According to Merriam-Webster, when we forgive someone we voluntarily give up our indignant displeasure or persistent ill will for them. These sound like strong feelings. But, what does God say about forgiveness?
Matt 6:14-15, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Since God has told us we have all sinned, is forgiveness part of the process of our accepting God’s offer of salvation? How many times should we forgive someone? Matt 18:21-22, “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” Is God saying we should not ever stop forgiving?
Why is forgiveness so important to God? Acts 26:18, “To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.” Does this mean forgiveness is not only important for our salvation, but is it also a part of our shining light into the darkness in another person’s life?
What happens if we do not forgive? Prov 17:22, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” Is God saying the happiness found in forgiveness heals both the sinner and the forgiver? Can either of them find peace and good health without the happiness that forgiveness brings? Eph 4:31-32, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.” Is God telling us that forgiveness frees us from bitterness, anger and malice? Is He calling us to love and tender heartedly care for each other?
Can we look to Joseph, a man whose brothers sold into slavery, to see how much God values forgiveness? Gen 17:20, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” When we have faith and forgive as God has called us to forgive, we will witness the good God can produce from the evil men intend. Will God not judge all of us some day? Rev 20:12, “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” Is He asking us not to judge others, which will lead us to forgive those who have sinned against us? Lk 6:37, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:”
Have some misinterpreted this to mean sinners should get away with their evil acts? Has God not called us to obey every law? 1 Pet 2:13-17, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.” When we Christians obey every law we can leave the punishment for those who disobey the law to the proper authorities. That failing, the punishment is in God’s hands and we are free to forgive. There is no evil beyond God’s reach, Heb 4:13, “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” Can we find a better place to leave judgment, than in the capable two-scarred hands of Jesus?
Does God not tell us we have a choice to make? Deut 30:19, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:” We can forgive, which frees us and allows the sinner to escape the hatred and guilt, which has been working so hard at driving the sinner further away from God. Or, we can allow their sin to continue to torture us, thus leaving us trapped in our rage and the sinner in his darkness, Lk 11:35, “Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness.”
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