|Vol. 16 No. 11 November 2014||
Gary C. Hampton
One of the most difficult things for most of us to do is to forgive some wrong, whether real or imagined, committed against us. In my reading, I discovered a “formula for forgiveness” that I have found very helpful. It is taken from Paul’s great statement in Philippians 3:12-14.
The first thing I need to do is recognize my own vulnerability to sin. Paul said it this way, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected…” (Philippians 3:12). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave His followers a model of prayer in which He taught them to ask God to, “Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:11-12). Since I believe God inspired every word of Scripture, it seems significant that Jesus would use the word “and,” a coordinating conjunction, between asking for “daily bread” and asking for forgiveness. It seems He may have seen these two needs as occurring with roughly the same frequency.
Immediately after giving the model prayer, the Lord went on to state, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). Clearly, our Lord saw each of us would violate (sin against) the will of God and need to be cleansed. That the apostle Paul recognized the truthfulness of this within his own life is clear from his description of his former state. “Although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” Thankfully, he went on to state, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:13, 15).
After seeing my own shortcomings, I need to recognize the power in forgetting. As Paul put it, “forgetting those things which are behind…” (Philippians 3:13). Joseph may be the greatest example, outside of Jesus, of this in all of Scripture. After all his brothers had done to him, the governor of Egypt refused to retaliate. Instead, he told his brothers, “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” (Genesis 50:20).
When Paul gave his inspired description of love, he said, “…[love] keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5 NIV). Peter effectively joined him when he wrote, “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins’” (1 Peter 4:8). Ultimately, Christians realize vengeance and justice will be dispensed by the Father. “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘Therefore if your enemy hungers, feed him; If he thirsts, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:19-21).
Forgiveness is brought to completion when I set aside personal, fleshly, feelings and make pleasing Christ my goal. As Paul put it, “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Joseph was guided by the thought that his every action reflected on his family, whether on earth or in heaven. When Mrs. Potiphar tempted him, he responded by asking, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9).
Peter used the Lord’s life to challenge his first century readers. “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: Who committed no sin, Nor was guile found in His mouth, who when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:21-23).
Ultimately, we must do as Paul told the Ephesians in 4:31-32. He wrote, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.” If Jesus could forgive someone like me, who willfully disregarded the laws of His Father, surely I should set aside my bruised ego and forgive my fellow man whenever he asks me to forgive him!
The formula for forgiveness is simple, yet effective. I begin by recognizing I too am a sinner, guilty of wrongs against my Heavenly Father. Then, I need to see the power of forgetting. Finally, I must make pleasing Christ my ultimate goal, which will require me to forgive others, just as He died that I could be forgiven.