Forgiveness

Question: To Forgive or Not to Forgive?

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise.  ~ Psalm 51:17

The answer is: forgive. We are clearly instructed to do so. But sometimes with forgiveness, forgiveness isn’t the issue.

Perhaps the transgressors’ nonchalance is the issue. Their lack of care. Their disregard. Sometimes it’s the way a person handles the circumstance requiring forgiveness that is the bigger issue. The way you handle the situation speaks to your character and the value you place on the relationship that’s in need of righting.

You’re forgiven. Know that.

Each party has a role to play in the process of forgiveness. The transgressee needs to make the transgression known. The transgressor needs to acknowledge the transgression and make amends.

“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)

We are also called to take corrective action when any of our brothers/sisters are injured by us (Matt. 5:23-24).

  1. Acknowledge the issue
  2. Address the issue
  3. Ask for forgiveness
  4. Make restitution

Afterwards, if the injured party refuses to forgive you, then they have an issue they need to deal with separately. It’s important to note the transgressor must be accountable and take responsibility for words or actions that caused harm (direct or indirect; purposeful or not).

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if we all did exactly what we want whenever we want with no consideration for other people’s feelings, well-being or life? Wouldn’t that be great? So what my words or actions harmed you… I was enjoying myself! After all, I’m free in Christ! Who are you to bind me with your issues? Sorry you’re so sensitive and took offense. You should pray on that. Oh… and forgive me. Or better yet, I don’t have to do or say anything to gain your forgiveness. You’ll forgive me because you have to; you’re a Christian.

How did that sound to you? Sounds crappy to me. As in, someone actually crapping on me.

Unfortunately, that “christian” attitude is not uncommon. It’s also not truly Christ-like. The nature and principles of Christianity are based on brotherhood, community, and unity. The most common metaphor is that we are members of the same body – the body of Christ. Perhaps it’s difficult to recognize and interact with one another because we function in different parts of the body. Perhaps, you’re the left big toe and I’m the right ear. We can’t see each other too well or grasp the other’s function, but that doesn’t mean we should treat each other like strangers when our paths cross.

The problem with forcing our “freedom” on others by doing whatever we want with no consideration for our fellow members is that it disrupts the whole unity idea. It tarnishes the brotherhood; breaks down the community and it certainly gives love a bad name. How can you love me when you’re doing things to me you wouldn’t want done to you? How can you call me sister when your actions repeatedly hurt me? How can we be one when you’re double minded?

Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments (John 14:15) and no commandment is greater than these:

“‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

EVERYTHING that has come before and since falls under the directive of love. Love is the critical piece that works with forgiveness (for the transgressee & the transgressor). Love allows patience and provides compassion. Love covers every single sin you can imagine. The whole of God’s law is fulfilled when we practice love as instructed.

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.

For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!

I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Galatians 5:1, 13-18)

Picture this: You’re seated on the subway train and I’m standing over you. My hand is gripping the overhead bar and my shoulder bag is dangling from my arm. As the train rocks and lurches ahead, my bag swings unimpeded from my arm knocking you in the head repeatedly. Now, I apologize after each contact, even though it’s not intentional. But am I really repentant? Or just careless? If I don’t do something to stop my bag from hitting you in the head, saying sorry after each hit isn’t going to do much good. Pretty soon, you’re going to want to hit me back – intentionally. However, if I take corrective action such as step aside or move my bag so it’s not over your head, you are more apt to forgive me and drop the issue. Why? Because I acknowledged the issue, expressed concern for your discomfort and remedied the situation.

Our true freedom comes when we manifest the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. We are told when the fruit is evident, then there is no law against us.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.  And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22-26, emphasis mine)

So the true questions are: What is love? What is joy? What are peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?

God is love. Obeying Him brings us joy. Trusting Him gives us peace. Longsuffering is patience; we build and perfect patience through our faithfulness – meaning when we are faithful. Kindness, goodness, and gentleness are a matter of looking after others as God looks after us – shining our light in this world. Ah, and self-control – the big one. In a nutshell, self-control is NOT doing whatever we want to do whenever we want to do it.

Self-control (n.): Control of one’s emotions, desires, or actions by one’s own will (dictionary.com)

Self-control is discipline. Discipline is a portion of the fruit of the Spirit. That’s a whopper, isn’t it? Tempted to stop there… but one more thing before I go.

People can forgive you, but their forgiveness does you no good if you don’t stop doing what you’re doing. Stop behaving as you’re behaving. Stop saying what you’re saying. Forgiveness doesn’t heal the relationship, it frees the forgiver from it. Repentance and apology heals the relationship.

I will forgive you seventy times seven times and beyond, as often as it takes, but know that I can forgive you from a distance. I don’t need to subject myself to your nonchalance and lack of regard. Who wants to be hurt? Did you raise your hand? At some point, self-preservation has to kick in. As believers and workers in Christ, we cannot allow the undisciplined to destroy us. Of course, they may not do it on purpose, but the end result is the same. Only a fool will stay in harms’ way when the danger shows no sign of abating.

If my brother/sister in Christ continually neglects to take me into consideration when their words or actions are hurting me, then it’s my responsibility to take my own well-being in hand.

Dear Transgressor: Yes, you are completely forgiven by our Most Gracious and Merciful Heavenly Father. We have been bought at a price. All our sins have been washed away by the same blood. God is appeased with the sacrifice He provided for Himself in Jesus Christ.

That example teaches me that forgiveness is a process that requires commitment and sincerity. Honest effort and sacrifice (stepping out of your comfort zone) is evidence of your desire to make amends. Since we are called to be Christ-like, I must ask, what have you sacrificed to appease those you’ve transgressed against? Do you even know what you’re asking forgiveness for? Have you learned from the situation? If so, how have you changed?

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