How do you respond when someone insults, ridicules, rejects, hurts, or wrongs you in some way? Perhaps like many people, you immediately want to retaliate in some manner. After all, what happened to you is not right. In fact, it’s clearly unjust, and the perpetrator should be held accountable and suffer for the pain he or she caused.
On the other hand, you may think it’s nobler to stuff the hurt deep inside your soul. But despite your resolve, it keeps popping out, and as you relive it, the injustice and pain engulf you once again. Although you hope to eventually forget it, suppressed resentment doesn’t disappear. It festers beneath the surface and disturbs your peace as well as your relationships with others.
Although the Bible tells us to forgive one another, we still resist because forgiveness seems to let the wrongdoer get away with the offense. Where’s the justice in that? What we need to realize is that nothing gets past an all-knowing God. He sees the wrongs of this world and says, “Never take your own revenge . . . Vengeance is Mine, I will repay” (Rom. 12:19).
Furthermore, as Christians who have been forgiven much, we have no right to hold anything against anyone else. How can we who have received such generous mercy demand that others be given what we think they deserve? When Peter asked the Lord how often he should forgive a brother, Jesus told him seventy times seven (Matt. 18:21-22). In other words, no matter how often we are hurt by others, we should always extend forgiveness.
No matter how often we are hurt by others, we should always extend forgiveness.
To gain an understanding of the seriousness of this issue, let’s consider some basic biblical truths. First of all, we must understand the nature of unforgiveness. It’s an ungodly attitude that doesn’t fit in a believer’s life. Christ died on the cross so we could be forgiven. Now as His followers, we are commanded to forgive as He did (Eph. 4:32). To do otherwise is rebellion against God.
Second, there are consequences if we refuse to forgive. It gives Satan a foothold in our lives from which he is able to stir up anger and bitterness (Eph. 4:26-27 NIV). The root of bitterness then reaches its tentacles into our thoughts, attitudes, and emotions. Despite our attempts to contain it, a bitter spirit comes out in our words and actions, causing trouble for both us and others (Heb. 12:15).
Unforgiveness also damages our fellowship with God. Jesus gave a serious warning of this, saying, “If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matt. 6:15). This doesn’t mean we lose our salvation, but it creates a barrier in our fellowship with the Lord. We can’t be right with God and be at odds with someone else (1 John 2:9).
A refusal to forgive also stunts spiritual growth. Our understanding of the Word is limited, our prayers are ineffective, our worship is empty, and our witness is damaged—all because we have allowed this sin to grow and multiply in our hearts.
Third, we ought to begin working through the process of forgiveness if we want to be free of this burden. We must acknowledge that unforgiveness is a sin and assume responsibility for it rather than trying to shift the blame to the one who wronged us. Then with confession and repentance, we ask the Holy Spirit to enable us to give up our right to retaliate and to lay down the hurt and bitterness.
Another way to overcome our tendency to hold grudges is to follow Jesus’ directions in Luke 6:27-28, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” It’s amazing how our attitude will change when we begin to bless and pray for those who’ve hurt us. As we lift them to the throne of God, the sting of the hurt is also lifted by His grace. The Lord can so transform our hearts that instead of wishing evil upon them, we will desire to do good for them.
Finally, as God works in our hearts, we will begin to see signs of forgiveness in our lives. Like Joseph, we’ll recognize that although others may have meant evil against us, “God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). His sovereign hand works through our mistreatment to give us something we would never have otherwise—a forgiving spirit, which is pleasing to God. Instead of a rush of harsh feelings that arise at the sight of our offender, we’ll be able to see with eyes of mercy.
The key to forgiveness is steadfast trust in the Lord. He knows every pain and injustice you’ve experienced and will use them to shape you into the image of His beloved Son if you’ll surrender them into His hand and obediently step into the forgiving process. But if you decide to stubbornly hang on to those offenses, they will hold you in a tight grip of self-imposed bondage.
Only God’s grace is strong enough to break the bonds of unforgiveness. If you’ll remember how much He’s forgiven you, lay your hurts and grudges at His feet, and trust Him to handle the situation, you’ll be set free and begin to live in peace once again.
Charles F. Stanley