We are called, encouraged, even commanded to forgive others because Christ forgave us, right?
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” Matt 6:14
That is truly reason enough, I know, to forgive others. After all, God gave His only Son that we might be given full forgiveness from our sins through His death and resurrection, so how dare we not extend that same grace toward others? But man, it sure can be difficult sometimes, eh? The pain and hurt others cause us is real. But, the pain of living with bitterness and unforgiveness can poison our soul and destroy us. When we forgive others, we are not saying what they did was okay, but we are releasing them to God and letting go of its hold on us.
Throughout Scripture we are reminded, “…forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” (Matt 6:12) and …if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25).
However, in Ephesians 4, Paul brings it home, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Now, that’s what I’m talking about. We’ve got to let it go. Get rid of it. Not just because we owe it to others because God forgives us, but because unforgiveness will destroy us long before we have to meet our Maker.
I remember many, many years ago, someone very close to me had hurt me deeply. And I wanted to forgive them…I really did. But I was afraid forgiving them would just “let them off the hook” only to hurt me again…that they would forget the pain they had caused me if I moved forward like everything was okay. Well, first of all, THANK GOD our heavenly Father does not have that mindset with us, but the fact is, forgiveness does not excuse anyone’s behavior. Forgiveness simply prevents their behavior from destroying our heart.
Forgiving those that have hurt you is not about condoning or justifying what they have done. It’s not about forgetting or refusing to remember. It’s not about pretending that everything is fine. It’s not even necessarily about reconciling or becoming best buds. It is about no longer focusing on blame or pain. It’s about moving forward. It's a gift you give to yourself.
By withholding forgiveness, we think we are punishing our offenders, but the fact is we're just punishing ourselves. We are prolonging our own suffering. We are keeping ourselves emotionally tormented. We are victimizing ourselves long after having been victimized by our offender. When we forgive others, we free ourselves of our anger, our judgments, our grievances, our resentments, and our bitterness, all of which interfere with our own peace, joy, and contentment. We sleep better. We relate to others better. Our general attitude is more positive, optimistic, and joyful. Research even shows that we will experience less physical pain and better cardiac function, among many other health benefits. In other words, it’s a win, win.
I’m not suggesting you make it all about you, but I am reminding you that forgiving others has as much to do with your current well-being as it does anything else.
So, this Christmas season, let me encourage you to give yourself a priceless gift…forgive.