Forgiveness. This word elicits a world of emotion in me. I’m thankful that God forgives me, and at the same time, I’m burdened by the prospect of having to forgive those who have hurt me.
Forgiveness is not natural to me. I desire to hold on to grudges and pain in my heart while holding someone else captive to my disappointment in them. When we refuse to forgive, this is what we’re doing. We are holding someone else in spiritual bondage, and we are storing up bitterness. Essentially, in our hearts, we are putting them in spiritual prison until they work off the debt of hurt towards us (Matthew 18:30). Jesus desires both the offended and the offender to be free.
Reconciliation. I am in awe that this is what Christ did for me, and at the same time, I am drained by the relationships in my life that are still in the very long process of being reconciled. Reconciliation means, “to bring back to a former state of harmony.” We had perfect harmony with God in the garden of Eden.
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Something that I didn’t understand in my Christian walk for a long time is that reconciliation requires repentance and takes time. Yet to extend forgiveness is something we are commanded to do as Christians, independent of the attitude and heart of those who have offended us. When I read Matthew 18:21-22, I’m reminded that Jesus commands us to forgive, and if necessary, forgive the same person multiple times. It is very possible to forgive someone without the relationship itself being reconciled, especially if this person continues to break our trust. This is because where trust is broken, there may need to be time to heal.
Moving toward forgiveness
Where there is forgiveness, the relationship has a greater chance of reconciliation. The hope and desire is that we are fully reconciled in every relationship in our lives because we are exhorted to, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). Sometimes we have done all we can ‘as far as it depends on us’ to be fully reconciled, but the other person doesn’t want to be.
Maybe you have someone in your life you’ve had to forgive “seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). Perhaps this is someone you love, but also someone who has been very hard for you to love. Maybe they have hurt you with their words or actions and you’ve had many conversations with them about it. Sometimes they might recognize their wrongdoing, and sometimes they might ignore it. You desire to have a fully reconciled and close relationship with this person, but after years of explaining the hurt and extending forgiveness, your trust erodes. You can continue to ask for the Holy Spirit’s strength to forgive this person, but maybe you’ve had to let go of the desire to be in a close relationship. It is not healthy to have expectations that every relationship will be close and intimate. I’ve been there and have a relationship where I’m confident that I’ve tried, by the power of the Spirit, to ‘live peaceably’ with a person like this.
I also sense that the Holy Spirit urges us to see people as broken human beings with spiritual and emotional wounds from their past that they’re carrying. When we see others as hurting, then we are more able to forgive their hurt toward us. We are able to extend compassion because we see that they need the healing hand of Jesus. We are able to let go of our rights and the debt owed to us and extend the healing hand of Jesus to these people. We are also able to have a more realistic view of ourselves, that we too, need the healing hand of Jesus. We also are not perfect.
Walking in this broken and sinful world, we will face conflict with others and we will have to figure out how to forgive those who have offended us. As athletes, you may experience your teammates and coaches breaking your trust, and you need to figure out how to forgive and move towards reconciliation.
Let’s look at Matthew 18 for help in this area. If we look closely, we see the heart attitude behind forgiveness and the progression of moving from forgiveness to reconciliation. Here are some steps towards forgiving someone:
1. Have a humble and prayerful heart
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).
- We must realize that to become great Christians and to truly forgive as Christ commands us, we must be laid low, and ask ourselves, “Is there anything I’ve done to contribute towards this falling out or breaking of trust?”
- We need to take ownership of our own sins, realizing that we are not perfect.
- We can ask the Holy Spirit to give us a proper view of ourselves and to search our hearts.
2. Exercise intentionality
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (Matthew 18:15,16).
- Forgive despite the person’s heart or attitude towards their wrongdoing!
- Approach the person who has offended you one-on-one. Admit how you might have contributed towards the problem.
- Use “I” statements (eg. “I feel this when you do this.”)
- If they listen and recognize their wrong, reconciliation can happen quicker.
- If they do not listen, bring other people in who have seen the hurt done and approach the one who offended you again, in humility.
- Ask God to discern what your relationship should be like with this person.
3. Show mercy because Christ shows us mercy
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt” (Matthew 18:28-30).
- We must realize that we have the ability to forgive through Christ because we have tasted and known God’s mercy towards us.
- If people who have offended us aren’t Christians, we really can’t expect them to understand God’s mercy because they’ve never experienced it. So, when they aren’t merciful or grace-giving in their words or actions towards us, we can use the opportunity to show God’s character through our mercy towards them.
- Your mercy towards those who have hurt you might be the only interaction they have with the Spirit of Jesus!
- Of course we hold Christians to a higher standard, and being hurt by Christians can be the most painful. However, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
4. Forgive from the heart
“When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:31-35).
- Don’t just give God or the person lip service and say you forgive him, but actually forgive him in your heart.
- This means releasing your hurt to God so that He can heal you, dispensing with negative thoughts towards this person, and seeing him through the compassionate eyes of Jesus.
- Accept healing over your heart by releasing your bitterness towards someone.
- Because Jesus paid the debt that we owed, we can forgive others’ debts against us!
Forgiving people and moving towards reconciliation is complicated. It requires prayer, humility, discernment from the Spirit, and maybe even wise counsel. Forgiveness is not ignoring hurt, but rather it is sharing our hurt, ‘seeking not only our own interests, but also the interests of others’ (Philippians 2:4), and releasing someone from our hurt. It is holding Christ’s priority of unity above our priority of debt being paid towards us. Unity happens when there is forgiveness.
Just imagine how many people would follow Jesus if they were shown His supernatural mercy and forgiveness! In a world where people are desperately thirsty for mercy, we can be the fountain that offers it to them.