Vol. 12 No. 7 July 2010
One Sunday night in March of this year, a 19-year-old girl obeyed the Gospel at the congregation where I attend. One of the deacons walked up, and as he put his arm around me, he said, “Forgiveness is a beautiful thing. If you don’t give it, you don’t get it. There are thousands of folks that don’t understand that.”
I smiled in agreement and said to him, “Forgiveness is our greatest spiritual blessing because it is our greatest spiritual need, because without it there is no relationship with God.” When we obey the Gospel, our sins are forgiven and our relationship is restored. We cannot be right with God until He forgives us! Romans 5:10-11 says, “For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”
The Scriptures are flooded with commandments, examples and the actions needed to obtain God’s forgiveness, which results in this spiritual reconciliation. In one of numerous commandments Jesus said, “And whenever you stand praying if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:25-26). Until we come to the absolute realization of this divine directive in submissive obedience, we are as close to heaven right now as we are ever going to get!
One of the most stunning examples of forgiveness and reconciliation occurred between Joseph and his brothers. Because of their intense hatred and jealousy, they sold Joseph into Egyptian slavery! Reuben and Judah did not want him killed, as did the other brothers. However, Judah had no qualms about selling him for money. While Reuben was gone Genesis 37:26 says, “So Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother and our flesh.’ And his brothers listened to him … So the brothers sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.” Psalm 106:17-18 speaks of how God’s hand was also working in this horrific situation. It says, “He sent a man before them – Joseph – who was sold as a slave. They hurt his feet with fetters, he was laid in irons.” There is nothing that happens to us that God does not see, hear, or care about!
After the death of their father Jacob, his brothers said, “Perhaps Joseph will hate us, and may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him” (Genesis 50:15b). “Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:19-21). Joseph’s attitude of forgiveness and reconciliation was priceless!
Jesus taught the approaches to obtain forgiveness and reconciliation. In Matthew 5:22-23 Jesus first speaks of being angry with your brother without a cause. Then, He tells us how to handle a situation if we know that someone is angry with us. “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
Matthew 18:15-35 is one of the Lord’s more lengthy discourses in the actions we are to take in seeking forgiveness and reconciliation when someone has sinned against us. In Verses 15-17 Jesus said, “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” These are commands from our Lord, and yet they are perhaps some of the most ignored or abused passages of Scripture in the entire Bible!
Is forgiveness easy? It is for God; for some of us, it is not. Our genuine confessing, forsaking and repenting of our sins brings instant forgiveness from God! We, however, are slow to forgive and even slower to forget! We must understand that forgiveness is always right and a right relationship with God depends upon our ability to forgive one another “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-35). It is God’s expectation of us because He is continually forgiving us!
What does forgiveness mean? Forgiveness means forgetting what you have forgiven. Forgiveness means taking the hurt, holding it to our hearts and smothering it in our love. Forgiveness means we no longer with malice, look upon what was done to us, or what was said to us or about us. Forgiveness means turning the heart away from what was. Psalm 130:3-4 says, “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.”
God’s forgiveness toward us is predicated on our forgiveness of others. We sometimes hear people say, “I will never forgive them for that!” Never is a long time – never is forever! Unforgiveness stiffens and hardens the heart! Whether we understand what we are saying or not, to say we will never forgive, means that we close the door on God ever forgiving us! Who among us is bold enough to believe that anything that has been done or said to us justifies such an attitude, when all of our sins put Jesus Christ on the cross?
How does God forgive? There is not enough allowed space in this article to expound on that question! Suffice it to say the beginning of man’s redemption from sin is first revealed in Genesis 3:15 and continues through the Book of Revelation!
Two of virtually thousands of passages make God’s kind of forgiveness abundantly clear. Psalm 103:10-13 says, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.” Isaiah 38:17 reads, “Indeed it was for my own peace that I had great bitterness; but You have lovingly delivered my soul from the pit of corruption, for You have cast all my sins behind Your back.”
Paul tells us of the action God took through His Son Jesus Christ to extend forgiveness and reconciliation to all of mankind. It springs from the depths of eternity. “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight” (Colossians 1:19-22).
Forgiveness is a beautiful thing. If you don’t give it – you don’t get it!