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Forgiveness is something we as Christians are familiar with. Because we have been forgiven and have accepted the forgiveness that Christ poured out for us upon His cross. We are a forgiving sort of people, one would hope. But this morning, as I was praying, I realized that there was unforgiveness in the depths of my heart, and because of this unforgiveness, I was not walking in the will of my Lord. I thought I had forgiven these offenses, I thought that I had laid them down and let them go. I thought that I was free of them, but instead, what I saw was a wall of stones built up to protect the unforgiveness that lay within my heart. I wasn’t ready to release these offenses, even though it looked like I had. So I prayed. I prayed and asked the Lord to show me what it truly means to forgive. I prayed and asked the Lord to show me how to forgive others, as He has forgiven me.
The first mention of the word “forgive” is found in Genesis 50:15-21. Joseph and his brothers have just lost their father, and have buried him in the tomb he requested. Joseph and his brothers return to Goshen, and Joseph’s brothers become concerned that their brother will now repay them for the wrong that they did to him all those years ago. Their concern was that now that their father had died, nothing would keep Joseph from paying them back for the pain and hurt they caused him. So, the brothers go to Joseph, fall down before him and beg for his forgiveness.
“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘Perhaps Joseph will hate us and may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him.’ So they sent messengers to Joseph, saying, ‘Before your father died, he commanded, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph, I beg you, please forgive the trespasses of your brothers and their sin; for they did evil to you. Now, please, forgive the trespasses of the servants of the God of your father.’ And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, ‘Behold, we are your servants.’ 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 50:15-21
We see Joseph, who had every right to be bitter and full of unforgiveness towards his brother’s do exactly the opposite of what was his right to do. Instead of chastising them, instead of bringing up the pain and the hurt that they had caused him, he instead weeps with them, lets it all go and comforts them with kindness. Joseph seemed to understand and know that only God could truly forgive them, but he too could release them from the fear that he was against them. He knew firsthand the kindness, comfort and forgiveness of God in his own life, which allowed him to freely give the same to his brothers.
To forgive someone means to pardon them or release them from the wrong they have done to you. It means that you no longer carry it around with you, but you cast it into the depths of the sea and you do not bring it in when you feel like it. You leave it there, buried and forgotten. Forgiveness means that we are willing to look past the faults of others and endure with the hardships that the offense has caused us, not for their sakes, but for our sakes. Forgiveness means that you release the person from the hurt that they have caused you, even though they don’t deserve to be released. Even if they don’t see the offense, and never repent of the harm they caused you. Forgiveness means that we are willing to let go of the pain, the hurt and the rejection when everything in you wants to hold onto it.
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On the other side of forgiveness is unforgiveness. Unforgiveness is like a cement block tied to our ankles. We can hold our head above water for a while, but eventually the weight of it becomes too much for us to bear, and we sink into the depths of bitterness, and yes, sometimes even hate. But Jesus tells us that we are to forgive. In Matthew 6:12 Jesus tells us to pray and ask the Father to “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Jesus shows us that the forgiveness we seek from God is dependent on the forgiveness we give to others. If I want to be forgiven, I must first be willing to forgive. The only thing stopping forgiveness to enter our hearts is our own selfish desire to be justified in our rights and in our pain.
“Once our eyes have been opened to see the enormity of our offenses against God, the injuries which others have done to us appear by comparison extremely trifling. If on the other hand, we have an exaggerated view of the offenses of others; it proves that we have minimized our own.” (Stott, cited in Carson, David Guziak, Commentary on Matthew 6:12, BlueLetterBible.org) Before we can forgive the offenses of others, we must first realize the desperate state of our own offenses before God our Father.
Jesus gives us this example in John 8:3-11. The woman caught in adultery is brought before Jesus. The men want her condemned; they want her sentenced by Jesus. But what does Jesus do? He does not look upon her sins; instead He turns the tables and looks upon those that accuse her. When we are unwilling to forgive, it means that we are unwilling to recognize and repent of our own sins before God. Forgiveness is not just a release of the person who offended you, but it is also a realization that you need forgiveness just as much as they do. Jesus looked past this woman’s offenses and turned it back onto the hearts of those who wanted her punished. Forgiveness does not seek punishment, and it does not seek retribution. Without forgiveness we cannot truly love.
The unforgiveness that is still nestled deep within my heart is there because I have allowed the sins of others to be exaggerated over my own. Paul tells us in Colossians that we are to be people who are “bearing with one another, and forgiving one another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.” (Colossians 3:13) When I am unwilling to forgive, I am also unwilling to be forgiven. Forgiveness starts in our hearts and is then brought outward. If we are not willing to forgive the sins and offenses of others in kindness and compassion, than what right do we have to ask our God and Father to forgive us the same way?
Forgiveness is more than just saying the words. Forgiveness goes above and beyond words. Forgiveness is a state of being. It is an attitude that seeks peace, love and hope. Forgiveness looks past the sins and faults of others and sees the desperate need for Jesus in the hearts and lives of all those concerned. When Jesus hung upon the cross, do you remember His words? Do you remember what He said about forgiveness? He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) If Jesus was able to say those words, while being hung upon a cross, blood pouring from his wounds, how much more should we be forgiving of those who have hurt us?
Father, I pray today that we, as Your children, would see the deep need we have for Your forgiveness, and the great and powerful work of love that You did upon that Cross. You forgive us, daily. You laid down Your life so that we might have forgiveness of our sins. I pray today that we would be that example, and be willing to lay down our rights, our lives for the forgiveness of those who have wronged us. Father, forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us. To You alone be glory, power and dominion, forever and ever, Amen.