One of the key principles taught in the Bible is forgiving one another. With a humble heart, we must sincerely forgive others.
How we treat others is how we will be treated
The Lord’s prayer is a well known prayer to many people. It makes specific mention of forgiveness and teaches a important principle about forgiveness:
This, then, is how you should pray:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.' For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:9-15 NIV
If we don’t forgive others then why should we expect God to forgive us? Jesus tells us that if we give mercy to others then we shall be shown mercy.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Matthew 5:7 NIV
But Jesus has also said that the way we treat others is the way God will treat us.
For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Matthew 7:2 NIV
James reinforced this point when we wrote:
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! James 2: 12-13 NIV
The natural inclination of revenge
The world we live in, is one of constant lawsuits and continual demand for legal rights. It is the idea of getting revenge which many people live by. But the apostle Paul teaches forgiveness:
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21 NIV
Forgiveness of others does not come naturally to most of us – to get revenge is a more attractive option to the human nature. When someone hurts you deeply, instead of giving him what he deserves, Paul says to forgive him and even to befriend him. There are a few reasons why Paul wants us to forgive our enemies:
1 A endless cycle of retaliation may be broken by forgiving the other person. This may lead on to reconciliation between the two people.
2 By forgiving the enemy may make that person feel ashamed and lead to them changing their ways.
3. If you continue to return evil for evil then this will hurt you just as much as your enemy. Even if your enemy never repents, you at least will be freed of a heavy load of bitterness if you forgive him/her.
So rather than seeking revenge we are commanded by God to show mercy and be compassionate. God judges righteously so he is the only one to seek vengeance.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21 NIV
To learn to forgive someone can be a process which takes all our lives. But the closer we come to God, the more natural forgiveness becomes. This is because we replace our sinful nature with a godly nature. The apostle Paul wrote about this change in our nature:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 NIV
Are there limits to how many times we should forgive?
Is there a limit to how many times we should forgive someone who continually hurts us? The apostle Peter also asked about this same thing:
Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Matthew 18:21-22
When Jesus says “seventy times seven” he means that we shouldn’t keep track of how many times we forgive someone. We should always forgive someone who has hurt you. When we realize how completely Christ has forgiven us, then this should encourage us to a have a free and generous attitude to forgiving others.
Forgiveness requires action
If someone has hurt you, then saying “I forgive you” is a good way to commence the healing process. But the pain of the hurtful situation will not disappear over night – it may take a while for it to fade from our memory. But if you really want to make the forgiveness meaningful then you need to follow up the words you have spoken with kind actions. Maybe give the person a helping hand. Smile at the person or maybe give them a gift. The right actions usually will lead to the right feelings.
If you are a believer and the person who hurt you is a non-believer then this process of forgiveness through actions is even more important.
"If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it. Exodus 23:4-5
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you. Proverbs 25:21-22
God is telling us to care for your enemy and your enemy’s property. When you show mercy and love to your enemy, there is a chance that he/she may turn towards God. The other reason you should do this is that you are following the example of Christ.
When someone else does wrong to us we are expected to show mercy and forgiveness to them. When we do this, it should come from the heart as a truly repentant believer. However, God warns us that if we do not show mercy to others then he will not be merciful toward us.
And be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32