By Dr. Bill Patterson
I led a revival in a central Kentucky church. People attended, sang songs of worship, prayed, and I preached. The power of God was missing, however. After three services I felt a strong impression that I should preach none of the sermons I had prepared. I felt God was directing me to preach on forgiveness. I couldn’t explain why. I knew of no situation in the church that called for forgiveness.
With fear and lots of prayer, I worked all day to prepare a sermon on forgiveness. After the message that night, a deacon came forward to express regret to the church for saying wrong things about the minister of music. The deacon said he could have apologized privately, but since he had wronged the man in front of others, he felt his confession should be public. Many people in the sanctuary cried. The minister of music walked to the man, openly accepted his apology, and hugged him. The remainder of that week we truly had revival with a number of people saved and several who rededicated their lives to Christ. Genuine forgiveness opened the door for God to work in people’s lives and in his church.
Do you need to ask someone’s forgiveness? Is there someone you need to forgive?
God Forgives Us
Just as we love because God first loved us, we forgive because God first forgave us (Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 4:32). We see that demonstrated in the Lord Jesus who reconciled “to himself all things . . . by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:20).
The Bible uses six words for forgiveness. Four are in the Old Testament: nasa, to lift up and bear away; salach, to pardon; machah, to blot out or cancel; and kipper, to cover one’s sins.
The New Testament contains the other two. Karidzomai means to be gracious. Colossians 2:13 uses this word when it reports we were “dead in our sins” but God made us “alive with Christ,” having forgiven all our sins. Agiami means to send away. This word is used in Mark 2:5 where Jesus told the paralytic his sins were forgiven and in
1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
The basic idea of forgiveness is that an obstacle exists between God and us, an obstruction built by our sins. God graciously shattered that barrier by his forgiveness (Colossians 1:20).
Consider the worst thing you have ever done. If you are a Christian and have asked God’s forgiveness, he has forgiven you. Have you received, deep within, his pardon? His love for us is so great that he has removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). He has pardoned our sins, forgiven our transgressions, buried them in the depths of the sea (Micah 7:18, 19), and remembers them no more (Isaiah 43:25).
When Forgiveness Is Lacking
I opened my Bible and began my daily quiet time. Soon my thoughts drifted. The face of someone who wronged me appeared in my mind and I had a hard time concentrating on God’s Word. I covered a couple of paragraphs and then realized I had no idea what I’d just read. My eyes moved through the material but my mind had traveled to the one who had wronged me.
I began to pray. Soon my thoughts shifted to the wrongs: the spiteful letter, the hateful glance, the cutting words, the unmerited criticism. I recognized these instances of my wandering mind as symptoms of unforgiveness. It didn’t mean the things done to me were right. It did mean I hadn’t yet fully forgiven.
Do you recognize symptoms of unforgiveness in your life? When you see someone who has offended you, is the first thing that comes to mind the wrong he did? Are you trying to extract revenge? Do you believe the worst about another without considering other possibilities? Are you not able to eat or work without reflecting on the hurt someone has caused you? Do you cross the hallway or duck in a room to avoid greeting a person who mistreated you? Due to hurts from years past, do you refuse to call a relative? All of these are symptoms of a lack of forgiveness.
As We Have Been Forgiven
Most people have experienced something like the above examples. Yet, we must keep working at pardoning others. Our Lord himself taught us to ask God to forgive us in the way we have forgiven others (Matthew 6:12). One child learned incorrectly a portion of the Lord’s Prayer and prayed, “Forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.” He didn’t get the wording right, but he had the idea right.
We might be tempted to say, “But you don’t know what he did to me.” Can’t you picture God in Heaven saying, “You don’t know what you did to me. You don’t know how your sins drove the nails in my Son’s hands. Yet I forgave you”?
We think, “OK, I’ll forgive him but I won’t have anything to do with him.” Can you imagine God saying, “OK, I’ll forgive you but I won’t have anything to do with you”? Of course not. The Lord’s Prayer shows that our forgiveness of others is necessary for appropriating God’s forgiveness in our own lives.
God has forgiven us so much more than we are asked to forgive in others and we should therefore pass along that forgiveness to those who have wronged us.
A Happy Future
One of the bad things about unforgiveness is not just the failure to release the debts of the past, but the fact that unforgiveness prevents liberation for the future. Forgiveness is not only the pencil eraser that rubs out the wrongs of yesterday; forgiveness is the pencil lead that writes a happy tomorrow.
A boy’s father and mother separated. The father told his son he would pick him to get ice cream at 6:30 p.m. The child told his friends at school, “Guess what? Daddy’s coming tomorrow night and we’re going to get an ice cream cone.” The boy was waiting beside the curb at 5:30. Six o’clock came but it wasn’t time for dad yet. Six-thirty came but dad didn’t show. Seven o’clock and 7:30 passed. Finally at 9:00 his mother called him in saying, “Something must have come up; it looks like your dad isn’t coming.”
The man who told that story told it with all the emotion of a disappointed child, yet the man was in his mid-forties. The father who didn’t show caused horrible feelings of abandonment in his son. He clearly had done wrong. The greater tragedy was that the boy grew up without forgiving his dad and remained stuck emotionally in his childhood.
The Example of Christ
Scripture tells us to forgive others as Christ forgave us (Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 4:32). How did Christ forgive us? With humility.
Imagine the humility it took to wash the sweaty, dust-covered feet of the disciples. Shortly before he took the cross on their behalf, Jesus washed the feet of Judas who would betray him and of 11 others who would run away from him (John 13).
One of his last statements from the cross was, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). Can you swallow your pride and ask God to help you forgive another?
Perhaps the other person was mostly to blame. But did you do anything wrong? Any erroneous action? Any errant word? Any poor reaction to their action? If so, without bringing up his misdeed, why not go the extra mile and ask his forgiveness for your part of the wrong? Ask God to help you, then admit your part of the conflict and seek resolution.
Jesus also forgave us with an attitude of self-giving. He poured out his life for us to pay for our sins. Your forgiveness and mine cost his life. Considering what he has done for us, can we not forgive others?
When Jesus went to the cross, he went without holding grudges. For the joy that lay before him, he took the punishment on our behalf. Forgiveness frees us to leave a conflicted past and pursue, with freedom, a glorious future.
Dr. Bill Patterson is a freelance writer in Henderson, Kentucky.
Practical Ways to Practice Forgiveness
• Pray for those who have wronged you. It is hard to remain unforgiving toward those for whom you are praying. Ask God to bless them.
• Do a practical deed of good for people who have wronged you. Write a nice note. Send a card. Offer a sincere compliment.. Give them some home-grown vegetables or homemade soup.
• Refuse to speak negatively of them. Spend 15 minutes of prayer for the people who hurt you for every minute you criticize them.
• When tempted to pity yourself or explode in anger, substitute a positive action instead.
Your life on earth is short—too brief to hold grudges; only long enough to do the good God wants you to accomplish.