I always heard this quote but only recently discovered it’s origin: “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” It is almost given Scripture status although it does not come from the Bible… it comes from Alexander Pope, 1711. He is also the guy who said, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” So, let’s look at forgiveness.
- What is the world’s opinion about forgiveness?
- How does that differ from scriptural teaching?
- What do you find most difficult, to seek forgiveness, to receive forgiveness or to offer forgiveness?
- Describe the last time you needed forgiveness.
- Describe a time when someone need forgiveness from you.
- Would forgiveness be an automatic response, a delayed reaction or a withheld virtue for you in a similar situation?
- Do you feel that you have the power to choose to forgive?
- Hatred is a burden we don’t need to carry, and freedom is found only in forgiveness. How can you relate to the difficulty of forgiving others?
- Based on your own experiences, is the previous statement comforting or challenging?
Bible Study: Matthew 18:21-35
- How often are we to forgive someone? (Matthew 18:21-22)
- What is significant about the forgiveness the king offered compared to that which the slave withheld?
- Do you ever feel the weight of sin from which you have been forgiven?
- When we withhold forgiveness, what do you understand about the consequences? (Matthew 18:35)
Peter, wishing to appear especially forgiving and benevolent, asked Jesus if forgiveness was to be offered seven times. The Jewish rabbis at the time taught that forgiving someone more than three times was unnecessary, citing Amos 1:3-13 where God forgave Israel’s enemies three times, then punished them. By offering forgiveness more than double that of the Old Testament example, Peter perhaps expected extra commendation from the Lord. When Jesus responded that forgiveness should be offered 490 times, far beyond that which Peter was proposing, it must have stunned the disciples who were listening. Although they had been with Jesus for some time, they were still thinking in the limited terms of the law, rather than in the unlimited terms of grace.
By saying we are to forgive those who sin against us seventy times seven, Jesus was not limiting forgiveness to 490 times, a number that is, for all practical purposes, beyond counting. Christians with forgiving hearts not only don’t limit the number of times they forgive; they continue to forgive with as much grace the thousandth time as they do the first time. Christians are only capable of this type of forgiving spirit because the Spirit of God lives within us, and it is He who provides the ability to offer forgiveness over and over, just as God forgives us over and over.
Jesus answered that we must forgive as many times as necessary. His illustration is about a man who, although forgiven by his master of an overwhelming debt, refused to forgive another for a meager debt. When this man’s master heard about his ingratitude and injustice, he was outraged and had him thrown to the tormentors. “This is how My heavenly Father will treat each one of you, unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).
Surely, by receiving such a massive pardon, we should not be so mean-spirited as to withhold forgiveness from others. Rather, we should emulate the example of Jesus. In truth, offering forgiveness is an act of will, and failure to acknowledge this will only encourage us to justify our own disobedience. Forgiveness is not a fruit that needs time to grow in our lives. It is not a result of some special encounter with God. Jesus makes that clear in Luke 17:4 when He commands that if someone sins against another seven times in one day and repents as many times, that person should be forgiven. Forgiving someone for the same offense several times in one year would be a major test of sanctification, so seven times in one day drives Jesus’ point home.
Bible Study: Luke 6:37-38
- What do these verses teach about forgiveness?
- How often have we granted forgiveness only because we feel we will one day seek forgiveness?
- If we refuse to forgive, we must take a look at our own heart, have we received the forgiveness from God?
Bible Study: Colossians 3:12-13
This letter is a warning against heresy and false teaching that had become a threat to the believers. They are to abandon certain things (listed in chapter 2) and then a list of how they were to conduct themselves. This verse on forgiveness is listed within the foundational teaching of the church.
Pray that God will help you live in Christ to the fullest, like this…
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.
There is something strangely sweet about holding a grudge. The ability to withhold forgiveness and indulge in self-righteous feelings is a sense of power. God is the God of justice. Wrongs should be righted. And we deserve to feel contempt for those who hurt us. Except that it’s all a lie.
Refusing to forgive doesn’t grant us power, it enslaves us to sin. And feeling contempt for others very rarely makes a significant difference in their lives. Absolutely no good whatsoever comes from refusing to forgive. This is why Jesus said we are to forgive one another seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22). We should forgive so much that it becomes second nature—our automatic response to offenses.
God gives us two very good reasons in Scripture for why we should forgive.
- God commands us to forgive others. God forgave us while we were His enemies (Romans 5:10), and we should do likewise with one another.
- Those who forgive others indicate that they themselves have not been forgiven because a truly regenerated heart is a forgiving heart (Matthew 6:14-15). If we are filled with resentment and bitterness, we are exhibiting the “works of the flesh,” not the fruit of the Spirit which is evidence of true salvation (Galatians 5:19-23).
Most importantly, when we disobey one of God’s commands, such as the command to forgive, we sin against Him. In refusing to forgive another person, we sin against that person, but also against God. Considering that God puts our transgressions as far from Him as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12), He expects us to extend this same grace to others. Our sin against God is infinitely more egregious than anything another person can do to us. Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-35) illustrates this truth. The servant had been forgiven a massive debt—symbolic of the debt of sin we owe to God—then refused to forgive a minor debt of a friend. The lesson of the parable is that if God’s forgiveness toward us is limitless, so should ours be limitless toward others (Luke 17:3-4).
The Bible teaches us that God withholds forgiveness towards people who are not repentant (2 Kings 24:4 and Lamentations 3:42). God is able to do this because of His very nature: He is sinless. He is perfect. He is holy. He simply will not tolerate sin. Paul warns those who choose to transgress God’s law in Romans 2:5, “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.”
As Christians we are certainly obligated to forgive others who sin against us when they are repentant if we are to expect God to forgive us when we sin against Him (Matthew 6:14-15, 18:23-35; Mark 11:25, Luke 17:3-4, Ephesians 4:31-32, Colossians 3:13). This holds true even if someone sins against us repeatedly (Matthew 18:21-22). However, this does not give us license to withhold forgiveness in the same way. The key to remember is this: God can judge a person’s intentions because He knows what’s in a person’s heart (1 Samuel 16:7; Hebrews 4:12-13), whereas we don’t. We are not God. We are not the Judge. For us to play God by refusing to offer forgiveness is an act of judgment on our part, and Jesus tells us that God will judge us according to the way we’ve judged others (Matthew 7:2).
What if There is No Indication of Repentance?
The law given to ancient Israel is similar to the New Testament teaching: “Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:17-18). An unforgiving spirit leads to bitterness, anger, and seething resentment against another. Such a heart attitude cannot have true fellowship with God. Not holding grudges allows a state of mind that is ready and willing to forgive. Reconciliation is the goal, and if there cannot be reconciliation, an attitude of willingness to forgive must be maintained. There can be no excuse for withholding a forgiving spirit towards others (Matthew 5:22–24).
What About Forgive and Forget?
The phrase “forgive and forget” is not found in the Bible. However, there are numerous Scriptures commanding us to “forgive one another” (Matthew 6:14; Ephesians 4:32). A Christian who does not forgive can reap bitterness and the loss of eternal rewards (Hebrews 12:14-15; 2 John 1:8). Forgiveness is a decision of the will. Since God commands us to forgive, we must make a conscious choice to forgive. This frees the forgiving one from the past. The offender may not desire forgiveness and may not change (Matthew 5:44). Ideally, the offender will seek reconciliation, but if not, the one wronged should still make known his decision to forgive.
In one sense, it is impossible to truly forget sins that have been committed against us. We cannot selectively “delete” events from our memory. The Bible states that God does not “remember” our wickedness (Hebrews 8:12). Since God is all-knowing, he knows that we have “sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). However, having forgiven us, He treats us as if the sin had not occurred. If we belong to Him through faith in Christ, God does not hold our sins against us. In that sense we must “forgive and forget.” If we forgive someone, we must act as if that sin had never occurred. We remember the sin, but we live as if we did not remember it. Ephesians 4:32 tells us, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Human forgiveness and God’s forgiveness have differences. The Lord’s Prayer teaches that we are to ask for God’s forgiveness regularly, just as we are regularly to forgive others who have sinned against us. But human nature fights against this. As Paul said, “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me” (Romans 7:21). Like Paul, we must know that we are powerless in our own strength to do the right thing. But as Christians who possess the Holy Spirit, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13).