“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
One of the most difficult challenges a Christian may face is the act of forgiveness. When a brother or sister in Christ sins against us or attacks us personally, it hurts. And sometimes it takes a while to get over that hurt. Sometimes the words, “I’m sorry,” just don’t feel like enough. We want vengeance; we want them to feel the pain we felt.
Do you think Jesus ever felt this way? What does Hebrews 4:15 tell us? Jesus “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” When He was arrested and one of His disciples drew his sword in defense, the Lord said, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:52-53). He could have taken vengeance on His accusers, calling on the help of heavenly beings, but what did He do instead? Even while He was beaten and abused at the hands of the soldiers, and after the nails were driven through His hands, as He was hanging, suffering in pain on the cross, what was His attitude? Read Luke 23:32-34.
When I consider all Jesus endured, and yet He was still willing to forgive, my grievances against others seem petty. I need to be better about accepting apologies and moving forward in my relationships with those around me, rather than holding grudges for minor offenses. William H. Walton once said, “To carry a grudge is like being stung to death by one bee.”
Read Matthew 18:21-22. What did Peter ask Christ about forgiveness, and how did Christ respond? Should I keep a journal detailing how many times so-and-so didn’t say hello to me, or took some fries off my plate without asking, or gossiped about me? If forgiveness is sought of us, forgiveness must be granted by us. Read Matthew 18:23-35. What happens if I refuse to forgive someone?
Do we have an obligation to approach a person who has sinned against us, seeking reconciliation? Read Matthew 18:15-17. What should be our attitude in this process? Just as Jesus was willing to forgive those who crucified Him, we should be willing to forgive our brothers and sister, regardless of the sin. That’s a tall order, but that’s the example Christ left for us.
Paul wrote about vengeance in his letter to the church at Rome. Read Romans 12:17-21. When we allow the sins of others bother us so much that we can’t recognize opportunities to help them, then we have been overcome by evil.
Henry Ward Beecher said, “’I can forgive, but I cannot forget’ is only another way of saying, ‘I will not forgive.’ Forgiveness ought to be like a canceled note—torn in two and burned up so that it never can be shown against one.” When God forgives, He no longer holds our former sins against us.
Paul, prior to his conversion, “made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” (Acts 8:3). Read 1 Timothy 1:12-15. Salvation is available to everyone, if they are willing to repent and seek God’s forgiveness, submitting to His will. Paul’s former sins—blasphemy, persecution, insolence—were forgiven and forgotten.
The 103rd Psalm has much to say about God’s mercy toward His children. Pay special attention to Psalm 103:2-4, 8, 10-12, 17. What is said about the Lord’s mercy in these verses? We must do the same—forgive iniquities, be slow to anger, abounding in mercy, have mercy that reaches as high as the heavens, remove the remembrance of sins as far as the east is from the west.
Forgiveness is essential to our spiritual health. We are told more than once that forgiving others is required if we desire God’s mercy (Matthew 6:14-15; 18:34-35; James 2:13). But even in this life, forgiveness is good for our physical and emotional health. According to the Mayo Clinic, forgiveness decreases stress, lowers blood pressure, improves heart health, strengthens the immune system, and helps avoid many symptoms of depression. Forgiveness is good for us in this life and the next.
“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4;31-32). He gave us the example of mercy, so we need to lose our minds, and “let this mind (of forgiveness) be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.”