Forgiving In The Bible

In the Bible, if you look at the word of God, there’s a lot of teaching on forgiveness. Whenever we sin against God or people it’s a big deal. And I think all of us have sinned against someone, whether it’s our spouse, our kids, our family. We’ve hurt them or gotten angry at them, and almost never do we come to some biblical basis for forgiveness in this world.

Forgiving In The Bible

If someone were to ask you to make a list of all of the people that hurt you, you can probably write out a long list of those who have caused you pain. These may be family members, friends, coworkers, even a friend from church. So many friendships have been shattered because of cruel words and actions that have left those who have been hurt feeling betrayed. You never forget the hurt or the pain someone has caused you. Those feelings run deep. So how does God want us to respond to people who hurt us? Does the Bible instruct us to forgive and forget?

We can turn to the Bible for answers to this question.

The phrase “forgive and forget” is not found in the Bible. However, there are numerous verses commanding us to “forgive one another.” Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” A Christian who is unwilling to forgive others will find his fellowship with God hindered and can reap bitterness.

Luke 6:27-36 also speaks to this issue. In some areas of Christian life we struggle to find out how God wants us to respond, but that’s not the case here. God’s instructions are detailed.

Jesus said, “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28). In the following verses, Jesus gives several specific examples of how to treat those who have hurt you, and He concludes with, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). The ultimate standard is set here.

It’s important that we apply godly wisdom to all relationships we’re in. There are times when we will allow ourselves to endure unnecessary pain in relationships because we believe it’s our duty or because it brings us to a place of meekness that honors Christ. While God instructs us to take up our cross and follow Christ, it’s important to discern what God is really telling us through the pain we’re experiencing. The closer you become with the Scripture, the more God will speak to you about the relationships you’re in. He may be calling you to realign some relationships. You may be around people who negatively influence your life. Painful words and violent tempers can create traps in your life that God may not be calling you to be part of. When you seek God more when it comes to your relationships, you may also begin giving less of yourself to people addicted to gossip and slander because being in that space is not only not uplifting, but also doesn’t reflect Christ.

In these circumstances where you begin to limit the influence of the person that’s hurting you, it doesn’t mean that you will no longer love, forgive or pray for that person. It just means that you no longer allow them to take up so much space in your life. We know from Scripture that we are not our own, so regardless of how much we might love someone, including those who have hurt us, we must shift our interaction with them because our Lord tells us to. When we know that we are not our own, we also recognize that things will show up in our lives that are completely outside of our control. God calls us to forgive. As believers, we can choose whether we will hold grudges or practice grace, but if we are truly following Him, the choice has already been made. This can be tough, so God provides some balance with verses like 2 Corinthians 12:10 which says, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distressed, with persecutions, with difficulties for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

One of the best things we can do for those who hurt us is pray for them. Many times we are not in a place to force the other person to stop their hurtful behavior. We also rarely have the power to change them, but we do have the power to change our response to the person. God simply tells us to pray for them. If you’re wondering what you should pray about, the answer is simple. Pray that God will help you to love this person. Pray that God will help you to see the good things He wants you to do for this person. Pray that God will bless this person.

What’s so great about these prayers is that they focus your attention on God. Instead of being consumed with the hurt, you focus on God, the One who can heal the hurt, and give you the power to respond in a radically new way. King David demonstrates this many times in the Psalms he wrote, speaking of the betrayal of friends and enemies – calling on God to punish them. When David was fleeing for his life because his son Absalom was leading a rebellion, a man named Shimei came out and cursed David and threw stones at him. When one of David’s generals asked permission to take off his head, David responded, leave Shimei alone, perhaps God has told him to curse me (2 Samuel 16:5-4). This is a powerful response in such a difficult time. David protects himself from sinning by trusting God and assuming that God’s plan is beyond his understanding.

We can use David as an example in our own lives.God wants us to trust Him regarding our relationships with others. Ask yourself if the relationships you’re in really reflect God. Our best relationships are the ones that have Jesus at the center of them. It’s very possible that if a person is always hurting you, Jesus is not at the center of your relationship with them and that’s not healthy for your physical, emotional, mental or spiritual well-being. If God is not present in the relationship you’re in, it may be time to reevaluate the relationship or at least change the way you interact with each other.

The ideal is to forgive and forget which isn’t always easy to do, but good for our own emotional and spiritual well-being. Remember, love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthian 13:5) and covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Be mindful of those around you who hurt you, and cling to those who love you and have a desire to uplift you.

Forgiving In The Bible

“Mom! Sean won’t give me back my bear,” my daughter yelled. This same scenario plays itself out between our children almost every single day. The children bicker and argue and when my husband or I ask them to make up, they refuse to, at least for a time. Usually we have to sit them down to help them see eye-to-eye or better yet, heart-to-heart.

“Why should I forgive her?” my son once asked after an especially difficult argument with his sister. “Because we love each other,” my husband and I replied. “Seriously?!” he said, exasperated. “Yes, we are a family, we love each other, and we have to forgive,” we reminded him. “Well, I’m not forgetting it,” he said. Sound familiar?

In the Gospels, the command to forgive is clear. But what does it say about “forgiving and forgetting?” Let’s take a closer look.

It’s important to know that the phrase “forgive and forget” is not found in the Bible. Forgiving someone does not mean that we ignore what happened and how it affected us. Or that we wholeheartedly restore trust, especially when it would be unwise, imprudent or unsafe to do so. We are not asked to delete painful and harmful experiences from our memory, since remembering the pain of past hurts can help us to choose more wisely and to avoid occasions where we may be hurt unnecessarily.

If the phrase “forgive and forget” means that you move on with your life for the sake of the love you have for Christ and others, that is a great step toward healing the wounds caused by the offense. But if it means that you pretend that the hurt never happened, that would be unwise.

For example, a good friend may have betrayed you. You can forgive them but decide not to be in a close committed friendship with them any longer. That is OK. You can also decide to forgive the person and continue to build trust one encounter at a time. That is fine, too.

But what happens if you continue to hold onto the hurt and hold a “grudge” against the person?

In Hebrews 12:14, we are told that those unwilling to forgive will find their relationship with God hindered and the seeds of bitterness sown in their life. We are reminded that love keeps no record of wrongdoings (1 Cor 13:5). This may sound a lot like “forgive and forget,” but a distinction is made between remembering past hurts and holding grudges.

Painful memories can last for years, but forgiveness is a gradual process and does not contradict the need for people to own their mistakes and face the consequences of their actions. Saying sorry is one step but not the only step involved. So how do you know if you or someone else is truly sorry?

For true contrition, there are four steps involved:

  • Admission of wrongdoing.
  • Sincere expression of sorrow.
  • Asking for forgiveness.
  • Resolve with God’s grace to not sin again.

Jesus emphasized how important it is for us to forgive those who do not realize they have done us wrong, and even those who have not repented for what they have done. We see this especially in the words of Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they do” (Lk 34:34).  And God made forgiveness for us dependent upon forgiving “those who trespass against us.”

We have all depended on another’s forgiveness. Most importantly though, all of us are dependent on God’s continual mercy and love towards us. When we forgive, we find true freedom, joy and lasting peace. And that same answer that I give to my children is a good reminder for all of us: we forgive because we love our brothers and sisters in Christ. We forgive because we are family. We forgive because we are loved.

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