I don’t think many of us can say that we have gone through life without being hurt by an unkind word from someone else. It is a unfortunately reality of the world we live in, that others will hurt us at some stage in our life. The important aspect of this is, how we respond to that hurtfulness.
God was deeply hurt by Israel continually turning to idolatry….yet he forgave them. They didn’t deserve it, but he forgave them. It is the same with us, even when others don’t deserve forgiveness, we must follow the example of God and willingly forgive them.
Forgiveness and the first two great commands of God
In this world of imperfection, forgiveness is something that affects both men and God. It affects us in relation to the men and women we come into contact with, and it also affects us in our relationship with God. So, forgiveness is based around the two great commandments of God. We saw in the first two articles of this series, these two great commands of God were:
So forgiveness is necessary when we disregard these two great commandments. When we disobey God, we do not love God with all our heart. If we did love God with all our heart we would want to do as He wishes 100% of the time. Also, if we truly love our neighbour, we would not want to do anything against them. Yet, if we think back honestly over our lives, we all need to admit that we have done something to hurt our fellow human beings at some stage in our lives. Whether it being knowingly or unknowingly. We are imperfect beings.
When we do not love God with all our heart (because of sin), God shows a outflowing of love through forgiveness. God is a forgiving God. When we do something hurtful against our neighbour, again, God shows a outflowing of love through forgiveness.
When our neighbour does something hurtful against us, we need to show our love for our neighbour by forgiving him (or her).
The mercy of God
Included in the eight beatitudes of Christ is the following one:
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Mercifulness does not of its self, mean soft-heartedness or compassion, it means a forgiving spirit.
Mercy is essentially an attribute belonging to God only and is used by him in the forgiveness of sins extended to men who have nothing to offer in return except their repentance.
So, likewise as man experiences forgiveness of sins from God, so also he should extend the same forgiveness to others.
Christ saw this as being so important that he included it in what we know as the Lord's prayer where he says:
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:14-15
So what is Christ telling us here? We shouldn't store up criticism and love resentment of others as this goes directly against what our Lord has asked.
The man of mercy who can throw away hard feeling from his mind and in all his mental attitudes and thinks kindly towards those that don't really deserve it, ensures for himself a peace of mind and a happiness unknown to the one who would rather resent.
This man of mercy will himself some day in the future experience mercy from his Father.
Joseph’s great example of forgiving others
Around 1700BC, a man named Joseph was born. He lived a life of victories in both his personal life but also in his life as a servant of God. But everything wasn’t completely positive as he also had disappointments in the way he was treated by others. The story of his life can be read here.
Joseph was born into a large family where he had eleven brothers and one sister. At the age of seventeen, Joseph was kidnapped by his brothers and sold as a slave to a passing group of strangers. If this wasn’t bad enough, he was then taken as a slave into an alien land. For a moment, just think about your own circumstances. Can you imagine growing up with your family – people you trust and love – only to be betrayed in such a severe manner.
For the next twenty-one years Joseph had no contact with his family or any other believer in God. His master in the alien land (Egypt) promoted him from being a slave to the person in charge of the whole household. Over time he uses his gift (given to him by God) of interpreting dreams to interpret the dream of Pharaoh (the king of Egypt). This gave him access to the courts of the king and lead to him being the Lord of the Land.
During this time, his family were experiencing famine in their land and were forced to travel to Egypt to purchase food. They were in a very vulnerable position, requiring the food to survive.
Joseph chose a time to reveal who he was to his brothers. There was great amazement on the faces of Joseph’s brothers when Joseph revealed who he really was.
So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. Genesis 45: 4-5
Joseph told them not to worry about their ill-treatment of him, as God meant it for good and designed it as a means of preserving their lives. Joseph graciously forgave them. Joseph demonstrated how God forgives us and showers us with goodness even though we have sinned against him. The same forgiveness and blessings are ours if we ask for them.
Ofcourse, the generous, affectionate attitude of Joseph pointed towards the Lord Jesus Christ. Whilst on the cross, Jesus had prayed for the forgiveness of those who had participated in his death through ignorance. He knew that his death would be for the ultimate good. As his death would provide redemption for all those who seek it.
And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. Genesis 45:7
What is involved in forgiving others
To forgive others involves us genuinely forgiving from our hearts. But to get a full understanding of what it means to forgive others, we look to God for the example :
A man knows he has been forgiven by God, when his sins have been “covered”, “cast away”, “not counted”. And when the sin is cast away, the separation between him and his God is removed. In place of the alienation is reconciliation. In place of the enmity is peace. In place of wrath is friendship. The forgiveness has actually changed the personal relationship between the man who is forgiven and God. This is the principle of forgiveness.
When we forgive someone the exact same principles apply. Friendship, peace and reconciliation replace the conflict which previously existed between you and the other person. In other words, we therefore apply the command of God to love our neighbour.
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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 March 2015