regardless of how great a sin you have committed or how great you messed up, God still loves you and he always will. His love transcends any sin that you think you may have committed. His love transcends any mistake you have made. His love is necessary for you to free yourself from the guilt that enslaves you. The Bible says,

  • (Romans 5:8 NIV) "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

  • Realize God’s forgiveness for you. Know and understand that, since God’s love covers all sins, that God has forgiven you. That is, God has provided for your forgiveness if you would only receive it. God is not holding a grudge against you but has forgiven you. However, unless you receive that forgiveness you will live with the guilt and be adversely influenced by it. Jesus Christ was sacrificed so that you would be delivered from your sins. God proved that he loves you by sending Jesus Christ to die for you and by forgiving you even though you and I didn’t deserve it.

  • Receive God's forgiveness. It doesn't matter if you have the knowledge of God's forgiveness if you don't receive it. Receive God's forgiveness and live like you are forgiven. Say it! "I receive the forgiveness of God. I am the righteousness of God according to 2 Corinthians 5:21." Meditate on that to make it real to you. Unless you receive God’s forgiveness, as I said earlier, you will not experience it and thus live with the guilt.

  • Love yourself. Forgiveness is possible because of love. If you don't love yourself then you probably will not forgive yourself. A prerequisite to this of course is to love God and let the love of God abide in you. Learn to see yourself the way God sees you. He sees you as His own and righteous before Him by the blood of Christ Jesus.

  • Realize that God knows you. You can’t surprise God with your mistakes or sins. God already knows you. He knows your weaknesses and faults. There is nothing in the Bible that would suggest that God expects us to be perfect (without flaw). Consider what he said about David who was a murderer.

(Acts 13:22 KJV) "And when he had removed him, he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will."

Though David made mistakes, the fact is that he had a heart after God. God knew David but God saw something else in David, namely his heart. If you love God and want to do what he says, then realize that you are not surprising God when you mess up. He still loves you. Repent and get on with your life.

Focus on God. Too often we focus on our mistakes, the consequences, and a perceived fallen state from grace when we make mistakes or even commit a sin. Focus on the power of God and not your circumstances. Focusing on your situation will only get you deeper into bondage by it. The power of God’s love will overpower any guilt that you have and He will restore you to fellowship with himself.

Summary Thus Far

The important aspect of forgiveness is that you release or cast away the resentment that was generated due to an offense. It is also important to "forgiven the situation," which is to regard the activity of the offense as meaningless or insignificant in your life. This will provide no reason for you to hold the resentment. We should also note that God’s forgiveness requires that we forgive others. Forgiveness is tough sometimes but also consider that it may take time to implement depending on the severity of the initial offense. Don’t let past pains rejuvenate resentment. Amen.

Setting The Environment

We sometimes need to initiate an action solely out of knowledge. That is, you may not feel like doing something but you do it anyway because you know it is the best or most effective thing to do. Applying this principle, we can set the environment for forgiveness by doing good to those that offend us. Please note that this is not an all-encompassing rule. It may not be best to just do something nice, as I will describe here. You force your own mind into a new direction when you return offense with an act of goodness, whether you feel like it or not. Here, you have taken control of your mind instead of your mind controlling you. For example, suppose you are angry with your brother, sister, wife, or husband. You are so angry that you don't feel like seeing them for a month. Try something like buying them a gift and give it to them with no strings attached. Just present them with a gift and simply say, "I wanted to buy you a gift" and give it to them. This will send a pleasant shock wave throughout your system not mentioning what it may do to the other person.

It is very important to understand that the above activity should not be spontaneous in hopes that your actions will make you feel better about that person. You must reason before you act. It is best to think about why you resent this person for what they did. Practice some of the things that we will discuss shortly and then act on it. Your actions are a result of you realizing that you don’t have to be resentful of the person and that your unforgiveness should be thrown out and replaced with your normal relationship with the person. Don’t think that simply doing something nice will release resentment because it won’t. However, if you have already decided that you will release resentment, then act on it by doing something that you wouldn’t do for someone you resent.

The Power Of God

You do not have the power to release all resentment on your own, especially in situations where it appears that you are justified to hold resentment (if there was ever such a thing). Due to the sin nature, we would rather resent then to forgive. Therefore, we need an external force to our human (sinful) nature to bring about forgiveness. This force is the power of God. God’s power, by His Holy Spirit, is able and willing to empower us to forgive those we resent and to keep us from resentment in the first place. The power of God is the Gospel of Christ, the good news that Christ is victorious and we can share in that victory over all of the oppression of the Devil. See the study on the Power of God for more information on this topic.

Allow the power of God to operate in your life and you will find that there are many things that you can accomplish that you thought were impossible. You may think that you will never be able to forgive someone but with the power of God you may find yourself loving that person. At the very least you will not harbor resentment and ill feelings for the person.

The Word Of God

It is impossible for someone to study and meditate on the word of God and not be affected by it. Therefore, our hearts and minds can be conditioned to resist resentment if we feed our spirit and mind with the word of God. The word of God produces life not death. Resentment produces death and forgiveness therefore counters unforgiveness. Read and study the Bible so that you know what God has made available to you. Read and study your Bible so that you have examples of overcoming various obstacles, one being unforgiveness.

The Bible is our primary source for how God operates. It is our window into the Way of God. Therefore, if we read and understand the scriptures and practice what we learn, then we will be able to do many things that we couldn’t do with our own strength, such as mental power or will power. It is also crucial that you genuinely desire to live according to God’s Way else your reading and studying will be in vain or to simply produce a "bible head."

Fellowship With God

Develop a close fellowship with God. This will allow the peace of God to flow more freely in all situations (we approach this point as we mature spiritually). Have many quiet times with God where you can just talk to Him, worship Him, and just be with Him in His presence. This will help you to become more in tune with the voice of the Holy Spirit and therefore His activities in your lives. Fellowship with God helps us to be more focused on God and his purpose for our lives. It will help us to live a more godly life practicing love, compassion, understanding, and self control wherever we go.

Self Control

The phrase Self-Control comes from several Greek words indicating a sober, temperate, calm, and dispassionate approach to life, having mastered personal desires and passions. Biblical admonitions expect God’s people to exercise self-control (see Proverbs 25:28; 1 Corinthians 7:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:6; 1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 3:3; Galatians 5:23; 2 Timothy 1:7; Titus 1:8; 2 Peter 1:6). Freedom in Christ does not give believers liberty to cast off all moral restraint. Nor does it call for a withdrawal from life and its temptations. It calls for a self-disciplined life following Christ’s example of being in the world but not of the world.

I believe that the key to self-control is a dispassionate lifestyle. This means that you are not influenced by your emotions or feelings. You take a more objective approach to life and therefore control your life based on the information at hand instead of how you feel. The question is how can we accomplish this in our lives? How can we live dispassionately?

The key is to learn to be governed by the Spirit of God. It is also important to realize that you will do what you practice. If you practice and are used to responding to situations based on how you feel then that is what you will typically do in all situations. How can we break this "bad" habit? I believe there are several steps that can help.

  • Become aware of the goal or problem
  • Decide that you will change your way
  • Obtain knowledge of the alternate way of operation
  • Begin to be aware of the times when you would normally act the "old way" even if it was after the fact
  • Practice the "new way" as much as possible. Learn to stop before you act.

Again it should be emphasized that the power to live with self-control cannot come from our own will power. It has to come from something different then what we have been doing. In particular, the Holy Spirit is able to guide us and to help us obtain and maintain a life of self-control. Self-control is listed as a fruit of the Spirit, which also shows us that it is derived from the power of God within us (See Galatians 5:23).

Self-control is key to forgiveness because it helps us to not respond emotionally to situations. Our emotions many times are the seed to resentment that we would otherwise not have.

The Deception of Pride

Pride can cause insignificant events seem larger than life. Someone may say something to you and cause you to be offended simply because you looked bad in front of everyone. You therefore take offense and retaliate because your ego was damaged. Pride can destroy marriages, friendships, and families. Pride can cause us to accept the resentment that arises when we are offended. Therefore, resist pride. Realize that you are nothing without Christ. Live in such a way that you do not exalt yourself and therefore creating a facade to live up to in front of others.

An Example

One of the greatest examples of forgiveness and revelation of God’s hand in one’s life is found in the story of Joseph (Genesis 39 – 45). His brothers sold Joseph into slavery. He prospered from one situation to another even while in prison. After a while he met up with his brothers while he was second to the Pharaoh in Egypt because there was famine in the land. His brothers didn’t recognize him at first. His brothers became afraid after they recognized Joseph, perhaps thinking that he would get revenge. Joseph’s statement to his brothers was profound and demonstrated a heart of forgiveness that came about partly due to his realization of God’s hand in the whole matter. See Genesis 45:5.

Practice

It is not reasonable to think that you will wake up one morning with the disposition to forgive everyone. The only way that you are going to live a life of forgiveness is to practice forgiveness. It will take time to be able to forgive your worst enemy. It takes time before the principles of forgiveness and the implementation of them become a part of your normal every day life. So just start where you are and don’t expect miracles. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is like a seed in various parables. The Kingdom of God grows and it spreads. It influences more and more around itself. Therefore, we who are citizens of God’s Kingdom should expect things to manifest in our lives just as the seed process produces fruit. The point is that the more you practice forgiveness then the more you will be able to forgive without grief. The more you practice forgiveness then the more it will become a part of your normal life.

The mistake that we make is to look at the greatest obstacle in our lives regarding forgiveness and grieve over the fact that we can’t muster up enough energy to just "let it go." Don’t do that to yourself. That is the same as a person looking at Mount Everest and become discouraged because he knows that he can’t climb it. The problem is that he is looking at Mount Everest when he just started his mountain climbing classes. He shouldn’t expect to be able to climb Mount Everest. That is perhaps a goal a long ways off. At the present time just deal with where you are and not where you think you should be. Above all, practice, practice, and practice some more.

See also the full Bible study, "The Art of Forgiveness"

 


Practical Forgiveness
(c) 2000 William R. Cunningham
April 17, 2000

By: 
William R. Cunningham