1Peter 4:8 And most of all be warm in your love for one another; because in love there is forgiveness for sins without number (BBE).
Relating with other people exposes us daily to the risk of being hurt, simply because all humans are imperfect and all are capable of both good and evil. This is the consequence of the fall. Yet, we can’t recluse from others and live solitary lives, because our success in life, as well as our happiness, depends on our common humanity and our relationships with others. The people we love the most (and who also love us) are capable of hurting us the most, yet we can’t do without them. Because offences abound and because we can’t do without each other, we must learn to absorb hurts and forgive those who hurt and offend us. Forgiveness is a necessary part of life, simply because we can’t live without offending one another.
Understanding the principles of forgiveness and trust is thus extremely important in navigating through life. If we fail to master these relationship skills, we’ll end up frustrated and defeated. How should we forgive those who have hurt us? How should we deal with the issue of trust after it’s been betrayed? Is forgetting possible after forgiveness? We shall revert to Scripture to answer these pertinent questions.
Matthew 6:9 Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Matthew 6:10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Matthew 6:11 Give us this day our daily bread,
Matthew 6:12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Matthew 6:13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Matthew 6:14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,
Matthew 6:15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (ESV).
In the model prayer for his disciples (popularly known as the Lord’s prayer), the Lord Jesus taught us to forgive people’s sins against us, even as we petition God to forgive our own sins. And then the Lord makes our forgiveness of other people’s sins a requirement for God’s forgiveness of our own sins: if we don’t forgive the sins of others, God won’t forgive ours! Think about it! When we forgive others, we’re not just setting them free, we’re setting ourselves free also! If we refuse to forgive, we’re blocking our fellowship with God, because our sins will remain unforgiven!
Mark 11:25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses (ESV).
The point was repeated here again by our Lord. Our prayers are in vain if we don’t forgive those who sin against us. Each time we pray with unforgiven grudges in our hearts, we’re hurting ourself. We’re denying ourselves divine forgiveness for our own sins, as well as fellowship with God. Above all, we’re denying ourselves answers to our own prayers! When you refuse to forgive someone, you’re literally opposing divine forgiveness for your own sins!
How often are we to forgive? Is there a limit beyond which we’re to stop forgiving anyone? We’ve heard people say, ‘I can’t take it anymore, this is too much. I can’t forgive him or her again’. The disciples of Jesus were confronted with the same situation and wanted to know the limit of forgiveness, if any. They asked him the number of times one needed to be hurt before refusing to forgive. Let’s hear Jesus’ response.
Matthew 18:21 Then Peter came up and said to him, Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?
Matthew 18:22 Jesus said to him, I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven (ESV).
According to Jesus, we’re to forgive someone seventy times seven (490 times) in a day! What Jesus is actually saying here is that, there’s no limit to forgiveness! Now, that should be good news to our ears if we apply it the other way round: God is not tired of forgiving us! He’ll keep forgiving us as long as we keep repenting and coming back to him. God doesn’t give up on us! Now, isn’t that good news? Because God doesn’t give up on us and isn’t tired of forgiving us, we shouldn’t be tired of forgiving others! We shouldn’t give up on others!
What are the logical steps in dealing with people who offend us? When someone sins against us, we should confront them and let them know how they’ve hurt us. Sometimes they may not even be aware of the wrong they’ve done to us. A sincere person who hurt us unintentionally will apologise, and that should end all hurts and repair the relationship. However, some people will stubbornly refuse to even accept the fact that they’re wrong. In such cases, we should exhaust all means of dispute resolution by involving mutual friends/colleagues and then the church, if we’re dealing with fellow Christians. We’re still to forgive those who refuse to repent. However, we’re advised to sever all close relationships of trust with such people! Forgiveness does not imply automatic restoration of relationships to their previous levels! It just means we won’t seek vengeance against the person or seek to retaliate against them. Forgiving means we won’t repay the person with evil if we have the chance to do so. It means we won’t bear malice towards them. However, it doesn’t mean we should go back to the same level of trust or relationship that existed previously with the person. That’s what Jesus taught!
St. Matthew 18:15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.
St. Matthew 18:16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ’every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
St. Matthew 18:17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector (NIV).
An important fact we need to understand as Christians is that, all things work together for the good of a child of God. Others may wish and plan evil for us, but God will turn it around for our good. Others may seek to destroy us by their evil schemes and manipulations, but God will work through their evil plans to ensure we benefit in the end. Thus, the people who hurt us and schemed to destroy us and our visions may be the very instruments that will catapult us to our destiny! The story of Joseph is a clear example. His brothers schemed to destroy him and abort his dreams, but God used their very scheme to bring about the fulfilment of his vision concerning Joseph! If we understand this fact, it will be easy to forgive those that sin against us and plot our downfall.
Genesis 50:15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.
Genesis 50:16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, Your father gave this command before he died,
Genesis 50:17 Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you. And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father. Joseph wept when they spoke to him.
Genesis 50:18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, Behold, we are your servants.
Genesis 50:19 But Joseph said to them, Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?
Genesis 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
Genesis 50:21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones. Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them (ESV).
Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (AKJV).
Similarly, those who schemed to kill Jesus intended to destroy him and forever extinguish the liberating truths he taught. They were envious of his ministry and sought to exterminate him by any means possible. Supposedly religious leaders lied, schemed, contrived and formed unholy alliances with their enemies, just to get rid of Jesus. However, little did they know that by killing Jesus they were helping to foster his ministry and fulfil his destiny. If Satan and his cohorts had known that killing Jesus would lead to mankind’s redemption and the salvation of billions of sons and daughters of God, they would have left Jesus alone! They meant it for evil, but God turned it around for good, to save lives by a great deliverance! No wonder Jesus asked for forgiveness for his murderers while he hung dying on the cross.
1 Corinthians 2:6 However, we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nothing:
1 Corinthians 2:7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world to our glory:
1 Corinthians 2:8 Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
1 Corinthians 2:9 But as it is written, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him (AKJV).
St. Luke 23:33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals —one on his right, the other on his left.
St. Luke 23:34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots (NIV).
Understand this once and for all: people who have hurt and offended you have only been instruments to teach you some important lessons in life. If a close friend or relative didn’t backstab you or betray you, how would you have learnt to be cautious in trusting human beings, because of their fickleness and unreliability? How would you have known that it’s vain to trust unreservedly in human beings? A key and vital lesson in life is to learn not to trust any person without reservation, because no mutable mortal is worthy of such trust! Every man has been corrupted by the fall (including those who are born again!) and so none should be unquestionably relied upon or trusted. Every man is capable of failure, even the best among us (let him that thinks he stands take heed, lest he falls!). Only God is unfailingly and immutably trustworthy! Only God cannot change and cannot fail! If we grasp this important lesson, we will enlarge our hearts and make room for disappointments, failures, betrayals, hurts, etc. We will provide forgiveness readily for everyone in advance! Jesus, being God, knew this much about man.
John 2:23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did.
John 2:24 But Jesus did not commit himself to them, because he knew all men,
John 2:25 And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man (AKJV).
Jeremiah 17:5 Thus says the LORD: Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD.
Jeremiah 17:6 He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land (ESV).
Re-establishing trust after forgiveness is a different ballgame altogether. We’re not under any obligation to trust people we’ve forgiven. Forgiveness is a commandment but trust is a choice! To trust someone with our hearts, our resources and our secrets again after they’ve betrayed us is entirely up to us. That said, let me state that it would be foolishness to trust anyone without prior evidence that they’re reliable and can be trusted in that regard. Also, someone who has betrayed your trust in a sensitive area shouldn’t be trusted in that area again, until there’s hard evidence of change. Still, even with evidence of change, you should trust them cautiously. People’s actions and history tell more about their character than their words. People should be tried and tested first before they’re entrusted with sensitive information, resources, positions or responsibilities.
1 Timothy 3:8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain.
1 Timothy 3:9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.
1 Timothy 3:10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless (ESV).
Do people really forget after forgiving? Is it even possible to do so? Does God himself really forget after forgiving us our sins? Yes, he said he’ll remember our sins and iniquities no more. But, does that mean he has actually forgotten them? What it means when God is said to remember our confessed sins no more is that, he doesn’t hold them against us anymore. He blots them from our records, even though they remain in his knowledge, for God does not forget, being all-knowing. We see that in God’s enumeration of Israel’s past sins (in the Law and the Prophets), even though he had forgiven them and didn’t hold their sins against them anymore. It was simply to teach a lesson to present and future generations. And so, we too shouldn’t forget the lessons learned from sins committed against us even after forgiving them (thankfully, we simply can’t forget because it’s not possible to do so!). We would have to suffer some form of amnesia to be able to do that! However, even though we remember the evils done to us, we shouldn’t count them against the people we’ve forgiven. We’re not to hold it against them. But, we’re to learn from them so that, as much as possible, we don’t allow others to use us in that same way again.
1 Corinthians 13:5 love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs (GNT).
Forgive every trespass committed against you quickly, but don’t forget the lessons. Learn from past disappointments and betrayals to minimise future occurrences.
And above all, be stingy and cautious with your trust. Trust only those who have been tried and proven worthy, and that too should be done with caution! Like the Apostle Paul admonished, in keeping malice, be like children who don’t hold grudges; but in understanding, be mature and reasonable! Emulate children in not keeping malice, but don’t be childish in not learning lessons from disappointments and betrayals, in order to minimise future betrayals and hurts. Learn from the past to make the present and the future better!
1 Corinthians 14:20 Brothers, be not children in understanding: however, in malice be you children, but in understanding be men (AKJV).
In conclusion, let’s hear the summary of the whole matter of forgiveness from a parable given by the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Let’s hear from the Master, take heed and be blessed!
Matthew 18:23 Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.
Matthew 18:24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.
Matthew 18:25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.
Matthew 18:26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.
Matthew 18:27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
Matthew 18:28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, Pay what you owe.
Matthew 18:29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, Have patience with me, and I will pay you.
Matthew 18:30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.
Matthew 18:31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place.
Matthew 18:32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
Matthew 18:33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?
Matthew 18:34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.
Matthew 18:35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart (ESV).
God bless you!