The Path To Forgiveness
“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26 NIV).
Perhaps one of the most difficult things we are called upon to do as Christians is to forgive others. We all tend to be quick to ask forgiveness from God for our sins but slow to forgive others that have hurt us.
In the Methodist church the congregation recites these words prior to Holy Communion. “Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors.” We have indeed failed to be an obedient church and not loved our neighbors when we fail to do as instructed in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive them that trespass against us” (Matthew 6:12).
I know I have hurt others just as others have hurt me. Some of the offenses against me have been so severe that by myself I am unable to forgive, but through the power of the Holy Spirit I have been able to do what I cannot do alone. I recall a sermon years ago in which the pastor said, “As you forgive those that have hurt you, the prisoner that is set free is yourself.” Amen!
Those that hurt us are often wounded people themselves. We will inevitably encounter some people in life that knowingly choose to do evil things to other people. In the book Forgiveness, the Passionate Journey Nine Steps of Forgiving through Jesus’ Beatitudes by Flora Slosson Wuellner, the author writes that some people are “caught in a prison of self-destruction that almost defies description.” I had not realized that often when people deliberately hurt us they are acting out of a deep inner hurt in themselves. Hurt people tend to hurt people. Instead of giving emotional control to our attacker by feeling angry and seeking revenge, we are asked to consider feeling pity and wonder what has happened to this person that has caused them to act in such an evil manner? This is not done to minimize the hurt, but to facilitate our healing.
There are many paths to forgiveness. Sometimes it may be appropriate to tell the person directly that you forgive them. However, it is important to realize that they may not realize that they have hurt you and may not care. Another option is to ask the Holy Spirit to soften your heart and help you forgive the other person but do not tell the other person that you have forgiven them.
Forgiveness should be done as a spiritual practice to honor and glorify God. It is tempting to use forgiveness as an opportunity to rightly or wrongly play the victim, demonize the other person, and solicit public sympathy through social media or other outlets. This is not true forgiveness and does little to honor God, yourself, or the other person. Perhaps a better option for forgiveness is similar to what the Word teaches us for prayer. “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:6).
Any discussion of forgiveness usually involves forgetting. The phrase “forgive and forget” is not found in the Bible. However, there are numerous verses commanding us to “forgive one another” (e.g., Matthew 6:14, Ephesians 4:32). A Christian who is not willing to forgive others will find his fellowship with God hindered (Matthew 6:15) and can reap bitterness and the loss of reward (Hebrews 12:14–15, 2 John 1:8). Speaking of social media, Beth Townsend, founder of Life on Purpose, posted the following on Facebook recently. “Forgiveness is a perpetual state of mind. A choice. If God can forgive and then forget, we can too. That is true freedom!” Now, that will preach!
Forgiveness is a journey and a process and often takes time. The process is more difficult as the offense is perceived to be more personal or severe. If you are showing signs of increased criticism, negativity, and impatience, you are still on the journey. Unforgiveness also hurts our relations with others due to our sour disposition, depressed attitude, and tendency to easily be annoyed. The hurt becomes water under the bridge when we achieve forgiveness. We then release the other person from the debt and no longer desire payback for the offense. We acknowledge that the hurt is real, but we also understand that our struggle is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). Forgiveness may or may not lead to reconciliation, but it certainly leads to freedom and a closer walk with our Lord.
Prayer: Thank you for the blessing of forgiving our sins and life everlasting in a life lived in and for you. Forgive us when we fail to be an obedient church. Help us to forgive those that hurt us. By the power of your Holy Spirit, help us to be reconciled to you and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.
Meet the Author
Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
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