Some of the most overused and meaningless words in the English language are “I’m sorry.” People fling out these words at the least provocation.
After all, our mothers took us by the hands and put us face to face with our siblings after we got in a big fight. “Tell her you’re sorry.” Mom, God bless her, was trying to teach us to be accountable and forgiving.
At school, if you swear at a teacher, the principal will ask you to write an apology note. It’s just another assignment. It doesn’t mean anything. Obviously. You walk into the classroom the next day and call the teacher names, too quiet to be heard this time.
Forgiveness is more than saying some words. Saying the words means nothing if the actions that follow don’t validate them.
Jesus Christ had much to say about this subject. In the spirit of short-windedness, here are five important truths:
- We are commanded to forgive: “Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). These are Jesus’ own words. There was no exception clause following the command. Jesus isn’t listening to your gripe and saying, “Oh well, you’re right. That’s just too much. You don’t have to forgive them.”
- Lack of forgiveness carries consequences: “If you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:15). Another thing that happens when we don’t forgive (as if God refusing to forgive us isn’t enough), is we become bitter. Carrying a grudge warps our spiritual senses.
- Forgiving others frees us: We have no control over the actions or reactions of other people. All we can do is the right thing. Once we’ve forgiven someone for wounding us, we are free to move beyond that hurt. We don’t have to carry it around and let it drag us down.
- Forgiveness isn’t a one-time deal: Check out Matthew 18:21-22 for the familiar exchange between Peter and Jesus. “How many times do I have to forgive him for doing the same thing?” As many times as it takes. Not for him to stop doing it (that might never happen) but for you to reap the benefits of being forgiving. This also applies to reminding ourselves that we have forgiven someone when old memories creep in and try to get us wallowing in the hurt again. This is a favorite trick of Satan. Don’t let him use you that way. Forgive and move on.
- No one said it would be easy: Jesus was cruelly beaten, mocked and killed. Stephen was stoned by people he cared enough to tell how to be saved. They both forgave their murderers. Not because it was easy. Because it was right. It demonstrated to everyone what was truly important to these men and left an everlasting testimony.
The truth about forgiveness can be hard to swallow. As I talked about last week, sometimes people intentionally hurt us and never apologize. Nowhere does our Lord say we only forgive after someone apologizes.
I only mentioned a few consequences from a failure to forgive, but there are hundreds of examples. In short, God knows what’s best for our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Holding a grudge leads only to bitterness and unhappiness. For us – not the person who hurt us.
Every relationship in our lives requires understanding and leniency. We will need to forgive (and forget) if we want to have strong bonds with other faulty (and fault-finding) people.
Make it easy on yourself. Follow Jesus’ example. He could forgive the men who crucified Him. What worse thing has happened to you that you can’t forgive?
That’s right. Nothing.