The Blessing of Forgiveness
Of all the Christian virtues, probably the one that suffers most from lack of exercise is forgiveness. In the give and take of human relations we seem reluctant to express the compassion and mercy that are the ingredients of forgiveness. It is one of the unique features of Christianity because it is based on the love which was shown by our Lord when He forgave His enemies and taught His followers to do the same. We all stand in need of forgiveness at some time or other because of the human tendency to avenge a wrong, to demand an apology, or to hold a grudge. Likewise, we are often in a position where we can show forgiveness. It is not easy from the human standpoint to forgive an injustice, but free and open forgiveness is a sure sign of spiritual maturity. The reward is freedom from the burden of self-righteousness, turning spiritual weakness into strength.
In the Scriptures we find many examples of the sort of forgiveness we are morally obligated to show to others. After Jacob’s death Joseph’s brothers looked for revenge due to their act of selling Joseph into slavery some 40 years before. Instead Joseph forgave, fed, and spoke kindly to his brothers (Gen. 50:15-21). David had opportunities to slay Saul in return for Saul’s repeated attempts on David’s life, but he refused to do so. As Stephen knelt, facing death from stoning by a Sadducean mob, he prayed “Lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60), showing the same type of forgiveness shown by Christ on the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
We do not have the power to forgive sins, as Jesus did in His earthly ministry, but we should have the grace to forgive the personal offences of those who mistreat and wrong us. Not the least of the benefits of a forgiving spirit is the promise that our sins are likewise forgiven by Him who has the power and compassion to do so (Luke 6:37).
True forgiveness is complete and irrevocable, and includes the decision never to raise the issue again. If an offense is repeated the forgiveness is to be repeated, as Jesus taught Peter, until “seventy times seven” if necessary (Matt. 18:21, 22). With the Christian who is living in the will of God, forgiveness is a way of life, not just a timely gesture. In the incidents of the woman in the Pharisee’s house (Luke 7:48), and the man sick of the palsy (Matt. 9:2), there was no request for forgiveness, but the Lord saw the need and freely forgave. Likewise, when we see the need for forgiveness let us offer it freely and graciously, even as God in Christ has forgiven us (Eph. 4:32).