What does it mean to forgive? Let’s take a look at some of what God has to say about this in His Word:
Ephesians 4:31-32: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”Mark 11:25:“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.”Hebrews 12:15: “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.”Romans 12:14: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”Matthew 6:14-15: “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive you transgressions.”
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the verb forgive as “to give up resentment of or claim to requital for an insult; to grant release from payment of a debt; to cease to feel resentment against an offender”. Forgiveness includes releasing the offender from any type of payment (including apologies), plus, relinquishing to God any responsibility for the conviction of that person’s heart, and any consequences they might suffer. Forgiveness means that we do not bring up the subject over and over again, because those types of actions only keep fueling the fires of the sin of bitterness.
There are three main ways to render forgiveness. The first of these in this discussion implies a restored relationship of trust with the person that offended. In Matthew 18:15, Jesus speaks of confronting a brother in the church about his sin, that person repenting, and subsequently being accepted back into fellowship. A penitent person is normally pretty easy to forgive; they are promising that they will do their utmost to refrain from that particular sin again in the future. They are saying they have “learned their lesson”, humbly asking God to remove this defect of character. Because of the person’s repentance, there can be a relationship of restored trust and intimate fellowship.
The second method of forgiveness releases the resentment and bitterness towards the offender, yet does not include the repentance of that person. This type of forgiveness is possibly the most difficult kind. It means that the original trust and intimacy of the relationship has not only been compromised, but that it will most likely not be restored, because the offender refuses to repent. As believers, we are not required to once again place ourselves in a position of potential abuse. While we do not look for redress of transgressions against us (I Corinthians 13:5-love does not keep a record of wrongs), we are also advised to be wise in our dealings with others so that we might not get needlessly hurt. We are to turn the offender over to God. Allow God to deal with that person, allow Him to decide what the best course of action, what discipline is best for them.
In I Corinthians 13:7, we are instructed that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. This suggests that no matter how heinous the sin, we are to believe and hope for the eventual repentance of the sinner, yet surrendering them to the assessment and reproof of the Lord. This kind of release ensures the continued health and growth of the offended person, because there is no root of bitterness to block the action of the Holy Spirit’s healing light and love in the soul.
Thirdly, there is the one-time forgiveness of something, as with a stranger. Perhaps some good examples of this would be: someone cutting you off in traffic, someone in a service capacity being rude or lazy, or perhaps simply someone you ran into that day was in a bad mood and treated you sinfully. Forgiving them has two immediate benefits: 1) your mental, emotional, and spiritual states have not been compromised that day, and 2) blessing them, praying for them, sends forth the power of God in their lives.
Forgiveness is more than just the initial decision to surrender the problem, relinquishing the person to God’s care. Forgiveness is most often a continual process, particularly if the hurt has been prolonged, deep, or both. Sometimes, it may seem that a person has not forgiven another, because the same issues seem to be surfacing again and again. The person may feel that every time they turn around, they are “back to square one”. However, it may be that God has merely accessed a deeper level of the root of resentment or bitterness in the person’s life. The process has been described as peeling off the layers of an onion….some are thick, some are thin, and sometimes you cry. Eventually, though, you get to the center, and can put the entire matter to rest. Another word-picture for this is pulling out a particularly large root of something in the yard. Many times, you have to cut away the smaller roots coming out of the main one in order to loosen the grasp of the plant in the earth. When these smaller problems have been whittled away, there is little to hold the large tap-root in place, and it can finally be totally extracted from the ground. In this way, the network of the sin of bitterness in the believer’s system is dissolved, thereby allowing the healing and integration of their mind, body, and spirit.
We must actively choose to be healed of unforgiveness. Those who choose not to forgive face a rocky road filled with dire consequences. Roots of bitterness cause psychological, emotional, physical, and spiritual health problems, as well as severe problems within the church community. Hebrews 12:15 warns us that the entire church body is at risk for widespread infection when its members harbor resentment and bitterness. These things can lead to gossip, slander, reviling, divisiveness, and strife. All of these things break down the very fabric of the family within the body of Christ. Proverbs 10:12 says, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.” Jesus said that any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste.
Let’s examine some of the ways unforgiveness affects mental health. Proverbs 12:25 tells us that anxiety weighs down a man’s heart. Proverbs 14:10 teaches that the heart knows its own bitterness, but others do not share its joy. Negativity repels others, thereby isolating the person holding resentments. Proverbs 18:1 says, “He who separates himself seeks his own desire, He quarrels against all sound wisdom.”
In addition to isolating the person, negativity tends to magnify and distort truth by repeating the cycle of resentment, creating a mental and emotional “tornado”. Satan takes advantage of the distortion, perhaps even adding false memories to the original hurt, in order to amplify the anger into rage. Subsequently, there is also the temptation to make sweeping statements and harsh judgments against offenses, both real and imagined. This causes an inner defeatism in the person, leading to depression, and finally, despair.
Unforgiveness greatly affects physical health. Proverbs 14: 29-30 teaches us that being quick-tempered or given to anger and resentment is “rottenness to the bones”. Proverbs 3:3-8 admonishes us:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn from evil.It will be healing to your body, and refreshment to your bones.”
Many medical experts now believe that there is a precedent for saying that things like bitterness and resentment cause all types of physical ailments, such as digestive problems like stomach ulcers and spastic colon, hypertension, and even cancer. But God’s Word also offers hope for these things in turning to Him and giving these things over to Him. Psalms 147:3 says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” The only answer is faith in God and in His Scriptures. We need to speak life into our bodies so that we will be strong and able to carry out the Lord’s work.
Our spiritual health is at stake, too. Unforgiveness drives our mind and spirit down into the depths of spiritual darkness. Negative attitudes impact not only the individual, but the church body as well. That is why Proverbs 13:20 teaches us to choose wise friends, because those who are “the companion of fools will suffer harm”. Proverbs 20:19 warns us not to associate with a gossip. Gossip is a natural outcome of the flesh when unforgiveness is allowed to reign in the heart. It is one of the fastest destroyers of fellowship, because of its infectious nature. Proverbs 18:8 says that the words of a gossip go down to the innermost parts of the body. Then, in verse 21, it says that both death and life are in the power of the tongue. Jesus exhorted us not to judge.
Matthew 7:1-3,5:“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured unto you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Resentment, bitterness, gossip, and judgment clearly cause divisions and strife within the church body. Jesus warned us that a house divided against itself cannot stand. We must stand firm against the tricks of the devil, or we will be defenseless when he and his cohorts come to attack us.
We need to be proactive in choosing our thoughts, life, and friends. Otherwise, the negativity and darkness that Satan loves will encroach deeper and deeper into our hearts. This is part of why the Bible tells us to above all, guard our hearts. We need to stand together and guard our life as a family of Christians in the body of Christ.
However, we do not have the power in and of ourselves to forgive, to refrain from a judgmental spirit, nor to stand firm together. We need the transcending power of the love and mercy of the Holy Spirit. But God is a perfect gentleman. He will not intervene in places He is not invited to come. Humanly, it is impossible to completely forgive and give up resentments and bitterness. God’s scripture offers us the hope of His power in our lives to do these things.
Matthew 19:26:“And looking at them Jesus said to them, ‘With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Let us go forth speaking life instead of death, and confronting issues of forgiveness with a positive attitude of the power of God working in our lives. Let us do this particularly within the body of Christ, as the world is to know us by our love for one another, as Jesus said.