When we struggle to forgive those who hurt us, we’re encouraged to remember how great God’s forgiveness is for us. Jesus warned that God expects forgiven people to forgive. But what Jesus said about refusing to forgive might feel more than a little disconcerting for those struggling to forgive. Jesus added a warning that those who refuse to forgive should not expect to receive forgiveness from their Heavenly Father.
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).
We all have a tendency to provide larger margins of moral allowance for ourselves (and for those we love as extensions of ourselves) than for others. This is the problem of having clear vision for the splinters in the eyes of others and blindness about the logs in our own eyes (Matthew 7:1-6).
Yet when badly hurt by others, we don’t hit a forgiveness switch and move on. The sting of pain can linger for a long time depending upon the depth of the hurt. We need to hear reminders about how great God’s grace and forgiveness is toward us — but applying them is sometimes more challenging. Listen again to these words calling us to the radical love of our Heavenly Father.
“But love your enemies, do good to them… Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36).
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 4:32-5:2).
One of the most powerful examples of forgiveness is found in the life of the OT character, Joseph. Here is a man who was sold as a slave by his envious brothers. Years later, when he had the power and authority to get revenge, Joseph made telling confessions that unlocked the secret to forgiveness.
Joseph said to his brothers, “You intended to harm me but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). Here Joseph confessed that God (not his offenders) is Lord of his circumstances. His brothers were clearly responsible for their evil deeds (and he did not deny nor minimize this truth). Yet he recognized that God sovereign ruled over their evil actions even though their evil actions did not conform to God’s moral will (see Acts 2:22-24; 4:27-28).
Life happens between two intentions: “You intended….” (horizontal) “but God intended….” (vertical). Joseph learned to trace the hand (and presence) of God through the painful twists of a life that seemed to be controlled by the evil intentions of others. Connect the horizontal to the vertical or you’ll lose perspective quickly. The same is true of the temporal and eternal (II Corinthians 4:16-18).
Extending forgiveness is far more difficult for those who do not often celebrate their own forgiveness and for those who cannot confess that God is Lord of their circumstances, not their offenders (Relate: Hebrews 12:7).
God, we need your help to live by grace when hurt by others. Help us to get perspective — to see as you see. Please draw our hearts into deep contemplation and exclamatory celebration of your grace and forgiveness.