The Lord our God is abundantly gracious and merciful. He pardons the sins of those who sincerely repent and come to Him seeking a clean heart.
With God the Father and Jesus Christ there is always an opportunity for a new beginning for those who humble themselves, confess their sins to Him, and determine in their hearts that they will no longer do those sins any more. Psalm 103, a psalm of David is a reflection upon how merciful the Lord is toward those who are repentant, who love Him and want to keep their Covenant with Him.
Psalm 103:1 Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. 103:2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: 103:3 Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; 103:4 Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies; 103:5 Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s. 103:6 The Lord executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed. 103:7 He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel. 103:8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. 103:9 He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. 103:10 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
103:11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. 103:12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. 103:13 Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. 103:14 For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust. 103:15 As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. 103:16 For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more. 103:17 But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children; 103:18 To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.
Another metaphor of God’s mercy and forgiveness is depicted by Micah as God throwing away all of our sins into the deepest parts of the sea.
Micah 7:18 Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. 7:19 He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.
God tells us in many places that when He forgives us He will remember our sins no more if we have sincerely repented of them. When God forgives us, it is as if our sins of the past are gone (blotted out) forever, never to be thrown back at us to cause us to feel quilt.
Hebrews 8:12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.
Isaiah 43:25 I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins. (See also: Hebrews 10:17, Jeremiah 31:34, Isaiah 44:22 Psalm 25:7, Psalm 79:8-9, Isaiah 38:17, Psalm 51:9)
What does it mean to forgive and how does God want His children to show forgiveness to others?
The Greek word for “forgivenesss” is charizomai (Strong’s # 5483) and means: freely forgive, deliver, grant. Middle voice from charis; to grant as a favor, i.e. Gratuitously, in kindness, pardon or rescue — deliver, (frankly) forgive, (freely) give, grant. (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance)
The English definition of the word “forgive” means to wipe the slate of the wrongs done against us clean, to pardon, to cancel a debt.
When we sin against God we incur a debt against Him and we must then repent and seek His forgiveness to restore our relationship with Him. When we wrong someone, we must seek that person’s forgiveness and ask them to cancel out our debt to them in order for the relationship to be restored if at all possible as well.
To forgive does not mean we should put themselves back into a harmful situation or that we must approve of the offending party’s wrong behavior. It simply means we release them from the wrong they committed against us. We forgive others who sin against us because God has forgiven us of our sins. It is important to remember that forgiveness is not granted because a person deserves to be forgiven. Instead, it is an act of love; a gift of mercy, and grace just as God has granted us His love, mercy, and grace even though we do not deserve to be forgiven. What do the Scriptures say about forgiveness? The Bible gives us much instruction when it comes to the subject of forgiveness.
Romans 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Colossians 3:13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.
God commands His children to forgive others. We are not given an option when it comes to forgiving those who have wronged us. God makes it clear in many Scriptures that we are to forgive those who sin against us just as our heavenly Father has forgiven us.
Those who want to be followers of Christ are forbidden to seek revenge or to retaliate in any way. They mus not allow themselves to become bitter, or to discuss the person who has wronged them with a malicious, slanderous, or a bitter attitude to others. Forgiveness entails, “remembering no more,” forgiving “from the heart,” and allowing no “root of bitterness” to take hold. We are to do all that we possibly can to initiate and restore any broken relationship (irrespective of who is at fault).
Forgiveness does not mean that one has to pretend that sins committed against him are not sin; sin is still sin, but it does mean that one must love the person and not hate them no matter what wrong they have done. We are not to lift a finger to retaliate against those who have hurt us, but to do good to them. God’s people are called to hate sin, that is true, but we are to love people, even those that sin against us. Jesus commands that we are love everyone even our enemies.
Matthew 5:43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 5:44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
To have the ability to love and forgive, we must first be right with God ourselves. Our own reconciliation to God is the foundation for all interpersonal forgiveness and the fact that we have been forgiven makes it possible for us to be forgiving ourselves.
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. 5:18 And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; 5:19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
To understand the commandment to “forgive”, one must also understand what it means to “love.”
Conflict with with others is inevitable in life. Most of us have had to deal with conflict in our families, our work place, within the community, and in our assemblies. Wherever there is relationship there is the potential for conflict. Conflict with other people begins even as babies and toddlers. Those who never learn how to handle conflict properly carry a lot of baggage in life and they find it hard to get along in relationships and lack love for other people. Yet God commands His people to love and to forgive.
We are to love our neighbor as our self, not just our family members and our friends but all people of the world. A lawyer asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus recited the royal command to love God foremost and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Then the layer wanted to know just who qualified as to being his neighbor.
Luke 10:25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? 10:26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? 10:27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. 10:28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. 10:29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
Jesus addressed the lawyer’s question as to who is his neighbor by telling him a parable about the Samaritan who showed mercy on a fellow man (Luke 10:30-37).
Luke 10:36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? 10:37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
In Jesus’ parable He illustrated for us who our neighbors are, they are all the people in the world. Sometimes they are members of our community that we know, but neighbors also includes those we do not know. Neighbors may be of a different country, a different nationality or religion; or even those who treat us as their enemies. We are to do good to all, even to our enemies, when we have opportunity to do so and that includes to forgive them.
Luke 6:27 But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,
Luke 6:35 But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.
Here are a few of the many passages that command us to love our brethren:
John 15:12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
John 13:34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 13:35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
Matthew 7:12 Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
1 John 2:9 He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.
2:10 He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.
2:11 But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.
1 John 4:20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?
1 John 3:23 And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.
If we believe on the name [teachings] of Jesus then we will love God the Father and the brethren, and to love means that we forgive them when they sin. In 1 Corinthians 13 and in Philippians 2 Paul goes into great detail about godly love toward others.
1 Corinthians 13:4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 13:5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 13:6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 13:7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Philippians 2:3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. 2:4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. 2:5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
The apostle Paul points out that every person who has ever lived is a sinner, that we all fall short of the perfection found in God. And yet God forgives repentant sinners freely through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Romans 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 3:24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
Paul here reminds us that no one is perfect and that we need to remember how very much God has forgiven us. If we have true godly love for others, just as Christ has godly love for us, we will forgive those who wrong us, out of love.
God’s definition of agape/godly love, includes the element of forgiving since love is not rude; it is not self-seeking, it is not provoked [nor overly sensitive and easily angered]; it does not take into account a wrong suffered.
The Bible goes even deeper and specifically requires God’s people to actively forgive and restore all damaged relationships as much as it is possible. God further states that if we do not follow His commandment to forgive others, that we hold back His forgiveness of our own sins. He tells us that if we refuse to forgive others, He will not forgive us and therefore by our own choice we will forfeit our chance to be in God’s Kingdom if we do not forgive as Christ forgives.
Ephesians 4:32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
Matthew 6:14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 6:15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
We have all sinned and deserve God’s judgment which is death.
God, the Father, sent His only begotten Son to satisfy that judgment for those who believe the Gospel and repent and commit to sin no more. Jesus, the creator God and eternal Son of God, who lived a sinless life, loves us so much that He died for our sins, taking the punishment that we deserve, was buried, and rose from the dead according to the Bible.
If we genuinely believe and trust this in our hearts, we will desire with all of our hearts to become like God, to grow to have the same mindset and love that He has toward humanity. Jesus came to freely give us forgiveness and the opportunity to go and live a life for Him that leads to eternal life with God in His Kingdom. Ought not we extend that same type of generosity to those who sin against us?
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, Jesus gave a sample prayer to instruct them as to the things they should pray for. In the second half of the prayer, they were instructed to ask God for their daily food and the next request is for the Father’s forgiveness of their sins, immediately followed by a solemn warning: that God’s forgiveness of them (and this is for all of His disciples) is directly tied to their willingness to forgive all those who have sinned against them! Jesus gives a command that all those that say that they are His followers must reciprocate God’s forgiveness by forgiving other people of their offenses committed against them.
W must ask God daily to provide us with the physical necessities of life and because we sin we must also ask God on a regular basis to forgive us of all of our sins. Our sins are foremost against God as David stated in his prayer of repentance of his sins with Bathsheba. Sin places us under obligation to seek forgiveness from God because our sins are against Him.
Psalm 51:4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest,and be clear when thou judgest.
When we are aware of our own propensity to sin, it helps us to realize that others have this same propensity as well. We can then have empathy for the fact that others will sin just as we have sinned and just as we have been made aware of our need for forgiveness, we can have sympathy for other peoples’ weaknesses. It is only logical that we must not deny to others what we want for ourselves from God.
How can a disciple of Christ who knows that God has freely forgiven him withhold forgiveness to a fellow human being who has the same kinds of weaknesses that he has or has had to overcome?
Jesus went on to impress this principle of forgiveness even further in Matthew 6:14-15 right after He had finished giving His instruction on how to pray and how to ask for forgiveness.
Matthew 6:14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 6:15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
When Jesus follows up His teaching on a particular subject with more teaching on that same subject, we can be sure that He is trying to show us the supreme importance of that teaching and that He wants us to seriously take it to heart.
There is the saying that we cannot know what something is like for someone until we have walked a mile in that person’s shoes.
Jesus in another parable showed the self-righteousness of the Pharisee who
thought he was pretty good for in his mind, he did not sin as other men sinned.
He was totally self deluded into thinking that he was righteous and had no need for forgiveness.
A person will not seek God for forgiveness unless he becomes aware of the fact that he has sinned and has incurred indebtedness toward God. It was therefore hard for him to be understanding of those that had more “obvious sins” than he had and then despised them and thought of them as beneath him. Persons that have the same attitude as this Pharisee tend to be very critical and unforgiving because they are blind to their own sins and weaknesses and then it is hard for them to put themselves into another person’s shoes.
Luke 18:9 And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 18:10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 18:11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 18:12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 18:13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. 18:14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
It is difficult for a person to forgive when he has such an an exalted opinion of himself and simultaneously is critical of others and looks down on them. It is easy for such a person who in his own eyes never does anything wrong to think that he has no need of forgiveness so why should he forgive others when they sin against him?
This type of person tends to get easily offended himself over trivial matters because he has no sympathy for men’s weaknesses, for in his mind he does not have the kinds of weaknesses that they have. In his pride he gets hurt very easily and instead of having godly love for those who offend him the Pharasee type despises sinners for it is beneath him to give others any kind of slack for he himself does not need forgiveness. When one has this kind of attitude they tend to show their displeasure and scorn for others, and the Bible has so much to say about the right way to forgive and that it is an obligation to forgive others just as God has forgiven us.
Those, who like the self-righteous Pharisee, have such a high opinions of themselves are incapable of granting forgiveness to those they see as hard-core sinners for they are ignorant of their own need for forgiveness.
Even if we do see the need to forgive others, sometimes we set limits on the amount that we are willing to forgive. Jesus teaches us in Matthew 18:21-22 and Luke 17:3-5 that there is no limit to the amount or the number of times that we forgive, for there is no limit to how much He is willing to forgive us as He showed in the Lord’s Prayer. We can and indeed are encouraged to seek His forgiveness on a daily basis.
God expects much from His children in this regard, for humanly it is hard for us to forgive. We all have a degree of pride when it comes to not wanting in our hearts to forgive (it can be so easy to think “how dare they”).
We should read of the account of David and his willingness to forgive Saul even when David was fleeing from him for his life. He refused to lift a finger in retaliation against Saul. David had at least two opportunities to kill King Saul, 1st Samuel 24:4 and 1st Samuel 26:8, yet both times, David refused to kill Saul himself and David refused to allow his warriors to kill King Saul. God’s instruction in regard to being forgiving is very clear in these verses that we just mentioned and throughout the whole Bible. Gods plainly instructs us in this matter and shows us that His standards are very high when it comes to forgiving others and not holding a grudge against them.
Many times those who sin against us are deceived into thinking that they are justified in what they do when they persecute and attack.
John 16:1 These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. 16:2 They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. 16:3 And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me.
Jesus bluntly told His disciples that they need not be offended when others persecute them and want to do harmful things to them, that they do so because they do not know God, they are still blind and just do not know any better. Jesus realized this very thing when men crucified Him and He asked His Father to forgive these people for they were blind to the full ramification of what they had done to Him.
Luke 23:34 Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do…
We also need to fully understand that the evil deeds were inspired by an evil spirit and that those who appear to be against us really do think they are right and doing God a service. Some day God will open all minds and everyone will realize their errors and just how wrong their actions had been, there will be much repentance and forgiveness and this in turn will generate much love.
Ephesians 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Joseph Forgives His Brothers
The story of Joseph and his brothers is very much an object lesson in the right kind of forgiveness on the part of Joseph. Because of envy over their younger brother, the ten older brothers sold Joseph into slavery. For many years Joseph lived in wretched conditions and because of is dreams he was released and made second in command to Pharaoh. When the brothers went down to Egypt to buy grain and encountered problems with the person responsible for selling it to them, it hit them that perhaps their troubles were a result of what they had done to their younger brother so many years ago. They began to feel guilt and regretted what they had done.
The brothers did not know that Joseph could understand what they were saying, and when Joseph heard what they were saying and how they felt remorse over what they had done to him, he was overcome with emotion and he wept for them.
Genesis 42:21 And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.
42:22 And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required.
42:23 And they knew not that Joseph understood them; for he spake unto them by an interpreter. 42:24 And he turned himself about from them, and wept;
Instead of railing on them for what they had done to him and how much he had suffered because of them, Joseph spoke lovingly to them, for Joseph could see the big picture of the events that had happened.
Genesis 45:4 And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. 45:5 Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.
At the end of this story, Joseph completely forgave his brothers and proceeded to provide a way of escape for them and their little ones from the famine.
Genesis 50:14 And Joseph returned into Egypt, he, and his brethren, and all that went up with him to bury his father, after he had buried his father.
50:15 And when Joseph’s brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did unto him.
50:16 And they sent a messenger unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying,
50:17 So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil: and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him.
50:18 And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we be thy servants.
50:19 And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God?
50:20 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.
50:21 Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.
The account of Joseph and how his brothers sold him into the hands of the Egyptians and how that all worked out spans all of Genesis 37-50 (except for an inset chapter 38). It is the continuation of the history of Jacob and his sons and provides background on the beginnings of the tribes of Israel, but it is also a painful story of family conflict, envy, jealousy, intrigue, betrayal, false accusation, imprisonment, and finally triumph over a very unfortunate situation. And at the end it shows Joseph’s love and forgiveness of his brothers and how he held no grudges toward them.
In actuality the whole scenario was allowed to happen so that Jacob’s whole family would be spared from the drought and would be brought to Egypt where Joseph could provide for them during the seven years of severe famine; and would later be called out of Egypt as an incredible lesson for us All of this was part of God’s plan to bring about the prophecies that He had given to Abraham. See our Spring Festivals series.
How do we know if some offensive seeming act was allowed by God to teach us some important thing? When offended the very first thing to do is to go to God and ask him to reveal to all involved [including ourselves] the things that we all need to learn from the situation. Then always keep in mind the question: “What does God expect me to learn and what does God expect of me?”
Genesis 15:13 And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; 15:14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. (Please see the whole chapter of Genesis 15)
Joseph represented the kind of mercy that Jesus has for all those who are repentant sinners. Joseph serves as a good example for all of God’s children when they too are persecuted and rejected by those that they love. Many of us have been abandoned and mocked by our friends and more often than not by the very ones that we love the most.
Mark 13:12 Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death. 13:13 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
It is very often our own family members (like Joseph with his own brothers) that rise up against us. Jesus affirmed this when He told His disciples not to be surprised if persecution comes from within our families and amongst our loved ones. David was betrayed by his friend and he writes that the pain is much worse than if a stranger had reproached him.
Matthew 10:35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. 10:36 And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.
Psalm 55:12 For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him: 55:13 But it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance [my friend and my companion].
It seems that forgiveness is one of the hardest things for humans to do, but if God’s people will only keep the big picture in mind, (like Joseph did). Remember that we are dealing with unseen forces that influence our enemies into doing what they do, and that all things will eventually work out for the good, if the called-out remember Romans 8:28 and endure the hardships imposed on them by others until God intervenes on their behalf.
Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
The story of Joseph and his brothers is very much an object lesson of this principle. We see this principle at work in Joseph’s life when we read that Joseph said to his brothers when they came to him and fearing that Joseph would take revenge on them after the death of their father and Joseph told them that he had forgiven them.
If Joseph would have harbored bitterness had struck out at his brothers refusing to forgive and had sought to destroy them for what they had done to him, the ending of this chapter in the history of the nation of Israel would have been much different. Instead, Joseph understood God’s loving principle of forgiveness and that he needed to extend God’s forgiveness to his brothers; to do them good and not harm by forgiving them and then showing mercy by making a way for them to come to Egypt so that he could provide for them and their little ones and to save them alive from the famine.
Likewise, when we extend forgiveness in this way it keeps the doors open for God to work in the offender’s lives for good, for they have received a taste of the “ways of God” when those whom they persecute respond to them with mercy and love rather than with anger and hatred. Unforgiveness and holding grudges makes it very hard for others to see God working in those who call themselves followers of Christ. Being the brunt a vengeful spirit on the part of those that say they are “Christians” could offend even further those that receive such treatment at their hands. If Christians display bitterness and bad-mouth their persecutors they are not witnessing for Christ and their enemies will justify that they deserve to be persecuted.
The attitude of Joseph toward his brothers shows that when the called out of God forgive others they are reflecting the mercy and forgiveness of their heavenly Father. When his sons and daughters extend mercy and forgiveness to those who sin against them, they are taking on the qualities of their Father and of the Son who are quick to forgive and do not hold grudges against those who come to them in heartfelt repentance. Leaning to forgive is another way that those who the called out are becoming perfect [complete] as their Father in heaven in perfect [complete].
Matthew 5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
1 Peter 3:9 Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.
Mark 11:25 And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. 11:26 But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.
Forgiveness of others must not be just a verbal statement of forgiveness but requires forgiveness from the heart showing a forbearing attitude and loving outward concern with a response that supports that the perpetrator has indeed been forgiven.
Romans 12:19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. 12:20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. 12:21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
3 John 1:11 Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.
It is so important that brethren forgive each other and be reconciled, that God says that He does not want our worship nor our offerings until we have done our part to seek reconciliation with those we have offended or with those who have offended us. Jesus taught his disciples “first be reconciled to thy brother” and then come and present your sacrifices (or gifts).
Matthew 5:24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
This does not mean that we compromise in the things of God to gain our brother’s approval or to seek to be united with those who are not following after Jesus but God says in other places that we are to seek to live in peace with others as much as it is possible.
Romans 12:18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
When we have misunderstandings or feel that a brother has done us wrong we are to go directly to the person “in private;” not to a third-party. If he does not listen to you, then take someone else with you and go back to him a second time. Jesus instructs us on proper protocol on how we are to be reconciled and after doing all we can do and the brother does not want to be reconciled then we are to release him to God’s dealing and correction.
Matthew 18:15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 18:16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 18:17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
In all situations we must examine ourselves as well to make sure we are not part of the problem in any given conflict and we if see that we too are guilty them we need to quickly repent and seek forgiveness as well.
How often do we forgive before we give up on someone? One day Peter came to Jesus with this very question. He thought that he was being generous if he were to forgive someone up to seven times. But Jesus had a much higher number, seventy times seven which in reality means an unlimited number.
Matthew 18:21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? 18:22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
Jesus then elaborated on what it means to forgive those who are indebted to us and what a serious matter it is when we refuse to forgive as we have been forgiven.
Matthew 18:23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.
18:24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.
18:25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.
18:26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
18:27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
18:28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.
18:29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
18:30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
18:31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.
18:32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:
18:33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?
18:34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.
18:35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
One way we show that we have not really forgiven someone is if we continue to talk bad about that person behind their backs [making slanted or exaggerated statements abut them to others]. God forbids this and again has a proper method for dealing with offenders.
Leviticus 19:16 Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour; I am the Lord. 19:17 Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. 19:18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord.
Rather than talk about a person to third parties we are commanded to rebuke or reprove that person for wrongs done and if we don’t God says right here that we, too, sin if we harbor a grudge instead of getting things out in the open between our neighbor in private.
After correcting a person than it is important to let it go no matter what they decide and not “bear any grudge.” We go to a sinning brother, for if we love our neighbor as our self we would want to be told that we are in the wrong so that we can have a chance to seek out what is right and then repent if we discover that the other party is right. We need to extend a warning and an opportunity to return to others to save them from the consequences of their sins or from going after falsehoods.
Luke 17:3 Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. 17:4 And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him. 17:5 And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.
The disciples realized that this was a hard thing and after Jesus instructed them they asked Jesus to increase their faith. This is a difficult thing for any of us but like the disciples we need to ask Jesus to help us to apply His way and His forgiveness when it seems to be impossible.
Matthew 19:26… With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.
Ephesians 4:31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: 4:32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
Colossians 3:2 Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; 3:13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. 3:14 And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. 3:15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.
Forgiveness entails an attitude of compassion, kindness, and gentleness toward the offender; not merely uttering the words, “I forgive you.”
Psalm 37:5 Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. 37:6 And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday. 37:7 Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass. 37:8 Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.
Harboring anger will only lead to evil occurring in our own life and holds us in bondage to the sin of anger and bitterness.
1 Thessalonians 5:15 See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.
Hebrews 12:14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: 12:15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;
We must not let any “root of bitterness” be embedded in our hearts and it is imperative that we get rid of any anger we may be feeling toward anyone or any situation for it will only cause many problems down the road.
The bitterness will not only harm our own lives but could possibly influence all those we come into contact with just like a spoiled apple in a crate causes those closest to it to spoil and then they in turn spoil the ones next to them until the whole crate of apples become rotten. When we harbor bitterness it will be like a cancer that not only effects ourselves but effects upon the lives of “many” others (and not just the person or the persons with whom we are angry with). Ultimately, those around us will be “defiled” (harmed, spoiled, blemished, embittered) by the bitterness that has changed us into an embittered person.
Ephesians 4:26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: 4:27 Neither give place to the devil.
Paul here acknowledges that things or persons may anger us at times but then commands that we cast off the anger before the day is over.
If we let our anger fester any longer than that we risk giving “the devil an opportunity” to begin working on us and allowing the anger to take root. A “root of bitterness” will spring up, and it will begin to defile our hearts, our attitude, our words. When the sin of unforgiveness begins building up in the heart of a person, that person will eventually become hardened as a person. It will ultimately effect their entire life and if not repented of and dealt with, will lead to the destruction of that person, and in the meantime, that person could very well destroy others.
As an aside, having the habit of not forgiving others brings about bitterness, and bitterness has been linked to stress-related illnesses by the medical profession. By forgiving others, we free ourselves spiritually and emotionally. Forgiveness is an act of our own personal will in obedience and submission to God’s will, trusting God to bring healing in the lives of those who hurt us and in our own lives as well
We think of how Lucifer became angry at God and then his anger turned into bitterness and in time he infected a third of all the angels with his bitterness. This has led to much defilement and ruined these individual angels from having a great life living with God and instead will ultimately be destroyed. “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath” this is a very serious warning and commandment that God gives to his people through the apostle Paul. God does not want His precious children ending up like Satan and the angels who turned against Him.
Hebrews 3:13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. 3:14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end; 3:15 While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.
In this passage Paul is telling us that we need to continually encourage one another while we have opportunity (“today”) to help each other to avoid becoming hardened rebels by the deceitfulness of sin wit all of its cleverness, delusive attractiveness, and sophistry. For we have become partakers of Christ sharing in all that the Messiah has for us, if only we will hold firm our confidence and faith which originally led us to Him until the end.
The definition of forgiveness which believers are commanded to display to others, is the same definition of forgiveness that God employs when dealing with our sins. The way that God forgives is defined for us [and the way that we must forgive others] when He states: “…for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. ” Jeremiah 31:34. And, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12.
God wants us to forgive other people in the same manner as He forgives. After forgiving we must treat others as if their sin did not happen (we “remember their sin no more”) and we must not continue to harbor what they did to us in our heart. We are to release them to whatever God deems is best for them.
Romans 12:17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. 12:18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. 12:19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. 12:20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. 12:21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
If one willfully does not follow the Bible’s commandments regarding forgiveness, then one is in danger of sinning willfully and is “regarding wickedness in their heart,” and thus they voluntarily take themselves out from under the protection of God, and the “Lord will not hear” them. One opens themselves up to the painful discipline or our Lord when we refuse to forgive others.
James 4:17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.
Proverbs 14:21 He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth: but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he.
1 John 3:8 He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. 3:9 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 3:10 In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.
Luke 6:46 And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?
John 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.
And He commands us to forgive others as He has forgiven us.
1 John 2:4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
Hebrews 10:26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
2 Chronicles 15:2 … The Lord is with you, while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you.
Hebrews 12:5 And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
Isaiah 59:1 Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: 59:2 But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
Psalm 66:18 If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me:
Matthew 18:34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. 18:35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
Again, in this parable, God shows His severe displeasure toward the one that refuses to forgive somewhat that asks for forgiveness. The punishment that was rendered to the servant implies that God the Father will hand a person that refuses to forgive unto “to the tormentors” implying that adversity will come upon that person until he or she forgives the person who has wronged him. Few parables are as strong as is this one with regard to the forgiveness of others and what will happen to the unforgiving person. And at the end of this parable God implies that the forgiveness we are to extend to others begins in our hearts.
Because we are weak and we all sin, offenses against one another even amongst the members of the Ekklesia are inevitable. God in His Word gives us the method of how we are to handle those offenses and to Him it is very important that we do it and do it His way no matter how much we may want to avoid confrontation or fear the responses of those we do need to confront. If we are being molded and fashioned into the image of Christ, it is imperative that we learn to uphold the peace and spiritual well-being of the body of Christ and work out our differences and sins against each other to the best of our ability. If we are chosen and resurrected to reign as kings and priests with Christ than all the members of God’s Family will absolutely have to all be cooperative and at peace with each other throughout eternity.
We must trust that God will back us if we do go to our sinning brother and that He is aware of all the details that involve the offense and that He knows all as to who is guilt and who is innocent. We must further trust that He will work out the outcome as He deems best in the lives of all involved. He may even use the situation to show us where we may have been wrong and that we perhaps need to grow in how we treat others. If we trust in the Lord and lean not on our own understanding (but do His will) He will make all things work for good and in His own time frame.
What does it mean to forgive when it comes to our part?
It is to lay aside all claim of getting even, seeking revenge, or retaliating in any way, shape or form.
We must not operate in the way the world operates .
Paul writes in Romans 12:1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 12:2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
And in verse 14 Paul reiterates what Christ said in His sermon on the mount and tells us, “Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.”
Matthew 5:39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. 5:40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. 5:41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
5:42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
5:43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
5:44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
Paul further expands in verse 17 by saying:
Romans 12:17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. 12:18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. 12:19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
It is only natural that humans rise up to try defend themselves when threatened or harmed in any way by others. But even though it the natural way of doing things, it is still a carnal response and the Bible teaches us that we must overcome our need to seek revenge or to retaliate.
Jesus and the apostles teach us that we must trust God to bring things to light in His own order and time frame and to allow Him to deal with the matter in His own way.
It is not wrong to speak out against sin and evil if we do it according to the way God shows us in His word. It is also not wrong to remove ourselves and our loved ones from harm’s way from those who refuse to repent and who insist on doing us harm. And forgiving does not mean that we instantly trust those whom we forgive but who have proven themselves untrustworthy.
This subject is of such importance that we need to be reminded from time to time of what God considers to be of utmost importance in the creation of godly character and that we as the Body of Christ have peace and harmony amongst us when it comes to petty grievances and divisive behavior that divides and separates His Body. As God’s own dear children it is our responsibility to forgive and God gives us ample instruction as to the definition of forgiveness and how we are to go about it.
It is only by the power of His Holy Spirit dwelling within us that makes it possible. If He is a forgiving God (and He is) then His Spirit of forgiveness must be activated through prayer and sometimes even fasting to make what seems impossible….possible: to forgive so that we can in confidence ask God to “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
Both our Father in Heaven and His Son Jesus Christ are the God of all peace. They can and will respond to our honest and sincere requests for the ability to be forgiving to all those who have hurt us and release them to His loving care.
With some it will be possible to reconcile with; but with others who are not being called at this time it will not be possible to reconcile with at this time or the near future. But we have a great God who has a wonderful Plan of redemption and just like He did with Joseph’s brothers, He will see to it that all come to realize that they have done grievance things to others and they will then at that time (perhaps in the Millennium or in the Great Fall Harvest) seek God’s forgiveness and all those they have harmed. Will we be able to say as Joseph said:
“…Fear not: for am I in the place of God? 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.“
Freely God has granted us much in the way of mercy and forgiveness and Jesus tells us in Mark 10:8 “……freely ye have received, freely give.” This includes the gift of mercy for all of our sins as well as the other spiritual gifts that we have received.
There is so much to this subject that we will continue into more aspects of what it means to forgive and to show mercy in the next article.
When we can say honestly and really understand and mean what we say: “Luke 23:34 Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.” We will begin to understand the agape love of God.
Romans 8:38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 8:39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Before I close today I want to end this article with this interview with a real American hero who did his best to stop the massacre at My Lai.
Constance Belanger and James Malm