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Applying the Character Quality of Forgiveness

Forgiveness vs. Bitterness

4 min

Forgiveness is responding to offenders so that the power of God’s love through me can heal them.

The primary Greek word in Scripture translated forgiveness is aphesis. It denotes dismissal, release, or pardon. It is a derivative of the root word aphiemi, which means “to send away.”

Aphiemi is the Greek word used by Jesus when He said, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

A Greek word translated forgiving is charizomai. It means “to do something pleasant or agreeable (to one), to do a favour to, … to give graciously, give freely.” This is the word used by Paul when he wrote, “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Why Forgiveness Is Important

There are serious physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual consequences for one who refuses to forgive an offender.

  • We are not forgiven. Jesus said, “If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14–15).
  • We are tormented. In a parable Jesus gave on forgiveness, a servant who was forgiven of a great debt refused to forgive a fellow servant who owed him a small debt. The master said, “O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (Matthew 18:32–35).
  • We are defiled. When others offend us, God gives us the grace to forgive our offenders. Therefore, we are to “follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (Hebrews 12:14–15).
  • We damage our health. If we refuse to forgive our offenders, we will not be able to properly observe the Lord’s table. “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep [have died]” (I Corinthians 11:30; see also Matthew 6:14–15).

Concepts to Understand Forgiveness

Pleading for mercy  vs. pleading for more time

The servant who refused to forgive a small debt after being released from a huge debt was not able to give mercy, because he did not ask for it. He asked instead for an extension of time: “Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all” (Matthew 18:26). The wise master put him in prison with tormentors to cause him to realize that he could never pay it all back. Only then would he plead for mercy and be able to give it to others. (See Luke 7:41–48.)

Clearing the conscience vs. responding with harshness

When David heard the case of the man who stole his neighbor’s pet lamb, he became angry and demanded an extreme punishment. The Law required only four sheep as restitution for the stolen one. However, David was unable to give justice or mercy, because he was guilty of the same offense. (See II Samuel 12.) When we harshly judge others, we condemn ourselves, because we do the same things. (See Romans 2:1–3.)

Having the goal of love vs. retaliation

If the suffering God brings to our lives is not recognized as a test from His hand to produce the power of love and God’s glory, Satan will turn it into bitterness, which will bring a lack of forgiveness and destruction.

Edifying the Body of Christ vs. cutting off believers

Paul explains that every believer is a member of the Body of Christ and that we are all connected one with another. (See Romans 12:15.) Therefore, if we refuse to forgive a fellow believer, we are actually refusing to forgive ourselves.

Having fellowship through suffering vs. weakness

Paul spoke of resurrection power that was available to every Christian who was willing to go through suffering. “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Philippians 3:10). All believers are called to die to self-indulgences so that we can experience more of the power of Christ.

How we Learn to Forgive

When people are asked if they can recall someone who deeply hurt or offended them, they usually respond immediately by saying, “Yes!” The question must then be asked, have these offenders been fully forgiven?

A lack of forgiveness creates bitterness, and bitterness is like the disease of leprosy. Those who have leprosy lose any sensation of pain, therefore, they are unaware of situations in which they are hurting themselves. Similarly, those who are bitter are often unaware of how they hurt other people with their words, attitudes, and actions.

Ways to Develop a Forgiving Spirit

  • View an offender as an “instrument” in God’s hands.
  • Thank God for the benefits He plans from an offense.
  • Determine what character qualities God wants to develop in you through the offense.
  • Realize that suffering is a normal part of the Christian life.

Personal Evaluation

  • Are there people whom you have not forgiven?
  • Do you see offenses as opportunities in which to rejoice?
  • Do you believe it is your responsibility to make sure your offenders are punished?
  • Does the thought of certain offenders bring pain and hurt to you?
  • Do you compare offenses against you to your greater offense to Christ?
  • Have you looked for ways to return good to those who have done you evil?
Explore more about this topic in The Power for True Success

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