Do you struggle with forgiving those who hurt you? If you do, you’re not alone. But this is where the teaching of Jesus is powerfully counter-cultural – and liberating!
What Jesus said about refusing to forgive might feel a little disconcerting for those struggling to forgive. Jesus warned that those who refuse to forgive should not expect to receive forgiveness from their Heavenly Father. Why? Because Jesus taught that God expects forgiven people to forgive.
“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 give ourselves (and those we love – as extensions of ourselves) larger margins of moral allowance. But, once again, Jesus said, “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).
We all tend also to have clear vision for the splinters in the eyes of others and blindness toward the logs in our own eyes (see – Matthew 7:1-6).
Is it easier to see ourselves as candidates for God’s forgiveness than to see our offender as deserving of our forgiveness? This is exactly what Jesus confronted and reversed in his parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35. Read it. Meditate deeply on it.
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.
“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).
A powerful example 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 and hateful 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 reality to the vertical (God-focused) or you’ll lose perspective quickly. The same is true of the temporal and eternal (see – 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 (Relate: Hebrews 12:7).
Father in Heaven, I need your help to live by grace when hurt by others. Help me to get perspective — to see as You see. Draw my heart into deeper contemplation and celebration of your grace and forgiveness of my sins.